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VERSUS: KISS solo albums
Welcome to Versus. The series where we look at albums in metal history, compare them to each other, and see which one was the better record.
Today in the series, we are doing an internal battle unlike any battle we have done in this series. We are tackling a band that has been an inspirational band in both hard rock and heavy metal, the legendary KISS. It was tough to pick two of their albums to decide which ones to go up against, especially with the band retiring (as of this article) after an almost 50 year career in music. Then, it dawned on me, to tackle something that would be the ultimate debate between any and all KISS fans....the solo albums.
Spawned after creative frustrations and personal conflicts between the band members, all of the band members recorded and released solo albums on September 18, 1978. Today, we will look back at that time and decide which one of these solo albums has stood the test of the time, becoming the standalone best of the solo material. Let's begin this fatal four way matchup, in a battle I'm calling "The Best Above The Rest".
First up is "The Spaceman" Ace Frehley with his solo album. Cited by some critics as the best of the four solo albums, claiming that Frehley didn't stray from the band's classic sound, although I would disagree with this critique and you will read why in this section. Diving into this record, let's listen and see how Frehley would set the tone for this matchup.
The album opens with "Rip It Out". With pounding drums, and a driving guitar riff, and a catchy chorus, the song starts off strong. Frehley's voice is impressive in his delivery with his wailing on his highs and almost a little bit of swagger in his vocal performance. I love the impressive drum solo at the halfway mark by Anton Fig, segueing into a classic Frehley sounding guitar solo. A good opening track, full of energy and vigor, pumping the listener up for the rest of the album. "Speedin' Back To My Baby" opens with a blues rock guitar riff into a VERY blues heavy riff in the verses. I love the chorus of the track, reminding me of that classic rock sound you'd hear with bands like Boston. The addition of background vocals also adds dimension and uniqueness to the song. Showing off Frehley's experimentation and musicianship that he would bring into his solo career post-KISS.
On "Snow Blind", the track has a classic but simple opening riff with cowbell accents in-between the guitar breaks. Musically, it kind of has a southern rock energy to it, interspersed with the trademark KISS sounding chorus. Frehley's voice, being more restrained until the chorus, creates a great building effect into the chorus, which is great sounding in the mix. The pacing picks up near the halfway mark. With the addition of an organ in the background of the guitar solo, adds dynamics to the track and fills the space of the mix. Frehley shreds to a building crescendo as the organ matches the intensity back into the main riff. My personal favorite track off the album. On "Ozone", the dueling mix of acoustic and electric guitars throughout the opening is mixed beautifully. You hear both instruments playing equally without the other dominating. Frehley delivers a more grittier vocal, which matches the energy of the song perfectly. The song has a fusion of blues and hard rock in the instrumentation and the feel of the song, especially on the chorus. A very eclectic song with so much unique song structure, instrument choices and playing style throughout. "What's On Your Mind?" has a unique hopping back and forth with electric guitars and beautiful acoustic guitars into the verse section. Frehley performs his vocals with more gusto in his delivery. Giving off the feeling of being almost the power ballad of the song. The song definitely has a radio-friendly feel and energy to it, and he performs this mixture very well. I love the energy of the chorus and the singing of the song's title into the wailing guitar solo.
On "New York Groove", a Hello cover, the song opens with a thumping clapping/stomping mixture with a simple and building guitar section. Leading into catchy ooo's and catchy background vocals. Instantly channeling the original, but enhancing it with the energy of the performance of Frehley and the easy instant crowd clap-along feel of the thumping drums throughout. This song was actually one of the most successful singles out of all the solo albums, and I get it with its catchiness, simplicity and ear-worm feel of the song. With "I'm in Need of Love", the opening ringing guitars, with effect-heavy distortion guitars echoing in-between the softer vocals, creates a feeling of build as the drum strikes keep the anticipation going throughout the verse section. I love Fig's drum fills throughout the chorus, and adding little accents in-between the vocal breaks. The tempo picks up about the halfway mark from a sultry slow jam to a more up-tempo fast paced riff. Frehley delivers his wailing and frantic guitar solo, while the drums keep the pace alive and upbeat throughout, before returning back to the slowed down pace of the song. "Wiped-Out" channels the energy of The Surfaris in the opening before turning into a more KISS-heavy sounding track, with an almost wailing, bluesy sounding guitar sound as the chorus picks up with Fig's drumming behind it and Frehley's clean guitar tone.
