In Defence Of Peter Criss...
I doubt that Peter needs defending, but here's some of my thoughts on his career, skills, music, etc... Take 'em or leave 'em.
In recent months there have be insinuations about Peter's skill level, his ethos, his ability as a musician, just about everything concerning the cat. And he has even been compared to Ringo Starr who released a series of solo albums which barely featured himself. Yet, to me, such accusations are totally unfounded. Peter is an artist, trained in another school (yeah, the Gene Krupa school, so what, that's just as valid as any other) who was "willing to do anything to make it". Expectations of him repeating what he did in KISS when he went solo did not materialize. Yet it would seem that fans expected KISS-like material, even when his contribution to KISS can be summed up with "Beth", "Baby Driver", "Hooligan", and "Dirty Livin"... and none of these songs have the aggression of KISS' fullspeed rockers. And thus many seem to often reject his music out-of-hand because he doesn't copy the KISS style completely after he left the band.
Peter was the first KISS member to feature on a vinyl release previous to KISS' inception. While Paul may have described the Wicked Lester album as being "eclectic crap", the same can certainly be applied to the folky overtones of Chelsea's album. Yet there is also a certain amount of experimentation apparent in the recording - young people playing around during their first period of time in a studio. 1970 was also a very different era musically with glam, disco, and stadium rock not really being more than concepts for the future. This was the tail-end of the flowerpower decade, and musically the Carpenters were more hip. Chelsea doesn't rock. It's a good album when you take it in the context in which it was intended. Peter was also unadulturated by the required style which would affect his later career. There was no need for tremendous power on songs which did not require such method. This was much more inline with his training, and with the style of his love of jazz which provides very subtle tones and blends of sounds rather than the overt character of rock which is often a blend of three volumenous sounds: Bass line & Drums providing rhythm backbone and electric guitar (and sometimes keyboards) providing melody. Power would not have worked very well on the Chelsea album, with its' acoustic 12-strings! Once Chelsea was gone, fragmenting during the preparation for the studio followup to the debut album, Criss found himself in the harder-edged faction which would become Lips. Yet, though the folky-acoustic members had gone their own direction, Criss' team was harldy in the Alice Cooper or Gary Glitter school of thought. Listening to the Lips demos one can not tell too much difference from Chelsea. Yet, there is a certain amount of pregression along the lines of the difference between Peter, Paul, and Mary and the Byrds! These Lips demos would later be utilized on Peter's 1978 KISS solo album, and they were not appreciated by the screaming hordes of leather clad biker types who may have tolerated "Beth".
Once in KISS Peter's vocal style became a big plus, especially on songs like Nothin' To Lose and Black Diamond. Listening to the KISS '73 demos it and first album is also apparent that his drumming style was very much a fusion of his influences and his concept of what was required for the band. There is a certain amount of complexity and subtle fills which make the early KISS material some of the best drumming evidence. Peter also developed as an artist, being given more opportunities to sing, and to perform as the showman (i.e. rocket drum sticks!). In the club days tracks like "Acrobat/Much Too Young" have extended srum segments which show the power and skill Peter was able to display. His downfall...? Perhaps taking the Lips song "Beck" and transforming into "Beth" started him on something of a decline in the eyes of the KISS Army. While the song may have been the bands first major hit, it was out of step with the sort of material which they were known for performing. Setting Peter up with "Hard Luck Woman", in a vain attempt to follow on from Beth's success did not work to the same level. Peter's material also took on a style markedly different to that which was KISS. "Love Bite", rejected from Love Gun due to its' raunchiness and title clash with the title track from that album, shares the same flavour with "Rumble", "Hooligan" (much more in the demo of this song), and "Dirty Livin". Other demos which Peter submitted to KISS, such as "Out Of Control" and "There's Nothing Better", basically rock to a completely different vibe. Some could probably have been transformed a la "Baby Driver" and "Hooligan", yet in doing so they would loose the style so evident in the demos, the style intended by Peter into a style dictated by KISS.
Going solo was the smart choice. Peter's music clashed with the material that KISS was expected to play. Yet, with Out Of Control, Peter fell into the same trap which affected the material he submitted to KISS in the late 1970s. Admitedly, he wasn't in the best frame of mind or health to be releasing solo material, instead listeners got a fusion of 70's rock, pop, and Lips! He also managed to ruin great tracks like "Out Of Control" and "There's Nothing Better" by applying the same "rocking-up" that had been applied to his songs in KISS. The demos remain superior as they seem more honest. Yet, Peter was also trying to get accross a message of his individuality on the album, notably with songs so overtly titled "By Myself" and "My Life". Yet Peter also takes the route of all-out-rockers with "You Better Run" and "My Life". Out Of Control is a confusing mix of styles, ballads and rockers, though it's a damn good album (IMO). Let Me Rock You takes Peter back to music more akin to the KISS style. In fact the KISS participation may have something to do with that, with the inclusion of Vinnie Cusano and Gene Simmons tracks. Let Me Rock You seems to be something of a commercial sell-out. It fit's in nicely compared with KISS material, but it doesn't really seem to have the divirsity that one expects from Peter. Personally, I love the album regardless. "Let It Go", "Move On Over", "Destiny", "Some Kinda Hurricane", and "Feel Like Heaven" work out really well, regardless of whether or not Peter drums on them. Hell, Gene doesn't play as much bass as some seem to think (yeah, yeah, I'm working on a list!) on KISS albums, does that negate that material also?
Of course the seeming "black-hole" of 1983-1993 doesn't help Peter much, yet he was far from inactive. The Penridge/Criss Alliance of 84/5 recorded some material which is IMO extremely good, notably "Baby Hold On", yet Peter's role was changing from Drummer, to Precussionist/Vocalist, but needs must! Balls Of Fire of 1986/7 finally gave Peter the chance to perform some of his earlier solo material live, yet hype played a certain part in dooming that band. The Tree, with Mark St. John/Michael Norton, demonstrates that Peter wanted to rock you again. This material is also of high quality, and provides the transition into Criss, a band that I have some problems with. The Cat EP of 1993 is great. The material is outstanding with tracks like "The Cat", "Whatcha Doin", "Show Me", "Good Times", and an acoustic version of "Beth". It is a shame that Beth had to be included, because of the need to identify the band/album with the history of that song. But at least it is well done. The First 3 of the tracks mentioned are full-steam rockers of outstanding calibre. Good Times is somewhat indifferent. While this was a taster for the full length album, that album released the folowing year is something of a let down. Sure tracks like "Show Me", "Blue Moon Over Brooklyn", "Bad People Burn In Hell", are outstanding, the other tracks are indifferent or substandard... why he didn't include The Cat or Whatcha Doin' is beyond me... but... Somebody shoot "We Want You".. whine whine whine. But it was good to finally have a full release from Peter after so many years of waiting!
So what does the future hold? God knows! I expect Peter to play a pretty big role on the Psycho Circus album. I think he'll drum on every track, and do quite a bit of vocal work. But, as ever, he's going to have problems getting his songs on the album... Hooligan 98... sure, why not! But it'll sound more akin to his Criss material than anything he did in the 70's.