Album Review: “Paul Stanley” — Paul Stanley (1978)

flerbieThe 1978 Kiss “solo” albums are pretty infamous for how they were marketed, developed, and received, rather than for the quality of the released product. They all shipped Platinum, which means the distributor released over a million copies of each of the four records… and when most of them didn’t sell all that great, they were shoved into Bargain Bins around the country, relegated to the status of quizzical footnotes in the annals of 70s hard rock musical history.

Or something. As a longtime fan, I’ve heard all four and you can pretty much discount half of them. Gene Simmons’s album is really weird, man…  he tries a bunch of different styles, pulls in the likes of Cher and Donna Summer to do some backing vocals, tries his hand at Beatlesque pop, R&B, orchestrated prog-metal, even a cover of a Disney tune. The album isn’t very good, but it was ambitious; at least he tried doing something different. The less said about Peter Criss’s solo work, the better. Calling it third-rate late-70s wanna blue-eyed soul/easy listening is being entirely way too kind.

The best-selling of the bunch was Ace Frehley’s, as he managed to score a Top 20 single with “New York Groove”, and delivered a great album. Not a masterpiece, but an excellent rip-snortin’ slab of guitar-driven hard rock. Among the KISS faithful, Ace’s record is generally considered the best of the four.

On any given day, I’ll pretty much agree with that sentiment. But the Paul Stanley album can give Ace’s disc a decent run for its money. While Ace was focused on delivering a strong hard rock LP, Paul’s was slanted more towards pop and melodic hard rock. Even a full-on syrupy ballad.  We’ll get to that in a second.

What makes Paul’s album unique of the four is that his is the only one without cover tunes. Every last track, for better or worse, is a Paul Stanley original. Being the primary singer and songwriter of the band, Paul really didn’t derive that far from the patented 70s Kiss “formula”, save for the songs contained therein are probably more accessible and pop-oriented, while retaining enough raw attitude to keep the Kiss faithful dutifully entertained. A sound strategy, to be certain. The Kiss solo albums were designed to allow each member to spread their creative wings and indulge any songwriting/performing proclivities which were inaccessible as part of being in the main band. Paul played it safe by going straight down the middle. A little softer here, a little poppier there, but never straying too far from what fans were expecting from him.

Either way you have it, he made a pretty good record, one that showed exactly what Paul brought to KISS: the hooks, the melodies, the choruses, and and that inimitable voice. Opening track “Tonight You Belong To Me” is a classic hard rocker, starting slow and deliberate over minor key 12-stringed guitars and building to a sudden rock explosion. It’s quite the grabber. He revisits this mode later on with the “Take Me Away (Together As One)”; a similar vibe to be sure, but with a punchier, heavier feel.

Paul takes it down a notch with “Aint Quite Right”, which infuses his rock sensibilities with some 70s R&B. It’s a hybrid that works to his strengths as a singer/songwriter, a harbinger of a more soulful sound he’d bring to later Kiss albums like Dynasty and Unmasked, but it’s much less gimmicky and more mature than the songs on those records. Speaking of Unmasked, “Wouldn’t You Like To Know Me” and “It’s Alright” would fit right in on that album. With their pop hooks and anthemic choruses, these tracks have an early ’80s Rick Springfield vibe. Both are really strong album cuts.

The quality of the record dips with “Hold Me, Touch Me (Think Of Me)”, the big ballad on the album. Look, I love a good Paul ballad (“I Still Love You”, “Every Time I Look At You”, heck even “Forever” was a decent 80s power ballad for its time), and unfortunately this is nothing like a good Paul ballad. “Hold Me” is entirely over-produced, drenched with syrupy dreck, and is ultimately pretty fey, even by Paul standards. “Love In Chains” is a serviceable rock tune, very much aligned with the sound of Kiss at the time. Uptempo and rooted with crunchy power chords, it does little to offend or distinguish itself, but it’s a decent enough song. The same can be said for “Move On”, a hard rocker Paul played often on his solo tours. It’s a solid hard rocker but little more than that.

Finishing off the record is “Goodbye”. Ending an album with a track entitled “Goodbye” is groan-inducing enough, and accordingly the track is entirely mediocre. “Together As One” would have been a better album closer, as a bookend with the similarly staged “Tonight You Belong To Me”. As it stands, the album ends on a rather disappointing note.

Overall Paul Stanley is a strong solo debut that played it safe with fan expectations, but was successful in opening up Stanley’s stylistic range a smidge. The record has five great tracks that are definitely worth seeking out for Kiss/rock fans, two album fillers, and two forgettable numbers. I’m a fan of this LP, but it’s definitely one where I cherry-pick the better tracks and leave the rest behind.

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