The album closes with the instrumental track "Fractured Mirror". With opening church bells and clean electric guitars rising from it, the song builds and is mixed beautifully. The clean acoustic guitar strumming, with simple drumming behind it as the electric guitars ring. With a subtle bass line playing underneath, it sounds so good in a good pair of headphones. Frehley takes his playing to an emotional performance with simple but effective soloing as the band hangs back further with the simplicity in the rhythm section. Letting Frehley shine as the album draws to a close.
Next is "The Demon" Gene Simmons' album. The highest charting album out of the four solo albums. The album focused more on a hard rock sound with Simmons' record. He would also incorporate pop elements to his sound, along with grander instrumentation like choirs and string pieces in the album's tone, even covering a Disney classic. How does Simmons' solo album stand up against "The Spaceman"?
The album opens with the demonic laughter and descending strings of "Radioactive". Creating an almost horror aesthetic and atmosphere to the song, accented by choir vocals alongside the chaotic and manic strings and drum builds. The riff and bass kick in, with Simmons' gritty & gravely vocals. The song's energy changes into a more catchy, almost pop sounding song, which makes the intro of the song almost feel pointless or unnecessary. The chorus is very catchy with the pounding drums of Allan Schwartzberg behind it, with little flurries of piano throughout the chorus and the song itself. Next is "Burning Up With Fever", with a gravely call out, the song opens with acoustic guitar, into a gritty/sleazy sounding guitar tone you'd hear on almost any 80's hair metal album. Simmons' bass keeps a thumping pulse throughout it into the catchy, background vocal heavy chorus. I love the short guitar solo at the halfway mark, peaking through at certain parts before heading back into the chorus. "See You Tonite" opens with plucking bass notes and acoustic guitar strumming. The song has a very, almost folky, classic rock sound in its performance. A weird fusion of like The Eagles & Bob Seger, but Simmons singing on it. I do like the contrast in his vocals and musical direction on the album. Almost breaking the notion that Simmons is "The Demon" so its expected his record would be dark and brooding and heavy, and so far it's not. But with the beautiful orchestration of strings and acoustic guitars, I personally love the track.
"Tunnel of Love" opens with thumping drums and pulsing bass strikes as the guitars slowly begin to rise and creep, creating a sultry, devious opening. The catchiness of the chorus and the call and response between Simmons and his background female vocalists is such a nice accent. "True Confessions" has the feel and energy of Foreigner in its musical sound and tone. Simmons' vocals shine well on this song. The classic rock sound of bands like Chicago is very heavily influenced on this record, and I think Simmons' album shows he can do this sound well and was smart to go for that direction with his material.
"Living in Sin" opens with reverb-heavy drum hits with Simmons' soft, whispering delivery. The song is structured beautifully as almost a radio-rock, pop rock sound in it's performance on the vocals and music. Great song, and I don't know why Holiday Inn wouldn't use the song in a commercial. "Always Near You / Nowhere To Hide" continues the feel and nostalgia of that 70's classic rock sound. Simmons' somber vocal delivery, over soft acoustic guitar pieces into slight drum builds is nicely mixed and done well. Another eclectic song with so much going on in it musically, it's fun to listen to the song as well as dissect the layering throughout the song. "Man of 1,000 Faces" has a nice brass & strings section behind the vocals on the verse. The song has more louder production, sometimes almost burying the vocals at some point of the mix. Almost a film score feel to it on the verse, before ringing electric guitars peak through the chorus.
"Mr. Make Believe" has another sincere and somber acoustic guitar opening with simple drums opening the track. I love the bass playing, though low in the mix, adds that little groove and bump to the feel of the song's energy. The chorus and background vocals again shine in the mix and perform harmoniously with Simmons' gentle side in his vocals. "See You in Your Dreams" has that upbeat energy that some KISS fans were waiting for with this record. It's a toe-tapper of a riff, and the accents of the female vocals on the chorus, match the performance and add unique range to a KISS style song. The album's closer is a cover of the Disney classic "When You Wish Upon A Star". The song's opening orchestral instrumentation totally takes me back to the childhood I had of watching those classic Disney movies. Simmons' does a pretty good job with his vocal performance on the song. Myself, I was a little hesitant how it would sound, but he does a good job performing it with his vocal range. It is a very soft and mellow closing track to Simmons' album.
