Friday, April 29, 2022
Wednesday, April 27, 2022
Saturday, April 23, 2022
|Big hair, and hair shirts.|
Needless to say I don’t agree with this argument, and push back hard on it. I would never compare KISS to Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, nor even the better metal acts (Maiden, Priest). But nor would KISS, frankly. They’re a party rock band who happened to do that type of music as well or better than anyone. They know this, we know this, we’re all in on it together. And having fun.
I started listening to KISS somewhere around the dawning of my interest in rock music, 1987 or so, circa my freshman year in high school. The first KISS album I ever owned was Crazy Nights. By then, KISS had long been out of makeup, shorn away two members of the original band (and a few others like Mark St. John and Vinny Vincent had also come and gone). In place of fan favorites Peter Criss and Ace Frehley were Eric Carr and Bruce Kulick.
I knew KISS from the likes of Beth and Rock and Roll All Nite, but it wasn’t until 1987 and Crazy Nights that I became a true fan. So, I categorically reject the argument that KISS is a gimmick who roped in kids with the makeup. I’m sure that occurred in some instances, but come on, be serious—how long can that infatuation and shock stage possibly last? A year, three, 10? Surely not 50 years. A wave of trash bands with more shock and awe came along in KISS’ wake, and today no one remembers them. Underneath it all, KISS wrote a lot of good, straightforward rock-and-roll that kept the fans coming back. Simple stuff, yes. But if writing commercial rock hits were easy everyone would be doing it.
KISS was of course awesome in the 70s, taking a rocket ride straight to the top with the likes of KISS Alive. They were on lunchboxes, comic books, even starred in a terrible made for TV film (KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park). And, underneath the limousines and seven-inch leather heels, they wrote some of their best material in the 70s. Hard rock hits like Parasite, Strutter, Deuce, and Detroit Rock City, were great then and still are. Everyone loved KISS in the 70s—how could you not?
I do too. But, I’ve always had a soft spot for 80s KISS. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of my Crazy Nights tape, which I still have by the way. Maybe it’s one too many beers in the 90s, or in general a suspect taste in music.
Possibly, but I don’t think so.
I actually think KISS peaked musically in the mid-80s. Eric Carr was without question a better drummer than Peter Criss. Ace Frehley is an underrated talent who wrote some iconic solos and hooks, but Kulick can play, and at this point was far more disciplined in his craft than the dissolute Frehley. KISS was also facing much stiffer competition from younger, more energetic bands like Van Halen, and had to step up their game. To its credit KISS delivered with some awesome music in the 80s.
I’m going to leave one example, right here.
I love this song. Paul sounds phenomenal. In the 80s he grew fully into this voice. This was his best decade vocally. The guitar tone is perfect. The deep backing chorus is magnificent. The lyrics are what I want—empowerment, girl you messed up when you left me ‘cuz I’m the best, stuff I wanted to hear then, and still has a place now. It’s got power and punch. It’s better than just about anything you’ll hear on the radio these days but that’s not saying much, either.
I could go on and on with further examples. A few others: Creatures of the Night, War Machine, Lick it Up, Fits Like A Glove. KISS had it going on.
KISS was undoubtedly less popular in the 80s, ceding space in the limelight to the likes of Def Leppard. By the turn of the decade they already seemed a little old, perhaps a little out of touch. And they hurt themselves with a pair of turkeys out of the gate (I like a couple songs off 1980’s Unmasked and the ill-fated The Elder (1981), but no fan would call these largely lousy efforts their finest hour). But, for those who kept listening, after some initial stumbles they soon started putting out some really good material. It started with Creatures of the Night (1982), which holds up as an outstanding example of 80s hard rock/nosing up to heavy metal. I think it’s one of their best albums, ever. KISS continued to crush it on Lick It Up (1983), which got big props from the likes of Kerrang. Animalize (1984) was a step back, but who doesn’t love “Heaven’s on Fire” and the terribly underrated “Thrills in the Night,” one of my favorite all-time KISS tracks? Asylum (1985) had “Tears are Falling” and “Who Wants to be Lonely.” (“Uh! All Night,” a song about as subtle as a Penthouse centerfold, is embarrassing, but not really). Then of course came 1987s Crazy Nights, with its rousing anthemic title track, “Reason to Live” and my favorite, “Turn on the Night.” Which still makes it into my regular rotation when I want to hear KISS.
KISS closed out the decade with Hot in the Shade (1989), which I don’t think holds up as well as the previous albums I’ve listed, a bit of whimper to be honest, but since I danced with my wife to “Forever” at our wedding, because of “Hide Your Heart” and “Rise to It,” AND because it was the first tour on which I saw KISS, it still holds a soft spot in my hard heart.
