For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a card carrying member of the KISS Army. I think that (Music From) The Elder is criminally underrated and Carnival Of Souls contained some of singer Paul Stanley’s greatest vocals. Hell, aside from that disaster “Firestarter,” I enjoyed bassist Gene Simmons’ solo album Asshole. It’s hard to be critical of someone that you’ve grown up listening to. However, as a writer, it’s your job to be honest. Stanley’s first solo album in 28 years (and second overall), Live to Win, just isn’t that good.
Back in ’78, when the 4 members of KISS released simultaneous solo albums, I thought that Stanley’s was the most cohesive and overall best of the lot. Having always preferred the Stanley songs to the Simmons material, this album is even more of a let down. The 10 tracks aren’t bad, just not in the same league as “Love Gun,” “Black Diamond,” or even “Psycho Circus.” Stanley should have pulled a Butch Walker and wrote these songs for other artists. Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson or any of the other flavor of the month artists would have scored a massive hit with these tracks.
The disc begins with the self affirming title track. Sure, it’s not a bad thing to not back down and to stand up in the face of adversity, but I’m getting just a little tired of Stanley’s songs being like this. Quite frankly, it’s cheesy. The fact that South Park used the song in one of it’s training montages instead of their usual ridiculous originals is a testament to this. “Wake Up Screaming” is an improvement, and features some of the best vocals on the album. One of my main complaints is that although he sounds good on the disc, it seems like his vocals are restrained. Where’s the vocal histrionics that we’re used to.
“It’s Not Me” is easily the best song on the disc. It’s catchy verses are only matched by the catchiness of the chorus. The lyrics aren’t cheesy and are a kiss off to clingy relationships. Conversely, “Bulletproof” is the weakest song on the disc. It starts off promising enough with a nice vocal melody. Then the chorus comes and completely destroys everything good about it. The “ooh-yeahs” are just downright embarrassing. This song feels like it should have appeared on the 1988 album Crazy Nights. It would have still been the weakest song on the disc, but at least it would have fit.
As the ballad writer of KISS, Live To Win has it’s fair share of them. The best is “Loving You Without You Now” which sounds like an updated “Hold Me, Touch Me (Think of Me When We’re Apart).” Fittingly enough, it’s the only song that’s written by Stanley alone. It’d be interesting to see what this album would have sounded like without the influence of the outside writers. Desmond Child may have the Midas touch when he’s working with current pop stars, but it no longer works with Stanley.
Overall, Live to Win is disappointing. While Simmons’ solo album was all over the place, it still had a sense of fun to it. Here, the sterile production kills what could have been some good songs. I’ve got a feeling that stripped down; this album’s material will be a lot stronger on his upcoming tour. It’s clear that Stanley and Simmons need each other.