Friday, November 1, 2013

KISS - Animalize

We were nearing the end of the 1984/85 school year, and the student council met a final time to schedule our annual end-of-year assembly, the one where the leaders in the council get up, hand out awards, say the class’ final goodbyes and share a few memories. We also surveyed the class to identify their favorite things, like TV shows (The Cosby Show), movie (Purple Rain) and favorite song.

As the Senior Class President and general man about musical taste, I remember thinking that there would be no way a song I thought was “Cool” would make it to the top of the survey, thereby making our class appear a tad bit more “cool” in the process. I may have had a bit of pull in my lobbying abilities, but I understood the reality of trying to get a large percentage of our 150 student class size to agree on one song to be next to impossible.

A friend of mine with equally decent taste in music presented a great idea. He figured that we lobby for a song so ridiculous that we’d get a large percentage of people willing to take part in the joke, thereby making our choice victorious. With so many excellent choices in bad music circa ‘84/’85, you would think that narrowing down a selection would be difficult.

You would be wrong.

My issues with Kiss are nothing new; they have been festering ever since I heard their music when it first arrived in the ‘70’s. My opinion was barely considered, as most of my friends loved Kiss, and I was forced to endure their bad music for many years.

By the 80’s, the band was on the decline-making my ridicule of them an exercise in comedic timing. Even the popularity rebound of the unmasking for Lick It Up was only a validation for the true believers. Nobody else in their right mind would even casually listen to that shit, and all of this made my salutations of “Kiss!” and other band references like spitting out water like Gene does with fake blood, made for comedy gold.

The friend I mentioned before was also a Kiss fan. He would endure endless ribbing from me for still hanging on, obediently purchasing Creatures Of The Night and Lick It Up. I got a little pissed at him when he bought their latest record, Animalize, without a second thought. It was as if he wasn't listening to me! Why was he continuing to buy these Kiss albums?

I’d visit his house and hang out in his bedroom, reading the liner notes of his latest Kiss purchases and make fun of every lyric, line by line. The lead-off single for Animalize was “Heaven’s On Fire.” We were subjected to it on MTV, announced every three hours and fifty minutes with Paul Stanley’s shrieking introduction while his hands emitted flames for the camera.

My friend suggested that we nominate “Heaven’s On Fire” as the favorite song of the Class of 1985.

We took the idea around to the different cliques and sold the idea of choosing “Heaven’s On Fire.” Admittedly, it was kind of fun at first, explaining that Kiss sucked and the song sucked and wouldn’t that be funny.

Sure enough, it won.

 We got up in front of the entire school, talked about how awesome we were and then read through the list of winners from our informal vote. There was a large yell when we named “Heaven’s On Fire” as our favorite song, but not everyone in our class got the joke. When the assembly ended, I overheard four dudes talking in the hall about the song choice, oblivious of the joke, but very much on the same page.

“What was the deal with Kiss?” one kid asked.

“Who even likes them anymore?” Another friend agreed, adding “’Heaven’s On Fire’ isn’t even one of their good songs!”

Apart from this review, the last time I listened to Animalize was in my friend’s bedroom, probably on some dreary fall day just like it is now. The only thing I remembered from that original encounter was how stupid the cover looked and how stupid the songs were.

Still feel the same way today.

One of the first things I notice with a fresh spin is how Gene’s bass is way up in the mix. And then I discover that Gene barely even plays on Animalize. Here is a prime example of how, at the core of this band’s existence, lies a cold and calculating dark heart. It isn’t until you get to the fine print of the liner notes, and in the folklore of Kisstory, in which you notice how the concept of “the band” is a completely fluid and irrelevant notion.

Players are nothing more than tools of the trade. As long as there is a visual product and a person (read: Gene or Paul) selling the product, then you have a band. Any notion of camaraderie or considering the band as a “gang” motif is immediately eliminated which in turns, practically stifles any level of emotional contact.

