Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ikons - Demon

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.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Nirvana induction

Look, I'm deeply conflicted about and suspicious of The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

They've done a lot of shitty things, as I touched on in In & out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The omissions are frequently lunatic. They are also very dedicated to a very specific view of "rock and roll" that does not ultimately match mine in many important ways.

And yet, the inductions do lead to wonderful things. Some of the 26 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Reunions That Actually Happened are more than a little overblown, bullshit even, but others are genuinely moving and wonderful. I particularly got misty at The Ronettes.

It seems to me that the induction of Nirvana has particularly lived up what it can be at its best.

Does it matter if the burying of the hatchet between Courtney Love and the rest of the band was a show? It was a good show. A show of the legacy being more important than the differences in the end.

And performing? I've dipped into the YouTube clips, but I mostly want to wait and really absorb the performance with decent sound when it airs on HBO. However I saw enough to get a strong impression that they captured the most important and compelling aspects of the band, at least as well as they could without Kurt, especially that blistering performance with Kim Gordon.

But really the excitement is this story: Nirvana plays surprise show after Rock Hall induction. You probably know that already.

Is there a precedent for that?

Look, I think people got excitable calling it a Nirvana concert. Dan Solomon wrote tweet that summed that up, "The same people who make fun of The Doors (w/ Ian Astbury) or Sublime With Rome are pretending they saw Nirvana last night. It’s just doofy."

Have any of those other 26 Hall of Fame reunions done anything like that?

Those other bands obviously had much different reasons for not reuniting. If The Byrds, for example, had followed up the momentum of their induction performance with a full-blown reunion, it would not have, by its very existence, detracted from their legacy. It would simply have been one of the reunions, of one sort or other, they had over the time since their break-up, or members leaving and returning.

The Hall of Fame induction provided a rather unique opportunity to pay tribute to that legacy, and I think it was great they were able to jump on that opportunity. I think it's amazing that they were able to take advantage of it and did so. That set-list is just perfect.

The people who got to see that show do indeed have every reason to be excited to see such a monumental show. I'm sure it was amazing, and I do not lack for envy at their privilege, although perhaps I feel a bit less so for having indeed seen undeniable, no quotation marks Nirvana.

More, I feel it was wonderful for Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl and Pat Smear that they were able to celebrate something so wonderful and meaningful to the world, and I'm sure themselves, that isn't always easy or comfortable to find a context to play those songs again and really celebrate them. That's absolutely great.

In the course of my geeking out over this, I came across Kurt Cobain would have despised his Hall of Fame induction by Sean Beaudoin.

Is that likely? I mean, he went and accepted a lot of VMAs for a guy who would have despised being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, didn't he? I acknowledge that his ambivalence toward these things was almost certainly genuine, but I think it was clearly ambivalence and not simple distaste.

I'm pretty happy to take his mom's word that he would have been proud, but said he wouldn't. That sounds about right to me.

But does that matter? Does it matter what it would have meant to Kurt or does it matter what it means now for Krist, Dave, Pat, Courtney, Frances, his mother and sister and many other personally involved with Nirvana as well as millions of fans?

I've got on Pay to play, my Nirvana Spotify playlist, and I'm celebrating my glee that Mudhoney tweeted a picture of Dan Peters, Jack Endino, Dale Crover and Chad Channing, in attendance yesterday.

That seems to me as good a justification for my full endorsement of this event as I need.

This band is the establishment now.

UPDATE: I wanted to add The Inside Story Of Nirvana's One-Night-Only Reunion by Andy Greene, which I think is a glorious and exciting account of the events.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

In & out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Let's briefly interrupt our Kiss Ikons celebration. This will split it in half, and bring back the issues raised in Kiss off, so it seems relatively appropriate.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame doesn't induct, or doesn't just induct, a band name into its roster. It inducts a group of individuals that makeup that band. Largely, the rule itself has caused little controversy. One of the chief original ideas for it was, at least on the surface, was to avoid inducting the names of bands that no longer had original members, this was especially an issue with singing groups, many of whose names were owned by a record company or management group, and were touring, and occasionally even recording, under the name, but had no other real connection to the history.

