Like voting for Reagan, disliking KISS in its heyday is now something to which no one will will 'fess. Saved by a wave of retro-chic, the KISS kabuki rock clowns--no doubt fueled by relentless, adoring demand--sometimes act as if they invented rock rather than simply figured out a way to mercilessly exploit it.
That doesn't disqualify a band. If you're not working the biz, chances are the biz is working you, and there's a lot to admire about KISS: the fervent embrace of cheese on a wholesale level; the way in which it was the anti-Ramones, reacting to big rock torpor by using the music instead of rejecting it; turning the volume all the way up, way past Alice Cooper. KISS' response to Emerson, Lake and Palmer wasn't 67-second songs your little brother could play, but geysers of blood, codpieces, boots with teeth, and flicking tongues.
Granted, the band wrote some--and this term applies in every sense of the word--seminal stadium-rock songs: "Deuce," "Strutter," the purposeful "Rock and Roll All Nite"--before the long decline of punk derision and "Beth." The problem was that KISS was always hobbled by an air of contrivance and calculation that was just a tad unseemly and that kept the band from the authentically dark rep bands like Blue Oyster Cult enjoyed. In 1979 it was just as common to hear KISS dismissed as a heavy-metal Menudo as praised, and it didn't help that Gene Simmons always seemed to be acting dumber than he really was; the smell of a con was never too far away.
Still, a con everybody wants is great art, or at least a good time, and KISS does deliver that. Back with its original lineup--Simmons, Ace Frehley, Paul Stanley, and Peter Criss--KISS will more than likely rock 'n' roll you all night, or at least for the 70 minutes that pass for all night anymore.
KISS plays Reunion Arena July 5.