KISS "Killers" Album Review
KISS—"Killers" (Phonogram, 1982)
I recently scored a CD copy of KISS' mostly-forgotten Killers compilation album from 1982. I was even lucky enough to score a German pressing of the disc, which sports an alternate version of the famed KISS logo (known as the "backwards Z's" to KISS aficionados) that is unique to KISS items sold in that country. Killers was never released in the United States, though it used to be quite easy to find in American record stores as an import. It had been a number of years since I'd last seen a Killers CD at a decent price, so naturally when this one came up on my radar I jumped on it.
At first glance, Killers appears to be just another generic greatest-hits compilation, and Lord knows KISS has released more than enough of those over the years. What made Killers unique at the time of its release was that it contained four then-brand-new studio tracks (two per album side) —"I'm A Legend Tonight," "Down on Your Knees," "Nowhere To Run," and "Partners in Crime."
What's the Deal With the "Backwards Z's" Logo?
All KISS items sold in Germany use this alternate version of their logo (known informally to collectors as the "Backwards Z's"), because the famous "lightning bolt" shaped "S's" in the classic KISS logo unfortunately resemble those used in the Nazi "SS" symbol, and such imagery is strictly forbidden by German law.
"I'm A Legend Tonight"
The four new tracks were commissioned for this package by the band's European record label, Phonogram (parent company of their US label, Mercury/Casablanca), who specifically requested four new "hard rock" songs for Killers, with none of the progressive-rock leanings of The Elder or the pop/disco overtones of 1979's Dynasty or 1980's Unmasked. The label obviously wanted them to prove that they were still a hard 'n heavy rock band, in the hopes of luring back record buyers who'd been turned off by the band's prior musical experiments. Phonogram opted not to release Killers in the band's home country, nor to release any of the new songs as singles in the U.S. - which probably didn't make much difference, because at this point in time KISS' popularity in America was at an all time low. Original drummer Peter Criss had been replaced by Eric Carr, and guitarist Ace Frehley also had one foot out the exit door, though that wasn't public knowledge yet. The four new tracks for Killers were recorded with the help of studio guitarist Bob Kulick, a long time friend of the band who had actually auditioned for the guitarist position in KISS that eventually went to Frehley in the early '70s. Kulick was a veteran of prior KISS recording sessions (he "ghosted" for an absent Ace on three of the bonus studio tracks that closed out 1978's Alive II) and is also the older brother of guitarist Bruce Kulick, who joined KISS as a permanent member in 1984.
The Paul Show?
All four of the new studio tracks on Killers feature Paul Stanley on lead vocals and were written (or at least co-written) by him, which makes me wonder if his longtime partner-in-KISS Gene Simmons had anything to do with the making of this album at all. "I'm A Legend Tonight" is a catchy pop metal number that is probably the best known of the Killers tracks, featuring Paul in full swagger. "Down On Your Knees" was co-written with Canadian rocker Bryan Adams, (still a few years away from his breakthrough into AOR demi-God status at this point) and it's a mostly forgettable, lunk-headed rock anthem riddled with lyrical cliches like "Are you ready to ROCK?" and "it's looooove in the first degree!" ...ugh.
"Nowhere to Run" starts off with some bluesy guitar licks that could almost pass for AC/DC, before it explodes into another slick pop-metal tune with Paul bellowing for all he's worth on the choruses. "Partners In Crime" is possibly the most "80's" sounding of the new songs, with its uncomfortable mix of raunch-rock riffing and silly synth accents that bring then-current cheese rockers like Loverboy to mind. Despite that, it's my favorite of the four "noobs" on the record.
None of the new Killers cuts became hits, and to the best of my knowledge the band never played any of them live. "Nowhere to Run" reappeared on 2001's KISS Box Set and "Down On Your Knees" is on the 2014 collection KISS 40, but otherwise they've been forgotten by all but the most diehard KISS fans.
As for the "hits" that make up the rest of the album, they're a mixed bag. Oddly enough, the band's classic debut is represented by only one song ("Cold Gin"), yet two cuts from 1979's Dynasty make the grade ("Sure Know Something" and "I Was Made For Lovin' You") while fan favorite albums like Hotter Than Hell and Rock N Roll Over are ignored entirely. Unsurprisingly, 1975's breakthrough Destroyer receives the most love, with three tracks ("Shout It Out Loud," "Detroit Rock City" and "God of Thunder"). Gotta-have'em-all collectors may wish to note that the Australian edition of Killers adds the local hit "Shandi" (from 1980's Unmasked) to the running order, while the Japanese version includes not only "Shandi" but also a track from The Elder, "Escape From the Island."
None of the four "new" songs on Killers were total duds, but they didn't jump out and scream "Hey, everybody, KISS is BAAAAACK!" either. If nothing else, they show the band was slowly getting back into fighting shape after a few years lost in the wilderness. It wasn't till the next studio album - 1982's Creatures of the Night - that KISS would find their focus again, thanks mainly to their newly recruited guitar player, Vinnie Vincent... but that's another story.
"Partners In Crime"
© 2014 Keith Abt