Sound — 6
KISS is one of the most successful bands in all of hard rock. They have sold over 100 million albums worldwide. Their trademark, bombastic (literally) live shows set a standard that some argue has yet to be matched. Almost 40 years after their founding in 1973, they are still entertaining and producing albums. This 20th studio album, the follow-up to 2009's "Sonic Boom", is the second produced with the current lineup of Stanley, Simmons, Singer, and Thayer. If you are looking for a quick summary of everything overall, I suggest scrolling to the Overall Impression section, and quite frankly, with KISS, any discussion on a song is moot until it is played live. Anyways, this is one guy's opinion and I hope it is helpful. 1. "Hell Or Hallelujah" - this is the song that was released as a single in July and it is the only track from "Monster" that KISS has played on The Tour. On a first impression, this song has the typical Paul Stanley, catered to radio, chorus line. The best part of this song is the bridge. While it's not an atypical KISS bridge, it sets an amazing vibe leading into the guitar solo. In the guitar solo, there is a double stop section almost surely taken from "Dazed And Confused". The guitar solo then goes back into the bridge, which seamlessly continues into the chorus to make a great song where there wasn't much of one earlier. Overall, the main riff attempts to get you into a jump-up-and-down mood, but fails to do so until the bridge section, when the song is at its best. After listening to the whole album, this song is as close to heart pounding as it gets and the more I listen to it, the more I like it. I anticipate this to be the anthem song of the album for any upcoming tour. 2. "Wall Of Sound" - the main riff of this song is heavy (worthy of headbanging) and one of the catchiest on the album. From a guitar standpoint, the dual guitars work together well on this song compared to the others. The verses lend itself well to the "wall of sound" idea and Tommy's meticulously placed solos lead to this being one of the best solos and songs on the album. Can't wait to see this one live as it definitely deserves a spot in their set. 3. "Freak" - I personally find this to be an uninspired, insignificant offering. The song fights itself being between hard rock and ballad rock. It uses the overdone "people think I'm stupid but I know I'm better" message. The predominant riff is hardly a riff, the guitar solo makes you go, "eh, who cares?" and the song structure seems forced into the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-solo format. The line "I pledge allegiance to the state of independence" seems forced into the song and it really doesn't gel well. The lyrics are ironic for obvious reasons I'm probably being overcritical of the song, but the lasting impression is, "I've heard this before/was it really worth my time?" 40 years ago, this one may have worked, but now it really doesn't. 4. "Back To The Stone Age" - the intro reeks of Gene Simmons. That is the first thing that will hit you. The verse follows a tried and true method that still works on me but probably not on everybody. The chorus is strange for KISS; it has a catchy melody that uses what sounds like a tambourine and prominent backing vocal lines that remind me of something very distinct, very old. I just can't put my finger on it. It is because of this that the song will probably not make it into the live set as it does not follow the KISS mantra. The guitar solo is great but it doesn't fit the context of the song. Again, it was great but could probably be put into something else. For whatever reason, this guitar solo seems like it should mimic the vocals of the chorus, like certain Journey songs. Still, it is an average song; not good nor bad. It is something worth being proud of, just not for these superstars. 5. "Shout Mercy" - first, this song is not as gallant as the title implies. The song, straight from the structure to the chorus to the guitar solo follows the same blueprint as the other songs and is very ordinary. For anyone except the true KISS Army, this song won't mean much, and by now you will only "shout mercy" from the format of the songs, which while the KISS standard, starts to become mundane by now. Again, the song is fine, but nothing special and nothing you won't find in any of the other 37 KISS albums. 6. "Long Way Down" - the first 5 seconds of this song seem like they will lead to a heart-pounding hard rock song. I was pissed when the song changed, but over the course of the song, it evolves into being one of the most solid on the album. The song has a Slash like vibe, which becomes noticeable after a minute or two. The solo has a few well placed phrases which lend themselves to the song in a great way. The song is definitely not heart-pounding rock, but is solid nevertheless. 