For one glorious sixty-second span near the end of their new album 'Monster,' Kiss once again (and finally) earn the title of "the hottest band in the land." But what about the other 42 minutes?

The magic moment happens during the album's penultimate track, 'Take Me Down Below,' which features a primal, rhythmic riff that sounds more like early AC/DC than anything in the Kiss catalog.

Smack dab in the middle of a typically outlandish Gene Simmons-sung tale of sexual conquest on the high seas (set during last year's Kiss Kruise, perhaps?), his longtime bandmate Paul Stanley suddenly jumps in to take the lead for a spell.

Now the two have shared vocals on a few tracks in the past, most notably on 'Shout it Out Loud.' But for some reason this appearance comes as a particularly exciting surprise, and shows that time hasn't left the band behind. In fact, the "Starchild" comes off a bit like a hip-hop star who's just chomping at the bit to spit a verse on a hot beat one of his peers cooked up.

Stanley makes the most of his time, strutting like a peacock over Eric Singer's thunderous drum rolls while gleefully dropping elevator-and cruise-related double-entendres that would make even a young David Lee Roth blush.

It's outlandishly fun, and if nothing else on 'Monster' quite hits that height -- or stands much of a chance of earning a spot on the band's setlists past the tour in support of the album -- there's still much to admire and enjoy here.

Let's start with the second single, 'Long Way Down,' which finds Stanley confidently treading into swirling, almost psychedelic territory. The song may be more of a kick for existing fans than something that will create new ones. But its clever use of  T-Rex and Led Zeppelin riffs shows the often-forgotten depth of the band's influences and suggests that more sophisticated music may yet be coming from our facepainted heroes in the future.

Other highlights on 'Monster' -- which could most simply be described as a heavier, slightly more complex sequel to their 2009 retro-leaning studio comeback 'Sonic Boom' -- include the a capella opening segment of the cowbell-heavy 'Eat Your Heart Out' and the Stones-ish "whoo whoo"s in the chorus of the soulful 'Shout Mercy.'

All four members are in fine form throughout; with Simmons in particularly nasty spirits on 'The Devil is Me,' lead guitarist Tommy Thayer perfectly in "Spaceman" character on 'Outta This World,' and Singer channeling his inner cat on 'All For the Love of Rock and Roll,' which, if you're feeling generous, could be imagined as the 11th track on 1976's 'Rock and Roll Over.'

So, to answer our own question: yes, given that you go into it with the proper expectations, 'Monster' is more than a worthy addition to Kiss's recorded oeuvre.


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