God Gaveth Rock and Roll and Taketh the Backbeat away…
he amazing happens! The unthinkable becomes fact! On KISS’s 16th studio album, all Gene’s songs are better than Paul’s songs! It only took 16 albums…
Revenge, produced by Bob Ezrin (who produced the KISS career high – Destroyer – AND career low – The Elder), is a cohesive, steel-belted sharpshooter. If it’s at all possible, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons deliver the heaviest album of their career, not just in production, but compositionally and lyrically, on an album where the Zeppelin influences flow passim (you can’t quite figure the homage/ripoff you’re hearing before the next one crashes into your cochlea). Guitarist Bruce Kulick’s scathing solos are the most fitting for Heavy KISS that he’s ever composed; melodic, ferocious, memorable, with a rich biting tone that no producer has yet pulled from his guitars. And drummer Eric Carr dies of cancer…
Shaken to our cores, and so sudden that it took awhile to register, KISS were forced to change drummers midstream as Carr’s cancer treatments and operations precluded him from performing on this next scheduled album. Carr’s death would force KISS’s hand to hire the drummer who tracked in Carr’s stead. We would see a new member gracing the back cover of Revenge – oh-so-blond Eric Singer! (A blond? In KISS?!) Respected session veteran from Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Badlands, Olivia Newton-John (!) (just so you don’t think only Mark St. John has bubblegum pop skeletons!), Singer’s drumming on Revenge is spectacular, his fluidity and smackdown precision reflecting his vast experience. Singer was only supposed to sub for Carr until Carr recovered from his operations. But Carr did not make it. Heartbreaking.
With this sadness heavy in our hearts, we held this new KISS heavy in our hands. If there’s one thing music is good for, it’s to dispel the gloom of harsh reality; to celebrate and move forward against crushing sorrow. We look at the cover: A steel-plated door emblazoned with the KISS logo – riddled with bullet holes! This album was serious as… uh, cancer? Oh God! Too soon, you nitwit, too soon!
The KISS X-TREME CLOSEUP DVD is released in August 1992, in conjunction with Revenge.
Unholy. From it’s opening semitone crunch to its diminished-5th riff (all devil’s intervals, to be sure! And co-written by that wizard of riff couture, Vinnie Vincent!), Gene Simmons grinds the opening track. “I was there through the ages / Chained slaves to their cages / I have seen you eat your own…” My god! My god of thunder… is back! “You send your children to war / To serve bastards and whores…” This is the song that should have followed the intro to Radioactive!
And look at that video: the absolute best Simmons has ever looked out of makeup, with a raggedy-ass goatee, his long weave tied back in a bun behind his head, rather than on top, black-lacquered fingernails, attire based around a black tee and leather pants. Now THIS was Gene Simmons, reclaiming his throne of blood. “I’m suicide and salvation / The omen to nations / That you worship on all fours…”
Matter of fact, the video is a hellish sepia-toned/black and white assault, with a gritty jerkiness that adds a filmic veracity to the visuals. Every member looks as street-cred as crack, with Gene once again adopting the twitchy Bat-Demon persona that he abandoned in favor of the 80s-Sensitive-Woman persona. We see drummer Eric Singer in his first KISS video; correction, we hardly see him through the flailing locks and thrashing limbs. And for all the shit that bands have to take about their hairstyles and clothing, it makes or breaks your presentation; in this 1990’s incarnation of KISS, some new hairstylist has made them FAAAB-u-lous! Gone are the girlish poodles of the 80s; they’ve got weaves down to their leathered asses, Paul looking especially sensual with that side-parting and his “fuck” t-shirt. This band looks like it’s about to knife you in an alley and jack your car.
Take It Off. A Mr. Paul sex song follows the demon gargle. Especially good for bringing hookers up onstage to strip in public like the whores they are.
Tough Love. Another Paul prancer, with a middle section ripped from Zep’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine.
Spit. Simmons is back in the biggest, baddest way. Matching his new fearsome aspect, his songs on this album are consistently scary as hell, even if they’re about nailing some fat, filthy whore, as this one is. Stanley trades off vocals in the chorus. “The bigger the cushion / The better the pushin’…” (Forget Zep! Now they’re stealing from Spinal Tap?!) Bruce tears into snatches of Star Spangled Banner during the solo. KISS would take these snatches and turn them into a feature of the patriotic outro of the live show (featured on Alive III, with what has become known as “Bruce Kulick’s Star-Spangled Banner”).
