KISS - "Monster" (2012) album review

"Monster" album cover
"Monster" album cover | Source

KISS - "MONSTER" (Universal Music Enterprises, 2012)

It seems odd to be reviewing a new KISS album, even with thirty years as a (mostly) proud KISS fanboy under my belt. The truth is, until recently there hadn't been much going on in the band's camp that was worth getting excited about. The mid 1990s reunion of the original lineup had fizzled by the turn of the century (as we all knew it eventually would) due to ego problems and financial disagreements among the band members, and a so-called "Farewell Tour" which was hyped as being the final curtain call for KISS only proved to be the end for guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss. Main men Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley then made the controversial decision to keep the KISS machine rolling by tapping longtime drummer Eric Singer to assume Criss' "Cat-Man" persona behind the kit, and placing new guitarist Tommy Thayer into Frehley's "Spaceman" boots and shoulder pads. Many fans (including this one) raged at the outright "disrespect" to Frehley and Criss, but the band played on regardless, circling the globe for a number of years flogging the usual set list of "Greatest Hits." As little as seven or eight years ago, Simmons himself claimed that the new KISS lineup would probably never record new material, because in his eyes there was "no market for it" in the age of rampant illegal downloading and declining record sales. Fortunately that decision was eventually reversed, and the result was 2009's Sonic Boom - a welcome return to KISS' classic hard rock sound that easily erased the bad memories of 1998's half baked "reunion" album, Psycho Circus. Though I had low expectations for that album at first, I was pleasantly surprised by Sonic Boom, and the mere fact that the band was finally creating new music with this lineup went a long way towards "legitimizing" the Thayer/Singer version of KISS in my eyes.

Three years later, KISS has now returned with Monster, a new 12 track album (13 if you count the iTunes-exclusive bonus song "Right Here Right Now") that's been described by Gene Simmons as "meat and potatoes rock" and "Sonic Boom on steroids." Sounds promising, doesn't it? Of course, I bought a copy during its first week of release (Once a fanboy, always a fanboy, I guess...), so what say we slam Monster into the CD player (yes, I'm one of those old school weirdos who still buys CDs), press 'play' and see how it stacks up?

"Hell or Hallelujah"

German "Monster" tour poster. Note the altered KISS logo. KISS must use this version of their logo in Germany because the original resembles the Nazi "SS" logo a little too closely for comfort according to German law.
German "Monster" tour poster. Note the altered KISS logo. KISS must use this version of their logo in Germany because the original resembles the Nazi "SS" logo a little too closely for comfort according to German law. | Source
I got this totally bad-ass KISS PEZ dispenser set for Christmas in 2012. Yeah, I know, you're all dyin' of jealousy.
I got this totally bad-ass KISS PEZ dispenser set for Christmas in 2012. Yeah, I know, you're all dyin' of jealousy. | Source

The Album!

Monster 's lead off track, "Hell or Hallelujah," immediately topped my playlist when it was released as a single in the summer of '12, and it starts the album off on a nice, all-guns-blazing note with its classic KISS vibes. Just like on its predecessor, Sonic Boom, KISS are obviously not interested in screwing around with what's hip or attempting to "modernize" their sound on Monster - it's back to basics, all drums, bass 'n' guitar, no ballads, and no trendy production tricks. The result is a take-no-prisoners disc that should bring a smile to the face of even the most jaded KISS Army member!

As usual, the lead vocals are evenly split between Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley throughout the album, and this time out I'd have to say that the songs sung by Gene are stronger than Paul's. Following "Hell or Hallelujah," Mr. Simmons comes blasting in with "Wall of Sound," a crunching, lumbering beast of a song with a killer bass groove - this track simply slams, and is my favorite on the record. Gene has further fun tweaking his demonic caveman persona on the chunky "Back to the Stone Age" and the sinister "The Devil Is Me," while his "Eat Your Heart Out" is the type of sneering, leering "babe-I-wanna-do-ya" ditty that KISS practically owns the copyright on. (it also contains one of the funnier lyrics on the album, when Simmons deadpans "Eat your heart out baby, a hot mess is just what I need! ")

Over on Paul's side, "Freak" is probably his strongest vocal track aside from "Hell or Hallelujah," with its irresistible chorus of "I got streaks in my hair, people point at me and stare, if they ask me I say YEAH, I'm a freak !" After Paul underwent vocal cord surgery in late 2011, fans wondered how his voice would sound on the new material; it seems to me that he's lost a chunk of his high end, since most of his vocals here are in the lower register, but he can damn well still belt when he wants to (even if he sounds a bit huskier than in the old days). He warbles nicely on "Long Way Down," a middling track that wouldn't have sounded out of place on one of KISS' mid-80s albums like Asylum or Animalize, and "Shout Mercy" would probably sound a lot better if it weren't for the irritating "Woo! Woooo!" backing vocals during the choruses. None of Paul's songs are out-and-out bombs, but in my estimation, The Demon came to the table with better material this time out.

Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer also get to sing lead vocals on one song apiece, doubtlessly to preserve the illusion that they're "full" band members like Ace and Peter used to be, rather than salaried employees of KISS Incorporated. Tommy Thayer's track, "Outta This World," is a decent enough song but it's also a pretty blatant bite off of the kind of stuff Ace Frehley used to sing with the band, with its references to outer space, rockets, and the like. I hope they're paying Ace some royalties for this one. Meanwhile, Eric Singer's "All For the Love Of Rock N' Roll" is the kind of bluesy rocker that would've had Peter Criss singing on it if it had been on one of KISS' 70s albums. Singer appropriates Criss' whiskey-soaked rasp nicely and the song gets extra points for its liberal cowbell usage. (You can never have enough cowbell y'know!)

Simmons and Stanley trade off on the verses of the next to last track, "Take Me Down Below," which picks up the dirty-old-man motif where "Eat Your Heart Out" left off with its tales of chance meetings with hot sleazy babes in elevators and on airplanes. This one contains one of the most cringe-worthy lyrics on the album (Paul: "She took my finger, here's a button to press; I raised my flag and she dropped her dress; I'll take you on a cruise you'll never forget; she said 'we'd better move because I'm already wet' " -- bwahahahahahaha!!!), but then again, if KISS lyrics don't make you cringe at least once per CD, then they're not doing their job. Paul leads the charge once again on the final track "Last Chance," which ends the album with a satisfactory bang.

"Wall of Sound"

Rate It!

4.3 out of 5 stars from 3 ratings of KISS - "Monster" CD
Copies of "Monster" sold at Best Buy in the US had a coupon inside good for a free "KISS Monster Army" membership pack, which included a membership card, key chain and wristband. Of course, I had to order one.
Copies of "Monster" sold at Best Buy in the US had a coupon inside good for a free "KISS Monster Army" membership pack, which included a membership card, key chain and wristband. Of course, I had to order one. | Source

The Reception...

Despite favorable reviews and a strong debut showing on the Billboard Top 200 chart (opening at #3 during its first week of release), Monster made a surprisingly swift slide off the charts shortly afterward. According to the fan site KissFAQ, Monster fell to #14 in its second week on the charts, then to #41 by the third week. After seven weeks it fell off the Top 200 entirely, - the shortest Billboard stay by a KISS studio album since 1997's ill fated Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions (which only charted for four weeks). By the end of the year Monster had moved a relatively weak 132,000 copies in the United States. By contrast, the band moved more than 300,000 copies of Sonic Boom in 2009.

One has to wonder why the album fared so much worse than its predecessor. Sonic Boom was released on the band's own label (KISS Catalog Inc.) and sold exclusively through a single retailer (Wal-Mart), while Monster was a major label release on Universal Music that was available everywhere. So who dropped the ball? Maybe the band would've been better off continuing to do it themselves!!

Git some KISS!

Summin' it up

I've owned Monster since it was a new release and it still gets fairly regular spins after all that time. I'm not sure if I prefer it to Sonic Boom, but then I haven't lived with Monster for quite as long, either. Either way, it's an impressive piece of work from the veteran rockers. Thayer and Singer have certainly earned their stripes here and their (relatively) youthful energy has obviously provided Simmons and Stanley with a musical shot in the arm. Simmons has even gone so far as praising Tommy and Eric for "revitalizing" the band and saying that the Monster recording sessions went so smoothly that "we could have easily done another record."

KISS began the Monster tour overseas but returned to American shores in 2014, co-headlining outdoor amphitheaters with fellow hard-rock vets Def Leppard throughout the summer. If the video clips I've seen from recent gigs are anything to go by, the KISS live show is just as bombastic and over-the-top as ever. If you've let your KISS fandom lapse in recent years, Monster is a pretty damn fine place to get back on board with the face-painted four. It may not be the "preferred" KISS lineup but it's packing some pretty heavy duty ammunition nonetheless. Check it out and let it move you!!

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Comments 22 comments

theJOKERiv profile image

theJOKERiv 4 years ago

One thing about your review....... as Paul probably said to Eric in the Studio..... "Needs more Cowbell!" LOL!!!!!


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 4 years ago from The Garden State Author

Paul and Gene had a fever, and the prescription was.... MORE COWBELL!!


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

UPDATED with some new pix and notes about MONSTER's surprisingly poor retail performance thus far....


Shawn Dudley profile image

Shawn Dudley 3 years ago from Los Angeles, California

Sales of CDs have continued to decrease since 2009 (over 20%) so I'm sure that plays a part in the album sales. It's also quite possible that Kiss doesn't have quite the fanbase they once had, I'm sure there are others like myself who would only be interested if Ace & Peter (or at least Ace) was involved. By contrast Van Halen moved over 400,000 copies of their reunion album. I only listened to the Kiss album once and the one track that stood out to me was "Wall Of Sound".

Rock/Metal albums just don't sell that much anymore, the music has moved back underground (probably a good thing artistically to be honest) and bands will have to accept an ever-decreasing income. The only platinum selling artist in several years is Nickleback and we all know the type of morons that buy that crap.

The state of the music industry in general and also the young listeners being more interested in dance music & hip hop (it is the social music of today) doesn't bode well for a dinosaur band like Kiss selling big numbers.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

I can't argue with any of those points, Shawn (especially the crack on Nickelback...hahaha, nice one). Thanks as always for stoppin' by.


manny 3 years ago

Sadly Shawn is correct, even Aerosmith has had less then excepted sales for their newest album, and AC/DC's live album has not sold as well as their previous discs. But in AC/DC's case it just seems they threw a live album out there because they felt they needed an album out there, its an excellent live album, but its just an audio version of their platinum DVD release ' Live at River Plate' so that might explain why it is not already gold. The Stones new comp is not doing as well as past comps, but considering this the band's 900th hundred comp that is not unexpected thou their new single did do well as a downloaded single on itunes. Older band may not like the diminishing returns on physical CDS but its newer bands that are going to have bigger issues with it, then bands that have more money then some countries.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

I guess things are tough all over, Manny!! Thanx for the comment.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Updated


NateB11 profile image

NateB11 3 years ago from California, United States of America

When I was seven years old, I became a KISS fan. And that's back in the 70s, at the height of their popularity. This piece brought back memories. I remember all those guys, the personas, the personality and style. Thanks for sharing.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Glad you enjoyed, NateB. You really should check out the new album, it's definitely a throwback to the old school KISS sound!


Randy Duckworth 3 years ago

Followed your link from Bubblews to get here! Nice review! As a long time fan of the band, I felt that Monster and Sonic Boom were both worthy KISS albums and both had strong points, but both had weaknesses as well. Overall, I felt that Monster had stronger songs than Sonic Boom, but Sonic Boom had better sound quality and production! There were a few good tracks on Sonic Boom, but a majority of it was on the weak side, and Gene's lyrics on that album were absolute DRIVEL! Monster, on the other hand had GREAT songs, but the production is so unpolished and noisy that it ruins many of those great songs! I wanted the songs that were on monster, recorded with the production quality of Sonic Boom!


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Hey Randy!! I agree with your assessments of both Monster and Sonic Boom ... but hey, the mere fact that they're still making new music at their ages is good enough for me. (haha)

Thanks for stopping by, hope you check out some of my other KISS related Hubs...


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 2 years ago from The Garden State Author

Updated!


Lane 2 years ago

I am a long time kiss fan. I have all of their material and have seen every tour since 75. I was so excited about the monster release. I actually can't remember ever being that excited about an album's release. After the first time I played it, I can honestly say, I have never been more disappointed a cd. Most of the songs are good, many could be great! I feel the Simmons vocals possibly his best ever. BUT!, the sound quality of this cd is horrible! I have tried and tried to like, but I get pissed every time I listen. As a kiss fan growing up, I constantly had to defend. I can't defend this. The non kiss fan friends I have laugh at this. They say it has no balls. Sadly, they are right. Speaking of nickelback, maybe their producer and engineer could redo monster! Wow! If it had that sound quality, it would be a great album! What are the chances it will ever be remixed, remastered, reengineered, reproduced,redone,etc??? All I can do is hope.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 2 years ago from The Garden State Author

Hi Lane - sorry that the Monster CD didn't do much for ya, maybe next time? Gene has said that KISS probably has one more studio album in them before they finally hang it up for good.


Connor Rae 2 years ago

Killer review, man! I love reading in-depth articles like these


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 2 years ago from The Garden State Author

Cool man, thanx for stopping by, glad you dug it!


bensen32 profile image

bensen32 2 years ago from Round Lake Park

I liked kiss years ago, mostly their 70 stuff but haven't really liked much since.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 2 years ago from The Garden State Author

Can't hurt to check out some of the new stuff, bensen32... you never know, you might be pleasantly surprised. :D


nybassman 17 months ago

Fan since 75. Saw every tour until 2002. Can't stand this lineup. Listened to new dvds to be fair. Not impressed. Did not care for black n blue, do not care for thayer now, nor would I support as a clone.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 17 months ago from The Garden State Author

Hi nybassman - rest assured, you're not the only one who feels this way. Thanks for stopping by.


annasmom profile image

annasmom 9 months ago

Yes. I am old enough to have seen them back in '79. I have a hard time getting excited w/o Ace and Peter, so I never bought this one...or any of the others w/o them. Love your reviews, though. Keep up the good work!

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