Some people have been waiting since 1978 for a new Paul Stanley solo album. The last effort was the second best out of a batch of four solo albums that KISS did during a short hiatus from being the hottest band in the world. The Ace Frehley solo album was the surprising winner of that competition. Temporarily released from the tour shackles of “The Tribute Band Formerly Known as KISS” (TBFKK for short) Stanley announced a new album and tour. He stated quite clearly that this time he is doing it his way, with no compromise. Lapsed members of the KISS Army like myself perked up and waited with anticipation. Stanley certainly was the ringleader of the more pop period in KISStory, and this leads one to believe that he may have a finger on the pulse somewhere. I was hoping that drinking from the cup of Moloch has not left him artistically barren; particularly after that piece of musical doo-doo that his KISS colleague Gene Simmons released a couple of years ago. (Check out Simmons’ version of the Prodigy’s “Firestarter” for an example of cringing nonsense on par with your dad trying to dance “cool” at the family wedding.)
The album begins well in the sense that it sounds quite contemporary. Big fat Nu Metal guitars announce the opening track Live To Win, which really does rock albeit in a sub-Nickelback kind of way. This theme is carried forward for the next couple of tunes. Stanley’s 1980s pop rock sensibilities are masked to the point of obscurity, sounding somewhere between Linkin Park and Bon Jovi little brother. Then the third track cuts through with cheap sounding drum machine and cheesy synth-strings sounds coupled with the chorus from that KISS song that was a bonus track on the third or fourth “best of” album that was released in the later half of the 1980s. This is familiar territory for Paul. He is happiest here, I think, because he doesn’t really stray from this ground for the remainder of the album. It shouldn’t really come as any great surprise that a songwriter who has pretty much made a career out of churning out the same five songs over and over again may have run out of ideas. KISS were never about breaking boundaries, they were a great party band, and now they are their very own tribute band.
From the release notes Stanley would have us believe that he is doing his own thing and doesn’t want to compromise his creative talent anymore. A fine sentiment, and one that you cannot argue with. Cool Paul, go right ahead break your neck. Push the boat right out, perhaps bring in some new creative talent to counterpoint your own. After all, your last album was last century. What? Oh you’d rather use Desmond Child like you have done for the last 30 years; OK that’s fine too. Yes, of course you can write with Holly Knight again, I have no objections. Who is this new guy that you have brought in, a pop genius with his feet firmly in the 21st century no doubt? Nope, Andreas Carlsson, who was famous for penning tunes for some youngster called Britney Spears, a bunch of losers that went by the name Backstreet Boys, Hillary Duff (who?), and, ah surprise surprise, Bon Jovi. Way to do it your way, Paul.
The result is unfortunately a retread of everything you ever heard by KISS in the sans-make up period (think Hot in the Shade, where the songs were also co-written by Child and Knight). It is a fun but not very satisfying chunk of slick, over-chewed bubble gum. I say that like it is a bad thing, but in honesty it sometimes really isn’t. Messrs Stanley and Simmons have only really ever wanted to push the pop buttons and catch the pennies when they fall. They never made any secret about it. In their heyday they grabbed everything that they could, branded it with the KISS logo and sold it. Even the last Paul Stanley solo album was marketed so. Without the KISS banner to prance in front of, Stanley is making it all too obvious that he has nothing new to say.
I’m not sure that I should have expected anything different.
The review was originally posted on popmatters.comhttps://www.popmatters.com/paul-stanley-live-to-win-2495793734.html