We turn our attention today to Kiss’s 1979 release Dynasty, or as it’s known by fans: “The Disco Album”, or perhaps even “When Things Go Horribly, Horribly Wrong”.
Depending on your particular sensibilities, you wouldn’t be wrong with either assessment, but you would be able to walk away feeling that Dynasty is still a pretty good album.
Let’s put this album in its proper historical context, shall we? By 1977, Kiss was pretty much the biggest rock band on the planet, and easily the hardest working one. Between the years 1974 and 1977, the band released six (!) studio albums, two live albums, and went on eight tours with over 420 performances. Not to mention the constant marketing, TV and radio appearances, and other relentless plugging. Say and feel whatever you want about what kind of band they were, but nobody can argue that they were soft and lazy.
By 1978 the band was plenty successful and utterly fried, so after their Alive II tour ended in February of 1978, the band members took a much-deserved break from each other (except for a five-night stint in Japan that April). During that time, the only new music consisted of the four “solo” albums released that fall by each band member (which featured two good albums, those by Ace Frehley and Paul Stanley) and a greatest hits package. But as 1978 winded down, the Kiss merchandising machine was ramping up to make 1979 the band’s epic year. That’s right: 1979 was to be the much-heralded “Return of Kiss!!!”
The band recorded Dynasty in January and February of 1979, but the cracks in the facade were already beginning to show. Longtime drummer Peter Criss only performed on one track; the rest of the album featured session drummer Anton Fig. Producer Vini Poncia was also brought in, fresh off of working on Peter Criss’s solo album, and he brought much smoother pop sensibilities to the band’s harder rock sound. Meanwhile, guitarist Ace Frehley, emboldened by the success of his solo LP (widely considered to be the best of the four — it sold the most and sported a Top 20 hit in “New York Groove”), wrote two songs for the album and sang on three of them.
This was an album of transition for Kiss, a bridge from their hard rock roots to Top 40 Pop Rock and yes, a dip into the warm waters of late 70s disco. The results were a “softer”, or shall we say, “safer” sounding band exploring a more polished, consumer-friendly sound. I will go on record to say I enjoy “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” as a fantastic piece of pop/disco songwriting of the era. Mock it all you want, but no one can deny its catchy groove. Paul wrote the song to prove how easy it was to come up with a disco hit. Apparently, he was right. It remains one of the band’s biggest hits and most popular songs.
The album segues immediately into Ace’s hard-rockin’ cover of the Rolling Stones’s “2,000 Man”, easily one of his shining moments with the band. Not only was it a great cover, but in my opinion it outpaces the rather quizzical original tune. Paul then returns to the mic with the dark, slinky “Sure Know Something”. This is Paul returning to his pop/disco milieu — this is no doubt a disco tune, just with a harder feel than “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”. It’s slower, heavier, and darker, but still with that inimitable disco vibe.
Three great songs in a row, and then… the album kinda nosedives hard. That’s not to say there aren’t a few good tunes coming up, but nothing as good as these opening three.
“Dirty Livin'” is Pete’s disco/R&B tune. The song is his only appearance on the album, either as a singer or a drummer, and it’s pretty bland. It’s nowhere near as awful as most of the tunes off his solo album, but you never need to hear it again after one listen. And that first listen is entirely optional. When it comes to any kind of dance groove, Paul’s songs blow this one clear off of the dance floor. Things don’t get any better with “Charisma”, Gene’s first song on the album. I’ll flat out say it: I hate this song. HATE IT. With its weird robotic chorus, poppy bassline, heavy-on-the-reverb vocals, disco beat, and obnoxiously self-congratulatory lyrics, I actively want to kick a pigeon whenever I hear it.
I used to think that Paul’s “Magic Touch” was just an OK tune. While I’m still not overly enamored of it, this midtempo pop rocker has grown on me over time. While I don’t think it’s up to the quality of his earlier album songs, it’s a good listen in and of itself. “Hard Times” is a fairly cool Ace song. The album finally gets a bit of rock on, after an onslaught of pop/disco/r&b (with the exclusion of “2,000 Man” — thanks again, Ace!). I love the continuous riff of the song and the thunder of the chorus.
Gene redeems himself for the “Charisma” abortion with his other album track. “X-Ray Eyes” is good tune. This song hearkens of a Love Gun-ish Gene, more melodic with a rock/pop edge (good riffing, strong chorus, heavy on the piano). After the debacle of “Charisma”, this is a welcome reminder that Gene wasn’t totally uninterested in the band while he was off playing Mr. Hollywood.
Sadly, the album ends just terribly with Ace’s “Save Your Love”, which is, rather simply, the very worst song on the album. Ugh. Two out of three aint bad Ace, but this song is just freakin’ awful. Both musically and lyrically, it’s an uninspired and lazy effort — just a bad song in every conceivable capacity. Is it worse than “Charisma”? Yes. “Dirty Livin'”? By far.
The “problem” with Dynasty is that at times it is so slick, so de-fanged, with all the rough edges sanded down, it often doesn’t feel like a “real” KISS album… certainly not the one fans were expecting. But listening to it with a fresh pair of ears, it’s not a bad album at all. Actually, it’s fairly good. I’d go far as to say the opening 3 songs are really damn great, “Hard Times” and “X-Ray Eyes” are very good, “Magic Touch” is decent, while “Dirty Livin”, “Charisma”, and “Save Your Love” just totally blow. Six good-to-great songs worth checking out, with three of them remaining as total crap. It’s not a traditional KISS album, and it suffers for it in the minds of fans. Vini Poncia really brought out the Pop/disco hooks of the era, which was not necessarily a bad thing, but it took away what many of the hardcore fans WANTED from KISS. Still, Dynasty holds up as a good album with much to offer.
Dynasty also has the absolute worst album cover and packaging to date. Considering that the album was the “Return of Kiss” vanguard, the whole package looks bland and uninspiring. Then again it sold 3 million (based off of the success of “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”) but the ensuing tour lost money; each show cost $1 million+ to produce, and given the band’s mainstream popularity there were entirely too many children and families attending now, making KISS somewhat “less than cool” to the hard rock crowd. Dynasty is plagued with the reputation of being KISS’s “jump the shark” album, the exact point where they had commercial success but everything afterwards plummeted into free-fall.