As a kid in the ’70s, I never really got KISS.
At the time, they were one of the hottest groups in rock ’n’ roll for two reasons: the band’s music and the fact that the members concealed their identities behind stage makeup.
It took seeing the original lineup of KISS on the band’s hugely successful 1996 reunion tour to fully appreciate what I had missed in my youth.
Founding members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley still front the band, with Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer filling the spots originated by Peter Criss and Ace Frehley.
While the band had some lean years in the ’80s and early ’90s after unmasking, it seems that putting the makeup back on has reignited the band’s career.
On “Monster,” the latest studio effort by KISS, Stanley and Simmons wisely have decided not to mess with the formula that has worked for them all these years.
Much like its predecessor, 2009’s “Sonic Boom,” “Monster” features simple, straightforward hard rock tunes with titles such as “Wall of Sound,” “Shout Mercy” and “All for the Love of Rock & Roll.”
It’s not terribly deep, and it’s loud, but then that’s what KISS fans want.
They don’t want to figure out cryptic lyrics, they want to rock ’n’ roll all night and party every day.
“Monster” allows those fans to do just that.
Key Tracks: “Hell or Hallelujah,” “Shout Mercy,” “Eat Your Heart Out”
Van Morrison Born to Sing: No Plan B/Blue Note
Few artists ever come close to achieving the sort of career success that Van Morrison has seen.
The past five decades have been littered with hits by the Northern Irish singer, including “Gloria,” “Moondance,” “Into the Mystic” and “Wild Night.”
The past decade or so has seen a resurgence in the quality of Morrison’s recorded material, and his latest album is no exception.
“Born to Sing: No Plan B” has a jazzier feel than on past releases, and why not since it’s on the legendary jazz label Blue Note.
Morrison’s famous Celtic Soul sound is intact, but whereas previous releases sounded like they were suited for a concert hall, the songs on “Born to Sing: No Plan B” have a feel better-suited for a small, dark jazz club that requires a two-drink minimum.
Even at the ripe old age of 67, Morrison’s voice sounds as good as ever, and he delivers the goods on standout songs such as “Open the Door (To Your Heart),” “Close Enough for Jazz” and “Mystic of the East.”
While Morrison’s exquisite voice is the main instrument on display here, just as essential is the horn section that punctuates more than half the tracks here.
While not a perfect album, those who are fans of Morrison’s music would be happy to add this one to their music collection.
Key Tracks: “Open the Door (To Your Heart),” “Close Enough for Jazz,” “Mystic of the East”
Jeff Lynne Long Wave/Frontier
While most folks know musician Jeff Lynne as the longtime frontman of Electric Light Orchestra, most might have missed his 1990 solo album, “Armchair Theatre.”
While the album was packed with brilliant songs by Lynne, it didn’t end up selling very many copies. Perhaps it was because the market was saturated at the time with Lynne-produced albums by folks such as Tom Petty and Roy Orbison, as well as Lynne’s participation with the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys.
Twenty-two years later, Lynne has decided to make another go at a solo album.
I admit that with as much as I loved “Armchair Theatre,” I was excited at the prospect. So imagine my initial disappointment to find out that “Long Wave” comprises cover songs.
Sure, Lynne covered “September Song” and “Stormy Weather” on his solo debut, and those covers were quite good, but I was honestly hoping for a similar mix on “Long Wave.”
No such luck.
Lynne does get credit for mixing it up a bit with his cover selections, all of which he said he first heard over long-wave radio as a kid growing up in post-World War II England.
From Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “If I Loved You” to Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock,” Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” to Roy Orbison’s “Running Scared,” the album’s saving grace is the fact that it doesn’t take the easy way out by dipping into the Great American Songbook like so many aging artists have in the past couple of decades.
There are some interesting moments on “Long Wave,” but if you’re looking for material along the lines of ELO, you’re going to come away disappointed.
Key Tracks: “If I Loved You,” “Running Scared,” “Smile”
By Devin Grant