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Music Review: Paul Stanley – Live to Win

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I'm no grizzled veteran rock journo, but I like to think I'm streetwise enough to know what to expect when I slam a classic rock icon; even if I didn't know it before, the flood of vitriol directed at my Neil Diamond review last year would have been more than enough to clue me in on this fact of life.

So here I am, beginning a review on the defensive. I like, and even respect, Paul Stanley. Maybe not as a human being (I wouldn't know), and, aside from a few ironic giggles, certainly not as a publicity-constructed individual (his stage banter on last year's KISS Rock the Nation Live DVD was enough to make even the most ardent KISS fan crawl under a rock and die), but as a songwriter and performer, I consider him a truly underrated force in hard rock music. If you don't believe me, just look at his credits: "Love Gun," "Detroit Rock City," "Shout It Out Loud," and "Got to Choose," for Christ's sake. So before the hate mail comes flowing in, people, let me get this off my chest: I'm not about to slam Live to Win because I have it in for Paul Stanley. I'm about to slam Live to Win because it's an absolutely unforgivable, unlistenable load of tripe.

See, none of the songwriting chops or sheer rockosity of the nuggets listed above are in evidence on Paul Stanley's solo "debut" (actually, his second solo album, if you count his fourth of the self-titled KISS orgy of 1978). Instead, we get what sounds like bad Linkin Park, with vocals overdubbed by a 54-year-old, whose top range is disappearing about as rapidly as his famous rug of chest hair is going grey. What's more, the old queen didn't even have the cojones to write these songs himself; the bulk are co-written with soft-rock crossover whore Desmond Child, whose credits include most of Aerosmith's worst songs as well as '80s KISS "classics" like "Heaven's on Fire," "Uh! All Night," and "Let's Put the X in Sex."

As a result, the album is predictably sucked dry, not to mention ProTooled within an inch of its life. Thirty years after Stanley was bold (or arrogant) enough to flub his high notes on "I Want You" without any post-production fuckery, he's apparently more comfortable glossing his vocals until they're as plastic and artificial as his now Botox-expressionless face.

If this doesn't seem like a real review, then you've got me — it sort of isn't. But that's only because Live to Win hardly qualifies as a real album. There are no high or even low points, unless you count its mercifully brief 33-minute running time. Every song just bleeds together into a mush of embarrassing, out-of-touch musical self-flagellation.

Okay, here's something. The monster ballad "Everytime I See You Around" sounds kinda like Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." That, if you can't guess, isn't a compliment either. In fact, the best thing I can say about Stanley's exercize in irrelevancy is actually more of a compliment to his bandmate of 30 years. I never thought there would be a worse rock-dinosaur solo album than Gene Simmons' Asshole, but a mere two years later, here it is. Enjoy!

by Zach Hoskins

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  • Pete from Philadelphia

    What an absurd, over the top review. You didn’t like it, fine…but to label any album in the history of mankind as WORSE than Gene Simmons solo effort “Asshole” is beyond the pale.

    I am a Paul Stanley fan and I liked it. If you like Paul Stanley, you probably like his ballads, and there are 3 world class ballads on here, as well as multiple rockers that are very melodic and have cool arrangments, like “Wake Up Screaming,”, “Live to Win”, and “Bulletproof”. Is it a re-hash of Destroyer, or even Crazy Nights? No, but if it were, this Mr. Hoskins, something tells me, would be ripping it is a “dinosaur CD that shows no growth from Paul Stanley.”

    Paul, you just can’t win. Keep rocking’!

  • Brady Israel

    What a worthless review.

    Seemed like the whole review was a personal attack on Paul Stanley and his age. How about reviewing the music?

    Forget Zach. Here’s my review. A GREAT new CD from the #1 frontman in rock and roll history.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Clearly Pete and Brady offer much more balanced reviews of the album than Zach.

  • Rick

    This guy must be a Dave Mattews fan … Why don’t you go an review one of his his cd’s

    I am lucky enough to have tickets to one of Paul’s SOLD OUT shows.

    Paul Stanley is a rock god period!!

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I think it would’ve been more interesting to hear Paul Stanley play with Dave Matthews BAND. AND,I mean the actual musicians because God knows Dave Matthews can’t sing for sh!t and the backing band on Mr. Stanley’s album sux major a$$!!

