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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Albums You Can't Live Without - Kiss - Dressed to Kill

Seeing my high school writing teacher attend my featured reading gig last week, I was impressed beyond words one of the first things emitting from his mouth was, "I remember you having a really big thing for Kiss back then." Now, you're talking 1986 and '87 when I was in Mr. Day's creative writing classes, which means he's had over two decades of students since then. Guess I made some sort of impression...

Of course this naturally got me thinking about who I was in high school and the metal bands I was into, which were plentiful considering my obsession with the genre. At this particular point in time I'd transcended into thrash metal and punk, cautiously wandering towards death metal and the more extreme natures of the beast. Nevertheless, I was still devoted to some of the more mainstream hard rock acts like Ratt, Twisted Sister, Keel and of course, Kiss, the latter of whom were caught up in the glitzed, poofed and spandexed alpha-meets-omega caricature as much as any of the similar bands fighting for corporate dollars were whoring themselves out to replicate.

Regardless, I still considered Kiss my be-all-end-all band during the Animalize, Asylum and Crazy Nights albums. Neither album should be ranked amongst Kiss' best, albeit the former two have some very fine moments for the aggressive eighties sound Kiss had instinctively turned towards in the interest of survival as of the snub-nosed and quite heavy Lick it Up. It would be on the Crazy Nights tour when I finally saw Kiss live, and I was front row, stage right in one of the most memorable nights of my life, one filled with ups and downs, but the lows had nothing to do with the performance. Then again, Gene kicked the bedsheet I'd spent two weeks toiling over to a roadie, probably never to be seen again, while then-guitarist Bruce Kulick took note of the stunned disappointment on my face, strummed his way over, pointed to me and whirled me a guitar pick. Someone stole my concert T I'd bought while fighting for my rightful treasure, but all to the good come the end of the night.

Kiss was the biggest spectacle on earth even without their famed kabuki makeup and to this day I feel that lineup had far more cred than what Kiss has passed off to their paying fans since Ace and Peter jaunted off a second time following the cash-in reunion tours.

I need not get into my opinions about Kiss these days because the minute those incredible Kissology DVDs came into my possession it was the like magic was suddenly restored and there I was, eight years old again with black and white cat markings on my face and a Gene Simmons doll (now worth a fortune) clutched in my young paws with Alive II spinning as it did religiously every single solitary day of my childhood from ages 7 to 10. Talk about obsession...

So it came to mind after Mr. Day inadvertently ushered those memories back that I went to my dungeon and plucked off the best of the best Kiss albums, Dressed to Kill.

Now over the years my favorites have ranged from Destroyer to Rock and Roll Over to Alive II to the Ace Frehley solo record. All of those records leading up to the unspeakable Unmasked (albeit I'm a lame sucker for "Shandi") are jewels in the rough, to lyrically paraphrase the Kiss guys. However, Dressed to Kill is one of the genuinely perfect rock albums of the seventies, much less one of out Kiss' catalog.

While the first Kiss album bears some of their toughest, mangiest and greatest tunes like "Strutter," "Cold Gin," "Deuce," "Black Diamond," "Firehouse" and "100,000 Years," there's something agreeably finessed and ear-poppingly fantastic about Dressed to Kill. Perhaps it's because Hotter Than Hell was only a slight misfire in that Kiss tried to amp up instead of groove, but Dressed to Kill in 1975 proved you could bob and jive tunefully with some of the most kickass licks of the decade.

Just the raunchy notes of "Love Her All I Can" is enough to sell this thing, particularly if you listen closely to the stoner, garage and the more uptempo doom bands out there today. Tell me you don't hear "Love Her All I Can's" driving melody everywhere today...

Then you have the peppy (and almost urgent) "Getaway" in which all the members take a turn at vocals in some capacity while the thing just moves and shakes its ass and is joyously upheld with a greasy solo from Ace. For my purposes, I adore the mesmerizing acoustic intro to "Rock Bottom" which even after so many times hearing it I never want it to end, despite the rock part of the track is sheer goodness itself.

