Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Five Stars for The Starchild

‘Live To Win’ features Paul Stanley at his best

October 18, 2006

With "Live To Win," Paul Stanley's first solo album since 1978, the legendary "Starchild" of KISS has not only delivered a terrific hard-rock record, but has also dropped a batch of fiery and incredibly melodic songs that will remind even the most disillusioned of KISS fans why they fell in love with the band in the first place.

For plenty of the KISS faithful, it's never been about the make-up or the huge stage shows. The love for the band came from the music, and Stanley, more often than not, was the one dishing out some of KISS' best songs. With "Live To Win," Stanley - minus Gene Simmons and the rest of the "Hottest Band In The World" - is not only in top form, but has clearly released the best KISS-related item of any kind in more than a decade. It is a tremendous rock album.

The record kicks off with the explosive title track and then slams into the fresh and modern, yet also somewhat grand and trippy, "Lift." And it only gets better from there.

"Wake Up Sreaming" is loaded with infections hooks and clever instrumentation, and despite its aggressive title, it's really a song about loss and comes with some heavy sentiment. "Every Time I See You Around" - perhaps the best track on the album - is also insanely melodic, perfectly arranged, and is one the most passionate and visual tunes Stanley has ever penned.

Stanley, who often writes with a great sense of bravado, steps into those shoes again with the gritty and soulful "Bulletproof," which is also one of the few songs on the LP that sounds as if could have come from the KISS catalogue, particularly the late '80s "Hot In The Shade" era of the band. The stomping and soaring "All About You" is one of the album's purest rockers, though it too is anchored by a fine mix of punch and melody and also gets some extra pizzazz from Stanley's proficient knob-twirling. Same goes for the dismissive "It's Not Me" and the uplifting "Where Angels Dare," which are also, like the rest of the album, bolstered by his strong vocals and the beefy production.

What's most interesting about the CD, besides Stanley's ability to craft a completely modern-sounding album that also stays true to his roots, is how he apparently has also remained so true to himself. The beautiful "Second To None" is clearly an ode to his second wife, with whom he recently had his second child, and yet some tracks, such as "Every Time I See You Around" and the beautiful "Loving You Without You" sound as if they were written during his divorce. Whatever the case, he's put it all on the table and into the songs, and it's all a part of the reason he's delivered such a memorable album.

Perhaps the fact that "Live To Win" is loaded with so many highlights shouldn't come as surprise. When all four members of KISS surprised the rock world in 1978 at the height of their career and released solo albums on the same day, Stanley's was the best. And when it comes to combining thoughtful lyrics with a hard-rock kick, all you have to do is play KISS gems such as "Hard Luck Woman," "Sure Know Somethin' " "Reason to Live," "Forever," and "I Still Love You" to hear what he's capable of. The man, whether writing alone or working with collaborators - as he did on many of these new tracks - is still a monster songwriter, and thus it should also come as no surprise that the guy who has often served as the heart of KISS, especially during the non-makeup '80s era of the band, might be the one to put music back into the heart of KISS fans.

Despite having written about pop and rock music for the past 14 years, I wasn't sure if I was going to write about this album. I didn't know if someone like me, who is such a big fan of Stanley that I have a Paul Stanley-style rose tattoo on my right arm, should be reviewing his new record. But after just a few listens, I knew I had to.

I had to do it for all of the fans tired of the bombardment of KISS merchandising, without any new music, and tired of changing band members. I had to do it for the fans who don't like Simmons' goofy TV shows (I like them, by the way), and for the fans that feel that, despite the band's excellent reunion tour with its original members a decade ago, and its subsequent quality tours with other members, it has also seemingly lost its way and its sense of focus.

I had to tell them that Paul Stanley, with some of his best work ever, has brought it all back home, and that with "Live To Win," he has single-handedly reminded at least one fan why he ever became one.

Five stars for the Starchild. *****