As such, I think it's a very good idea in principle. Probably even necessary.

However, it does require setting where those limits are, which has been less successful. That seems to be really coming apart at the seams this year, as has been much discussed.

Kiss guitarist, drummer join list of snubs by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Mike Boehm lists some of this complicated history.

This year marks two groups, Kiss and Nirvana, being inducted. Both bands have a clear "classic" lineup in the public imagination. Peter, Ace, Gene and Paul. Kurt, Krist and Dave.

However, both have much more complicated histories than that, which is where the controversy lies.

In these and other cases the trouble seems to lie in the lack of a standard by which they gauge what makes a member worth induction.

In 1996, as noted in the article above, Doug Yule was left out of the Velvet Underground list, despite being on more VU recordings than John Cale, significantly more when one notes that the majority of songs on both popular "rarities" collections, VU and Another View, which were a large part of the rediscovery of the band, were recorded with Yule. One might also note that the VU songs one is almost certain to hear on the radio, on the rare occasions one might hear VU songs on the radio, "Rock & Roll" and "Sweet Jane" basically, were recorded with Yule.

The Artist Formerly Unknown as Doug Yule by Jennifer Yule covers some of the details of that, along with much else worth reading, I think.

The whole thing has the stink of politics, but if the Hall of Fame were to be what it aspires to be, and claims to be, it should be above such things, or at least appear above such things.

Having no clear standard, even one that allows for a bit of abstraction in one direction or the other, would allow them to be able to defend the choices on historical or artistic grounds. The answers we get now are fuzzy.

I covered the controversies surrounding the Kiss members selected for induction, and my thoughts, in my post "Kiss off", linked above.

There has been a similar, but smaller fuss over the inclusion or non-inclusion of original Nirvana drummer Chad Channing, which most Nirvana fans supported. The up-to-date news, per Nirvana’s Ex-Drummer Chad Channing Won’t Be Inducted Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Brian Ives among other sources, is that he won't be.

I think Chad should be in. How does that fit with my disagreement with Kiss over their new guys? Certainly, when it appeared Chad was being included, there was a lot of "If Chad Channing is inducted, shouldn't Tommy Thayer be inducted too?", although I suspect some of that was manufactured by the media. Does that mean every passing member of every band should be inducted with them for historical accuracy?

Here, I'll give a standard. We'll see if that helps.

"Contributed in a significant fashion to Rock & Roll history as a member of the inducted band, especially as part of their musical and artistic legacy."

You see, it's fuzzy. It could use work, I think, but it's a start.

Channing helped build the Nirvana sound in the early years. Not only playing on the bulk of Bleach, their first album, but touring with them for two years, playing and creating a great number of the songs that would make up Nevermind, including demoing many of them. Dave is on record as noting the influence of Chad's playing on how he approached drumming for Nirvana, including how little he changed in the style of songs they re-recorded from earlier demos that Chad played on.

That's a pretty inarguable significance to the overall history of the band and, as such to Rock & Roll history, as it applies to the significance of Nirvana, who is being inducted.

It's a much more tangible artistic significance than I personally can find for Eric Singer, who I have no beef with. I just don't see him as more than a footnote in the history of Kiss. He has successfully toured as part of their glorified "greatest hits" package for a lot of years, he appears on two albums that no one outside obssessive fans, myself included, have heard. He's a good drummer and probably a good guy. Most likely a better drummer and better guy than Peter, who obviously has a number of personal problems.

However, Peter is the one who "contributed in a significant fashion to Rock & Roll history as a member of the inducted band, especially as part of their musical and artistic legacy."

Mind you, I think Eric Carr qualifies by that definition as well.

It's fuzzy still. I don't know how you could create a definition that didn't leave a little fuzzy area.

