Edward "Ace" Annese,
Wednesday, August 6, 2003 @ 1:00 PM
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As a life-long KISS fan, this particular project was of great interest because classical music is also a secret passion. So the question was: How would this particular marriage work on both a musical and a performance level? The answer: The overall results are mixed but positive -- even for those who aren't KISS fans.
Performance-wise, the band has brought its musicianship to new heights. Consequently, the songs are pushed front and center, rather than having the emphasis on the spectacle. The biggest complaint this writer has had in the past is that KISS' tunes have gotten short-shrift in the grand scheme because the visuals and explosions have overshadowed the fact that these guys write and play great songs. In that respect, perhaps this endeavor will dispel the notion that KISS can't play well or write good material. In fact, all four members sing and play as well as they ever have, and lead axe Tommy Thayer does a fine job interpreting the sadly-missing Ace Frehley's guitar parts.
However, song-by-song, the addition of the Symphony enhances only some of the tracks, while having a negligible effect on others. In the case of "Act 1" -- where the guys simply play several KISS standards as usual -- listeners can easily find definitive versions on earlier KISS Alive records (or in the case of “Psycho Circus," a great version is on the limited-edition live disc that came with the Psycho Circus CD). So the real argument comes down to "Act 2," in which an ensemble and acoustic instruments are added, plus new arrangements are given to some rarely-performed tunes, and in "Act 3" where the complete orchestra plays behind the band in full electric bombast.
Act 2 is the real gem of this project. Peter Criss goes solo with the ensemble, and sings his heart out on his signature "Beth." Paul Stanley, obviously having a blast, rips on "Forever," "Sure Know Something" and especially "Shandi," a song that before now was only performed on solo electric guitar to Australian audiences. Gene Simmons manages to deliver the best version of "Goin' Blind" he's ever done, including the one on KISS MTV Unlugged.
Act 3 yields some surprises, including the never-performed-live "Great Expectations." Unfortunately, it's an OK version, but even so, good to see the band go for it on such a difficult tune. (Not surprisingly, the majority of the Destroyer album is brought to life here, and it's appropriate, as KISS' most epic performances occurred on that disc.) The song that seems to benefit the most is "Shout it Out Loud." This is particularly heart-warming, as the original Alive 2 version is lackluster. Same goes for "God of Thunder." On the flip side, "Love Gun" with a symphony is simply unnecessary, and the renditions of "Detroit Rock City" and "King of The Nightime World" aren't enhanced much at all. "Black Diamond" and "I Was Made for Lovin' You" fare better, as does ""Do You Love Me." "Rock and Roll All Nite" is still always gonna sound best in its purest form, as witnessed on Alive 1, but it's still fun on here.
The one other nagging question here is: If Ace Frehley had been involved, would his tunes have added more to this set? Could they have been adapted to this medium? It's a pity that we'll probably never know, because he chose not to participate. Too bad for both him and us...
All in all KISS Symphony:Alive 4 stacks up well with other bands (Metallica, Scorpions, et al) forays into the Classical/Rock crossover, and sheds new light on a band whose musicianship and songwriting have never gotten their due respect. Now it's all about having the DVD to be able to see how it all looked, including a symphony done up in KISS makeup. Mark September 9th on the calendar for that one!
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