Rock’s flamboyant blood-spitters make a ‘farewell’ tour stop at Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena on Saturday. That means it’s time to unleash a John Serba playlist of KISS classics, the good and the wretched.
KISS plays Van Andel Arena at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on its farewell tour. Tickets, $49.50-$215, available online here.
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KISS is it. KISS is the end. KISS is calling it quits. Maybe. Probably?
Forty-five years into its ridiculous, ridiculously influential career, history’s most bombastic rock band is taking a final victory lap dubbed the “End of the Road World Tour,” which should be subtitled, “No We Really Mean It This Time, Promise.”
We’ve heard this song and dance before.
Nineteen years and more than a dozen tours ago, KISS embarked on its “Farewell Tour,” which, considering the band’s business acumen, apparently navigated the gray areas of truth in advertising laws.
Regardless, the band’s stop at Van Andel Arena this week is most likely the last time Grand Rapids will see a performance by Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and whoever they’re employing to play guitar and drums (OK, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, respectively). The tour launched in January and will likely continue for two or three years, after which Gene and Paul will be of an age where retirement is more plausible than ever. That’s not a cheap shot; it’s the truth.
This is a long way of saying it’s as good a time as any for a KISS retrospective. I set out to assemble a five best/five worst playlist, which seemed apt for a band whose musical output has ranged from highly influential to utterly embarrassing. Turns out, more than five songs struck my ear as classics, so I ended up with a hard-fought eight best/five worst list that sort of accurately represents my love/hate relationship with the band.
(Note: I didn’t include “Detroit Rock City” and “Rock and Roll All Nite” because they’re 51 percent contrived pandering and 49 percent actual songwriting.)
THE LOCAL SPINS KISS PLAYLIST BY JOHN SERBA
💋 KISS ME
1. “Strutter” – Here’s an opening volley with a meat-and-potatoes verse wrapping around a crunching chorus and scorching Ace solo for the ages — just signature KISS from the opening roll to the last lick. Bam. Pow. Stadiums crumble.
2. “God of Thunder” – Gene’s “Demon” persona enjoys its own theme song thanks to this stompin’ Godzilla rumbler, which, derp, sorta half-assedly reimagines the Norse god Thor as a super horny bass player. The double-entendres about commanding “virgin souls” to kneel are so transparent, they’re more like quarter-entendres. Just be thankful there’s no mention of Thor’s hammer. Anyway, this KISS staple is evil and dumb and definitely not the type of rock ‘n’ roll God gave to you.
3. “Goin’ Blind” – Friends, this is what happens when Gene Simmons pretends to be introspective: meandering, sludgy nonsense and sideways, unintentional brilliance. This thing is just dumb as a stone and irresistible. “I’m 93, you’re 16,” randy ol’ Gene laments, the sentiment absurd extrapolation, not literal, because hey, this isn’t “Christine Sixteen” (yuck), and implies that the narrator satisfies his lust by doing the naughty, unbiblical thing to himself that allegedly makes a person go blind, if old wives’ tales are to be believed. Anyhow, Melvins and Dinosaur Jr both covered this song and made it kind of awesome, and that’s why I like it.
4. “Deuce” – The intricacy to the main dual-guitar “Deuce” riff keenly betrays KISS’ reputation as the kings of idiotic rock — although the thudding drums certainly underscore their distinctive simplistic pinheadedness. That’s a slightly backhanded-slash-complimentary way of saying it’s a crisp Gene-penned arrangement with nonsensical (“get your grandma outta here”) yet assertively cool (“DO IT!”) lyrics. And Ace’s searing solo nicely finishes us off. It’s three minutes of pop-rock perfection.
5. “Parasite” – Another smokin’ Ace riff here, and a right ugly, down and dirty one too, a dark and dextrous exercise on the low end. Gene’s menacing vocal borders on frightening, too. Of course, the song exists almost exclusively for Ace to give himself a sumptuous opportunity to shred godlike at the end, inspiring every 12-year-old within earshot to pick up a guitar and strike heroic poses, and maybe even learn a chord or three.
6. “Black Diamond” – This cut, sharp as a very sharp thing, borrows its melodic, groovy sensibilities from Motown, and marries them to articulate guitar licks within a smart, muscular arrangement. Would I ever accuse KISS of being musically sophisticated? I think I just did. Sorry?
