Best song: “Love Gun”
Worst song: “Tomorrow and Tonight”
What will The Hottest Band In The World give us next? Consider: Kiss is now at the top of the music world. A poll before Love Gun was released said they were the most popular band among Americans, bigger than the mighty Led Zeppelin. Rock and Roll Over was successful, but it wasn’t Destroyer. Time for the band to put together everything they’ve learned. Time to really showcase all four members. Time for Ace to sing one of his compositions. Time for Peter to deliver a decent song.
“I Stole Your Love” has a nifty riff to kick things off and an moderately clean tone. Turns out Paul was inspired in part by Deep Purple’s “Burn”. I love that song, but I never noticed the similarity until I read about it online. Now I can’t un-hear it, but that’s fine. It’s a good midtempo rocker and manages to simultaneously feel slick and raw. Well done. Were it not for Ace’s breakout hit and the title track, this would be the star song on an album of good ones.
“Christine Sixteen.” Look, there’s nothing I can say here that will change the fact that the narrator (*cough* Gene *cough*) is trying to pick up a sixteen year old. He even says “I don’t usually say things like this to girls your age.” Well good; don’t start now. Alas. Yet it’s actually a good tune. It’s catchy. The piano (?!) works reasonably well. The vocal back-and-forth of Gene and Paul with the “Christine!” “Sixteen!” thing has no right to sound as good as it does, but there it is.
Even the filler songs on Love Gun are mostly solid and catchy, and “Got Love For Sale” is a case in point. The Lennon-McCartney of Stanley-Simmons is rarely as effective as it is here with the “Whoa no” bits and Paul’s silly “Have love, will travel” on the choruses. This song is better than most of the songs on Rock and Roll Over, yet here it’s just one of the bunch.
Now the big moment. At last, the Spaceman cometh up to the microphone. And he delivers a surprise winner with “Shock Me”. His voice isn’t the best in the band, but it’s not bad by any means. The song is clever and relatively tame — except whoa, “put on your black leather”? All right, Ace, go you. The solo is, as you would expect, a fine Frehley showcase to complement his new-found voice.
“Tomorrow and Tonight” is for me the weakest moment on the album, but it still beats the tar out of several tracks on Rock and Roll Over (“Baby Driver” and “Mr. Speed”, ugh). It’s another in the “Rock ‘n’ Roll All Nite” / “Shout It Out Loud” party anthem tradition, but it feels a bit more like, I dunno, it belongs in a diner or a truck stop than at an actual house party. I think it’s the female backing vocals and the piano. It comes off almost like a 1950s hit rather than a 1970s one. It’s certainly not bad, but it’s the weak song on a strong album.
Side Two opens with what might be the best song Kiss ever wrote: the title track. It’s got the “machine gun” drum and riff combo. The lyrics are to the point: heck, the first line is “I really love you, baby.” And of course Paul is just singing about his anatomy. But isn’t there something adorable about it? He doesn’t say how big it is (as Gene will sing of himself on the next album) nor claim perfection (as Gene will later on this side). He does say “You can’t forget me, baby” and promises that the woman will “sweat” when they get together. But it’s still a Paul love song, trying to balance the sex with the emotion. And the hard-punching machine gun sound is balanced in the outro by some really sparkling lead guitar, which at times truly sings (listen from about 2:27 onward, particularly to the descending lick about 2:57). Like I said, there might not be a better Kiss moment than this song.
Okay. They cannot top “Love Gun”, possibly ever, but “Hooligan” is something remarkable in itself: a song written by Peter Criss that I actually like. So far we’ve had “Beth” and “Baby Driver”. But this one is a good listen. There’s more than a little bit of an autobiographical tone to it, and Gene and Paul get in on the chorus for a change. Damn you, Peter! “I got a ’35 Chevy on a ’55 frame / can’t even spell my name / dropped out of school when I was 22 / what can I do to satisfy you?” That’s fun to sing along with!
Gene says “Almost Human” was inspired by werewolf movies, and as recently as 2017 he’s still playing it in his solo shows. And good for him. The bass line is punchy (dare I say it shows a bit of Chris Squire influence?); the solo is frenetic but perfectly fits the “roaring” of a beast. The song is better than filler and should have been on the tour. (When I look at the Love Gun tour setlist, my choice to drop to make time for this is “Ladies’ Room”, but what do I know?)
The second song and the penultimate song on the album are both by Gene, both have a two-rhyming-word title, and both are kinda scandalous. “Plaster Caster”. At least Cynthia Plaster Caster was 30 when Love Gun released, not 16. “My love is in her hands” indeed. “The plaster’s getting harder”. That’s not all, I’m sure. “If you wanna see my love, just ask her.” I don’t think Gene has ever claimed to be subtle, so at least on this point he can protest his honesty. Musically and structurally, once again, it’s kinda goofy fun. Oh, and at 2:47, “She calls me by the name of Master.” Well hey there, Gene! Introducing BDSM to a new generation of kinksters! (Oh wait, you already contributed to that with Destroyer‘s “Sweet Pain.”)
The closing track is the head-scratcher: “Then She Kissed Me”, the gender-swapped version of a hit by The Crystals, originally produced and co-written by the infamous Phil Spector. (The Crystals are probably most remembered today for “Da Doo Ron Ron.”) This is another “Paul Is Sappy” song. It contrasts well with Peter The Dropout and Gene The Sex Monster from the previous three tracks, but is it good? It might be the worst song on the album (either this or “Tomorrow and Tonight” gets that label), but it’s still okay. Contrasting it with the original by the Crystals, the shocking thing is that Kiss has taken the tempo down a lot. The original arguably rocks more. But it’s fine. It’s inoffensive enough. And we’re done.
This is the most consistently good album in the catalogue. Its worst moments (the two side-closers) are at worst “meh, whatever”, not “dear god this is stupid”. Even the mighty Destroyer has its one weak moment in “Beth” (yes, I know, lots of people love it; we just have to agree to disagree). So let’s compare their high points. If you take the two finest Destroyer pieces (“Detroit Rock City” and “Do You Love Me”), “Love Gun” is their lovechild. It’s not as energetic as the former nor romantic as the latter, but it’s the perfect balance of the two. “Shock Me” is the first we see of Ace As Frontman, and it’s a good one. “Got Love for Sale” and “Almost Human” are underrated.
Buy Destroyer for the hits. Buy Love Gun for 33 minutes (gee, Kiss albums are short) of solid entertainment.