KISS: BEHIND THE MASK is the true litmus test of KISS fandom. Casual fans need not apply as this 400-plus page tome will probe the limits of just how much you really care about the sometimes head-scratching career of the pop-metal pioneers.
The first section – an authorized, long-buried, quickie band bio by co-author David Leaf – is, to be frank, the least interesting part of the book. Written at a time when the band was headed for a tailspin (thanks to things like kiddie-oriented over-merchandising, the KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK tv movie and the ill-fated, cut-out-bin-bound solo LPs), the 100-pager establishes Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons as the driving forces behind the band while painting an overly-rosy picture of the actual state of KISS circa 1978. While Simmons and Stanley come off as the band's driving forces (both creatively and from a business standpoint), remaining original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss seem more interested in establishing some sort of looney street cred that makes one wonder how they lasted in the band as long as they did. Forget their respective battles with substance abuse, I'd have booted them for being such annoying, boorish assholes.
For those, like myself, intrigued by the real history of the band and the artistic and business decisions that sent them soaring in popularity before a precipitous drop followed by a phoenix-like rise from the ashes (complete with makeup intact), the middle section by co-author Ken Sharp is perhaps the most satisfying. And the one I wanted to go on and on and on. Though the section treads some already-familiar ground (the story of Simmons meeting Stanley seems like it is repeated ad nauseum throughout the book's 400 pages) and one can only read so much about how happy Peter Criss was to be on The Reunion Tour (I bet!), an impressive collection of roadies, technicians, band members, managers, songwriters, producers and label executives weigh in on everything from their early days and the struggles to sell albums to such iconic moments in KISS-story as the Empire State Building photo shoot, the KISS comics and their appearance on the Tomorrow show with Tom Snyder.
The real meat and potatoes of KISS: BEHIND THE MASK, though, is the more than 200 pages that Sharp devotes to each and every KISS record from the pre-KISS outfit Wicked Lester (featuring Stanley and Simmons) up through 1998's Psycho Circus – including such lamentable efforts as the band's makeup period solo LPs and the divisive Music from The Elder. Personally, I love reading books that dive behind-the-scenes into creative endeavors like music, movies and tv, so this oral history (sounds like a title for a Paul Stanley song!) was right up my alley. Plus, it's fun to read Stanley and Simmons give wildly divergent opinions about the same album or read subtle digs (usually aimed at Starchild by the Demon) about stolen riffs and the like.
Even as a fan my eyes started to gloss over at discussions of tunes like "Let's Put the X in Sex" and "Murder in High Heels" but I have to admit that I immediately began glancing through my iTunes library to see where I had holes in my post-makeup/pre-reunion collection.
Like I said, this is definitely not a book for everybody and even fans will find themselves struggling at times, but it truly is a fascinating look at a band that has proven to be wildly influential in both the music and pop culture arenas.
KISS: BEHIND THE MASK is available from Amazon.
We receive a small commission for purchases made through this blog at Amazon. Thanks for your support!