KISS: "Shout It Out Loud"
You wanted the best, you got the best! The hottest band in the word: KISS!!!
Many would disagree with the notion of KISS as the best. Hell, I like KISS, but I'd disagree with that notion on most days, too. I've described KISS elsewhere as the definitive 1970s rock act: loud, garish, celebratory, and as infectious as an arena cheer. Although I own many (not all) of their albums in some format or another, I'm more of a single-song guy anyway. "Calling Dr. Love." "Detroit Rock City." "Strutter." "Anything For My Baby." "I Love It Loud." "Rock And Roll All Nite." An incongruous but ace cover of The Crystals' "Then She Kissed Me." A power pop tune like "Tomorrow." An unexpectedly tender Gene Simmons solo track called "See You Tonight." These are great rockin' pop records, regardless of whether or not the bassist breathes fire and the whole group presents itself as a Kabuki-masked cartoon. Loud. Garish. Celebratory. Infectious. Rock 'n' roll all night, and party every day.
And "Shout It Out Loud" is the greatest of them all. You wanted the best, you got the best.
Even if Gene Simmons' willfully obnoxious personality wasn't such a pervasive and prevailing turn-off, critics--and many music lovers--would likely abhor KISS nonetheless. At the height of the band's popularity, Rolling Stone compared KISS's music to buffalo dung, and KISS fans to dung beetles, eagerly consuming the bounty of crap laid out for them. Nice. As much of an asshole as Simmons has been--and he has indeed been an asshole--the widespread, snobbish dismissal of KISS records as lesser and unworthy matches the schmuckery of the schmuck himself.
Granted, there are legitimate reasons why KISS isn't and shouldn't be hailed as rock 'n' roll's grandest artistes. KISS's musical ambitions were always a byproduct of greed rather than pure creativity. But man, that's not unique, not even close to unique. Chuck Berry didn't set out to be an inspiration. The Beatles didn't intend to be the voices of a generation. And, by many accounts, Berry and John Lennon were assholes, too. I wouldn't place KISS records on a plateau comparable to "Johnny B. Goode" or Rubber Soul, but it would be ludicrous to suggest that the Fab Four or the duck-walkin' brown-skinned handsome man started with inherently more pristine goals than the four white-faced clock-punchers in KISS. They wanted to succeed. They wanted to make money. They wanted to get laid. They especially wanted that last one, over and over and over.
Forget the visuals. Forget the musicianship, or the lack thereof. Feel. Maybe you'll dig it, and maybe you won't. I do.
"Rock And Roll All Nite" is KISS's enduring anthem, their best-known song, and probably the first KISS record I ever heard, the single from 1975's Alive! double-LP--far and away KISS's best album--burnin' up the airwaves via Syracuse's WOLF-AM when I was in high school. God, I love that record. It's a direct statement of intent, uncluttered by pretension, unencumbered by anything other than a primal need to party. Paul Stanley's lead vocals prance and exhort, Simmons' bass and Peter Criss' drums somehow manage to plod in a good way, and Ace Frehley's lead guitar combines with Stanley's rhythm to presage Nirvana in well-pummeled grungy glory. Of course KISS would be my first rock concert. Of course KISS would star in a Marvel comic book. Even as punk made KISS seem quaint and unwieldy, I never found sufficient cause to fully relinquish my affection for these Gods of Thunder.
We are generally suspicious of sequels, and rightly so. They say lightning can't strike twice, so attempts to recapture and bottle its power and brilliance are damned by definition. Maybe "Rock And Roll All Nite" isn't brilliant--I would argue that it is--but nor is its simple PARTY!! ethos a matter-of-fact task to effectively duplicate. It ain't easy to write and record a convincing rock 'n' roll anthem. KISS had tried before with "Let Me Go, Rock And Roll," a track on their second album Hotter Than Hell. They refined the anthemic approach--and I really hate to use the word "refined" when discussing KISS--for "Rock And Roll All Nite." The original studio version on their third album, Dressed To Kill, is a leap forward, and the (enhanced) in-concert version on Alive! delivers on the song's hedonistic promise. The live album and live single gave KISS their first real taste of success.
Success breeds imitation, even when it's your own success you're trying to copy and repeat. The success of "Rock And Roll All Nite" made it inevitable that KISS would try to recreate that anthem as the same thing, only different. And really--how likely was that?
1976's Destroyer album, KISS's follow-up to Alive!, was not the same thing, but actually different. Instead of the perceived rawness of a live concert document like Alive!, Alice Cooper vet'ran Bob Ezrin infused Destroyer with a commercial slickness that was new to KISS records. That is not necessarily a compliment. One wonders if, in addition to credits for guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, strings, and a children's choir ferchrissakes, Destroyer should have carried a credit for whomever played the goddamned kitchen sink.
That said, there are many moments where Destroyer works. Opening track "Detroit Rock City" is a monster, charging out of the gate with a full-throttle death wish that demands more volume than cheap speakers can accommodate. It's not an attempt to replicate "Rock And Roll All Nite," and it's really an even better song. The syrupy ballad "Beth" is resolutely...okay. It became KISS's all-time biggest hit single. Of course it did.
Amidst the peaks and valleys of Destroyer's excesses and sporadic successes, a track on Side 2 would seem to have been intended as the sequel--the heir apparent--to "Rock And Roll All Nite:" something called "Shout It Out Loud." Lower thy (great) expectations, all ye who would heed my call.
Until you hear the damned thing.
Guitars--slick, commercial, Big Pop rock 'n' roll guitars--wind and twirl with delicious abandon, far from their natural home on a Raspberries record, off on a search and destroy mission bound for a transistor radio near you. Paul Stanley sings, and my God! The artificial jive of Stanley's patter on Alive! disappears, and you believe. He sounds like he believes, too. Simmons, bless 'im, sounds like he's stopped counting his cash and his female conquests long enough to rock and roll, a benevolent spirit channeling the music he loves.
"The music he loves." See, we don't often think about the members of KISS as music fans. But they were. In particular, Simmons and Stanley loved The Beatles. That all-you-need love isn't always evident within KISS's own records, but its redemptive and all-encompassing power animates "Shout It Out Loud." It's not that it sounds like The Beatles--it doesn't--but it does sound like something crafted by Beatles fans, by folks like The Raspberries, Badfinger, Todd Rundgren. Its joy is palpable. Its roots stretch also to The Who and The Dave Clark Five. And it still doesn't quite sound like any of them, either. It sounds like the hottest band in the world. You wanted the best.
I remain unrepentant and unapologetic in my devotion to things I like. Comic books. Fast food. Pulp paperbacks. TV shows, movies, and rock 'n' roll 45s. Cheesecake. Much of it may appear to be ephemeral, disposable; to me, it's essential and immortal. I like KISS. I'm aware of reasons why I shouldn't, but I like them anyway.
"Shout It Out Loud" is a separate discussion, and it transcends the KISS experience while still being an integral part of it. It's an outstanding rock 'n' roll record, the equal of nearly anything you could name; in its loud and celebratory moment here today, it's superior to everything else. Don't let them tell you that there's too much noise; they're too old to really understand. Do you need to be reminded? Believe it. Sing it. Shout it. The message is simple. And it never does get old.
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