Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: The Casablanca Singles: 1974-1982

Kiss were half-heavy metal band, half-circus act in their heyday, a time known as their "golden age" amongst fans, "the make-up era" to the rest the world, or 1974-1982 if you're being generous by a couple years on either end. Those happen to be the years the group were signed to Neil Bogart's label Casablanca Records, a successful '70s hypemachine that found success at the far ends of the pop spectrum with comic book heavy metal (Kiss) and disco (the Village People, Donna Summer, Lipps Inc., Irene Cara, and a truckload of producer-based acts). The Casablanca Singles: 1974-1982 collects all 29 singles Kiss released on Bogart's label, making them available on vinyl 7" or CD singles with picture sleeves from around the world faithfully reproduced (which in the case of 1974's "Nothin' to Lose" b/w "Love Theme from Kiss" means all-white promo packaging). Career-defining A-sides like "Rock and Roll All Nite," "Detroit Rock City," "Beth," "New York Groove" (officially an Ace Frehley track, but singles from all four of their 1978 solo albums are included), and even the disco-flavored "I Was Made for Loving You" are all on the track list thanks to the A-sides, which are also responsible for lesser-known gems like "Rocket Ride" and "C'mon and Love Me." The B-sides vary wildly as "Shock Me" sits on the back of "Christine Sixteen" like a bonus prize, while the great heavy metal rocker "Sweet Pain" is here thanks to the Japanese single of "Shout It Out Loud," but there's also the awkward and not-so-sexy "She's So European" and redundancy as well, with "Rock and Roll All Nite" showing up as a B-side twice, and an A-side once. Also, Kiss and Casablanca never looked at B-sides as a place to feature rare material, so expect album mixes for the most part, minus an early fade or two. Of course, this set isn't made for new or casual fans but rather veteran collectors seeking perfect reproduction and top-shelf presentation. On that level, The Casablanca Singles succeeds, coming in a hefty, well-done die-cut shadow box that, if dropped, could put a kink in your demon boots. An etched metal plate sits on the front, the booklet inserted features a history of the group's singles, and when it says "FREE Gene Simmons MASK INSIDE" on the outside of the "Radioactive" sleeve, it's the truth, with Paul, Ace, and Peter's masks included as well. Unnecessary? Yes it is, but it's twice as beautiful for anyone who held office in the Kiss Army back in the day. Consider the price and consider the fan, but don't lump this well-executed executive piece with odd ideas like the Kiss Kassket or the group's Kiss Him/Kiss Her line of fragrances.