KISS JIGOKU RETSUDEN Review

I hold out hope the current line-up of KISS will go into the studio and record a new album. In the meantime, the closest thing available is a brand new re-recording of fifteen KISS classics named JIGOKU RETSUDEN available only in Japan (and, of course, the internet).

Purists call the line-up sans Ace and Peter, Scab-KISS, which I think is unfair and unfortunate. I love Ace and Peter circa 1978, but really can’t stand their playing and off-stage antics. The musicianship isn’t there anymore and, honestly, was barely there for the Reunion tour. I’m not denying what they brought to the band and without them there wouldn’t be a KISS, but except for a few exceptions, I’d rather hear Eric Carr or Eric Singer on drums and Bruce Kulick or Tommy Thayer on lead guitar.

A good representation of the difference is watching the KISSOLOGY Volume 3 DVD. The Revenge concert with Eric Singer and Bruce Kulick is tight with the classic songs sounding fresh right along with the new material. The next concert is a Reunion tour show and everything is plodding and sloppy. To be fair, visually its much more interesting which is why, ultimately, Paul and Gene kept the make-up and outfits but brought on board musicians who can actually play and who aren’t grandstanding assholes.

When I first read about the Japanese-only CD, I wondered if they were going to follow Journey’s footsteps and put out a two CD, one DVD set for the American market. Journey, if you didn’t know, put out a similar package with re-recordings of their classic tracks on one CD, new songs on another CD and then a DVD of a concert. I still think KISS can do the exact same thing. Make it a Wal-Mart exclusive just like Journey (and The Eagles before and the upcoming AC/DC album) and watch the band break into the Billboard charts. I’m probably dreaming.

Overall, this re-recording is an interesting animal. It almost feels like they took their classic tracks and slapped a new coat of paint on them. It’s obvious to me they went into the studio with the original recordings and tried to recreate the feel of those tracks. They will never be the definitive versions of the songs, but sonically they are fun and fresh. Supposedly, these new recordings were done in a weekend. If the boys can do something like this in a couple of days, I bet they can put together a new album’s worth of material in a solid month of studio time costing them little with a great opportunity for either a North American Tour or a slot in Vegas five nights a week.

Here’s my take on the re-recordings:

Deuce – The biggest difference here is Eric Singer’s drums. The big band/swing influence of Peter is missing, but it’s completely overshadowed by Gene channeling his 1974 self. In fact, Gene throughout the album has never sounded better. Tommy matches Ace’s playing and solo perfectly.

Detroit Rock City – Lacking the Ezrin production feel doesn’t really hurt this track. Gene’s bass is groovy and I need to listen to the original to see if he’s adding things here I don’t remember. I love the addition of the speeding car background in the middle of the song which is reminiscent of the original. This is a track that definitely benefits from Singer behind the kit because Peter doesn’t quite bring the rock drumming it needs. He’s definitely playing the song in the Eric Carr style.

Shout It Out Loud – A strong track mostly because it doesn’t change much from the original. The background vocal call-backs showcase Eric Singer’s voice. The only weak line is Gene’s “You’ve got to have a party” which doesn’t sound quite right.

Hotter Than Hell – The opening “C’mon!” doesn’t quite have the same swagger as the original, but Paul is definitely singing here. The drums sound like they let Singer go crazy with the fills and I think it adds to the track.

Calling Dr. Love – Gene is really channeling his younger-self here. I think the backup vocals are better than the original. I don’t remember hearing all the string slides as Tommy and Paul change chords on the original. The solo isn’t quite the same, but the feel is still there.

Love Gun – Eric Singer is playing this in the style of Eric Carr which is the right choice. The background vocals are incredible. Tommy plays the solo perfectly.

I Was Made For Lovin’ You – The band has been playing this song live for awhile, but they rock it up and leave out the disco trappings. I wish they’d left the keyboard off, but that might be just me. The falsetto break might be better than the original mostly because I think Paul definitely grew as a singer since 1979. The electric snaps are probably required to make the track sound like the original, but they always bothered me.

Heaven’s On Fire – This sounds exactly the way they play the song live. The opening yodel/scream is way better on the original and the opening guitar riff is held just a little longer. I really miss Eric Carr on this track both vocally and drumming-wise.

Lick It Up – I wish they would have started the song like they do in concert with Paul singing the opening line, “Don’t wanna wait till you know me better!” and then hit the main riff. It really doesn’t deviate from the original. The call backs, “yeah, yeah” sound different, but that may be because Vinnie did them.

I Love It Loud – Probably one of my top 10 favorite KISS songs. To recreate the drum sound of Creatures of the Night for another KISS album would make me very happy. Too bad, they’ve never come close to doing it again. Must be the studio, mikes or whatever knob twirling Michael James Jackson was doing in 1982. Gene sounds awesome. They play this song faster live and I wish they would have sped it up a bit. Tommy’s back-up vocals are clearly higher in the mix. I love Eric Singer, but Eric Carr is the only one who plays this song right. Peter Criss is laughable on it live. The reprise was a surprise. I didn’t think they’d keep it in.

Forever – This is a tough one. The original was a modest hit for the band in the sans make-up years. I’m not sure Paul brings anything new to it, but that’s not really the goal here. Tommy has the difficult task of copying Bruce Kulick on the solo and he does a pretty bang-up job. I think I’d rather have heard something older like I Stole Your Love instead of this track, but I’m guessing they knew they couldn’t get away with re-doing Beth with Singer on the vocals and needed the next best track of similar vein.

Christine Sixteen – Right away I notice the bass starts early in this version. I love the piano opening. Gene is really singing well on this track. The original narration bit is much creepier than what he delivers here. Fun Fact: when I was a kid, the lyrical content of this song was completely lost on me.

Do You Love Me – Eric is adding a beat to the opening, which is fine. The break vocals made me smile – Just like the original. The falsetto back-up vocals might be better than the original. The bells are perfect at the end. Paul lays down a great vocal here, but I think I like the original better.

Black Diamond – In the beginning, I might not have recognized this as a new version from the original. Eric Singer is as good or better than Peter on lead vocals. He’s walking a fine line between doing it like Peter and bringing his own style to the lines. Musically, this sounds nearly identical to the original. Tommy is really playing like Ace here. The ending coda to fade is shorter than the original, but still packs a nice punch.

Rock And Roll All Nite – What an obscure track to end with! Singer keeps adding beats to his parts – not sure I like it here. It’s a great song and sounds almost as good as the original.