The limitations of Simmons’ playing are already well documented, but his nearly complete absence on Animalize is telling. Not only does he barely play a note, but his vocal and creative contributions are half-assed, even by Gene standards.

He takes sole songwriting credit for “Burn Bitch Burn.” Impossibly qualifying as one of the worst Kiss songs ever recorded. The song shows Simmons just throwing words together, patching lines together in no relation to each other, everything carried by an arrangement that has no sense of melody or cadence.

“Lonely Is The Hunter” is another blast of lyrical nonsense, strongly suggesting that Simmons was only minimally composing for Animalize, while focusing most of his attention on a (then) growing film career.

That leaves Paul Stanley with the sole responsibility of piecing together the rest of Animalize with a cast of friends like Desmond Child and Jean Beauvoir to help him out. And as you could probably guess, the results are a very convoluted mess of disjointed ideas. Stanley seems to have one tone throughout the entire record, loud enough to be annoying while showing very little range and, once again, proving how hard it is to get emotive over words you just shat out because you needed nine songs to make a record.

Eric Carr’s drumming shows little versatility beyond his ability to hit both sticks down at the same time and new guitarist Mark St. John demonstrates how the easiest was to get kicked off the Kiss payroll is to take too many sick days and assume that you’re going to step in the same role as Ace Frehley by playing everything through a fucking Rockman.

St. John’s most notorious moment didn’t come from his flatline soloing or (eventual) short tenure with the band, but with getting the piss knocked out of him while doing time for drug possession. It seemed that his performance on Animalize could not trump the fact that he was a snitch on the streets.

 But the real criminal activity is the fact that Animalize managed to become the band’s biggest selling album since Dynasty and that “Heaven’s On Fire” became the favorite song of my Senior class. It is deserving of nothing and should be used as another mark of the contempt that Kiss not only has towards its fans, but on the genre in which they navigate from.

On its own, Animalize is a barely audible blip on the hair-metal radar from a decade that is littered with bands that spent their whole lives working to get the one album or one song that Kiss manages to draw up in their sleep.

It’s hard to believe that a record like this would ultimately become as successful as it did, and it’s even more amazing that a band like Kiss could draw something up like this, straight from committee instead of honest collaboration and rehearsing. It’s almost like they viewed the material of Animalize as nothing more than a joke.

Which is ironic, because that was one of the first things a lot of us heard right from day one.

1 comment:

Cousin J said...

I remember buying this in the fall of '84. Grandpa & Grandma took me and my sister to the big mall in Peoria. They were staying with us as our parents were on some kind of trip. No doubt I guided them there and there were many "Goddamn it"'s and "Jesus Christ"'s thrown around.

Anyway, I was SO excited to see a new Kiss album on the shelves. I mean, we had Mtv but I don't think id seen the video for Heaven's on Fire and in the pre-internet age, I hadn't read about it in Hit Parader either.

Once I got home and spun it I remember it being a little bittersweet as I immediately loved Heaven's but thinking that the rest was pretty much awful. And who the hell was this Mark St. John dude? Where was Vinnie?!? I'm afraid time hasn't helped this stinker either. Paul's songs are generally weak and Gene's are horrendous 'by the numbers' pap. Outside of Burn Bitch Burn's rediculous lyrics, there is literally nothing memorable about his contributions. Paul became so obsessed with having a hit that he completely forgot how to write the clever sexually retarded lyrics that he'd become known for. Kiss fans would get bottom of the barrel drivel from both for the next 6 years until Revenge saw them return to their 'roots'. I'm glad you gave this 1 & 1/2 stars because you'll need room to go down as their next 3 releases get progressively worse. The next album, Asylum, put me off of buying Kiss albums for over a decade.

I was able to see them on this tour with an unknown Queensryche opening. It was both great as I got to see my favorite band from my youth, and a bit silly as they were still awkward and trying to find their 'non-makeup' wearing selves. And who the hell was the new guitar player!! I swear they never mentioned Bruce Kulick by name but it was clear that it was not Mark St. John!

A very memorable time and album for me. I shall do my best to never hear it again.