Kiss in the 21st Century

I previously linked to a very entertaining 3-part back and forth between J.M. Blaine and Chuck Klosterman. It seemed a fitting way to begin this (hopefully brief) post on 21st Century Kiss.

"JMB:  What do you think about Paul and Gene in their 60s still in makeup and platform boots?
CK:  My opinion might be unpopular.  I know people hate that Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer are wearing Ace and Peter’s makeup but my hope is that at some point Paul and Gene will replace themselves and KISS will just continue for like, a hundred and fifty years

JMB: (in Gene voice) Oh yeah!
CK: …that KISS will stop being about members and will exist as a single idea.  And that when people talk about KISS, they will talk about them in a way unlike any other band that has ever existed.  No members, just full-on roles.

JMB:  I think about stuff like that all the time.  It’s like I have Heavy Metal Asperger's or something.  The thought of Tommy and Eric in the makeup doesn’t bother me because they do a solid job of playing the roles of Catman and Space Ace.
CK:  At times Tommy plays a little too clean though.  He could actually stand to be a little more unpolished.

JMB:  Maybe as he gets better, he’ll get worse."

First, that last line really cracks me up. And it's completely spot-on. I forget if it's in his book or from some interview I read or listened to, but Peter Criss talks about how Ace would wear these bracelets and how they'd bang and rattle against his guitar while he soloed and how the sound would bleed over into the microphone and how "that's rock and roll, man." I don't fault anyone for clarity or precision, but there's something to this. 

Second, Heavy Metal Aspergers! I can relate.

Third, I'm not a particular fan of Tommy and Eric using the Space and Cat make-up designs. I'm under the impression that Ace and Peter signed off on the rights to it - somewhere, probably unknowingly - so Gene and Paul would appear to be legally entitled to do what they want with the designs. But... it's kind of uncool. Unless what Chuck Klosterman describes above were to happen. Say Kiss gets a Vegas show/ residency and four folks are hired to play the Demon, Starchild, Space Man, and Cat roles. I'd be fine with that. 

And I absolutely adore the idea of Kiss projecting into the future like this. Future generations could refer to things like "the 12th incarnation of the Starchild" and what not. Metal.

Fourth, that "(in Gene voice) Oh yeah!" bit cracks me up. I can't stand when Gene does that. It ranks up there with the way he sings "Baby, baby!" on Kiss tunes or "You got to have a potty!" from "Shout It Out Loud" or just his general "Hey! This is Gene Simmons from Kiss!" gameshow voice for Most Personally Annoying Gene Simmons Vocal Tics.

On with today's program:


I've only seen this (Gene and fam's reality TV show) a handful of times, so I really can't say too much about it. Gene's relationship with reality is tenuous at best, so Reality TV (i.e. imaginary reality) is a perfect venue for him. He needs all the humanization he can get.

What I've seen of the show is fine enough - it doesn't seem to stray too far from the Reality TV template. Gene and Shannon sure produced two attractive offspring who (at least from the little I've seen) don't appear to be anywhere near as annoying as their demographic contemporaries.


I'm of mixed feelings on this particular project. 

Woops - this is actually from one of the Kiss Kruises. My bad.
On one hand, as live Kiss concerts go, it's just okay. The addition of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra to the proceedings doesn't in my opinion enhance the music to a significant degree, but the fact that they all donned the make-up is a nice touch.

Conductor David Campbell (aka Beck's father.)

Except for this lady, whom the camera cuts to something like fifty times. I'm unsure of her name. 

(Possibly Kristy Bremner?)
This was absolutely the wrong make-up and hair choice for her.
Oh well. At least she's having fun.
The children's choir that comes out for "Great Expectations" is kind of nice in an "Aw, that's cool for the kids" sort of way. But I also felt the urge to separate the kids from Gene - way too close, Demon! Five hundred foot minimum.

Both Peter (in his book) and Gene (in the pre-concert rehearsal footage from the DVD) are particularly taken with cellist Sharon Draper.