7. “Cold Gin” – “The cheapest stuff is all I need.” You’re damn right. Ace, a notorious drinker, penned this boozin’ song for the notoriously sober Gene to sing — that’s some Merriam-Webster-perfect irony there, folks! Anyway, “Cold Gin” is cut from the same cloth as “Smoke on the Water” and “Iron Man,” in the sense that the big riff is so simple and stoopid you can hear Beavis and Butthead farting it in their sleep. You know — that moronic duh-duh-DUH-duhhhh clumbering along, lodging itself into the most primitive part of your brain and never, ever leaving, insisting it’s good. IT’S GOOD.
8. “I Want You” – It starts sweet and delicate, then explodes into an angry stalker anthem, Paul’s sensitive -to-tough-guy Jekyll-Hyde vocal transformation selling the brilliant manic-depression of this track. A series of cascading Ace licks leads the way home. The best KISS song ever? I think so.
1. “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” – OK, so everyone hates this shameless disco sellout, and they’re not wrong: It’s a whole lotta tinny Paul falsetto and very little guitar crunch, which was enough to raise the ire of dyed-in-the-wool rockers who preferred to use Bee Gees LPs for target practice. Their heroes betrayed them. But KISS would sort of make it up to them later, unleashing a harder, heavier version arrangement of the song live. Honestly, its hooks are seductive earworms curling up our cochleas, and there are a couple dozen worse KISS songs to cull from their dreadful 1980s output.
2. “Let’s Put the X in Sex” – KISS’ dalliances with hair metal often make Def Leppard look like spelling-bee champs. Thanks to their lurid, pro-party anthems, KISS certainly inspired the ludicrously popular 1980s musical trend, but by the mid-’80s, they fell behind Faster Pussycats and Ratts, desperately trying to vacuum up any stray cash. Speaking of vacuums, this empty, empty composition — a new track forced onto radio and MTV to promote a greatest-hits comp, 1988’s “Smashes, Thrashes and Hits” — is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but watch the video, and I’ll be damned if Paul and Gene aren’t giving it a hard sell so they can keep trolling for limo bimbos. This is shameless, even for KISS.
3. “Lick It Up” – For the vast majority of these interminable four minutes, Gene plays one note and Paul sing-shouts profundities such as “yeah yeah” and “lick it up, oh oh oh.” It was 1983, and KISS was dumbin’ it down sub-Spinal Tap. Motley Crue were Rhodes scholars compared to this dreck, which is a lot of turgid flailing in the hungry quicksand of MTV commerce. The verses are listless, the choruses dead on arrival, the bridge goes nowhere, the makeup dropped for generic posturing. Sharply written hair metal can be a guilty pleasure, but KISS’ attempts at it were pure pain.
4. “God Gave Rock and Roll to You II” – I hate this song. Hate it. Hate it from its phony, relentlessly mechanical and belabored hands-in-the-air swaying anthemic horseshit chorus, all the way to the uptight “and” in the title, as if it was afraid of a coupla little apostrophes. Good god, this is a wimpy, watery glass of tepid piss of a song, written by Argent, covered by Petra (Petra!) and later re-appropriated by KISS (with different lyrics) for no discernible reason except desperation. Remember when KISS fed on controversy for being “Knights in Satan’s Service,” asserting that rock ‘n’ roll was the devil’s music? Of course, it was all baloney, slyly manufactured PR courting capitalism. This is the same brazen thing, except terrible, just terrible.
5. “Great Expectations” – This is what happened when Gene and co-songwriter Bob Ezrin tried to emulate the most turgidly show-tuned Styx vibe, bringing in the Brooklyn Boys Chorus to polish off a track that single-handedly tries to torpedo the otherwise classic “Destroyer” album. Oh, and the overblown, grandiose arrangement also boasts the infamous Gene lyric, “You watch me singing this song/You see what my mouth can do/And you wish you were the one I was doing it to.” Classy. This might be one of those what-were-they-thinking songs, but that implies the actual employment of human thought during its composition, something I’m convinced didn’t happen in the slightest.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Serba is a veteran film and rock critic, formerly of MLive.com and The Grand Rapids Press. Read his current work at johnserbaatlarge.com, and listen to his Bullshit Old Guy Metal podcast.
JOHN SERBA’S KISS PLAYLIST ON SPOTIFY
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