Pound for pound, I’d say Love Gun is probably my favorite Kiss album, or at the very least in my Top 3. Everything about it screams quintessential Kiss. First there’s that cover. Look at that thing. Beautiful. Artist Ken Kelly painted it (he had done the Destroyer cover as well) and that is some buttkickin’ album art. The band look like Greek demigods, surrounded by equally mysterious (and make-up/costumed) adoring nymphs, all decked-out in a milieu of fog and marble, standing proudly before a powerful rising sun. Or maybe a giant peach. Who knows…
Regardless, this album is monumental for the band in a lot of ways. It was released in the summer of 1977 at pretty much the zenith of their commercial popularity. At that point Kiss was a juggernaut, a pop culture phenomenon, having bridged that final gap between underground glam-meets-hard-rock New York buzz band to International Blockbuster Platinum Recording Artists. They were established and commercially successful, but were still continuing the “album and tour every year” circuit; during the two years encompassing 1976 and 1977, they released four Platinum-selling albums (three studio, one live), completed three tours and started on a fourth that went into 1978. We’re talking two hundred and twenty-five performances all over the world over two calendar years. You can mock Kiss for whatever you want, but you can’t deny that the guys weren’t tremendously hard-working…
Love Gun, to me anyhow, represents the culmination of the original Kiss (defined as all four founding members) at the height of their talents. For the first time, all four members are featured on lead vocals (and have songwriting credits) for at least one song. For the last time, all four members perform on every track. But all of that is a giant load of bupkis if the songs don’t measure up; thankfully Love Gun is Kiss at their 70s rock best. I define this as catchy melodies, memorable hooks, strong production, leering predatory bombast and iconic, singalong choruses. Can Kiss get dopey? Oh, quite often. But is the music ridiculously awesome fun? Without question.
Witness how quickly they switch between genres. Take, for example, the hats-off-to-jailbait anthem Christine Sixteen. The song has all the rock trappings in the word, with Gene aping his Demon persona for all its worth, but in the end it winds up as one incredibly catchy, enjoyable piece of pop rock. The piano riff under the chorus and verses underscores this assertion tremendously. The hooks on Christine Sixteen were so undeniably ingratiating, Tone Loc ended up sampling the song for his 1988 smash “Funky Cold Medina”. OK it’s definitely sleazy pop, but pop nonetheless. Paul switches gears into a bit of R&B-influenced rock with Tomorrow and Tonight, denigrated by many as a shameless attempt to recreate the “Rock N Roll All Nite” magic, and perhaps it might be, but it’s got an entirely different feel entirely. Slower, more harmony-driven, and definitely more soulful. The lyrics are nothing much; generic “let’s get together and have a party” nonsense. But it’s in the delivery where the song excels. Paul’s giving it his all and then some.
There are a few lesser songs on display. Got Love For Sale is filler, more of Gene’s hyper-sexualized posturing but the track doesn’t really add up to much. I dig the chorus a ton and Ace’s solo is perfectly (if lazily) Ace, but the rest is pleasantly skippable. The same can be pretty much said for Peter Criss’s Hooligan, a serviceable rock tune that doesn’t stand out in any particularly memorable way (nor does it embarrass itself either). And there’s a perfectly pointless cover of Phil Spector’s oldie “Then She Kissed Me” (cleverly re-titled Then He Kissed Me, as to not make anyone think Paul was going homo on you or anything). It ends the album on an off-note, which is a shame but at the same time doesn’t degrade the quality of the music that precedes it.
Now let’s turn to Shock Me… While Ace had been steadily contributing his songwriting abilities to the band since Day One, his classic tunes like “Parasite”, “Strange Ways”, and “Cold Gin” were always sung by other band members. Shock Me was his lead vocal debut, and he couldn’t have chosen a better one. This is pretty much his signature Kiss song (inspired by an actual incident in which he was electrocuted at a show in Lakeland, Florida). A classic Kiss hard rock tune, it remains one of the album’s best songs and a Kiss classic. The same can be said for the title track: Paul is entirely in his element with Love Gun, playing into his Starchild/Eros persona perfectly. Juvenile beyond words, but what a great rock tune.
Gene has two great under-the-radar songs in both Plaster Caster and Almost Human. The latter just reeks of early 70s exploitation sleaze; the intro, with its twin leads in harmony over a funkified bassline, sounds like the musical score to a scene from a 1974 urban exploitation grindhouse flick in which swarthy thugs are cruising uptown in their deep-maroon-colored Mercury gunning for revenge… or something. The Demon is totally in his element, and it’s one of the strongest album tracks. Plaster Caster is pure cheeky rock fun, an unabashed ode to groupies capturing the bands’ “protrusions” in plaster for posterity. Say that three times fast. Finally, there’s I Stole Your Love. This Paul track opens the album, and zowie does it kick the barn doors open with just this huge burst of energy. There’s something about those vocals on the chorus that just work, you know? That, combined with the thundering riffs and Paul’s strong vocals and this remains one of those all-time great hard rock album openers.
So Love Gun is the last great album of the early Kiss era. The following year the band would take a bit of a hiatus: they’d release four solo albums (under the KISS brand), tour, and film a TV movie of such staggering awfulness it’d hardly abide the telling, but they’d never be a cohesive band unit (with the four original members) like this again. The studio follow-up Dynasty would only feature Peter Criss on one song. On Unmasked, Peter wouldn’t sing or perform at all, and would leave the band soon afterward. Ace would be gone by 1982, and a whole lot of turmoil and rotating guitarists would ensue. Then the make-up would come off. Still, Love Gun endures as a strong testament to a band in the prime, their heyday, and their iconic exuberance.