God Gave Rock N Roll To You II. Gene, Paul and Ezrin re-lyric this Argent song (written by Russ Ballard) for the movie BILL AND TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY. Ballard’s original is more musically challenging, but KISS (I’m presuming Ezrin in particular) do a grand job of retaining the song’s complexity, yet making it marketable for Bill and Ted fans.
The video is shot in a bare airplane hangar, with vintage KISS footage interspersed. Love the energy of Paul kicking up puddles, playing a Sunburst Les Paul (very cool!), trading off vocals with Gene. The last time you will see Eric Carr in a video with KISS, as always, giving his all.
Domino is one of those songs that seems to SIT as if it always WAS. Gene’s got “a man-sized pre-dick-ament…” in a song so well constructed, it’s been floating around the cosmos for eons, just waiting for someone to capture it on tape. Like Smoke On The Water or You Shook Me All Night Long or Rock And Roll All Nite…
The video would feature Gene cruising in a pimpmobile from SCARFACE, and changing the lyric, “She’s got me by the balls” to “She’s got to have it all.” We see KISS have completely forsaken the glam of Asylum and cut back to basics. As with their very first album in makeup, it’s black and silver to glory. But let’s get back to the R-rated album version… “That bitch bends over… I forget my name…ouw!”
Heart Of Chrome. On any other album prior to Revenge, this Stanley rocker would have shone bright, but with the Demon Reborn commanding the night skies again, it is relegated to Just Another Song. I can’t be sure what Kulick was wearing as he spiked this solo through our frontal lobes, but I’ll bet it was black leather pants.
Thou Shalt Not. Simmons once again captures that satanic lightning he rode on Not For The Innocent (on 1983’s Lick It Up). He tried it on Lonely Is The Hunter (from Animalize) but failed. Is it, in fact, Ezrin’s superior production and composition skills that have restored Simmons and KISS to their former glories?
Attitude immediately changes on Every Time I Look At You, Paul’s perfunctory “pussy song.” Excellent throwback tune; sounds like something from 70’s Alice Cooper. Uh, is that Ezrin co-writing again? Yup. Man, everything that guy touches sounds like 70’s Alice Cooper.
And what’s that crawling over Paul’s face in the video – a three-dayer? That’s almost as hilarious as Bruce once again pretending to play the piano. There’s a string section and wailing and regret and loss, and damn! Gene looks so badass and righteous with that cool hairstyle and playing his signature Punisher bass guitar, he’s even stealing Paul’s thunder in Paul’s own song!
Paralyzed. Yet another Simmons cranker, his lead vocal salted with an evil lower harmony. For all his absence (spiritual and physical) on the last four albums – now Simmons yanks the reins from his devoted buddy and bitchslaps him with them.
Paul saves his best for last; closes the album with the single I Just Wanna, with the evocative line: “I just wanna fuh– I just wanna fuh– I just wanna fuh-get you!” accompanied by a stylish white-background video clip.
Revenge is dedicated to Eric Carr (1950-1991), and the album closes with Carr Jam 1981, an instrumental (and drum solo) that Carr recorded originally with Ace Frehley, that sounds oddly familiar. Bruce Kulick overdubs the guitar – and we realize why when we realize what song it is: Ace Frehley’s Breakout, from his 1987 album Frehley’s Comet. KISS had to overdub it for legal reasons! (On Frehley’s album, there’s Carr’s co-writing credit on Breakout.) It almost tears our breath away when we consider this will be the last time we will hear the boy play. Much loved, much missed. Think I’ll go spin King Of The Mountain with tears in my eyes…
carr’s last jam
Of all the KISS members, Eric Carr’s tale is surely the saddest. From an oven repair man in bar bands, to drummer in the biggest band in the world! Made it, ma! Top ‘o the world! Not only that – he deserved it, with his breathtaking Bonham/Paice-styled drumming and all-round nice guy work ethic. He was one of the first drummers in an international hard rock band to use such a gigantic kit. Having lived past the 80s, we’ve grown used to that visual – but before Carr, there were very few who dared cover themselves in drums like he did. If Criss did not exit, Carr would not have bodily hurled KISS into the 80’s metal scene. Everyone speculates on Vinnie Vincent saving KISS, but the first actual save came from Paul Charles Caravello.
