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Love Gun (1977). This album's first few pressings came with a cardboard gun that didn't do anything. Neither does most of this material. The exception is "Christine Sixteen," which has a ludicrous spoken passage by Simmons that would make Elvis blush: "I don't normally say this to girls your age, but when I saw you coming out of school that day, I knew, I knew, I've got to have you!" Why? Because "She's been around but she's young and clean." Quite the reverse held true of the Plaster Casters, two hags who've been around for ages, immortalizing rock stars by making clay models of their cocks. Simmons' "Plaster Caster" ode goes limp after a verse. If he really injected these homely gals with his love, like the song says, it only proves the Bat Lizard will screw just about anything on two legs. Ace Frehley's first-ever vocal performance on "Shock Me" sounds like Rick Derringer, but only if you and a few pals stand on Rick's chest.

Alive II (1978). A more varied concert program than the first, featuring vocal performances by all four guys--just like the Beatles! The audience proves it can be as deliciously dimwitted as its heroes by trying to clap along to mushy old "Beth." Side four's studio tracks tread water, but include a fine, lobotomized version of Dave Clark Five's already vacant "Anyway You Want It."

In 1978, Kiss did two things to stretch the devotion of its fans. First, it put out the Hanna-Barbera-produced movie Kiss Meets the Phantom, essentially an excuse to string together a bunch of songs on film. Despite the roar of the members' greasepaint, there's not one Laurence Olivier lurking in the group. Hell--there's not even one David Hasselhoff! Next, the members each released solo albums simultaneously. To quote Kiss--"Woo hoo hoo! Got to choose! Who's your baby?" Ace Frehley recorded the hardest-rocking solo album, with David Letterman's future rhythm section. He also scored the only hit single of the four with "New York Groove." Criss' album (the only one not to make the Top 40) was a likable, Ian Hunterish effort with lame lyrics. Gene Simmons' LP had a star-studded cast that included Bob Seger, Joe Perry, Helen Reddy (?), Cher, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Donna Summer (!!), Rick Nielsen, Janis Ian (???!!!) and the Azusa Citrus College Choir. On "Living in Sin," Simmons' phone exchange with Cher proved that underneath all that makeup, he was really the Big Bopper with a reptile fetish. Paul Stanley's album sounded as if the Phantom in the Park had turned him into a Dan Fogelberg clone.

Dynasty (1979). The solo albums give Kiss the courage to offer more variety on its next album--read: disco. For the mighty teen Army, seeing its heroes follow the Stones, Rod Stewart and the Kinks onto the dance floor is scarier than spotting a new pimple. Stanley pens the group's lone disco hit, "I Was Made for Loving You," with Vini Poncia, co-author of Ringo's "Oh My My," and Desmond Child, who'll later be called on to ruin albums by Aerosmith, Cheap Trick and Heart. Other questionable moves include covering a Stones song from Their Satanic Majesties Request and hiring fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo to shoot the cover. The famed lensman proves that his usual flair for beautifying his subjects doesn't work if they're made up to look like cartoon characters. Kiss Unmasked (1980). Really a misnomer, since it would be another two albums before Kiss' members would reveal themselves without makeup. Maybe they were just waiting for crater-faced Ace Frehley to quit! It's the first Kiss album with synth solos, and the first since Dressed to Kill to not go platinum. On close listening, you'll still hear cretinous lyrics no one else was smart enough to think of. Like "It's easy as it seems 'cause it's easy as it seems/When you're walking out on your dreams you just walk away."

Music From the Elder (1981). Whoever thought a huge knocker on a Kiss cover would ever be attached to a door? Peter Criss' departure from the band (prior to Kiss Unmasked) results in this radical departure from the usual Kiss formula. The band temporarily misplaces its genitals, turning in a Styxlike concept album about a boy who is either going to become king or join the priesthood. The lone nod to the band's crass past is "Mr. Blackwell," in which Simmons condemns the snooty fashion critic to eternal damnation just for insulting gal pal Cher's taste in clothes! What's more shocking is that Lou Reed helped pen lines like "You're not well, Mr. Blackwell/Why don't you go to hell?" Well, after "Vicious/You hit me with a flower/You do it every hour," no one could ever accuse ol' Lou of being too bright.

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic