KISS "Killers" (1982) Album Review
KISS - "Killers" (Phonogram, 1982)
I recently knocked a long time "want" off of my CD list that I've been seeking for a number of years - KISS' mostly-forgotten Killers compilation album from 1982. I was even lucky enough to score a German pressing of this album, which sports an alternate version of the famed KISS logo (known as the "backwards Z's" to KISS aficionados) that is unique to KISS items sold in that country. Killers was never officially released in the United States, though imported copies used to be quite easy to find in American record stores during the days of cassettes and vinyl. (In fact, I already owned Killers on vinyl, but since I no longer have a turntable, it had been years since I'd last heard it!) In the CD era, however, it was a bit harder to come by. It had been a number of years since I'd last seen a Killers CD at a decent price, so naturally when one came up on my radar I immediately jumped on it.
At first glance, Killers appears to be just another generic greatest-hits compilation, and Lord knows that KISS has released more than enough of those over the years. What made Killers unique at the time of its release was that it contained four then-brand-new studio tracks (two per album side) - "I'm A Legend Tonight," "Down on Your Knees," "Nowhere To Run" and "Partners in Crime." The four new tracks were commissioned for this package by the band's European record label, Phonogram (parent company of their US label, Mercury/Casablanca) as a reaction to the failure of 1981's Music From 'The Elder' - the ill-fated concept album which had been the biggest commercial flop of KISS' career.
What's the deal with the "Backwards Z's" logo?
All KISS items sold in Germany use the altered logo shown above (known informally to collectors as the "Backwards Z's"), because the famous "lightning bolt" shaped "S's" in the classic KISS logo unfortunately resemble those used in the Nazi "SS" symbol. Such imagery is strictly forbidden by German law.
"I'm A Legend Tonight"
Phonogram specifically requested that KISS record four new "hard rock" songs for Killers, with none of the progressive-rock leanings of The Elder or the pop/disco overtones that had marked 1979's Dynasty and 1980's Unmasked. The label suits obviously wanted them to prove that they were still a hard 'n heavy rock band, in the hopes of luring back record buyers who'd been turned off by KISS' prior musical experiments. Somewhere along the way the decision was made not to release Killers in the band's home country, nor to release any of the new songs as singles in the U.S. - which probably didn't make much difference, because at this point in time KISS' popularity in America was at an all time low. Original drummer Peter Criss had already been replaced by Eric Carr, and guitarist Ace Frehley also had one foot out the exit door, though that wasn't public knowledge yet. With the KISS lineup in turmoil, the four new tracks for Killers were recorded with the help of studio guitarist Bob Kulick, a long time friend of the band. In the early 1970s, Bob had actually auditioned for the guitarist position in KISS that eventually went to Ace Frehley. Kulick was a veteran of prior KISS recording sessions (he "ghosted" for an absent Ace on three of the bonus studio tracks that closed out 1978's Alive II) and is also the older brother of guitarist Bruce Kulick, who would join KISS as a permanent member in 1984.
The Paul Show?
All four of the new studio tracks on Killers feature Paul Stanley on lead vocals and were written (or at least co-written) by him, which makes me wonder if his longtime partner-in-KISS Gene Simmons had anything to do with the making of this album at all. The album kicks off with "I'm A Legend Tonight," a catchy pop metal number that is probably the best known of the Killers tracks, featuring Paul in full swagger. "Down On Your Knees" was co-written by Canadian rocker Bryan Adams, (who was still a few years away from his own breakthrough into AOR demi-God status) and it's a mostly forgettable, lunk-headed rock anthem riddled with lyrical cliches like "Are you ready to ROCK?" and "it's looooove in the first degree!" ...ugh.
"Nowhere to Run" starts off with some bluesy guitar licks that could almost pass for prime AC/DC, before exploding into another slick pop-metal tune with Paul bellowing for all he's worth on the choruses. "Partners In Crime" is possibly the most "80's" sounding of the new songs, and it's an uncomfortable mix of raunch-rock riffing and silly synth accents that brings then-current cheese rockers like Loverboy to mind. Despite that, it's my favorite of the four "noobs" on the record.
None of the new Killers cuts became hits, and to the best of my knowledge the band never played any of them live. Aside from occasionally turning up in other hits compilations ("Nowhere to Run" reappeared on 2001's KISS Box Set and "Down On Your Knees" is on the 2014 collection KISS 40), they've more or less been forgotten by all but the most diehard KISS fans.
As for the "hits" that make up the rest of the album, they're a mixed bag. Oddly enough, the band's classic debut is represented by only one song ("Cold Gin"), yet two cuts from 1979's Dynasty make the grade ("Sure Know Something" and "I Was Made For Lovin' You") while fan favorites like Hotter Than Hell and Rock N Roll Over are ignored entirely. Unsurprisingly, 1975's breakthrough Destroyer receives the most love, with three tracks ("Shout It Out Loud," "Detroit Rock City" and "God of Thunder"), and KISS' signature song "Rock and Roll All Night" also makes an appearance - in a live version, which I believe was taken from 1975's ALIVE! but I haven't had time to dig that album out and find out for sure. Gotta-have'em-all collectors may wish to note that the Australian edition of Killers adds the local hit "Shandi" (from 1980's Unmasked) to the running order, while the Japanese version includes not only "Shandi" but also a track from The Elder, "Escape From the Island."
In a nutshell, none of the four "new" songs on Killers are total duds, but they don't jump out and scream "Hey, everybody, KISS is BAAAAACK!" either. If nothing else, they show the band slowly getting back into fighting shape after a few years lost in the wilderness. It wasn't till the next studio album - 1982's Creatures of the Night - that KISS would find their focus again, thanks mainly to their newly recruited guitar player, Vinnie Vincent... but that's another story.
"Partners In Crime"
Killers was not KISS' first compilation album (that distinction goes to 1978's Double Platinum), nor would it be their last. In the years since KISS' mid 80s resurgence their catalog has been re-mastered, repackaged, and recycled countless times on collections like Smashes, Thrashes and Hits, The Very Best Of KISS, You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best!, Greatest KISS, IKONS, 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection (Volumes 1 AND 2!), and KISS 40, to name just a few. For the vinyl freak with extra deep pockets, KISS also recently released KISSTERIA - an extremely limited edition, massive box set consisting of all 34 (!) of their major-label album releases, remastered for vinyl and pressed on high-grade audiophile LPs. I'm almost afraid to ask how much that thing will cost...
Out of all of the seemingly endless KISS compilations available, Killers remains the most interesting to collectors, due to the four "new" songs. Any KISS Army member would be proud to have this one on their shelf.
© 2014 Keith Abt