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The Paul Army

After all these years, after all the whispers and rumors, Paul Stanley has finally come out... with his second solo album.

"I've actually got two new babies now," the Kiss frontman chuckles quietly over the phone from his home in Los Angeles on a recent afternoon. One of them is little Colin Michael Stanley — born in early September to Erin, his wife of a year — who's sleeping in the next room. Which may explain why the 54-year-old singer/guitarist, a pleasant enough interviewee, is particularly subdued over the course of conversation (not that he's expected to shriek about "vodka and ahhwwnge juice," but c'mon!). The other baby he's referring to is Live to Win — a ten-track, 33-minute offering that's the first to bear the Paul Stanley name since he, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss simultaneously released solo platters on September 18, 1978, at the height of Kissmania.

Why the long wait between albums? It wasn't for lack of desire. "I've always wanted to do this," Stanley says. "But the problem is that some of the other people in the band wanna be off doing other things all the time and, you know, somebody's gotta mind the store."

Store is the perfect word to describe it. With such recent additions to the group's vast merchandising and promotional efforts as the Kiss Kasket, Kiss Kondoms, and even a Kiss Koffeehouse, which opened earlier this year in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, offering — wait for it — Demon Dark Roast brew and a French Kiss Vanilla Frozen Rockuccino. Indeed, Kiss Kapitalism keeps the koffers filled, chuggin' forward unfettered.

Kiss the band, however, not so much. The novelty and thrill of the full makeup, 1996 reunion and the subsequent years of global touring have waned; Frehley and Criss, once again, are out (the former, balking at a farewell tour that never seemed to end, quit in 2002; the latter was fired two years ago). Simmons has certainly been going it alone of late, with his aptly titled 2004 solo album, Asshole; numerous business ventures (how 'bout that Gene Simmons Tongue magazine!); and, most recently, with Gene Simmons Family Jewels, his popular, Osbournes-style reality show for the A&E channel.

So the slight trace of resentment in Stanley's voice over having to act as Kiss "store manager" in recent times is understandable, although he moves on to a different metaphor to continue the thought. "When the good ship Kiss starts springing leaks, I'm not shy about saying that I'm the one in there bailing water," Stanley says. "As much as I wanted to do a solo album and do other projects, I had to pick and choose because I felt a tremendous responsibility to make sure that the band was solid. Nobody can do what I can do. I sometimes feel [the responsibility] has gotta stay with me, quite honestly."

Whether fed up with that duty once and for all or perhaps sensing that Kiss needs to go on the back burner for a while or risk flaming out entirely, Stanley put himself first over the past year, hammering out a new batch of songs for Live to Win. And though he collaborated with a phalanx of songwriters and musicians (including longtime Kiss cohort Desmond Child and former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick), Stanley says he stubbornly clung to his vision from start to finish.

"I really wasn't interested in any feedback or opinions. This is my album. It was the antithesis of doing a group album — there was no thought for anybody else and no diluting anything for someone else. It was incredibly rewarding, because when you work on a group album, invariably what you're doing is you're writing for the group's weaknesses and strengths. You're looking to make the most out of what you have, whereas when you do a solo album, you become the director of a film and the casting agent, and you're calling all the shots, so it's a completely different experience."

If Live to Win were a movie, it would absolutely be a Jerry Bruckheimer production — impeccably crafted, glossy as all get-out, bombastic, schmaltzy, a tad cliché, and in the end pretty entertaining — although you probably wouldn't admit to your friends that you liked it. Stanley's inimitable voice sounds terrific throughout, even if his lyrics generally stick to the sappy self-affirmations he's always peddled: "Live to win, till you die, till the light dies in your eyes/Live to win, take it all, just keep fighting till you fall," he belts on the title track. "Lift" — its verses pushed by choppy, downtuned guitars and vague electronic underpinnings — couldn't be any better designed for Nickelback-, Evanescence-, and Bon Jovi-dominated rock radio, while a semi-acoustic ballad like "Second to None" aims for the same consumers that made Kiss' "Forever" a gigantic hit. And the piano-and-strings-propped "Lovin' You Without You Now" is pure, unabashed end-credit pop-rock.

While Paul Stanley is probably the most "Kiss-like" of the four 1978 solo albums, Live to Win — except for a few fleeting moments — doesn't sound much like a Kiss album at all. That might disappoint some, but, says Stanley: "The last thing I wanted to do was try to re-create the past. I wasn't gonna make 'Son of Strutter' or 'I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night and Party Every Day More,' you know? I didn't want to carry the sword, cross, or banner for Kiss. I didn't want to be the 'one-man Kiss band,' and I could have done that. It would have been easy for me to go into the studio and make something that sounded exactly like a Kiss album. That would have taken no time, but that wouldn't have satisfied me, and then the criticism would have been, 'It sounds just like a Kiss album, what's the point?'

"At the same time, if you put out an album that doesn't sound like Kiss, people say, 'I like the Kiss stuff — why didn't he do that?' But I'm far beyond the idea of trying to please anyone except myself. I made an album that I liked. That was the bottom line. You gotta follow your heart, and if you succeed, great, and if you fail, you did it on your own terms. I love the album, I know a lot of people do too, and that's good enough for me."

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Michael Alan Goldberg