Review Summary: KISS “consider this a successful experiment”. And so do I.
KISS are a funny band. Always out for the fast buck to be meade out of another reunion tour, the group nevertheless sought to call it quits in the late 90’s, with the appropriately named Farewell Tour. However, shrewd businessman that he is, Gene Simmons would never let it happen, and thus a new KISS hit the road at the turn of the millennium, fuelled by a fan-baiting box set and a new guitarist, former Black’n’Blue axeman Tommy Thayer.
Normally, a band in these conditions would have taken it easy. A few shows here, another few there, to break the newbie in. Not so with KISS: Thayer was thrown right into the fray, and his very first performance was also a super-special, once-in-a-lifetime event recorded in front of millions of people. Not the ideal start for a rookie still wetting his toes, but Thayer soldiered on like a trooper, and eventually put in a laudable performance, captured in the subsequent commercial recording, KISS Symphony: Alive IV
had been the brainchild of both Gene Simmons and his trusty partner, Paul Stanley, who both felt KISS needed to be taken to the next level. The solution was to join up with a full-blown orchestra for a special, once-off event that would put them in the map once again. The venue chosen was Melbourne, Australia, where the group were backed by the local Symphony Orchestra, suitably made up in KISS facepaint and under the competent helm of maestro David Campbell. The result of this meeting of the minds is a relevant record which does succeed in taking the group to a whole new level.
And yet, when you start hearing it, it sounds like any other show. Sure, the band sounds as vital as they have in years, but all the while you keep asking yourself “where’s the orchestra" I can’t hear them, am I missing something"” You aren’t. The beginning of the show is a fakeout, and the band doesn’t actually come in until the seventh track, making their debut, quite appropriately, with Beth
. Relying heavily on (previously synthesized) orchestral arrangement, this track lends itself perfectly to the format, with the real orchestral input raising it from a corny ballad to a thing of cheesy beauty.
From there until the end of Disc One, the band relies heavily on ballads and disco-era material, perhaps thinking that they will lend themselves better to the arrangements. Results are very hit-or-miss, with Forever
and Sure Know Something
sounding a little strange. Sparks fly for the first time on Goin’ Blind
, probably the track which benefits the most from the classical input in the entire record. Here, the orchestra and the rock band meld perfectly together to create a genuinely beautiful piece of music…about the relationship between a 93-year-old man and an underage girl, no less.
However, those seeking their rock’n’roll will have to wait until Disc Two. It is here that the majority of the group’s hits are placed, and results are somewhat more satisfactorily than on the first CD. The side literally starts with a bang, with Detroit Rock City
exploding through your speakers. And just when I thought this song could not get any better, they go and stick an orchestra in it and make it absurdly, insanely perfect. Seriously, when the orchestra accompanies the drum solo towards the end, I thought I’d orgasm.
The rest of the tracks are not up to that standard (apart from Great Expectations
, whose pomposity benefits greatly from the presence of a string section and real children’s choir), but neither are they bad. Sure, the string arrangements don’t always work (oh, Love Gun
, what hath they done to thee!"), but mostly they enhance the songs with understated class. And yes, I just used the expression “understated class” in the context of a KISS review. “The times they are a-changin’”…
Musically, both orchestra and musicians play it straight. Thayer’s performance is understated, never doing more than necessary, but competently reproducing Ace Frehley’s and Bruce Kulick’s work (and he pulls off the awesome picked solo on Forever
, too!). The rest of the band are up to their usual standard, although Gene puts in a notoriously mistake-free performance, which is laudable considering his bass is given some space in the mix. The low point, because there always has to be one, is Paul Stanley’s vocal performance. Yes, the same man who saved Alive III
drags many of these songs down, with his tendency to change the vocal lines (for the worst) and address the audience in song, which quickly becomes grating. Still, minor flaws in what is essentially a self-assured performance.
Another winning factor of this album is the audience. Simply put, it is the most real-sounding audience – heck, the only
real-sounding audience – to ever grace a KISS record. Whether they shouting along to the band’s world-famous introductory sentence, singing every word of Do You Love Me
or merely reacting to Stanley’s and Simmons’ chidings, those crazy Australians never let their enthusiasm die down, making this one of those live records which captures the magic of the night it’s representing and sends a pleasant chill down your spine.
In the end then, this may not be a perfect KISS record – there is no such thing – but it is an enjoyable and relevant release, which is more than can be said for most of what the group put out in the 90’s and early 2000’s. It may drag on a bit at times, with a few nondescript songs and the occasional clunker, but those flaws are made up for by the magic the best moments convey. In short, KISS “consider this a successful experiment”, and so do I.
Detroit Rock City