Remember that "Eugene" video? The obvious implication, there, is that Ace is spilling the beans on how un-savvy Gene is with the ladies, despite his "body count." I can't speak to this personally, of course, but this interaction with Ms. Draper speaks volumes.

First, she calls him out rather sharply for leering at her.
Then, after rolling her eyes split-seconds after this screencap, she pushes away when Gene says "Nice violin."
According to Peter, he was told he'd be getting an even split from the profits of this DVD and album, but he was harshly disabused of this notion by Gene during rehearsal and never ended up seeing a royalty. I have no idea if this is true. But to be on the safe side, I made sure that when it came time to buy the DVD, I picked up a used copy.

Nearly every time they cut to the crowd it's to showcase a female fan either lifting her shirt or bouncing up and down. These are just a couple of examples - you get the idea.

These two especially get an awful lot of screentime.

Either Melbourne has a lot of photogenic young female Kiss fans, or the evidence was "sexed-up." If the latter, it forever amuses me the lengths to which these guys will go to sex-up the evidence. Worse than State Department officials.


2009 and 2012
I tried with these two, I really did. I'm not going to say they're bad or even venture much of an opinion at all on them. I just couldn't connect to the tunes. 

Interestingly, Sonic Boom comes with a bonus disc entitled Jigoku-Retsuden which translates to "Intense Transmission from Hell." (nice.) 

It's twelve classic Kiss tracks as re-recorded by the new line-up. I raise an eyebrow at this. Could it be that they intend to license only these tracks anytime Kiss music is requested for an event/ show/ movie? Or have Peter's and Ace's books made me suspect the worst from Gene and Paul on such things? The scuttlebutt is that whenever they get a chance to cut Peter and Ace out of the royalty loop for older material, they take it. 

Time will tell. Keep an ear out next time you hear any classic Kiss on TV or elsewhere - is it the original recording, or is it from Jigoku-Retsuden?


A few years back, Kiss started promoting these things. It's exactly what it sounds like. You book a "Kiss package" on a cruise line and sail off for a week of concerts and photo ops with the band. Most of those who purchase tickets are naturally diehard Kiss fans, so there are a thousand blogs out there detailing the experience.

Two members of the Kiss Navy.

I kind of like this whole idea. Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp on the waves. Of their many alternative-marketing/merchandising ideas, this one is probably the coolest.


And as previously reported, Gene and Paul have jumped on the Arena Football train and bought their very own franchise.

I've never been an Arena Football fan, and even this news likely won't nudge me any further in that direction. But I hold out hope that more and more rock bands will do this until the Arena Football League is 100% owned and operated by Kiss and their contemporaries. When that happens, you can bet I'll be the number one Arena Football fan in the world. 

It'd be even funnier if they were all LA teams, except for Bon Jovi's and Iron Maiden's. (Naturally, Maiden would have to be in on this to fully get me on board.)


In the Shadow of Kraftwerk

Kraftwerk ("power station" in German) always seemed to be lurking on the periphery of everything I enjoyed over the last few decades, whether it was music for NES games / Harold Faltermayer or John Carpenter soundtracks in the 80s; raves, re-mixes and electronica in the 90s; or "weird art" and 70s/80s nostalgia here in the 21st century. Lurking is perhaps the wrong word; they seemed to permeate all of the above.

Not to mention Lebowski:
Not the actual band, of course, but the allusion is obvious.
But I never sat down with their catalog until a few months back. What the hell took me so long? They hooked me from the first song I put in the stereo. ("We are the Robots.")

Instantly and endlessly compelling, visually, musically, conceptually, and technologically.

Who Are They? More than a few journalists and more than a few bands (including one of my favorites, New Order, one of the hundreds of bands to sample their work) have labeled Kraftwerk the most influential group of all time. Is this true? Perhaps. These days - when a single mega-computer at Clear Channel Entertainment HQ generates and determines what gets circulated into the musical ether, and millions of personal computer share infinite torrents of digital information each and every second - it's at the very least self-evident that more than most artists of the late 20th century, Kraftwerk looked into the future and saw exactly the shape of things to come.

The evolution of their influence is interesting to consider and ranges from the highly specialized to the mainstream.

- Giorgio Moroder, pioneer of "synth disco," took what Kraftwerk was doing and put it on the dance-floor with Donna Summer. This has happened more or less every year since, with the same successful results.

- Nearly all of early 80s "new wave" (Human League, Gary Numan, Soft Cell, etc.) is a variation on Kraftwerk. And not just that particular time and place; you can trace a line from Kraftwerk through New Wave / post-punk to Factory to Zooropa to trance to Radiohead to Daft Punk.

- Blue Man Group (less an homage and almost a parody.)

When the band announced a limited residency at London's Tate Gallery last year, the demand for tickets was so great that it overwhelmed that famous venue's box office. As reported in The Guardian:

"This made for a stark contrast with the reception Kraftwerk got when they first tried playing this music in Britain. Thirty-eight years ago, for their first British tour, hardly anyone bothered to turn up, while the music press of the day apparently sent Basil Fawlty along to review them: "Garbage floating down the polluted Rhine," offered the NME, in a review under the headline This Is What Your Fathers Fought to Save You From."

Music journalist and author Mark Prendergast notes in Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution that much like the Velvet Underground for so many US artists of the late 60s and 70s, nearly every UK artist of the late 70s and 80s traced their interest in recording and performing to either seeing or hearing Kraftwerk for the first time.

Current line-up: Ralf Hütter, Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz, and Falk Grieffenhage.

Classic Line-up: Ralf, Florian Schneider, Karl Bartos, Wolfgang Flür.

Influences: (Among others) Steve Reich, Piet Mondrian and Josef Albers, Suprematism, Conny Plank, not to mention

and Pierre Schaeffer, proponent of "musique concrete."

Context: The German countercultural scene was centered around three areas, Berlin, Munich, and Düsseldorf. While the music out of Berlin (such as Cluster) seemed to be fairly serious and the music out of Munich (such as Amon Duul) rather free-form, the music out of Düsseldorf reflected that region's distinctive contrasts.

While it was a city associated with art movements and high fashion
it was also a center of intense industrialization and technological innovation.
It's easy to see and hear these elements reconciled in the music of Kraftwerk.

Although all grouped under the arbitrary umbrella of "Krautrock" by the UK press, the German music scene produced a diverse range of material. While Kraftwerk's reach exceeded that of their contemporaries, here are three other well-known and well-deserving acts from the same period. First:

I love this picture.
Next: Tangerine Dream, perhaps best known here in the States as movie soundtrack composers.

And last but not least, Popol Vuh:

Also known for movie soundtracks, albeit almost exclusively for the films of Werner Herzog:

Base of Operations: Kling Klang (an onomatopœia; in English: ding dong) Studio, originally located at Minstropstrasse 16, Düsseldorf, since relocated to Meerbusch-Osterath. This was once an "undisclosed location," sandwiched in-between factories and shrouded in total secrecy. An electronic laboratory where the band programmed/practiced their electronic alchemy, often on custom-built equipment like this vocoder:

As technology grew more sophisticated over the course of the band's career, it became easier to take Kling Klang on the road. (Indeed, what once required a studio filled with wires, sequencers, vocoders, and synthesizers can now be achieved in a smartfone app; such are the wonders left to us thanks in large part to innovators such as Ralf, Florian and the gang.)

From the wiki:

"Johnny Marr of the Smiths explained that anyone trying to contact the band for collaboration would be told the studio telephone did not have a ringer, since during recording, the band did not like to hear any kind of noise pollution. Instead, callers were instructed to phone the studio precisely at a certain time, whereupon the phone would be answered by Ralf Hütter, despite never hearing the phone ring."

Chris Martin relays similar eccentric behavior when he contacted them for permission to sample "Computer Love" for Coldplay's song "Talk." Several weeks after writing them, he received an envelope with no return address that contained a handwritten reply on Kling Klang stationary that simply said "yes."

