Wednesday 5 May 2021

Paul Stanley's Soul Station - Now and Then (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Soul/R&B
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 19 Mar 2021
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I always aim for my two reviews in a day to be a rock album and a metal album, to help underline just how diverse the genres are. I can't think of anything more unlike Chilean atmospheric doom that fits in my scope to follow Rise to the Sky. Well, it kinda sorta fits my scope. It's really not a rock album but it's the current project of one Paul Stanley, who's been a rock icon for half a century. And, while this is something of a departure from the current Kiss sound, it's really not that far from some of the places they've been musically. There's a reason why sources list their Dynasty album as both rock and disco.

There's also a reason why Discogs credits Stanley initially as an arranger, an orchestrator and a writer, only adding producer and lead vocalist way down the list, behind Ray Yslas on percussion and Ely Rise on keyboards. And no, I'm not putting down his singing, I'm highlighting that he did things here that he probably hasn't ever done on a Kiss album. Looking down the list of musical contributors, which include a string quartet, a trumpet and three saxophones, but only one guitarist, Rafael Moreira, there's just one name I recognise from the rock world and that's Eric Singer, who's been the drummer with Kiss for most of this millennium. I should point out that, had I listened to this entirely blind, I wouldn't have recognised either Singer or Stanley.

And, with all of that build-up, here I should point out that Stanley put this band together to give him a way to pay musical homage to some of the influences of his youth, initially in a live setting and only at this point in the studio. And I don't mean Kiss influences, such as the Yardbirds, the Beatles and Alice Cooper. I mean Paul Stanley influences, which means Motown. The covers here, and I believe there are nine here out of fourteen songs, are of Motown bands. When I played this to the better half, she knew the opening song immediately and sang along with it, even if she couldn't remember who originally recorded it. Now, being English, I only knew one of these songs, which I'd see as deep soul cuts, even if they might not be.

For instance, that opener is Could It Be I'm Falling in Love, originally by the Spinners, who I would see as the Detroit Spinners because we already had a folk group called the Spinners (who I've seen live). I didn't just not know it, I couldn't have told you that it was a cover but I Do and I, Oh I are originals. I'm very thankful to Discogs and Google to help me identify which are which. Oh, and I fully realise, by the way, that that's just as much a compliment to a band writing new music in an old style as a deliberate acknowledgement that I'm totally out of my depth in this genre.

Ooo Baby Baby, as quintessential a Motown song title as was ever written, was originally recorded by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. O-o-h Child, which isn't too far behind, was by the Five Stairsteps, who I haven't even heard of. I don't think I've heard of the Delfonics either, but La La Means I Love You was one of theirs. I've heard of the Stylistics, even if I've never heard them, and You Are Everything is theirs. I have, at least, heard the Temptations and the Four Tops, whose repertoires contributed Just My Imagination and Baby I Need Your Loving.

I'll add another compliment. Stanley seems more at home in this style than he does in the rock music he's been making for almost half a century. He sings a little higher and with easily a hundred times as much subtlety. Part of his charm as the singer in Kiss is that he's raw and primal, precisely neither of which attributes manifests here. That one song I knew is Al Green's Let's Stay Together and, while I'd never have guessed it coming in, Stanley does a damn good job with it. He may not be quite as smooth as Green, but he's not that far away, and he's able to add some neat earthiness that wasn't previously there. This may sound like heresy but, as iconic as he is in Kiss, he's a better singer in Soul Station.

This really is accomplished stuff, even if it sounds like a joke. Stanley has explained in interviews that a lot of this style made it into Kiss songs that I know. Shout It Out Loud, for instance, he built like a Four Tops song with the same sort of call and response structure. He calls the Unmasked song What Makes the World Go Round "basically a Spinners song, but done in a different way."

Perhaps the easiest way to highlight how good this is would be to suggest that I might actually come back to this again, which I really didn't expect going in. No, this isn't my genre of choice, though I do like old school rhythm and blues a lot more than new school R&B, but I downright enjoyed songs like La La Means I Love You, The Tracks of My Tears and Lorelei, the latter of which is an original. Give it a shot. He means it and it's infectious.

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