After seeing Kiss backstage without their makeup, I have lost all ambition to do anything with my life except see them naked. Gene Simmons knows this and has written a song about the Plaster Casters — a couple of groupies who made molds of rock stars’ nonproboscis protuberances in the late Sixties — to titillate me and the millions of other Americans who go to bed every night wondering about Simmons’ masculine module. Does he paint it like his face before he performs with it? Does it breathe fire and puke blood? If so, does his girlfriend use an asbestos diaphragm?
Simmons subtly leaves these questions unanswered on Love Gun, no doubt to preserve his mystique. He does, however, drop us several tantalizing hints. He describes his Vesuvius of the lower regions as “perfection” on “Plaster Caster” and offers, “If you want to see my love, just ask her.” This line represents the record’s only serious artistic failure: inside the jacket is an order form for Kiss T-shirts, Kiss posters and Kiss belt buckles — so why do we have to go to the Plaster Casters for a glimpse of perfection? Why not have a $6.95 check-off for a plastic replica of the Gene Simmons Memorial Seed Silo? Paul Stanley, who also uses “love” as a euphemism for “my dick,” could have a model that dances in eight-inch platforms. Peter Criss could have one with a hydraulic system that raises it 30 feet in the air. And Ace Frehley’s could shoot rockets over the audience.
Love Gun‘s less serious failures include losing much of the energy in the overdubs (a chronic problem with Kiss) and not taking enough advantage of Peter Criss’ excellent voice. Still, they come up with some nice riffs, and “Then She Kissed Me,” a cover of the Phil Spector tune, is genuinely funny for the right reasons. I’m told their next album will be a double live set. If history repeats itself, that album will contain the definitive versions of everything potentially worth hearing on Love Gun.
Rainbow’s On Stage is hotter rock & roll, but it will not pull heavy metal out of the doldrums, as Miles Davis periodically does with jazz. Once the angriest and most aggressive genre of music, heavy metal no longer has anything to sing about. Where Kiss tramples on sexual taboos that were ground to dust in the last decade, Rainbow resorts to personal mythology that won’t do much for you unless you think Robert Plant-style mysticism is poetry on the level of Lord Byron. Ritchie Blackmore remains a master of playing boring slow stuff and then plunging into your brain with a murderous riff that can be removed only through surgery. But I just can’t care when Ronnie Dio screams about being the Man on the Silver Mountain and becoming “holy” again.
Hope for high-energy rock, however, arrives from two different fronts — Texas and Britain. Roky Ericson, singer for the late and much-lamented Thirteenth Floor Elevators, the best psychedelic band to emerge from the Southwest, knows a good hallucination when he shrieks one. I’m not sure what he’s getting at in “Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog),” his single on the obscure Mars label. But when he’s screaming, “Two headed dog, two headed dog/I’ve been working in the Kremlin with a two headed dog,” he sounds real upset about it, and damned if you don’t feel you’d be that upset if you’d been working in the Kremlin with a two-headed dog. The Kremlin is also a vastly more potent image — one that we all grew up with in the American Cold War religion — than a Silver Mountain. The production (by Doug Sahm) is a tad crude, but the energy pushing along a killer guitar riff is all there. Major labels, take note: sign this guy or I will become disillusioned with popular music.
The other cause for hope comes from the infamous Sex Pistols, whose violent behavior has tended to obscure the fact that they have something to say. “God Save the Queen” is a perfect union of angry lyrics and music. This is because Johnny Rotten has something to be angry about: his country is going down the toilet, and he’s just about the only one who’s saying so. The final chorus, where Rotten sings, “No future, no future, no future for you,” is probably the finest sarcasm ever recorded.
The punks tend to claim that their music has no roots, and their critics tend to claim they are warmed-over Who and Stones. But it seems to me this music is closest to the blues in its emotional function. Articulating the pain and making it funny somehow make it more manageable. There’s also a dash of the MC5 bellowing, “Kick out the jams, motherfuckers,” in 1969. With several fashion designers and popular magazines rushing to reduce it all to a “teenage craze,” one can only hope the punks can avoid the sellout long enough for a couple of albums on the level of “God Save the Queen.”