Sound — 8
KISS are a band that many love to hate. Whether it's the makeup, dumb lyrics, or... Gene Simmons, there have always been reasons to slam the group. That's not to say all the criticism is fair: the band did release some genuinely good albums in the '70s, a highlight being their first record. While it has rough-edges, it's still a surprisingly strong debut for a group who's often criticized for overusing theatrics. The songs have plenty of hooks, with the tracks "Black Diamond," "Strutter," "100,000 Years," "Nothin' to Lose," and "Cold Gin" being highlights. Members of the band have criticized the one cover on the album - "Kissin' Time" - but it's a fun listen, more-so than the band makes it out to be. Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, and Peter Criss take turns handling lead vocals on the record, and all three do a fine job. Stanley and Criss sing with their share of enthusiasm, and Simmons vocals are nowhere near as hammy as they would become years later. Ace Frehley throws down his share of memorable lead guitar licks, with my personal favorite coming from "100,000 Years," although "Deuce" comes in second place. Even Simmons plays some memorable bass-lines, with my favorite being from "Strutter." Criss may not have been a technical drummer, but the man could still play his instrument.
The songwriting's not perfect, though. The bridge in "Cold Gin" sounds out-of-place to me, as well as the Led Zeppelin-like instrumental breakdown in "Let Me Know." The version of "Firehouse" from "Alive!" is energetic and commanding, but the original track here sounds a little stilted. The instrumental "Love Theme" is interesting to listen to - and shows the band could write stuff other than anthems - but it's nowhere near as good as, say, Ace Frehley's "Fractured Mirror" from his 1978 solo album.
Lyrics — 6
As good as the instrumental side is, I do wish the lyrics were better. Lyrically, the album just isn't that good. The lyrics to Ace Frehley's "Cold Gin" and most of Stanley's compositions are passable, but they don't look very good on paper. Simmons can come up with some catchy hooks, but here, his lyrics leave something to be desired. Now, I don't consider it necessary for a song to have great lyrics. If a song is catchy enough, I normally don't pay attention to the words until the second or third time I listen to it. However, it helps greatly if the lyrics are actually decent, and I can quote the song without feeling silly. (A lyric like "I'll be your lovin' man, you'll be my bundle of joy" doesn't look very good on paper, and doesn't sound much better when sung. I have heard worse lyrics, but I have heard better too).
Overall Impression — 8
I'm not sure if I can recommend the album for "essential" listening, but I enjoyed it just as well. Most of the songs are catchy, and have decent guitar riffs; some of Frehley's best solos come from "Deuce" and "100,000 Years." Stanley, Criss, and Simmons sing with enthusiasm. The songwriting slips in some places, and the lyrics leave something to be desired, but I like the album well enough. It's a very fun listen, enough so that I can forgive some of the problems the CD has. It's earned a spot on my shelf, and I'm not planning on selling it anytime soon.