Maybe worth a laugh if you can pick it up for under $5.00 (it lists for $7.98), The Best of KISS brings back five videos from the band’s awkward years in the ’80s. This was when they took off their make-up to help spur their stale album sales and began their bid to make it as a straight hair-metal band. Beginning here with video number three, “Heaven’s on Fire”, you can follow along with their quick flame-out after the platinum-success of the Lick It Up album. The band got beat at the game that they helped create by younger bands like Warrant, Slaughter, and Motley Crue, all of whom toured with KISS at one point and all of whom were better at embodying and selling the ridiculous excesses afforded to butt rockers in the ’80s. The videos here pay a sad testament to how awkward the band was when out of costume. The songs really aren’t bad, though, and if you aren’t paying very close attention, four out of the five could pass as classic KISS.
The DVD pulls one video each from five KISS albums in the ’80s, starting too late to include anything from the still entertaining Music from “The Elder” and ending too early to catch one of their most successful singles (“Forever”) or anything from their last worthwhile studio album (1992’s Revenge). “I Love It Loud” finds the band still in full make-up, so maybe it’s worthwhile for that reason, but the video is so cheaply done that it’s hardly even fun to watch. That is, unless you count as fun imagining how desperately the director was trying to keep a shorthaired and disgruntled Ace Frehely out of the frame. He doesn’t even get a single shot during the guitar solo, though, to be fair he didn’t play a single note on Creatures of the Night, the album that the single came from.
The final four clips are a downhill slide. “Tears Are Falling”, a sub-Ed Wood production that is a composite of every silly metal video cliché, shows just how out of touch KISS was. Robert Christgau wrote about them in a review of Rock and Roll Over that, “they write tough, catchy songs, and if they had a sly Jagger-style singer they’d be a menace.” This was in 1977, when the band was coming off of their biggest album. Here, ten years on, they never once seem dangerous or even remotely tough. Mostly, they just look out of place.
The star of the videos, besides Eric Carr’s award-winning hair metal hair, can only be Paul Stanley. An impossibly un-cool mix of the otherwise cool Little Steven Van Zandt and Little Richard, Stanley’s hilarious prancing is almost impossible to look away from even as it has you cringing in embarrassment. It’s like as soon as he was free to take off the black leather he headed straight for the leopard-print boots and pink vests. He’s the only member of KISS who has been consistently entertaining, though, and he’s the one whose presence rewards the faith that their fans put in the band. He’s goofy, but he’s endearing, and that’s something. The same can never be said about Gene Simmons, who spends his on-screen time here trying to appeal alternately to casting directors and groupies.
Much more worth your time and money is the KISS: X-Treme Close-Up video. It was made around the time of Revenge, when the group still at least had some pretext of being a rock band with a healthy sense of humor and before they realized they could double their bank account balances by putting the make-up back on. It features footage from every stage of their career, as well as pretty great videos for “Hard Luck Woman”, “World Without Heroes”, “Forever”, and “I Was Made for Loving You”. This 20th Century Masters DVD is a pretty-thin money making device, and with only five videos, no extras, and about a 20-minute running time, it’s counter to the whole appeal of DVDs. KISS apparently had nothing to do with the creation of it, which I can only imagine is the case with all of the artists represented by these collections, and that’s really just one more reason not to buy it.