"Out of all the records we've ever done solo or as a group, I think that one showed that the guy behind it didn't really have a clue."
"I'd give mine a five... I really worked hard."
"That album I just don't get. I can't give it any stars."
"Dih-dih-dih ba ba, dih-dih-dih ba ba."
As a longtime Kiss fan, I'm inclined to go through listening phases when listening to the band's music. Sometimes it's that one song, that one album, or even a whole particular era. For example, when I get on a "Rock and Roll Over" kick, I inevitably pull out "Love Gun". With such a huge catalog, Kiss fans can group stuff together to have the ultimate listening experience. "Dynasty" and "Unmasked" are two more 'sister records' that together paint a real clear picture of where Kiss was at that particular time ('79-'80). But there's a record that has no musical companion, sticks out like a sore thumb, and is probably regarded as being the weakest collection of songs released bearing the Kiss logo. That's right! The Peter Criss solo album! Even more than "(Music From) The Elder", this one has never been given the credit it deserves. After being a fan of it for quite some time (it was the first of the four solos I purchased), I recently gave it a critical listen and decided that it's redemption time for the Cat. The record is good. Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying it's better than "Alive!", but "Peter Criss" is valid.
I know I'm going out on a major limb here, defending something that Kiss members, critics, and an overwhelming majority of fans feel belongs at the bottom of the litter box (first really bad cat pun). So here, for better or worse, is my take on Peter Criss' Kiss solo album, which hopefully will serve to erase some of the stigma surrounding it.
The record flies out of the gate with "I'm Gonna Love You", a great piece of rhythm and blues flavored rock and roll. I'm talking old-fashioned style here: horns, female back-up singers, a great arrangement and chorus, minus bombast. In fact, except for missing the latter, this song doesn't actually stray too far from a style that has been heard in Kiss tunes like "Let Me Know", "Mainline", and even the studio version of "Nothin' to Lose". "I'm Gonna Love You" is a damn catchy number that definitely (in the Kiss tradition) starts off the record in a right way. One gets a sense of enthusiasm, a lot of which Peter undoubtedly had for getting to do an album that would show another side of himself musically. There is great drumming on this one. The beat is simple, and has great tension to it, ala Ringo Starr. The catman's vocals are right on the money here as well, definitely in the "Hooligan" league. Something to listen for: everybody's favorite feline employs a neat trick in the second chorus. Singing in the higher register, Peter cuts his part, rather than singing it straight through, which probably was a little out of reach for him. The result sounds great. He's in key, and it is a lot cooler than if he sang it straight through and just got buried in the mix.
After the relative non-shock of the first track comes "You Matter to Me". This is where fans may have originally gotten confused way back in September of 1978. Funnily enough, this is the song that made me want to buy this album! For the fact that this number was used in the solo album TV spots. During the ad, a lightning bolt crackles (albeit a very primitive one) across the screen and the "green album" appears, cat's eyes glowing. Meanwhile, the accompanying audio plays a piece of "You Matter...", but just the chorus. Amid the fire and fury of this commercial, the tune sounds somewhat like a normal Kiss number; I was hooked! But in reality, the song is a lot different. Opening with a part that is probably best described as a cross between elevator music and the opening sequence of 'Eight is Enough', there is no rock 'n' roll to be found here, as Kiss fans know it. However, once one gets past the super-dated keyboards, "You Matter to Me" isn't that bad. It's a fun song filled with familiar subject matter. Performance-wise, look out for the funny "that's why" parts towards the end. Peter's drumming here is very interesting. It seems that there are actually two parts meshed together, specifically a hi-hat and cymbal accent. To my knowledge, this was the first time on any Kiss album that tracks like these were combined, with the next time being the mighty "Keep Me Comin'" on "Creatures of the Night". So while it takes a left turn, "You Matter to Me" stands as a decent song, and as another opportunity to say his heart is like an oven!
