Kiss (Casablanca, 1974)
   Hotter Than Hell (Casablanca, 1974)
    Dressed to Kill (Casablanca, 1975)
     Alive! (Casablanca, 1975)
     Destroyer (Casablanca, 1976)
    Rock and Roll Over (Casablanca, 1977)
     Love Gun (Casablanca, 1977)
     Alive II (Casablanca, 1977)
     Double Platinum (1978)
  Peter Criss (Casablanca, 1978)
    Gene Simmons (Casablanca, 1978)
   Ace Frehley (Casablanca, 1978)
  Paul Stanley (Casablanca, 1978)
  Dynasty (Casablanca, 1979)
  Unmasked (1980)
   Music From "The Elder" (Casablanca, 1981)
  Creatures of the Night (Casablanca, 1982)
   Lick It Up (Mercury, 1983)
  Animalize (Mercury, 1984)
  Asylum (Mercury, 1985)
   Crazy Nights (Mercury, 1987)
     Smashes, Thrashes, and Hits (Vertigo, 1988)
   Hot in the Shade (Mercury, 1989)
  Revenge (Mercury, 1992)
   Alive III (Mercury, 1993)
  MTV Unplugged (Mercury, 1996)
    You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best (Mercury, 1996)
     Greatest Kiss (Mercury, 1997)
  Psycho Circus (Mercury, 1998)
    The Millennium Collection (Mercury, 2003)
    The Millennium Collection, Vol. 2 (Mercury, 2004)
    The Millennium Collection, Vol. 3 (Mercury, 2006)
    Sonic Boom (Kiss/Universal/Roadrunner, 2009)

Has there ever been a rock group whose actual studio recordings ever had less to do with anything than Kiss? No way. The Kiss experience was a multimedia spectacle: Four costumed characters playing bubble-metal riffs, fireworks, smoke bombs, scary clown makeup, wigs, blood-spitting, fire-breathing, cartoon album covers, a comic book printed in the band's own blood, and the entire Kiss Army chanting the chorus of "Rock 'n' Roll All Nite." Kiss became the hottest band in the world in the Seventies by prizing showmanship first—compared to these guys, the Banana Splits were sharecroppers down on the farm, and the Partridges were the Carter Family. Listening to Kiss records has hardly anything to do with the fun of being a Kiss fan, especially since the guys were too tightfisted as businessmen to give away two hooks in the same song, much less put all their catchy songs on one album. But Paul Stanley (the Star Child), Gene Simmons (the Samurai Dragon), Peter Criss (the Cat), and Ace Frehley (the One Who Probably Didn't Save Any of His Money) drove us wild and drove us crazy.

Kiss' early albums are thin, cruddy-sounding hard rock recorded on the cheap, with only occasional lapses into catchiness: You'd be hard pressed to name another band that wrote all its own songs over such a long period of time without ever learning how. But by accident or design, when the men of Kiss hit it right, they really hit it ("Rock 'n' Roll All Nite," "Strutter," "Room Service") and Alive! is a nonstop Kiss-krieg of two-note guitar motifs, fake-sounding audience noise, and inspirational chitchat. "I was talking to somebody backstage before," Paul Stanley informs the crowd. "And they were tellin' me there's a lot of you people out there who like to drink vodka and orange juice! Awwww riiiiiight!" Alive! is the next best thing to being there, clearly.

Destroyer was the inevitable arty concept album, from the drink-smoke-drive-die saga "Detroit Rock City" to the touching "Do You Love Me" ("You like mah theven-inch…high heelth?!"). Rock and Roll Over offered "Love 'Em and Leave 'Em" and "Calling Dr. Love," while Love Gun had Ace's star turn "Shock Me." Alive II was the Bad News Bears in Breaking Training of Seventies metal, a well-made sequel that could not possibly deliver the shock of the original, although it's very impressive how this supposed concert recording of "Beth" features a full orchestra, who must have spent the rest of the show playing cards backstage. Counting down the final minutes until their expiration date, Kiss blew it out in appropriately grandiose style, releasing solo albums by all four members simultaneously. Ace had a hit with the fantastic "New York Groove," but Gene made the best overall album, dribbling blood all over the record-company logo on the label and croaking the Disney ballad "When You Wish Upon a Star."

Strictly speaking, Kiss' classic period was now over. But Gene and Paul continued on a humbler commercial scale, trying disco with Dynasty, progging out in the rock opera Music From "The Elder," removing their makeup, periodically reuniting with old buddies, putting the makeup back on for a lucrative and apparently perennial reunion tour in the Nineties, doing one of the most pointless MTV Unplugged segments imaginable, and in general refusing to get respectable with age. 2009's Sonic Boom was a surprisingly non-sucky studio album that, on tracks like "Stand" and "Never Enough" at least, took you back to the band's sleazy, sweaty Seventies heyday.

Kiss's greatest-hits collections have all been conspicuously incomplete, as if it hates the idea of anyone buying just one Kiss album, but Double Platinum is the most solid, though not as much fun as Alive! Kiss' Eighties hits were utterly indistinctive pop metal that could have come from absolutely anyone, despite occasional flourishes like "Reason to Live," "The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away," and the long-forgotten 1988 gem "Let's Put the X in Sex," which had a plot Prince would have been proud to call his own.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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