Kiss Records / Sanctuary Records

KISS SYMPHONY CD.jpg (33078 bytes)


  First off, no matter how much these guys deny it, KISS is nothing but a nostalgia act in 2003. Three years after their “farewell tour,” they’ve released yet another double CD career retrospective, albeit this time with a fanciful twist…The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Alive IV displays the best and worst of KISS for all to see. The worst is clearly “Act One,” the limping first six songs sans orchestra. There’s nothing particularly wrong with these latest retreads of “Deuce”, “Strutter” and the like, but there’s certainly nothing that warrants their release except maybe the note perfect performances of new guitarist Tommy Thayer (dressed in Ace Frehley’s getup). On this handful of tunes, the band performs competently, but it just can’t compete with the original KISS Alive versions. Plus, there are irritating song intros and a difficult to listen to version of “Psycho Circus” that should’ve been excised from the start along with the other band-only recordings. Luckily, things start getting interesting in “Act Two,” which is an acoustic set augmented by an orchestral ensemble. “Beth” is just as one would expect (a by the letter live version of the studio recording), but “Goin’ Blind,” shows Gene Simmons at his best. The ensemble is used sparingly and a gorgeous vocal makes it clear that KISS is far more skilled than they’ve been given credit in the past. Complicated backup vocals weave around a sophisticated arrangement that shows what could’ve been if people had responded to this side of the band back when the song was originally released back in 1974. Surprisingly, the song list then takes a few chances by delving into the group’s late ‘70s disco influenced-era. The inclusion of “Sure Know Something” and especially “Shandi” are a welcome change from the same old predictable stuff. The latter is a sensitive, well-done take and the former grooves harder than KISS are supposed to be capable of grooving. Thankfully, this wraps up disc one on a positive note. Then comes “Act Three.” Okay, there’s no way around it. This kicks ass in the most ridiculous and obnoxious way possible. Backed by a 60-piece orchestra, KISS comes out swinging with pyro and “Detroit Rock City.” There’s an added punch that brings to mind ‘70s cop show themes and somehow makes this seem truly classic, if not classical. Believe it or not, the new version of “Black Diamond” may actually be the definitive one. It’s even heavier than the original explosive Alive! version. When the orchestra comes in, it’s like the horns to warn of the apocalypse. It’s just massive. Other highlights include a huge “Shout It Out Loud” and a thoroughly menacing “God Of Thunder.” Add in a clearly heartfelt reading of the never before performed “Great Expectations” backed by the Australian Children’s Choir and you have a truly have something worth hearing. “Great Expectations” actually had me laughing out loud just at the audacity and ego it takes for a band to do that. Forget “Heavy Metal Beatles”, this is “Heavy Metal Disney…and it works! Of course, it all winds up with “Rock And Roll All Nite,” which features a second half dominated by a super-hyped audience that’s mixed louder than the band and manages to capture the over the top excitement of their live show better than anything since their first live album. KISS Symphony is classic KISS. The first disc is useless, but the second one is priceless. Check your taste at the door and you’ll find yourself having a great time at KISS Symphony.

 Chris McKay /