Why The Hell Should I Like… Kiss? (The Rebuttal)

Why the hell should I like... ?

Why the hell should I like… ?” is an experiment of sorts between Popblerd and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. What we’re going to attempt to do is to pick 10 songs from our favorite artists — one for which the other has professed dislike or disinterest — and show them why they’re wrong.

KISSI’m a fairly simple man. I like unique, intricate, interesting music, sure, but I’m also a tenacious advocate of the simple, three-minute pop song, and a staunch defender of the notion that, sometimes, a fistful of chords and a catchy chorus is the stuff pop music glory is made of.

With that in mind, I’m not sure why I’ve never found it in my heart to appreciate Kiss. It’s not that I grow weary of their party-hearty, sex drugs and rock n’ roll mentality: I’ll defend to the death the early careers of Aerosmith and Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s not that I disapprove of simplistic lyrics and riffs: I’ve probably listened to more Bon Jovi than anyone who doesn’t want to be a New Jersey caricature ever should, and the Outfield’s “Your Love” is one of my favorite pop songs of all time.  It’s not that I’m unimpressed by the makeup and the spectacle: why, then, is there so much Lady Gaga on my iPod? No, I think this is the cold, hard truth about Kiss: I just don’t like the songs.

Take any artist. Strip the arrangement down; remove all the bells and whistles, make it uncomplicated. When all that remains is the song, how does that artist fare? I think my intangible problem with Kiss can be boiled down to that simple equation. Without completely overhauling the melodies, do Kiss songs ever work? Do they possess an x-factor that makes them special?

Eager to catch a glimpse into the Kiss phenomenon, hungry to be taught why I should in any way like Kiss, I turned to The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. The ten-track primer he whipped up for me right here is borne of life-long Kiss listening. Chris navigates Kiss in their prime, Kiss at their most experimental, even the inevitable modern-day incarnation of Kiss. His ten tracks are from ten different albums, and represent what, to Chris, cuts right to the heart of what makes them so enjoyable.

It’s been over a week since Chris posted his primer, and I’ve listened to these ten tracks plenty since then; this is, after all, a serious experiment, and I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. (Unless someone wants to take on “Why the Hell Should I Like… Nickelback?” In which case, I’ll dismiss it out of hand.) Unfortunately – and I’m legitimately sad to report this, Chris – I still can’t find anything to get excited about.

“Deuce”, the opener from the band’s legendary live set Alive, fares well with its AC/DC riffs and fleet-fingered solos, but it never grows into anything more; it doesn’t need to cycle through musical movements, but it never reaches anything resembling a hook, and hinges so squarely on the same riff that it becomes redundant seconds into the performance.

“Getaway” is a meat and potatoes rocker that never really needs to be more; problem is, it doesn’t seem like Kiss have anything resembling a fun melody in their arsenal, and barring anything with singalong potential, songs like this are a.) tedious, even at their very short lengths, and b.) awfully similar-sounding. It took me several listens to determine that “Getaway” isn’t, say, “Rock and Roll All Nite”, or, for that matter, “Deuce”. To these ears, “Save Your Love”, despite an agreeably vitriolic lyric sheet, suffers the same fate, as does “Sweet Pain” before it morphs into a shuffling, likable slab of ambling Cheap Trick power-pop in the chorus.

And true, Kiss aren’t entirely a one-trick pony. “The Oath,” from the band’s oft-derided Music From “The Elder”, sounds like the freshest thing here by a mile, all metal power chords and chugging guitar triplets and a downright glorious lead vocal. There are moments here where I can see why Kiss has legitimate appeal.

KISSI don’t like “In the Mirror” as a whole (and, as a side note, would like to put a moratorium on rock lyricists rhyming “mirror” with “nearer” and “clearer”), but for a few lovely seconds before each chorus, there’s a delightfully Alice in Chains-sounding breakdown featuring a terrific melody and a Staley/Cantrell-esque harmony. To these ears, the newest song here, “Even Flow” “Modern Day Delilah“, would sound like a disappointingly tepid stab at relevance from an over-the-hill act, if it weren’t for an excellent lead vocal complete with a terrific rock scream on the bridge. And “Young and Wasted” comes close to winning me over with that forcefully shouted chorus.

But those are all parts of songs. I can’t get down with them as a whole; I approached this thing hoping to, and I felt severely underwhelmed. As big, dumb rock acts go, it seems to me like I haven’t been missing anything by sticking to Def Leppard all this time — in the absence of artistry, I’m more than happy to surrender myself to cheeseball lyrics, headbanging riffs, and eminently shout-able melodies.

Unfortunately, it’s the melodies that draw me in, and in that department Kiss appears to have nothing on deck. I’m far from the guy that insists that we should all be listening to Arcade Fire and Bonnie “Prince” Billy; I just don’t find a sense of fun or any workable melodies tempering Kiss’s neanderthal rock. I found bits and pieces of songs that I found promising, but they were far too often ruined for me by retreating back into sounding, well… generic. Run of the mill.

I’m sorry, Chris, but though you made a valiant go of it, I just can’t figure out why the hell I should like Kiss.

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