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Kiss is still Kiss, as sung by diverse devotees

June 19, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

"As you let each artist know who else wants to do stuff, one would bow out and be nice about it and switch to another song. Or, in the case of the Cobain/Dinosaur Jr. thing, whoever came in first wound up on the record."

"What's so great on that album is that you have very strong perspectives and points of view," adds Stanley. "Although each song is given a new identity, it holds up really well as a song. Sometimes, you'd have to sit down for a minute and say, 'That's the song I wrote?' "

"The song choices were the interesting thing for me," agrees Simmons. "For Toad to want to do 'Rock and Roll All Night,' as opposed to something a little more acoustic, was surprising."

Well, maybe it seemed odd to the guys in Kiss, but not to Dinning and his bandmates in Toad. "When [Simmons] said we could do any song we wanted, I went back to the guys and it seemed that 'Rock and Roll All Night,' being the ultimate Kiss song, would be the obvious choice," says the Toad bassist.

Of course, Toad the Wet Sprocket's version is nothing like the original. Where Kiss treats the tune as a wall-rattling party anthem, Toad takes a wistful, acoustic approach that leaves the song sounding less like reworked metal than some forgotten country rock oldie.

Dinning explains that Simmons didn't want something that sounded like Kiss. "He said to me, 'The most important thing is that the character of your band show through in the song.' So what we really tried to do was look at ourselves, and identify

some Toad cliches that we typically fall back on, then wrap that around this totally different piece of music, a song that we would never write.

"We really liked it, but I was like, 'I hope Gene doesn't think this is insulting or anything.' But he flipped. He loved it."

Of course he did. Because unexpected as it was, Toad's "Rock and Roll All Night" proved a point Kiss had been trying to make for years: That it was the music, more than anything else, that made this band matter.

"A good song will sound good even on just a guitar or a piano," says Stanley. "There's no reason for somebody to explain to you the arrangement that you'll hear when it's recorded. Because if the core of the song is good, it'll stand. And that's how we approached those songs.

"Sure, there was a bombastic stage show, and there were four guys running around the stage in whiteface and nine-inch heels. But it all started with a song. The other stuff, for some people, may have overpowered or eclipsed the music, but the music was there. And if some people didn't hear it, well, so be it."

SMOOCH BY SMOOCH

Here's a track-by-track look at the Kiss tribute album:

* "Deuce," performed by Lenny Kravitz with Stevie Wonder on harmonica. Don't let that by-the-book opening fool you, for Kravitz's take on this tune is faster and funkier than the original. Add in Wonder's madly riffing blues harp, and the result is far closer to "Some Girls"-era Stones than basic Kiss crunch. Good groove, too.

* "Hard Luck Woman," performed by Garth Brooks. Kiss handled the original as if it were ersatz Rod Stewart, and Brooks does the same. Granted, the cover's vocals are smoother and the mandolin part more pronounced, but those differences are noticeable only if you look. Hardly the image-changer it could have been.

* "She," performed by Anthrax. Anthrax may have ditched the original's pretty opening, but that matters less than the teeth this cover adds to the central riff. Good rhythm breakdown toward the end, though, as the song tumbles toward thrash.

* "Christine Sixteen," performed by Gin Blossoms. Despite its smooth, bar-band surface, there's something vaguely subversive about this one. Is it the comic-book lust of narrative overdub? Or the way the arrangement quietly makes the connection between Kiss and the New York Dolls?

* "Rock and Roll All Night," performed by Toad the Wet Sprocket. Sounding less like an over-amped party song than a wistful reflection on lost love, Toad's country-rock take on this classic is the album's funniest -- and most revealing -- moment.

* "Calling Doctor Love," performed by Shandi's Addiction, featuring members of Rage Against the Machine, Tool and Faith No More. It isn't just the added momentum that makes this arrangement take off like a hot rod at Daytona; it's also the way the treated vocals and industrial dissonance these guys bring to the mix lift the song above the sex-expert cliches of the original.

* "Goin' Blind," performed by Dinosaur Jr. Between the broken-voice pathos of J Mascis' vocal and the ragged glory of the string-fattened arrangement, Dinosaur Jr. pulls such tragic power from this song you'd swear it was Neil Young, not Kiss, who did the original.

* "Strutter," performed by Extreme. Unlike Kiss' semi-plodding 1974 original, Extreme's rendition comes on with the kind of boogie-driven cool most fans associate with classic Aerosmith. Not a dramatic rethink, but effective nonetheless.

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