    As for this album, you can file it next to Avril Lavigne right under ‘T’ for Tramp & Trash.

  • Jeff Spector

    Ok, so when was the last time a “Death Cab for Cutie” CD made someone feel good when listening to it?? So many albums that make music critics end-of-year top ten lists are virtually unlistenable (Cat Power anybody??) Tell me when was the last time you put any post-OK Computer Radiohead CD on and said to yourself, “Damn I FEEL GREAT…This is the best music ever!!” Probably hasn’t happened….Rock stopped being fun around 1990 and the majority of their fans either stopped listening or moved on to pop country. “Live To Win” wasn’t written to win over the rock snob cognoscenti.

    While Paul Stanley certainly hasn’t touched upon the genius of “Destroyer” (or even “Lick It Up”), “Live To Win” isn’t the travesty Mr.Hoskins makes it out to be. Critics never “got” KISS and why should they start now? This is a harmless modern heavy-rock record made by one of metal’s most inspired originators.

    It does what exactly it’s supposed to do. It ROCKS. And this is coming from a guy who owns as many Belle and Sebastian records as he does KISS albums.

  • http://www.modernpeapod.com/ Zach

    Now hoooooooold on just a second, Jeff. I can understand a little feather-ruffling over this – hell, if you’ll all read my first paragraph again, you’ll find that I even EXPECTED it. But how exactly do you “know” the precise ratio of Belle & Sebastian to KISS records in my library? And where in my entire body of work have I indicated that I own a Death Cab for Cutie CD?

    Now I’ll admit to a little indie rock/pop in my musical diet (Cat Power ain’t unlistenable, she’s sublime – check out “The Greatest” if you don’t believe me), but with no more or less pride than I would admit to loving garage rock, funk, country, soul, folk, hip-hop, etc., etc., up to and including KISS. Thing is, though, “Live to Win” ain’t “Destroyer.” Nor is it “Hotter Than Hell,” “Alive,” “Love Gun” or the self-titled debut. It’s more like the watered-down bullshit that KISS put out after the makeup came off and the world stopped caring, and that is precisely why I find it to be such garbage. So please, refrain from the sallow indie-rocker schtick; last I checked, I didn’t write for Pitchfork. And for that matter, to everyone else, enough with the Dave Matthews accusations…yuck, talk about libel.

    That said, let the hate mail continue. Seriously, is this all the KISS Army’s got?

  • Jeff Spector

    Zach –

    A little clarification:

    1. I was not referring that you had Death Cab for Cutie in your library, rather I was referring to the fact that the majority of rock journalists list bands like Death Cab on their best-of-the-year wrap-ups and the fact that most “indie” bands do not make music that inspire people to sing along with. It was not intended as an attack on your CD library.

    2. I acknowledge quite cleary in my second paragraph that “Live to Win” is not among Mr.Stanley’s best work.

    3. I will never be impressed with Cat Power. She stormed off stage when I saw her at UCLA a couple years back. That’s unprofessional, not sublime.

    4. In my last paragraph I was referring to myself as “the guy who owns as many KISS records as he does Belle and Sebastian albums”. That statement was not about you nor your musical taste. Belle and Sebastian may be one of those so-called critical darlings, but they know how to write good pop music and that’s why I made the comparison.

    5. Dave Matthews sucks. On that, I wholeheartedly agree.

    Jeff

  • http://www.modernpeapod.com/ Zach

    OK, that makes a WORLD more sense. I was utterly flabbergasted that you might be claiming knowledge of my record collection; now I just see that you have some pretty well-rounded tastes, making you a hell of a lot more believable than the KISS Army footsoldiers on this thread.

    Cat Power live is a pretty shaky prospect, I agree; I saw her this summer and she stayed for the whole show, but ironically, I didn’t (it was a free festival). I find her a lot more interesting on record, frankly, and I’m not even really a big fan. Her voice, though, is utterly gorgeous at its best (i.e. “The Greatest,” most of “The Covers Record”), which is why I had to take issue with her being called “unlistenable.”

  • Vern Halen

    I haven’t heard this album but I suspect your review will turn out to be accurate. It’s tough to get one’s mojo back when trying to recapture that spirit of yoot that goes into you early recordings, and very few artists seem to be able to get back to their true roots. Knowing that Desmond Child cowrote many of these tunes is the giveaway – Kiss began distancing their sound from its rock roots when they began working with him years ago.

