So… today is an interesting one, the world of truly theatrical rock that started with Alice Cooper, among others, takes a step forward with KISS, and their first live album, and fourth album overall, “Alive”. One of the most interesting questions to ask is how successful would they have been if they had skipped the makeup and circus-like performances? If I had to judge on this album alone, I have to say, I’m not sure they would have made it very far. A very unique and unusual collection of performers, of course the two alphas in the group are singer-guitarist Paul Stanley and bassist-vocalist Gene Simmons, with classic lineup members Ace Frehley on guitar and Peter Criss on drums and the occasional lead vocal. Very surprisingly, this album is rated #305 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, but if KISS has to be on the list, there are better albums, mostly subsequent studio recordings, that better suit the purpose.
I’m sure this may be a tough pill to swallow for devout KISS fans, but I just didn’t really care for much of this album. There are several songs from KISS that I actually do like, but only one of them emerged on this album, the party favorite, “Rock and Roll All Nite”. The rest of the album, is a collection of early KISS songs, none of which really have a hook for me at all. As I thought about it while I listened to this album, the entire sound of this concert reminds me of what some random TV producer who was making a Hardy Boys episode might use to portray an anonymous rock band (minus the makeup, platform boots, and fake blood) in the 1970s. Loud guitars, high-pitch vocals (mainly from Stanley), and the usual accompanying bass and drums, but there is nothing remotely fetching or appealing about any of these. The vocals are crass and rough, the guitar solos and chords are remarkably bland for the most part, and the mix on bass and drums is almost non-existent. The drum solo from Peter Criss on “100,000 Years” wasn’t too bad, but the hooks on other subsequent KISS tracks, even from their disturbing non-makeup reboot in the mid-1980s, are mostly absent on this album.
To make matters worse, this album was essentially re-recorded to improve the sound after the shows, something the band denied for many years. If this is the improved “after”, I would have hated to hear the “before”. It is also littered with some very cringe-worthy and cliche callouts to the crowd with the overwhelming “WHO WANTS TO PARTY” theme, it is all just very painful for the most part.
Like I said, while I’m not a big fan of Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons and how they have evolved the KISS brand over the years, I do have several old school KISS songs that I really like, such as “Detroit Rock City”, “Shout It Out Loud”, my favorite, “Calling Dr. Love”, and even Peter Criss’ unusually sweet ballad “Beth”. Unfortunately, none of those songs had been released at this time, so my one and only stop with KISS is limited to the early and not-so-interesting material of the moment.