"Two Timer" is just filthy in sound while "Ladies in Waiting" comes off innocuous and naive musically, but you know the tune is about banging chicks on the road in first-come-first-serve order. Of course, there's the pick-up lines snarling lasciviously through the breathy "C'mon and Love Me," a song so danged good it was considered Kiss' first true radio hit. Never mind the song invites women to drop Kiss to their knees and grind their muffs in their perverted faces...

How in the hell did Kiss get away with selling musical porn to us kids and it went sailing over our nubile heads? The whole Knights in Satan's Service tag the right wing cooked up during the late seventies was likely fabricated to swerve such audile smut from their children's ears, but none of it worked. The costumes, the personae and the larger-than-life stage spectacles far superceded the music as far as us children were concerned. Still, the fact Kiss' music rocked so damned hard through most of the decade before Kiss put some disco bump into their platforms on the Dynasty album is truly the reason they're the legends they are today. It's why Gwar is a cult band and Kiss are gods of thunder, despite one out-goring the other by droves.

That's one of the reasons the sleazy "She" gets pulled off so convincingly, because Kiss embraces the hard edges they sought to impress with Hotter Than Hell and still find a way to make it melodic as all get-out. Once again, how were we kids to insinuate a damned thing even with Gene and Paul boldly throwing "when she takes off her clothes" into our clueless ears? Yeah, we got the joke eventually, but man, the opening riffs of "She" are the stuff of legend, while Ace's solos are juicier than tangerines. Who cared about naked girls? That came later.

Of course, today's audiences will flock to Dressed to Kill simply because Kiss' calling card "Rock 'n Roll All Nite" rounds the album out with a perfect, leave 'em wanting more but consider the matter closed air. Personally, I, like so many fans having been with Kiss for over three decades, can take or leave "Rock 'n Roll All Nite." Put into the context of Dressed to Kill, it belongs here instead of ostracized from the preceding bouncy reverb of this album and displaced onto blase hits and live compilations. Only on Dressed to Kill is "Rock 'n Roll All Nite" truly appropriate after a ridiculous amount of spins from classic rock and payola-constricted FM stations.

Not to beat a dead horse, but as Dressed to Kill opens with the trashy but oh-so-addicting "Room Service," you have to congratulate Kiss for getting away with bloody murder. No other band in the history of rock can say they pulled such an elaborate swindle over their listeners' ears where they bribe children to their toys and lunchboxes while sending horndog shouts into the chasms of prospective sperm recepticles. Indeed, they'll take the pleasure with the pain...

Any wonder why I dug this shit so much, Mr. Day?


DPTH International said...

I've been a Kiss fan since the "Hot In The Shade" album though I was familiar with the band prior. I just wasn't hugely into music yet.

"Dressed To Kill" is my favourite Kiss album too. I has a 70's sound, but never dated. I love the darker edge especially on "She" but it has some super catchy songs all the way through.

I completely agree with your "album you can't live without" tag.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Cool, bro, I appreciate that vote of confidence. The older I get and the more bands and music styles I've partaken, this to me is the definitive Kiss sound, even if the first album and Destroyer are mostly balls-out, albeit every other album seemed to have to have some sort of catch or forced a number or two on them to expand themselves... DTK I think is the most natural Kiss album they ever did

The RIpple Effect said...

Hard to argue with that choice, but for some strange reason, Hotter than Hell appeals to me the most. Maybe it's the bizarre combination of songs like the typical Stanley title track, to the absolutely freaking great yet bizarre, "Goin Blind," to the Frehley "Parasite." This album may not have their hits but it got a personality all its own.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

I agree with that, Ripple. I can't rip on Kiss album up through Unmasked, and I think the personality you're referring to is Kiss trying to find some sort of different vibe to each album in the beginning since the first album has its own personality, DTK its own, HTH its own, Destroyer, even Love Gun. It's all still Kiss but each of those albums have different shticks about them, so to speak.