7. "Eat Your Heart Out" - I'm impressed with the opening a cappella harmony, not because it's incredible, but because they even tried it. The recording of it seems very retro, like from the late 60's, and it's definitely cool. The song itself is above average for the album. The cowbell driven rhythm is a welcome sound and the chorus vocal line is one of the better ones on the album. The guitar solo is above average, using a wah pedal (oh my!) and not ending on this certain bent interval that most of the others do. The song ends in AC/DC fashion, which feels unique for this album, but it shouldn't. 8. "The Devil Is Me" - the song is reminiscent of the KISS album "Revenge". Gene's voice is probably at its best in this song, compared to the rest of the album. The part played over the guitar solo sticks out and the whole song is heavy. I think a few well placed pinch harmonics would have improved the song but the hammer-on section of the guitar solo is like from Jimmy Page's live "Heartbreaker" solo and I really dig it. 9. "Outta This World" - just by the song's name, you can tell it is meant as if Ace was still in the band. Even so, in my opinion Tommy's voice knocks Ace's out of the water any day of the week. I really think that Tommy's singing voice is underrated. This song is less hard rock than "Sonic Boom"'s "When Lightning Strikes". Tommy's solo in this song, really starts to get good in the part over the chorus. I think that this song could have been improved with a more psychedelic feel. In the last 30 seconds or so, a flanger effect becomes ever more prominent until it more or less takes over the whole sound of the song. I think the song could be improved with more of it. The song is a breath of fresh air because it feels somewhat unique compared to the others on the album, yet overall it leaves more to be desired. I'd love in the future for someone to do a cover of it because I think that there's room for someone else to take it "outta this world". 10. "All For The Love Of Rock And Roll" - this song strikes me as being a possible theme song for a TV show. It doesn't really seem like KISS, but more in my perception of Peter Criss. I don't know much of his material but this song goes towards my perception of it. The song feels like pop with soft electric guitars. It's a nice song that won't be a #1 hit or anything in that direction, but for the casual listener, it's something pleasant. 11. "Take Me Down Below" - this song seems like a conflicted song. It starts with a heavyness like "The Devil Is Me" but then changes into a Paul sounding rhythm and a chorus that's the same as "Outta This World". In fact, now that I think about it, the choruses from many of the songs sound like "Outta This World". I'd like to note that the guitar solo is either using delay, or more likely a dual Black Sabbath type recording, which I think could have been very effective elsewhere on the album, but here it really doesn't stick out as much. 12. "Last Chance" - On the concluding song of the album, I think that Paul's vocals are at one of his stronger points on the album. The lyrics also seem the closest to the classic KISS lyrics about sex that really seem to be lacking on this album. I know they're 60 years old, but that is what KISS is known for. The song, musically follows the same format that by this point, if you are still listening, is nailed into your head. There isn't much that casts this song as different from the others on the album, through the riffs, solos, or anything else and strategically, I think that "Wall Of Sound" should have been placed here to finish the album off strong.
Lyrics — 4
Lyrically, the album is weak. There aren't really any lines that are memorable enough to sing to yourself a week later. The topic matter is unenthusiastic because it all just seems forced into production, or required by precedent, like "Outta This World" trying to be Ace-like and sung by Tommy. The vibe of the lyrics didn't mesh with the music as well as I would have liked, and I preferred the lyrics on "Sonic Boom" more. In terms of voice, Paul sounds as good as he did in the 70's albeit, a tiny bit less energy. On the other hand, he didn't sound like he was stretched to his limits. Or, maybe he was and his voice really has depreciated over time. Gene's voice was very similar to his voice on "Revenge" more than any other album, in my opinion. Both seem excited and powerful, the lyrics just didn't demand it, so it is mostly wasted. I really wish that Tommy would be allowed to be the lead singer more often because his voice is really top rate. Eric has a nice voice, but it's just that; nice. It isn't really for the hard rock of KISS, but I guess it fills in well for Peter Criss.
Overall Impression — 5
Overall, this album is very similar in style to "Sonic Boom". Tommy's lead guitar is better and more prevalent, but on the other hand, I found the vocals to be better on "Sonic Boom". I also found Eric's drumming to be particularly weak and predictable on this album. Gene Simmons described this album as, "meat and potatoes". He is correct. The album utilizes simple (not necessarily bad) hard rock concepts that don't stretch any limits and don't experiment in any real way, which stays true to the KISS mantra. The album seems to be standard KISS and not classic KISS. I'm trying to say that the album sounds closer to the Post-Ace era than when Ace was in the band. The album won't become an important piece of KISSTORY but it's still a solid hard rock album and today, these are far and few between. If you're looking for something to add to your playlist, it's new material. It isn't groundbreaking, but it's new. The real test of the album will be its live application, as with any KISS album. Overall, the best songs were "Hell Or Hallelujah" and "Wall Of Sound". The worst song was "Freak" and an honorable mention goes to "Long Way Down". If it were lost or stolen, I probably wouldn't buy it again because most of the songs don't need to be heard more than a few times.