Criss Cat #1

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A surprisingly strong effort from Kiss's least-appreciated original member, Criss Cat #1 serves as a welcome reminder that Peter Criss was a rock veteran with a decade of professional experience even before Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley came calling. There's nothing new here, but that's exactly what makes the record so appealing. Criss sticks to his guns and does what he does best, turning out an album of well-played, no-bull, late-'70s-/early-'80s-style hard rock that compares favorably with any of Kiss's early studio work. In addition, the drummer learned a valuable lesson from his 1979 solo outing: The slick studio dudes have been replaced by a group that sounds like a hard workin' bar band. In the best Kiss tradition, the musicians always play for the song, leaving the doodly doodly guitar solos for less mature bands. On the tracks where Criss sings lead, his famously raspy vocals are wonderfully strong and instantly recognizable (he was, of course, the vocalist on two of his old band's highest-charting songs). His lyrics are often intensely personal, and by the end of the record, he emerges as a kind of anti-Simmons; all heart, honesty, and love of music, with no concern for fame or money (rumors of his reunion tour salary battles notwithstanding). Astute fans know that the Rolling Stones and Beatles influence, not the distorted guitars and makeup, is what made Kiss truly great, and that influence is in abundance here. Highlights include "Good Times" and an acoustic guitar-based remake of the classic "Beth," both of which end up sounding like Gasoline Alley-era Rod Stewart. In the end, Cat #1 is about as close to a vintage Kiss album as any member of that band has released since the '70s (including Kiss itself).

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