Universal (CD or vinyl LP)
By Martin Popoff
What was Gene Simmons on about … a cross between “Revenge” and “Destroyer” or something like that? Of course that’s hype with barely thinking, and you can never go back, nor would you want to. Do you really think KISS songs from “Dressed To Kill” wouldn’t sound like kindergarten right now? Fortunately, “Monster” isn’t any of that.
Instead, it’s what happens when two dynamic, unique, legendary, signature vocalists (who just can’t help putting you and me in a good mood) meet up with a scholar of a classic-rock fan in Tommy Thayer (a maker of great mid-’80s records, but old enough to be an early ’80s guy), and a superlative journeyman drummer in Eric Singer, Badlands never to be bested. Both are long-time KISS members, but more importantly, you get the sense that their ’80s and ’90s music brains are complementary and catalytic to Paul Stanley’s and Simmons’ still goodly songwriting instincts, along with whatever other corporate but wisely tamped collaborations collude to make “Monster” such a hot rockin’ spread of heavy, arena-grade KISS, start to long-live-the-loud finish. First thing one notices is that the grinding, noisy playing along with the attendant red-line production of the thing make for a more organic and energetic record than the very good “Sonic Boom” album of three years ago. Impressed with that I was, but it’s positively tame compared to the wall of sound (er, sorry, there’s even a song called that) that is “Monster.” I mean, “The Devil Is Me” is a cymbal-crashed party, and “Back To The Stone Age” is the sermonizing of “Let There Be Rock” crossed with “Kick Out The Jams” and even the New York punk metal of The Dictators, with whom KISS finally make that natural link.
Elsewhere, there is indeed that slake and draw from original Kiss, that synthesis between U.K. glam and KISS’ own boogie-based contribution to glam. In this realm, there’s storied Kiss-proud cowbell party metal like “Outta this World,” “Eat Your Heart Out” and “All For The Love Of Rock & Roll” (which sounds enough like the old Tuff Darts song of the same name to make one wonder if they know it). Then there’s “Freak” and “Last Chance,” where those chromium melodies collide with songwriting and arranging that is more complicated than at first glance. And man, adding to this inspired vibe of loomed large integrity, is the fact that Gene’s bass is often buzzed to Lemmy proportions and Steve Harris volumes, as evidenced on “Shot Mercy,” one the album’s smartest tracks, one that brings the bar-room clang of, well, at least party-grade Motorhead, thanks to a kick-ass rhythm track from Eric and Gene. The theme falling out of “Monster” is a surprising and noble one. Nay, never expected to have Gene pick and then try sell the vibe for us, but I’m glad it’s even better than his load of it. Not “Revenge” or “Destroyer” or anything, “Monster” in fact sounds like the under-rated and snarling “Carnival of Souls” crossed with The Dictators’ “Bloodbrothers,” the self-titled New York Dolls, “Get Your Wings” from Aerosmith, and “Sonic Boom” by these four wily rockers that know how to throw a party.