    On the other hand, when Springsteen needed a change, he got a sympathetic producer in BRendan O’Brien, who helped Bruce update his sound but kept it rock hard just the same. Heck, maybe he should do the next Kiss album, if Gene & Paul don’t ruin the franchise’s good name first.

  • http://www.modernpeapod.com/ Zach

    “If Gene and Paul don’t ruin the franchise’s good name first.”

    Part of me – I’ll admit, a very big part – thinks it’s already too late. I saw what passes for KISS (Gene, Paul, and two no-names in Ace and Peter makeup) perform at some VH1 event and it came off like bad costume drama; Stanley couldn’t make the high notes on “Love Gun,” and then there was the obligatory shower of fireworks, just self-parody. I feel like it’s gotten to the point where the KISS thing just doesn’t work for these guys anymore. Their show is everything it narrowly avoided in the ’70s: overblown, ridiculous and more about the camp showmanship than the music. Maybe it’s time for the torch to be passed…hopefully to a band without manboobs hanging out of their spangled leotards.

  • Mark Saleski

    1. i’ve always loved Paul’s voice
    2. i only like Radiohead post-OK Computer
    3. i would rather listen to the worst Kiss record than anything by Belle & Sebastian
    4. ruin the franchise’s good name? uh, Kiss Kaskets anybody?

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    I’m not a big B&S fan, but I’ll take one of their records over Elders.

  • fandark

    One of the great strenghts of “Live to Win” is the lyrics, which are very fresh and actual, especially coming from a “dinosaur” of rock. If you are gonna slam a record you might as well do it in all honesty and concede it’s high points.

    Let’s face it the songs on here are catchy and to the point, and Paul Stanley lives up to his rock god status despite having never been a critic’s pet.

  • fandark

    And by the way Dave Matthews RULES, and who the hell is Belle and Sebastian anyway?

  • http://kanrei.blogspot.com brad schader

    Kiss was a legendary band that has been on auto-pilot since the Vinnie Vincent mess. He should never have joined they should not have taken off the make up during his reign.
    They are now a travelling joke of what they were. Oh look, fireworks! Oh gee, Gene is blowing fire. Do you think they will close with Rock and Roll all Night?

  • Adam Weaver

    Interesting how the rule just above this space to post says “Personal attacks are NOT allowed..”

    I’d say your review was nothing less. I saw Paul’s show in Orlando. He hit every note better than I had ever heard him. Some will say he missed a note at the VH1 awards, but he hadn’t sung in months at that time. You compare his album to a Kiss album, but it isn’t and wasn’t supposed to be a Kiss album. It’s all Paul. LIFT is a great song. The line in Where Angels Dare “Some people live in darkness and give up just before the light” is awesome.

    Paul has been the best front man in Rock for 30 years. He works the crowd better than anyone ever has and probably ever will. Sure some of his raps are corny, so what, the crowd always gets it.

    Kiss has influenced every great rock band that followed them in one way or another and that is undeniable.

    What great accomplishment have you done?

  • http://www.modernpeapod.com/ Zach

    I can shatter glass with sheer force of will.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Congratulations, Zach, your review has been selected as an Editor’s Pick by Asst. Music Editor DJRadiohead.

    Shattering glass with sheer force of will is a big bowl of cool.

  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    Big freakin’ deal, my farts can wilt flowers, so where the hell is my Editor’s Pick?

    OK seriously, big props to ya’, Zach!

    -P

  • ralph

    just saw PS’s show last week. The album hits rocks, the classics roll , and the voice reached highs. Living legend delivered better than peers

  • Patrick DuGrenier

    I feel this album is typical Stanley,some good tunes here, some not so good, its what I expected. Overall a good effort.As for this reviewer,I just have one question..How long did it take you to come up with “Every song just bleeds together into a mush of embarrassing, out-of-touch musical self-flagellation.”?

  • Peter Lanyon

    Ahhh, those who can do… those who can’t criticise.

    Seriously, Zach, what exactly are you taking ?

    Live To Win is exactly what Paul Stanley fans have been hoping for and is superior to A**Hole in every way.