Third up is "Tossin' and Turnin'", a cover tune that fails to match the spirit of the original, but is not without merit. Peter's treatment takes the song in a more bluesy, swingin' direction. I dug the adaption of the lyrics for Peter's needs" The "clock" in this rendition strikes three, not four, with the change being done to highlight a favorite numeral of the kitty. A great version of this song was performed live by "Dynasty"-era Kiss, as evidenced by the bootleg 1979 Largo, Maryland video, wherein Ace in particular rips. This is another fun song.
The pace slows down for the next one, but in a good way for "Don't You Let Me Down", a song that was the single release overseas. Peter shows another side of his voice here, and comes off as kind of a second-rate Billy Joel. This is pretty tender stuff, but not the tenderest. That is yet to come...
Side one closes with what has to be one of the funniest song titles in Kisstory, "That's the Kind of Sugar Papa Likes". I can openly admit to cringing fully when first hearing this. But now, imn my enlightened, cat-appreciative state, I have uncovered good points (well, actually two) about this tune. For one thing, the background singers are a blast, performing their parts with such gusto that a smile comes to my face with every listen. The other reason this song is not to be missed is a better one: the drumming. In the chorus, Peter pounds out a beat that goes like this:
dih-dih-dih ba ba, dih-dih-dih ba ba
dih-dih-dih ba ba, dih-dih-dih ba ba
Now, I know you're probably thinking that I've lost it AND you simultaneously, but wait. Do you know what beat that is? Think. Don't make me type it again. Give up? It's basically the same legendary, solid, totally rock and roll drum part Peter played on "Detroit Rock City"! That's right! Fans can hear here again the part that has never been done justice by subsequent Kiss drummers. The beat, which is derived from jazz, is a quick figure that involves some serious coordination and timing. Also, during the outro, Peter does double time on the ride cymbal, giving the fade-out a manic feel. I know this may sound technical, but understanding why this is cool isn't out of reach for any type of fan. Just listen!!!
So far, I hope I've shown why the Peter Criss solo album deserves a nod. Because the truth of the matter is this: if side one doesn't win you over, then this Cat's album is at the end of it's ninth life (second bad feline pun). Side two opens with "Easy Thing". This song seems to be an attempt at creating another "Beth", the first of three on this half of the album. This one comes closest. The vocals here are the highlight, and are rightfully up front in the mix. Overall, this is one of the record's best numbers, and farthest from the main Kiss sound.
Next up is "Rock Me, Baby", which offers nothing in return for the request it makes. It's a little hard to describe too, this one, but maybe this will do it: Huey Lewis could very easily cover it. Instead of sounding authentic, it comes off as an imitation of soul and R & B, and just fails. Too white bread! Peter relinquished drum duties for this track to a guy (cat? Ha!) named Alan Swartzenberg, so I can't even help him with some sort of technical analysis of his playing.
The cat tries going up the "Beth" tree (the third and most ridiculous pun yet) again for "Kiss the Girl Goodbye" but nothing saves him. There is no charm to this one. The production is a little weird here as well, which doesn't help matters. Hell, Peter co-produced it, he probably had a ball.
"Hooked on Rock 'N' Roll" could actually serve as a cure for the condition the title names, with some cheez-whiz lyrics that sound like leftovers from a Shaun Cassidy album.
The record that burst out of the gate finally crawls over the finish line with "I Can't Stop the Rain", yet another ballad that has visions of "Beth" grandeur. Did someone say tender? This is a major softie, but that's not what kills it; there's just nothing that grabs me.
All things considered, "Peter Criss" remains ana nomaly in the Kiss canon. While it may lack in consistency, it makes up for it with an abundance of honesty. To dismiss this album because there's not a "God of Thunder" on it or screaming guitars wouldn't be fair. The record is far from flawless, but let's not forget that aside from "Beth", Peter had never really been in the spotlight until this point. For example, in song writing, the other Kiss members all had more experience, even Ace.
I've always loved all types and styles of Kiss music. There's always been those who have dismissed the band as being one-dimensional, but in reality, Kiss has written songs in a variety of genres. This has always been one of my favorite aspects of the band. Peter's first solo album, while maybe not definitive or seminal, nicely broadens Kiss' musical spectrum.