We have "The Starchild" Paul Stanley and his solo album. The only album out of the four solo albums to include no covers and all original material. Critics also cited the record as a pretty classic KISS style record with just Stanley on main vocals, almost playing it safe compared to his fellow bandmates at the time. Not straying too far from the sound that the band made famous. With two albums already to compare to, does "The Starchild" shine brighter than his opponents?
The album opens with "Tonight You Belong To Me". With clean, acoustic guitars and light bass behind it, Stanley's vocals start to rise in the mix. A little buried in the mix in my opinion, his high's peak through and rise as the song continues. Then we get a heavy, ringing guitar riff, with thundering drums behind it as the song's energy and machismo picks up. Stanley's vocals come front and center with its commanding delivery, channeling the trademark KISS sound on the track. A great opening track, perfectly capturing that image of what Stanley's album would sound like and showcases his vocal range. "Move On" has another up-tempo feeling opening riff. Continuing that bluesy, hard rock style riff, accompanied with background vocals that match Stanley's almost Broadway-style vocals. A catchy chorus, memorable riff, and straightforward rock song. Almost pre-dating some of the songs you'd hear from bands like Loverboy in the 80's, creating a nice marriage of pop catchiness with hard rock instrumentation in the delivery.
"Ain't Quite Right" has an almost similar opening to the first track, but the pace picks up quicker. Incorporating more clean guitar tones and a driving rhythm section, mixed a lot better with Stanley's vocals all the way through this time. I love the simplicity in the band's playing. Creating a ballad-like energy without being a ballad, if that makes sense. The vocals are definitely the strong suit of this album and more prominent compared to the other albums so far. I do like the guitar solo at the halfway mark as it starts out simple and emotional, before rising into a little shred-territory, before dropping back down and landing back in the main riff into the verse. "Wouldn't You Like To Know Me" has energy and pop similar to a fusion of KISS and The Who in it's opening build. The catchy energy of the chorus, the impressive drumming throughout the song by Richie Fontana on the track, adds a poppy, rock/punk marriage of a song which is probably my favorite track off of this album.
"Take Me Away (Toghether as One)" has a theatrical feel and energy to the opening in the vocals and musicianship. I love the transition into a heavier sound in production, with the band upping the energy and pace, before lowering back down. Again, so theatrical in the delivery, with the song peaking and fading in waves. Which truly showcases Stanley's vocals on the song, as well as the impressive musical performance of the rest of the band. On "It's Alright", we return to the more upbeat, fist pumping energy of this album. The song definitely picks up the tempo from the previous track, and almost sounds like a KISS B-side to be honest. Still a strong song overall and a catchy chorus and ear-worm riff.
"Hold Me, Touch Me (Think of Me When We're Apart)" has that classic power ballad energy and feel to the song. Stanley's vocals sound so good on this style of music. Kind of like Stanley covering Air Supply. A beautiful song, with just his voice and the piano accenting him, with little drum spots behind it. This was also the only single released off of the album. "Love in Chains" returns to the classic, hard rock, fist pumping energy Stanley loves to deliver with KISS. I LOVE the opening riff of the song, instantly a toe tapper. The chorus is catchy, accompanied again with the background vocals, make it a great high-energy track. Again though, does kind of sound like a KISS B-side, but that is just my opinion. The album closes with "Goodbye". With chorus heavy opening guitars, and reverb drenched drums, the driving bass picks the pace up as we head towards the finish of the album. With the continued energy of the previous track and Stanley's "preaching" high notes, the album closes it with a pulsing, but somehow mid-tempo track, concluding the audio journey of "The Starchild".
Lastly, we have "The Cat" Peter Criss with his album. Criss took inspiration and material with his album from his previous band Lips. With half of the album's songs as songs meant for his pre-KISS band. The album would face backlash as being the "weaker" of the four solo albums. Citing lack of hooks or catchy tracks, compared to his fellow bandmates. Is this true? Does the cat have no claws in this matchup between his fellow brothers in rock?
The album's opener "I'm Gonna Love You", has an almost country/honky tonk feel with the opening piano and guitars. Criss' vocals are strong and very present in the mix. The song, to me, has a Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen energy and sound to the song, but it works with Criss' vocals. The instrumentation is good with so many different instruments and sounds on the track. "You Matter To Me" has a synth opening with a pulsing bass and a simple drum rhythm. Kind of having a disco-like feel and tone that KISS would do on their Dynasty album. The song is good, channeling that nostalgia of pop from that time, adding different fusions of genres and sound. With Criss' vocals doing very well with this mix of genres. With "Tossin' and Turnin", a Bobby Lewis cover, the song has a ringing guitar opening with Criss delivering a classic blues singer performance, accented by background vocals adding a doo-wop feel to the song. A good cover and musically another toe-tapper and I can picture it being played on the radio at the time.
