So, the Kiss Ikons project comes to Gene Simmons, in my view probably the most consistent of the Kiss songwriters.
Let me take this opportunity, too, to acknowledge that the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as expected, two days ago and from all reports the entire original band showed real class, and even seemed to show real affection for one another. None more so than Simmons, who also acknowledged Eric Carr, Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John, Bruce Kulick, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer in a very genuine way.
Kudos, sir! And congratulations!
So, on to celebrating his later contributions to the band.
Following Love Gun, in many ways the last studio album by the original band, the band released Alive II. In order to fill out the double album without repeating material available on the earlier Alive! album, the band recorded a side of new originals.
Among these was the Simmons contribution "Larger Than Life". It is, not too surprisingly, a celebration of his sexual prowess, a recurring theme in his songwriting, but I think this one might just be his best.
On Dynasty, he contributed one solid should-be classic, "Charisma". It's a little disco-ed up, but not to a strong detriment.
The direction taken with Unmasked suited Paul Stanley and his strengths more than Simmons, but he did pull out "You're All That I Want", which is a rare love song in the Simmons catalog and a solid one at that.
Perhaps I'm misjudging in some fashion, but it feels like Simmons is the hardest on Music From The Elder of all those involved. Stanley and Ace Frehley seem more casually dismissive of it, but Simmons seems to have a real frustration and hostility.
I suspect this is because it seems very much to have been his baby. Yes, I believe Bob Ezrin initiated the notion of a Kiss concept album and was heavily involved in the shaping of it, but the concept itself, with its very comic book sensibility, seems very much Simmons, and his contributions are the strongest. I suspect the sting of its critical and popular failure are hardest on him, as, I suspect those of "Unmasked" are hardest on Stanley.
For me, it's a long time favorite, and likely the Kiss album I'd most likely take with me on a desert island, as the saying goes.
"A World Without Heroes" is, for me, just a flat-out great song. It's Simmons best ballad by far, and for me, perhaps the best Kiss ballad.
"Mr. Blackwell" is funky little rock song that I really love.
I might have chosen I, which is another strong Simmons composition, but the Stanley lead vocal puts it in another category. I might have considered Under the Rose on another day, too. As noted, I'm a fan of this album.
But Simmons really came to play on fan favorite Creatures of the Night.
"I Love It Loud", co-written by Vincent, who was not yet the band's new guitarist, makes clear the new albums intentions.
The straight up favorite for me, though, is "War Machine", a flat-out killer and one of my favorite Kiss tracks.
Lick it Up starts the non-makeup era, and it feels like Stanley understood would be better than Simmons did what the new feel of the band was, and its very much his album, in the best possible sense. "Not For the Innocent" is Simmons's strongest contribution.
"Burn Bitch Burn" off Animalize finds him getting his sea legs with the new feel of the band reasonably well.
"Murder in High Heels" has a really strong groove and is one of my favorites off this album.
Simmons doesn't have another song worth noting again until Crazy Nights. "Hell or High Water", co-written with Kulick, is a fun bit of big '80s rock.
"Thief in the Night" is a terrific song, but frustratingly neutered by the fact that it had already appeared, in stronger form, on the Simmons produced WOW by The Plasmatics.
Hot in the Shade has a nice little throwaway in "The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away".
Revenge has Simmons back to killing it. Apparently retired from the acting career he toyed with throughout the '80s, he comes out snarling here with "Unholy", co-written by former guitarist Vincent.
"Domino" is a great bluesy rocker, that is as good as anything he's done
Carnival of Souls is a sadly lost and neglected album. An album with the non-makeup lineup recorded right before the reunion with original members Frehley and Peter Criss. It's a really strong album.
It comes on the heels of the "grunge" movement and shows it's influence, but, for me, in the best way. Kiss was a big, obvious influence on the sound of "grunge" and Kiss feels here, to me, like they're reclaiming their position.
They start right out with "Hate", which sets a real tone for the album to come.
I also really love "Childhood's End", which has a really genuine feeling. No, I can't quite figure out what he's talking about, but I'm continually intrigued and even moved by it.
Psycho Circus, the reunion album, I think, suffers from feeling trying too hard to sound like "classic" Kiss, but one of the standouts is "Within", which doesn't, in part because it's a leftover track from the "Carnival of Souls" album.
"We Are One" is one of the big "reunion" styled songs, but I like it a lot. It feels so good.
"It's My Life" is another song that was originally on the Plasmatics's "WOW" album. This was finally recorded by Kiss during the "Psycho Circus" sessions, and released on the Kiss Box Set. It's a killer number and, unlike "Thief in the Night", Kiss really holds their own on it and equal or better the Plasmatics version.
Asshole, Simmons non-Kiss solo album is a mixed bag to say the least. The title song is terrible and the cover of "Firestarter" by The Prodigy is flat-out embarrassing.
"Waiting For the Morning Light", co-written by Bob Dylan, is a solid, sincere effort, perhaps too much so.
The highlight is "Carnival of Souls", another song from the "Carnival of Souls" era, not too surprisingly, and it's a good song. I suspect a version recorded by the '90s era Kiss would have been better than the version we ultimately got, but I do like it.
I don't have anything else left to say about Simmons and his contributions really. They speak for themselves, I guess. His strongest stuff really defines Kiss in a way, for better and worse, and I think he's a terrific songwriter and performer... or can be.