The internet age has expanded the Kling Klang Machine in even further ways.
Few bands sound so simultaneously of-their-era and of-the-future.

Discography: The band's first three albums (Kraftwerk, Kraftwerk 2, and Ralf und Florian) are different enough from their subsequent catalog for Ralf to have claimed that 1974's Autobahn was the actual starting point for the band. They rarely perform anything from these albums in concert. Which is too bad, as they are great albums, especially in context of their later work. 

Ralf und Florian in particular. In addition to showcasing some of their prettiest melodies, it is, as Mark Prendergast has noted, much more than simply a bridge to their later work. By making themselves the highly abstracted subject of the record, it's a lot like Kraftwerk's Sgt. Pepper's.

With Autobahn, the band streamlined what would become their signature sound: classical structure and melody in a computerized soundscape circling an identifiable theme.
Side One is the 22-minute title track. Its chorus "Wir fahren fahren fahren auf der autobahn"("We drive drive drive on the Autobahn") recalls the Beach Boys i.e. "fun fun fun til her Daddy takes the T-Bird away," while the music evokes the feel of cruising along, slowing down and speeding up, the landscape pleasantly broken up by cities and roadside attractions, the ever-present womblike hum of the tarmac under the wheels.

This version from The Mix, a compilation CD where famous DJs remixed classic Kraftwerk tunes, is particularly cool. And at the risk of including far too many videos in this blog, here is a slice of classic psychedelia from Roger Mainwood set to the tune:

The band's next two albums, while absolute classics - basically, if you like Autobahn, you'll like everything else - were flops, more or less.
Nevertheless, they brought the band to the increasing (and fevered) attention of artists such as David Bowie and Brian Eno. And with their next album, 1978's
they returned to the charts en force.
"Metropolis" was hugely influential and widely copied. As was "Spacelab:"

In 1981, the band released my personal favorite of theirs: Computer World / Computerwelt. As was the case with the 2 previous albums and would be for their next 2, both an English and a German language version was released.

In an eeriely prescient review of the album, Chris Power wrote: 

"The thrumming pulse of Computer World, its three-note melody glancing like sunlight from its delicate breakbeats, houses one of Hütter’s most insightful lyrics. Reeling off a list of governmental and financial institutions – "Interpol and Deutsche Bank/FBI and Scotland Yard" – a synthetic voice provides the counterpoint of "Business, numbers, money, people". With supreme economy the song charts the privacy-threatening interconnectedness of our modern world; one the incipience of which was far from blindingly obvious in 1981. The German-language version of the track contains extra lines which are even more explicit about government data collection."

Their next two efforts, though separated by almost 20 years, are somewhat similar. Less critically acclaimed but, to my ears anyway, no less atmospheric.

The conventional wisdom is that as the technology that had once been Kraftwerk's almost exclusive domain became more readily available and widely used, they floundered a bit, receding from center-stage of the electronica movement and allowing others (most notably, UK-based DJs) to carry the banner. 

In their wake, undoubtedly, electronica mutated, regressed, and ultimately flourished.

As Andy McClusky of Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark recently noted, “People always go back to how the American blues was lifted by the British and turned into pop in the Sixties, but that was a long time ago, and its reign was 20 or 30 years. When you listen to pop now, do you hear the Beatles, or do you hear electronic, synthetic, computer-based grooves?” 

McClusky speaks the truth, meine Damen und Herren. It's a Kraftwerk (computer)world, we just live in it.

Effect on Babies: One final note. My daughter, who's a few weeks shy of her first birthday, absolutely loves these guys. I was listening to them while cooking a few weeks ago and now she comes in and cries to be picked up and then looks over at the stereo and points. It's really cute. Then we bop back and forth and she usually falls asleep in my arms. It's a surefire way to get her to relax; I offer this to all parents of infants and toddlers. Keep Kraftwerk at the ready.

She hasn't got the lyrics 100% yet, but we've got time.
I'm greatly amused at the idea that in years to come I will get misty-eyed when I hear things like "The Robots" or "Computer World" and remember father-daughter bonding of years past.