Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cleaning Out the Archives: A Review of Bruce Kulick's"BK3"

This is hopefully the first in a series of publications (to both of my weblogs) of old pieces of writing I have in my computer files. LA Weekly rejected this in 2010.

Bruce Kulick’s BK3: Squandered Potential, Dormant Promise

By Jeffrey Falk

If Almost Famous had been about a veteran, journeyman rock guitarist instead of a teenage journalist, it might have been about Bruce Kulick.
Kulick is one of the most underrated guitarists in rock history.
            One of the implications of those notions is that he is more of a sideman than a frontman.  His new solo album, BK3 (Twenty4 Records/Rocket Science), an often enjoyable but ultimately disappointing mistake, is ample evidence.
            Kulick is probably best known as the lead guitarist of KISS from 1984 through the end of 1995 (most of their commercially leaner yet musically tighter nonmakeup period), but he has shined in all kinds of other gigs, before and since.  He was Meat Loaf’s guitarist on the Bat Out of Hell Tour (when he became the only member of KISS to appear on Saturday Night Live to this day) and has more recently played with Grand Funk Railroad.  He may not want you to know that he played with Michael Bolton when he was almost famous.
            Not content to be a sideman or stick to soloing, Kulick started taking a more active musical role in the latter days of his KISS tenure.  Never even much of a background singer, he took a lead vocal turn on the Gene Simmons/Bruce Kulick composition “I Walk Alone” (released on Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions in 1997).  Shortly thereafter, he stepped into the role of co-bandleader with former Motley Crue frontman John Corabi for the critically acclaimed and commercially arid Union at the end of the Nineties.
            Corabi is one of several special guests (along with Simmons, his son Nick, and The Knack’s Doug Fieger) taking vocal turns on BK3, though Kulick himself sings lead on half of the songs.  It is unfortunate that Kulick still fancies himself a singer, as his unconfident, faltering, off-key vocals are one of two primary indicators of the worst problems with his intermittently interesting letdown of an album.
            The other one is that “Between the Lines,” an instrumental duet with Steve Lukather, is the disc’s greatest track.
            A predominantly (if not entirely) instrumental rock album from the crisp, skillful, near-virtuosic Bruce Kulick would have been a welcome sight and sound in 2010 (or, to a lesser extent, any year—there were never enough of them).  Unfortunately, he decided to deliver a more conventional album, replete with his own awkward vocals and the vocal performances of his well-known friends (which are sometimes little better).
            The most successful of the latter is the delightful powerpop song “Dirty Girl” (Fieger’s turn at lead).  Forsaking his usual guitar heroics, Kulick concentrated on the kind of catchy and quietly, unexpectedly complex riff that he came up with in KISS’s “Hell or High Water” (and his predecessor and successor, Ace Frehley, did in “Cold Gin”).  This could have been a hit if Fieger and Kulick had delivered this about twenty-five years ago.
            The closing track, “Life,” might have been the best track if it, too, had been instrumental.  If the flat vocals and trite lyrics had been replaced with a lead guitar melody and more soloing, the subtle majesty hiding in the song could come out.  What appears is a likeable letdown.
            Much like the rest of the album.
            Bruce Kulick may not be a frontman (at least in the conventional sense), but there is enough inchoate promise on BK3 to demonstrate he has a great album in him somewhere if he channels his strengths in the proper direction.