    It’s anthemic, it’s hearfelt, and yeah maybe a little cheesy too… but it’s fun ! And that is exactly what it is meant to be.

  • Morrow

    Those who can do (Paul at any age!). Those who can’t sit around on the computer and criticize others.

  • Mark

    I am tired of KISS but I loved “Live to Win” … Songs like “Bulletproof”, “Lift” and “Live to win” are excellent songs.

    This is an excellent CD and will make a KISS fan proud.

  • riz

    THANK YOU ZACH!!!!

    You are spot on. I couldnt have said it better, well actually I wouldve been even more harsh. I have been a Kiss Fanatic since 1976 and theres no way anyone could say i dont love Paul Stanley, shit, he influenced my life. But there comes a time when you have to call it ike it is, see the truth and GROW THE FUCK UP. Live to Win???Are you kidding me? These songs are the worst cliched immature contrived collection of drivel ever….my fellow kiss fans are such idiots that they were actually PROUD of the fact that South Park used Live To Win in a montage! It just goes to show you that most Kiss fans are as clueless and out of touch with relevant populist culture as much as Paul and Gene are. Pauls voice is so annoying now, YES he is OFF KEY most of the time you idiots out there, I have taught music for 20 years!!!!! And to the Idiot ranting about Vinnie Vincent, Paul and Gene should get down on their knees and thank the gods that Vinnie had such talent. Every song on Lick It Up is his, assholes, Paul and Gene pay people off for their songs, they dont write anything and havent for YEARS. Fuck, I cant even write anymore….Im gonna go crank up Keep Me Comin’ off of the Creatures album, when Paul Stanley slaughtered all other singers….

    PEACE.

  • Hairpie Wells

    Personal attacks are not allowed. Please read our comment policy

  • Dave Stacy

    In addition, we reserve the right to edit/delete comments that are some combination of pointlessly vulgar, vile, cruel, without redeeming qualities, and an embarrassment to the site.

  • Brady

    This review isn’t about Stanley’s new CD, its about Paul Stanley’s age and chest hair according to Zach.

    Paul Stanley doesn’t need the money. So why does he put out new music?…He’s an artist.

    Zach, when you get alittle “older”, you’ll realize age doesn’t matter. Rock n Roll has been around now for about 50 years, and we’re all finding out as we go, that rock and rollers don’t quit due to an age number. Chuck Berry is 80…

  • Vern Halen

    Johnny Ramone once said there should be a mandatory r’n’r retirement age at 40. Hard to agree or disagree. Chuck Berry at 80? Paul Stanley at…whatever? I’m OK with keepin’ on keepin’ on, but you gotta know when to bow out graciously.

    As for Simmons, Stanley, Kiss, etc. – depends how you see it, I guess. I know you can’t write a hit every time out, but if they know themselves they’re doggin’ their product, they should pack it in.

  • Zach

    Brady:

    Nah, I’m pretty sure I said the CD sucked ass, too.

    As for my alleged ageism, I didn’t intend to make sweeping generalizations. The best aging musicians make music that makes their age irrelevant; most of the new records I’ve purchased lately, in fact, have been by people who are in fact OLDER than Stanley – like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, etc. The reason why I haven’t written reviews discussing THOSE musicians’ greying hair and sagging manboobs is that, unlike Stanley, their current careers aren’t a combination of vain grasps at past glories (the neverending KISS “farewell tour”) and embarrassing attempts at musical relevancy (“Live to Win”). Stanley brings the ageist comments on himself because he’s so clearly unable to face his age gracefully – just look at all that Botox!

    Finally, it’s my sincere hope that when I get older I’ll still know bullshit when I see it – even if it is coming from a dude who did some great stuff when I was a teenager.

  • Brady

    Ok Zach. We are all entitled to our opinions. I’ll admit I’m a long-time Kiss fan, so I’m biased. I think Stanley is a great entertainer.

    I guess it comes down to attitude. You can keep trying, creating, fighting, living to win… til you die, or you can roll over and give up. I side with Stanley.

  • Paul

    You suck ass Zach

  • Zach

    Paul:

    What I do on my my own time is none of your concern.

