CD Review of Live to Win by Paul Stanley

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Live to Win
starstarstarstarno star Label: New Door/Universal
Released: 2006
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If we were playing word association and you said “rock star” to me, I would immediately say “Paul Stanley.” Mick Jagger would be second, but immediately Paul Stanley comes to mind. While his bandmate, Gene Simmons, might be the very definition of the term “capitalist,” Stanley is a rock star with bad-boy good looks, a cocky strut and a guitar in his hands. When the makeup was removed, I am sure most of the ladies probably said, “Keep it off. Gene, can you put yours back on?” I know Simmons is notorious for all the ladies he has “bagged,” but give me his bank account and tongue, and I would do some damage, too.

In 1978, Stanley and his fellow Kiss band mates released their own solo albums. Since then, he has spent almost all of his artistic time with Kiss. He has a producing credit here and photography credits there, and lent his voice and guitar to other artists’ records occasionally, but he never got around to making a second solo record until recently. So with Kiss not on one of those numerous farewell tours they have engaged in over the last 10 years, he has managed to put out a very catchy but curt work in Live to Win. I guess in the 28 years since his last solo album, 33:22 was all he could muster, but it is a really good 33:22.

He grabs an interesting group of collaborators in pop producer/writer Marti Frederiksen (Aerosmith, Faith Hill), guitarist John 5 (Marilyn Manson), studio drummer Victor Indruzzo (Aimee Mann, Macy Gray, Brian May), and guitarist Corky James (Anastacia, Avril Lavigne, Vanessa Carlton). He also collaborates with some old chums like former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick (who plays bass on most of the record) and writer/producer extraordinaire Desmond Child (Bon Jovi, Ricky Martin) who co-writes five of the tracks. The album has a modern, bombastic kind of feel with big synthesizer string arrangements in the background and meaty crunchy guitar riffs.

The disk, although featuring the main voice in Kiss, doesn’t really sound like a Kiss record, per se. Sure, “Second to None” has the same kind of delicious sappiness that “Forever,” the song he co-wrote with Michael Bolton that appeared on Kiss’s Made in the Shade has, but for the most part this has a much different sound than a Kiss record, without sounding like an old star desperately trying to re-invent himself. The songwriting, production and musicianship are very slick and more pop-oriented than Kiss music.

It’s kind of nice to hear a record with Paul’s voice and not have to deal with Gene’s juvenile, led-around-completely-by-his-penis lyrics. Stanley is a romantic and often finds himself nursing his aching heart, as “Wake up Screaming,” “Everytime I See You Around” and “Loving You without You Now” demonstrate. But there is a refreshing, defiant optimism and energy blasting through the 54-year-old’s distinctive pipes in the title track and in “Where Angels Fly.”

Every time the last song concludes I pause, in hopes that there is a little more. That is not a bad way to leave ‘em. I just hope it is a lot less than 28 years before he wants to do another solo record.

~R. David Smola