In April 1991, after the Hot In The Shade tour, Carr was diagnosed with a rare heart cancer, which sidelined him from recording the next KISS album (Revenge). Eric Singer was brought in to ghost on it, with the promise to Carr that once he got better, he would be back in the band.
According to Gary Corbett, KISS’s offstage keyboardist for the Crazy Nights tour, who befriended Carr, Carr was near the end of his tenure in the minds of Stanley and Simmons (for reasons unclear) and the cancer hit him at a time when they were trying to figure out how to oust him cleanly. This is earth-shattering information (if indeed it is true), and might explain the reticence of S&S when it comes to granting authorization for Carr tributes. To this point, they have not participated in any of the unauthorized biographies of Eric Carr, nor have they ever given authorization to make a “clean” documentary about Carr’s life because – here’s what they told Carmine Appice when he tried to film a tribute – they own the name “Eric Carr”!
On November 2, 1991, 41 year-old Eric Carr succumbed to complications (an aneurysm and brain hemorrhage) and died. (It happened to be the same day Freddie Mercury died, so Mercury stole his press. I remember back in the days of newspapers and music magazines, Freddie got front page coverage, while Carr got a few column inches a few days later.)
And while Freddie got a tribute concert at Wembley, everyone is waiting for Stanley and Simmons to stop being so megalomaniacal and let those who loved Eric do the same for him. Yes, there are many Carr “documentaries/biographies” floating around the web – but none of them contain interviews with S&S. And when S&S speak of that terrible time, they stick to the talking points (“cancer / we visited him in hospital / back in the band when he’s well / relapsed / died”) and do not deviate. It seems to have affected them morbidly – BUT – could their remorsefulness stem from the fact that fate stepped in and did what they were aiming to do, but in the most gruesome way?
Stanley’s account of the situation is just as credible as Corbett’s: In his book (Face The Music, A Life Exposed, Harper Collins 2014), he tells of how he forced Carr to take time off from recording to recover, not realizing that in doing so, he was cutting Carr off from the One Thing that mattered to him most – his relished job as drummer of KISS. To his family, Carr would paint he and Simmons as the bad guys who were going to fire him for being sick. A contrite Stanley confesses to being wrong – that he should have let Carr work out his last days, to the end if need be. Isn’t that how any artist would want to go?
KISS’s manager at the time, Larry Mazer, maintains that Gene and Paul were totally broken up over Carr’s situation, and that the criticism they get for being clinical and businesslike for completing Revenge is wholly unwarranted.
I’ve read all these stories about how non-feeling Gene and Paul were about Eric, and how they were coldhearted about firing him in place of Eric Singer – but I was there. I was in the meetings… / Unfortunately, the guys were in a position where they had to make a change. It was not coldhearted; it was not non-feeling. A lot of people held grudges against them for many years and I’ve read many, many interviews where they’ve gotten slammed, and it boils my blood… / All the criticism of Gene and Paul about the handling of the change from Eric Carr to Eric Singer is bullshit! They were totally respectful; they were crushed by his death; I went to the funeral with them. They were totally devastated by his death; he was a brother to them. But unfortunately, he had a disease that he was not gonna recover from, and the band had to keep moving forward. And that’s the end of the story – anybody that says anything negative about them in regards to Eric Carr doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.
— Larry Mazer, KISS manager 1989-1993 (from: 3 Sides Of The Coin podcast, 2-8-2022)
The last time KISS would see Eric is during the filming of the video for God Gave Rock ‘N Roll To You II. From his sick bed, he begged the band to let him perform in this video. We all kinda “know” when there won’t be many opportunities left to do what we do… Struggling to breathe and even hold himself up, Carr would still be seen in the final cut bashing the hell out of his instrument one last time. He would not live to see the release of the Revenge album.
We can take heart in knowing that this young lad’s last live gig with KISS (Nov 9, 1990) was at that iconic venue that is the benchmark for success – a success that Eric Carr richly deserved and attained – Madison Square Garden. Made it, ma! Top ‘o the world!