Released: 2006, New Door Records/Universal Music
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
As a founding member of KISS, Paul Stanley has maintained a steady gig as respected a singer, songwriter and guitarist for almost 25 years. With KISS milking their “reunion” tour for going on ten years now, it was apparent to even a casual bystander that things were becoming stale, tired and predictable as the band trotted out the seven-inch heels and greasepaint for yet another run of dates. Not one to rest on his laurels, Stanley has been working on a solo album over the last year or so, devoting time wherever possible with a group of L.A. studio musicians and a few friends to craft LIVE TO WIN, a ten-track collection of high-quality, well-produced hard rock songs that one would expect from The Starchild. The album is short (only 33 minutes) but unlike the bloated ASSHOLE album from Stanley’s KISS compatriot, Gene Simmons, that sank like a lead balloon in 2004, LIVE TO WIN sounds fresh, modern and natural. Like Stanley’s songs in KISS, there are hooks everywhere with heavily-produced pop choruses balancing out the guitar crunch and melodic passages that immediately get stuck in the subconscious. It is clear that Stanley has a strong shot at a solo career when KISS hangs up the costumes for good with material like this. Fans of KISS or even a casual rock fan will find plenty to get excited about with LIVE TO WIN.
From stomping, anthemic rockers (“Live To Win,” “All About You,” “Bulletproof”) to mid-paced, borderline pop (“Lift,” “Loving You Without You Now”) to the inevitable schmaltzy balladry (“Everytime I See You Around,” “Second To None”), this is exactly the album that I was expecting. There are many moments that would fit nicely on a KISS album including the “You Make Me Rock Hard”/late 80s vibe to “Bulletproof” and “Everytime I See You Around,” which could be the little sister to “Forever.” Even the weakest track on the album—“It’s Not Me”—boasts an unforgettable chorus but the song structure seems a bit awkward during the bridge as if it was pieced together from several fragments. Fans expecting to hear a new KISS album will be sorely disappointed, though, as the slick, modern production is more in tune with some of the big-time knob-twiddlers who create pop superstars than the dingy garage rock that once defined KISS as a dangerous band. There are string sections and keyboards everywhere but for every one of those songs, Stanley pleases fans of his heavier, guitar-based material with a power-chord driven rocker. Vocally, Stanley has never sounded better and at age 54, that is quite an accomplishment. The true test will be in the live setting since imperfections can be touched up in the studio (which KISS is certainly no stranger to doing) but taken at face value, Stanley sounds very good whether he is unleashing one of his patented screams or whispering in a hushed, emotive tone. Stanley’s former KISS mate, Bruce Kulick, plays bass on several tracks and John5 (Rob Zombie, ex-Marilyn Manson) contributes lead guitar to “Where Angels Dare” but Stanley has clearly taken the reins here, molding LIVE TO WIN into a true solo album without alienating his long-time fans.
To most, he will forever be known as the frontman for KISS but when stripping away the layers, it is clear that Paul Stanley has more to offer than the ass-shaking cock rock and pomp of a KISS show. Unlike Simmons, Stanley is a class act and LIVE TO WIN contains some of the best-written material of his career. The lyrics are strong, melodies are catchy and production doesn’t get much cleaner than this. Stanley can hold his head high as LIVE TO WIN will surely become a highlight of his long and storied career, carrying his name into the 21st century as a viable recording artist.
KILLER KUTS: “Live To Win,” “Lift,” “Wake Up Screaming,” “Everytime I See You Around,” “Bulletproof,” “All About You,” “Loving You Without You Now”