  • http://www.jazzfromhellproductions.blogspot.com kami

    hell, i’ve about given up on kiss – i was stupid enough to go to the reunion/farewell concert here in adelaide in 97 and the buggers are still going 9 years later! but that review has made me actually want to listen to Paul’s album just to see if it really is as bad as Gene’s album.
    There was a time when kiss were the band for me but i grew up, they didn’t i guess. Still, it’s hard to fathom these greedy old farts with the band that made me feel like i wasn’t the only weird ass in town back in 1975… the shit i copped back then for liking those ‘faggots’

  • Jeff W

    Actually, I understand the disappointment… but, I still feel the assessment is inaccurate. While I wish the album were heavier or more like the ’78 solo… it has absolutely grown on me. At first all the modern guitarwork makes you take a step back being combined with Paul… plus, all us KISS fans are generally getting tired of hearing everyone but the KISS members prominently featured on the instruments! Here, Paul’s guitarwork is still there and you can actually pick it out when you listen, only it is definitely covered up quite a bit with the modern guitarists. John 5 shows up, but blink and you miss him… and, he doesnt even crack the lid of the bottle of his talent on this. A few rockers would have been nice. The only song I dislike is Second To None… I am ok with cheesy lyrics… but there is a limit… and this one totally exceeds it. The other slower songs are much better. Bulletbroof is a great song… as are a few others. When I first listened to “Live to Win” the song, I was underwhelmed, but it has grown on me and seeing Paul live during his tour solidified the song for me. For whatever reason, I am not a fan of Lift… I think its the chorus actually… its anticlimatic. Anyway, is this album up to Paul’s full abilities? HELL NO… but, is it a bad album… FK NO! Its actually very good. I enjoy some pop stuff like Avril and Clarkson… and you can hear alot of that in this album… especially if you throw some of these good songs into your MP3 player on shuffle… here and there something comes on and I am like… hmmm for the first few seconds.. and then I am like… “oh… Paul… COOL”. Actually, the songs are even beter with headphones on because there is alot more texturing and layering going on that is evident in a listen on a regular stereo. Anyway… this album CAN be disappointing in terms of living up to expectations… however, I still think it is at least a very good album. The biggest knock I have on it is that its too damn short… had Paul given us 4 more rocking songs in addition to what is on here (AND, please, just drop SECOND TO NONE!!!) it likely would have gone over muh better. If you havent heard the album… dont believe this album sucks…. there is no way in hell it SUCKS… and if you know Paul at all, you know in your heart he could never be a part of an entire album of songs that sucks… shame on you for even believing that is possible!

  • Way2GoPaul

    This review was right about Stanley’s “Live to Win”. But the problem with this CD is really the title. Had it been called oh, let’s say, “Paul Stanley: Electric Boogaloo,” with the exact same songs on it, who could complain at the lameness? I mean, really. But as it is, with a title like “Live to Win,” you don’t expect to be listening to a neutered hasbeen grooming himself for American Idol.

  • aussie

    i think this album really shows Pauls age – vocally he does not cut it anymore. I love Kiss but he strugles to hit it with this album.

  • Vito!

    Dunno what to say .. but am a new kiss fan .. didnt find that paul shouldn’t sing alone =)

    But i like the words .. the words he write .
    i like him (but The whole band are better)

    Cheers

  • claudio

    Paul is a great songwritter and the best frontman in history of rock. Regarding Paul’s age……I do not see any other rocker in his 50s that can release a modern rock album like this..

  • Vince

    I am a huge KISS fan. Paul’s album has grown on me. When I first heard it, I would have to say I was not jumping for joy. But I didn’t hate it. It was cool to have something new. I saw Paul in San Francisco supporting the album and the show was awesome. He sounde great and the songs sounded heavier and alot better live. Paul was meant to be seen live

  • http://the21gunsalute.blogspot.com woods

    If anyone is looking for the Paul Stanley banter album “People let me get this off my chest” you can download it here.

  • Tim

    “amous rug of chest hair is going grey”, “old queen”, “Botox-expressionless face”. And what exactly does any of that have to do with his music? We’ll see how the ageist author of this article is doing when he hits 50!

  • daveh

    It’s more than just Botox that’s made him expressionless. Between the pile of Dacron Polyester glued on top of his head and the pounds of plastic surgically implanted inside his face, the man is a walking fire hazard.