"Don't You Let Me Down" is another ballad, slow-paced song. With a very pop-heavy tinged production style, with instrumentation that almost makes it sound like a Beach Boys song. It is a very poppy, almost yacht rock sound in its delivery. "That's The Kind of Sugar Papa Likes" has the upbeat, doo-wop energy from the "Tossin' and Turnin" track. I instantly started bobbing my head along with the song, with the rhythm section creating that pulsing effect underneath the synths and vocals of the song. "Easy Thing" has a nice, calming opening acoustic guitar passage. Criss' vocals have a sadness and sorrowful feel in the delivery over the acoustic guitars. With the rising string sections behind him, as a KISS fan, you can't immediately get that "Beth" energy and feel as he sings the track. Then the tempo and key picks up as the emotion pours out of Criss' vocals as the song builds up and his vocals become more emotional and heartfelt. Potentially his best vocal performance on the album.
"Rock Me Baby" has a great opening piano section, then the accompaniment of the brass section just sounds so good. Vocals are strong and demanding in the vocal delivery. The band is hitting its mark on this track, with the horns section, background vocals and layering of everything, it makes me miss when band's would have so much musical influences and instruments in one song. "Kiss The Girl Goodbye" has a VERY heavily reverbed Criss opening the song with fingering acoustic guitar behind him with light tambourine as well. A gentle, emotional, folkie sounding track in its performance. With "Hooked on Rock 'N' Roll", the song has that continued unique and epic production and instrumentation. With the song having a feeling that this would be an influence to Huey Lewis & The News in it's sound and singing style. The album closes with "I Can't Stop The Rain". A beautiful opening piano piece starts the song, then being joined by acoustic guitar. The song has great orchestral sections throughout the song, along with reverb-heavy drums into the chorus. Criss goes for the gusto at the end of the track, leaving everything on the track as this somber and beautifully arranged track comes to a close.
After the pyro, blood spitting, fire breathing and flaming guitars have died down, and the curtain has fallen on the legacy of these four men, who truly won the matchup of the best solo album? For me, in my opinion, Ace Frehley wins this Fatal 4 Way of solo albums. Frehley's solo album is the strongest in my opinion, The songs were catchier, music was stronger, and was a lot better record front to back. Simmons' album was probably my second favorite album. I feel like Simmons voice sounded great in the "hard rock" sound Simmons said he was going for. His voice was good and mixed well with this sound and I was surprised with how good the record was to me. Stanley's record had moments that were good and I did like, but I think Stanley, and I hate to say this/use this term, but I think he played it safe with his solo album. The other bandmates included new elements, genres and other unique choices in their albums. While I feel like some of the songs just sounded like KISS outtakes or B-Sides. Criss' album was unique to me. A lot of the record sounds very poppy and channeling popular acts like I mentioned in his section, but compared to the other band member's solo albums, it just didn't have the same punch or impact as the other albums. Still a good record, I don't think that the album deserves some of the criticism it gets. But I will declare "The Spaceman" the winner of the solo album battle.
KISS officially played their final show in December 2023 as part of the End of The Road World Tour. Criss and Frehley did not play with the band on any dates of the tour. After the concert, the band announced a "new era" of the band in which the band will live on and perform as digital avatars. Performing the band's classics but for a new digital age. Similar to Tupac's hologram performance at Coachella, but to a larger, grander extent. The avatars are making it's debut performance in 2027. Simmons has announced his first performance post-KISS as The Gene Simmons Band in April of this year. Stanley has announced some appearances in 2024 to promote his artwork. He also has his own band Soul Station, though no touring dates or album has been announced at the time of this article. Criss has been quiet and no new material or music, choosing a more quieter and secluded life compared to his former bandmates. Performing his last solo show in 2017.
Since leaving KISS, Frehley has been very active musically, with a consistent and strong solo career. He is planning on releasing a new album, 10,000 Volts, on February 24th, 2024. No tour dates have been announced at the time of this article.
Who do you think should have won this matchup of legendary KISS albums? Let us know your thoughts on social media as well as vote on our poll below. I'm Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.