Thursday, October 11, 2012

Monster - KISS - 2012

Kiss is an easy target. The band themselves readily and repeatedly admit that the spectacle supersedes the music and nowhere is this more painfully apparent than Monster. From its instantly forgettable made-for-big-box-megastore, uninspired artwork to its flat, muddled production to its uncanny absolute lack of hooks, Monster feels simply like aged-rocker cart-fodder. An album to buy because, hey, it's an album and most bands you dig don't release albums anymore. Kiss is comfortable, familiar territory. Maybe so. But Monster recalls neither heyday highs nor interesting, late-career lows. It's criminally bland.

I did not hate Sonic Boom. Far from it. While certainly nowhere near the finest offering from Kiss, it played better than it deserved for a Wal-Mart exclusive and had more than one trace of fire in the belly for a beast that had been silent for a decade. Monster, then, perhaps needed a few more years to marinate, as it's remarkably free of melody, musicality or anything even close to memorable. From the tepid, this-will-do-for-the-current-tour attempt at an anthem, "Hell or Hallelujah," the album feels like wading in mud. Sonically, it's a mess, with Paul Stanley's production delivering zero dynamics and a sound simulating the effect of listening through layers of canvas. It also serves to mask Stanley's vocals which are obviously struggling at this point, evidenced also by the Gene-heavy vocal content.

Monster is amazing in that nearly every song is a flop. Unlike AC/DC, Kiss have finally run out of ways to sing about machismo and "rocking" in general, with "Wall of Sound," "Freak" and "Back to the Stone Age," all equating to less than by-the-numbers - they're insultingly stupid. Songs like "Shout Mercy" and "Long Way Down" fare slightly better but still stand out as painfully awkward attempts to capture classic rock strands of sounds from the Stones, Yardbirds and more. "Eat Your Heart Out" and "Take Me Down Below" are standard Kiss double-entendre, so overplayed they fail to elicit even a smile. Sadly, the greatest success on Monster is Tommy Thayer's "Outta This World." I don't subscribe to the Frehley/Criss purist camp but to toss Thayer a song so obviously tied to the Space Ace persona should embarrass the band and enrage the fans. We've all accepted new guys before and Thayer is obviously capable. His own stamp would have been welcome here and the missed opportunity is glaring, though, even if magical, would not have saved Monster.

I've never held Kiss to a high artistic standard and always backhandedly admired their unabashed - even largely unmusical -  infiltration of the public consciousness. I'll support the band's marketing of Kiss comics, Kiss dolls, Kiss Pez, even a $4,250 Kiss book. But, dammit, when Kiss actually releases a record, I expect it to contain something somewhat close to actual music.

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