So there you go. 80s KISS. You probably won’t find too many riding out to the defense of the band in the decade of excess. I can’t defend the most garish of Paul’s outfits (green sleeve gloves and tight white jeans?), his trapeze acts, or Gene’s hair. But their music? Yeah, I’ll defend that.
Friday, April 22, 2022
|Don't push it, or I'll give you a war you can't believe.|
|I have this edition... |
but not the knife.
Sunday, April 17, 2022
|We did not plan matching outfits...|
|The dumpy charm of Uncle Eddie's...|
|Ready to rock.|
Friday, April 15, 2022
Uncle Eddie's Oceanside Tavern is probably not a place you want to bring a first date. Or a female in general. Unless she is OK with spilled beer, loud music, and the occasional bar fight that spills into the streets of Salisbury MA.
Or happens to like British steel.
I can't wait for this. Maiden and Priest are my two favorite heavy metal bands of all time. And typically these tribute acts go deep on the cuts, deeper than the original bands themselves who have to appease mass audiences, fake fans who only know and demand to hear a handful of hits.
I'm hoping for "Steeler," "Rapid Fire," "Dreamer Deceiver," or "Starbreaker" out of The Hellion. Maybe Maiden New England will dip into the likes of "Prowler," "Burning Ambition" or "Judas Be My Guide."
Who knows. Regardless, it will be fun, I'm sure. I need a metal fix and I'm about to get it, double-barreled.
Wednesday, April 13, 2022
"If You Could Read My Mind," "For Loving Me," "Carefree Highway," "Song for a Winter's Night," and of course the highlight and everyone's favorite, "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." The latter was the highlight, and maybe it was my imagination but Gordon seemed to channel some deep wellspring of strength for this one. It was powerful and sounded pretty darned good.
Tuesday, April 12, 2022
Saturday, April 2, 2022
Friday, April 1, 2022
|Grim, but not Grimdark|
To cut to the chase:
Do read this if you are looking for something different, a book not easily categorized, that wears a handful of prominent influences on its sleeve. Some obvious ones are Michael Moorcock’s Elric, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. There are heavy echoes of both in here. I’m pretty sure I picked up on a few prog song references, too (Time Stands Still by Rush, Steve?).
Don’t read this if you are looking for traditional sword-and-sorcery. That this is book 1 should have already tipped things off. I would say it treads closer to mainstream fantasy, albeit with healthy doses of combat and weirdness that push it back toward S&S territory.
The book’s conceit is that the protagonist, a young rogue named Skallagrim, has lost his memory; he does not know who he is, and cannot remember his friends or his own history. He just knows the blue-eyed girl whom he loves has been abducted, and is due to be sacrificed on the altar of a sorcerer. This sets off a rescue mission through the Vales of Pagarna, a dangerous and weird valley. Skallagrim is also the beneficiary of a powerful but cursed sword with the portentous name of Terminus, a final point in time and space. It represents hope, with a bitter edge. Terminus is double-edged in every sense of the word.
The dialogue is pretty darned cracking. Babb has an ear for it, and that makes the book flow well, very easy to read. The quest is compelling and the encounters with the likes of flesh-eating ghouls memorable and fun.
I did have some minor issues with the novel. I’m an S&S guy through and through and prefer books where lots of things happen at a rapid clip. This book tends to take its time, although there is plenty of action, combat, and weirdness. To be fair there is no leisurely build up: Babb drops the reader into a swirling melee on page one.
The other issue is that I’m not entirely sold on the romance, at least through book one. As noted Skallagrim has lost his memories, but that makes his obsession with this girl not immediately apparent. His primary motivation is her rescue, and what is purer? But that doesn’t mean the reader understands why he’s so desperate and driven. I was deeply intrigued by Skallagrim’s encounter with a powerful and long-lived but fun and lusty water nymph, a memorable character who I hope returns for book two. And I suspect we’ll learn more about Skallagrim’s persona and motivations in the sequel.
A few other items I’m still chewing on… near the end of the book an aging sorcerer delivers a powerful soliloquy on aging. Although Skallagrim is young, the author of this book is not, nor is this reader. There is much in here about lost youth, and lost loves, and regret, and seizing the opportunity while you still can. The sorcerer’s words struck home, at least for this reader.
More ruminations… Skallagrim suffers a grim, face-altering wound at the outset of the novel and Babb expends lot of ink on the character’s disfigurement. Skallagrim is afflicted with bouts of self-loathing, guilt, and unworthiness, even contemplations of suicide. Some heavy stuff I was not expecting, and deeper characterization than you typically get in S&S protagonists.
Overall this is a solid first effort by Babb. Skallagrim: In the Vales of Pagarna can be read and enjoyed alone, as it ends with a satisfying final battle. Book 2 will presumably continue with Skallagrim’s pursuit of his lost love.