It’s hard to say how people will remember the 2010s when it comes to music. Thus far, the decade has been characterized, if anything, by its diversity, rather than one overlying genre or trend. We’re almost three years in and there seems to be room for everything: the broad terminology of pop, rock, hip-hop, jazz, EDM, post-nothing, post-anything, post-whatever. But if there’s one thing that’s been consistent, it’s the seasoned rocker’s straightforward comeback.
Pretty much any band that’s been around longer than 20 years has survived periods of both inspired and misguided experimentation, only to come full circle and put out an album that reminds fans why they kicked so much ass in the first place. To name a few, The Smashing Pumpkins, Bob Mould, and Ratt have all released excellent, back-to-basics records over the past few years. But KISS got a head start on them all, as well as the decade itself, with 2009’s Sonic Boom. The playing was tight, the guitars were big and crunchy, and most importantly, it was their best collection of new songs since 1977’s Love Gun.
KISS attempt to distill that classic party rock sound into an even purer form on its followup, Monster. The entire album was recorded on old analog equipment, a ballsy move that pays off in terms of raw aesthetic. Yet whereas Sonic Boom had sheet upon polished sheet of easily discernible instrumentation, the arrangements on Monster bleed together for something that’s a little noisier, messier, and thus, more youthful, despite the band’s founders both being in their 60s. This helps Paul Stanley’s opener “Hell Or Hallelujah” and Gene Simmons’ aptly titled “The Devil Is Me” succeed wildly. At the core of both songs are sugary choruses rendered just poisonous enough by the sonic roughness. “Freak” is equally as strong, thanks to echoed vocals and the whispered coda of “I pledge allegiance to the state of independence,” a slice of lyrical cheese that’s completely earned thanks to its hook.
Though that’s the key element missing from Monster: hooks. KISS can rock all they want, but their best songs all have gooey pop centers that, when coupled with their spirited licks and humorous (if not boneheaded) lyrics, become somehow powerful and wonderful. “Back to the Stone Age”, “Shout Mercy”, and “Last Chance” all plod along with apish chord progressions hacked out by Stanley and axe whiz Tommy Thayer. Thayer, who has scorched on previous KISS releases, seems unable to ignite any kind of spark here, even when he takes lead vocals on his self-penned dud “Outta This World”. “Eat Your Heart Out” adds some mid-album dynamics with its a cappella intro and cowbell, although it’s not enough to break up the lost and tired songwriting. KISS may have set out to sound like their old selves on Monster, but they strayed from the pop sensibility that made them great.
Essential Tracks: “Hell Or Hallelujah”, “Freak”, “The Devil Is Me”