But if we look at the other members of Nirvana, it helps, for me, clear it up.

Dale Crover, of The Melvins, is the only other player I'd even consider qualifying. He played on a 10 song demo the band recorded with Jack Endino to secure their deal with SubPop Records. 3 of those songs were included on "Bleach", 4 of those songs were included on Incesticide, the "rarities" collection released between "Nevermind" and In Utero, and 2 more of them were eventually included on With the Lights Out box set. Those recording are electrifying and, for me, among the best things the band ever recorded.

The problem is that the drum sound he creates with them is a dead end, at least in terms of Nirvana. Chad had his own style. Dave had his own style, that included elements begun by Chad. But nothing familiar to the public sounds like the Crover stuff, for better or worse. In terms of the band achieving success on the scale they did, and needed to for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, one assumes, they probably needed to move on from that sound. One notes that Crover's band is not being considered for inclusion, despite enormous artistic achievements.

(As a total side note, I just saw The Melvins's King Buzzo doing an acoustic set in support of his album This Machine Kills Artists, which was fucking fantastic. If you get a chance to see him, I highly recommend it.)

If you want historical completeness, then there are others, but I can't bring myself to think the full barrage of Nirvana players should be listed.

Jason Everman, was credited on "Bleach", but only played on "Do You Love Me?", their Kiss cover, of all things, that can only be found on Hard to Believe: A Kiss Covers Compilation.

(Hard to believe now that album was released long enough ago that anyone would think a compilation of Kiss covers would be "hard to believe".)

For the record, while I'm not endorsing Everman's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of fame, you should still read The Rock & Roll Casualty Who Became a War Hero by Clay Tarver, if you have not, in order to find out more about Everman and his life since Nirvana.

I can't come up with an argument for Everman's conclusion. He was hired in part for his Heavy Metal presence, which matched, in part, the sound the band had on "Bleach", recorded before he joined, and that was largely abandoned after he left. I can't see that he contributed significantly to the artistic or musical legacy.

Dan Peters is wonderful, and if I handled the nomination process myself, would be inducted as a member of Mudhoney. The single he played on is "Sliver", which has much larger significance. It might be the first record they released that sounded like "Nevermind", it had a video on MTV, etc., but the demos recorded with Chad previous to that shows that to merely be the direction the band was moving in. Peters was, by most reckonings, a placeholder in Nirvana.

Pat Smear, of The Germs, yet another band I'd induct into my Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, toured with Nirvana for "In Utero", played with them on Unplugged, but doesn't seem to have made a meaningful contribution to the band, aside from allowing Kurt more comfort with his live guitar playing during that period, due to having back-up.

No one wants me to examine Aaron Burckhard, Dave Foster or Melora Creager for inclusion potential, do they?

I can imagine a future in which Pat Smear and Melora Creager's contributions to Nirvana's sound from "Unplugged" along with that tour could have evolved into something more significant in their musical legacy, but sadly that was not to be.

Ultimately, I don't find a significant justification for anyone other than Chad in Nirvana by the standard I applied, and none of those I failed to include by that standard that made me re-think the standard itself.

In writing this, I've noted that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's induction process for members of inducted bands is unnecessarily arbitrary, at least from artistic and historic perspectives. I've also noted three bands associated with Nirvana - The Melvins, Mudhoney and The Germs - that I feel have made significant enough contributions to rock & roll and have not been, and almost certainly will never be, inducted. I suspect the flaws in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in practice certainly, although likely in theory as well, are finally showing through the nice show they put on of themselves.

Probably only to huge music dorks like me, right? And different dorks have different issues, so we do little to help each other.

I know many people who gave up thinking about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It's much the same as me finally giving up on the Oscars a few years back, I'm sure, and that's a decision I've never, ever regretted.

And yet, despite saying all of that, I'll almost certainly be watching on HBO when it airs, because... it's fucking Nirvana, and for me, if only this once more, that makes it worth pretending, one more time, that it means something real. I'll pretend really, really hard.

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