The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 10:
Kiss in 1977 were a band of four different personalities, and those personalities were beginning to drift apart. There was talk of allowing members some time to do solo albums and blow off some steam. There was a Kiss movie happening (Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park), not to mention Love Gun and its accompanying tour. Kiss Alive! was the album that made them a household name, so why not try to buy some time with another live release? The band had amassed three more studio albums in the interim.
Eddie Kramer was hired once again to recapture the magic. Shows (and soundchecks) in L.A. were recorded, and older tapes from a pre-Love Gun Japanese tour were dusted off. They had lots of material to work with, and so it was decided that Alive II would have no crossover with tracks from Alive!, a value-conscious move that fans appreciated. They were still short enough songs to make a full double live, so studio time was booked at Electric Lady to record new songs too. As with the previous Alive, much fixing and re-recording was done to the live tracks. Some of the soundchecks were used with audience noise overdubbed. Two songs (“Hard Luck Woman” and “Tomorrow and Tonight”) were actually re-recorded completely. Knowing now what we didn’t know then, this certainly explains why Alive II sounds more sterile than the first, and why you can hear Paul Stanley singing backup vocals to his own lead vocals.
Alive II has always been viewed as sort of a poorer cousin to Alive! It’s hard to blame the studio tampering, because Alive! was done the same. For whatever reasons, it’s a lot more noticeable on Alive II, although not to the point of distraction. Alive II simply does not have the same oomph, the same fire bleeding through. Even with tracks like “Detroit Rock City”, “Shout it Out Loud”, “God of Thunder” and “I Stole Your Love”, it’s hard to compete with Alive! for sheer ferocity.
As is their penchant, some songs like “God of Thunder” are much faster live. “God of Thunder” could be the heaviest version of that track on tape. “Ladies Room” and “Dr. Love” are also faster and harder. “Makin’ Love” blows away the album version, and “I Want You” comes close. Ace Frehley’s vocal slot on “Shock Me” is a welcome treat and obvious highlight, featuring Ace’s big solo spot. As for Peter Criss, “Hard Luck Woman” is a nice electric version, but “Beth” underwhelms. Singing “Beth” to backing tapes is a “who cares” moment anyway, but Peter doesn’t nail it either.
The real point of interest on Alive II is side four, the studio side, for two reasons. One is that it’s a surprisingly strong side even though only one of these songs has gone on to be a classic today. Paul Stanley has dismissed these tracks as schlock, but fans don’t always agree. The second is that Kiss’ internal problems had come to a head, and once again members were secretly replaced on recordings by outsiders.
Ace Frehley wasn’t around, except to record his own song (“Rocket Ride”), which has become a second-tier Kiss classic. Maybe to spite Kiss, he played all the bass and guitars on it. Ace’s track is immediate, Kiss-like and perfect for his persona. With Peter Criss in the pocket, Ace lays down some seriously wild effects-laden six-string magic. But that was it. Ace was focussed on his forthcoming solo album. The wheels were already in motion and songs were being written. To keep things from falling apart and maintain a facade of unity, Kiss decided that all four of them would release solo albums, unified, under the Kiss banner.
Meanwhile, Paul and Gene came up with a few tracks for side four. Replacing Ace Frehley on lead guitar was the man who he nudged out of the job in the first place — Bob Kulick. Paul and Bob had maintained a friendship in New York ever since his 1973 Kiss audition. Bob was asked to come in on the sly and record uncredited. His task was to play like Ace would have done it, a difficult task. “Ace wouldn’t play that note”, someone would say from the control booth as Bob struggled to come up with the enigmatic “right” vibe. But he did it, and now that we know the truth, fans hold Bob’s work in high esteem.
Paul Stanley’s “All American Man” (Stanley/Sean Delaney) has the goods: a signature guitar hook, a memorable chorus and a killer solo that we only know now was actually Bob. “All American Man” is a natural extension of where Kiss were headed with Love Gun. Gene had the next two tracks, “Rockin’ in the U.S.A.” and “Larger Than Life”. “Rockin’ in the U.S.A.” sounds like Gene writing his own “Ballad of John and Yoko”, but a hard rock version. As for “Larger Than Life”, you can guess what body part Gene’s talking about. “Larger Than Life” works because of the combination of Gene’s “monster plod” riff with Bob’s sweet guitar lightning. Finally a cover of the Dave Clark Five hit “Any Way You Want It” closes Alive II, quick and catchy. Kiss have a way of adapting their blocky rock style to covers and making it work. Suddenly the Dave Clark Five sound like Kiss, rather than vice-versa.
Alive II arrived in stores on October 14 1977, exactly two weeks ahead of the much-hyped movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. There are some who would consider this the end of the beginning. But Kiss weren’t done releasing albums before the big solo projects came to fruition. We know today that making Alive II was a financial move rather than an artistic one, but the reality is it was conceived as a product. At least it was a quality product. As usual, Kiss and Casablanca rewarded fans with goodies inside the original LP. It had a gatefold cover, a booklet entitled “The Evolution of Kiss”, and temporary tattoos. Good luck finding those intact. Our recommended edition: The four disc 2006 box set Alive! 1975-2000. The set contains four volumes of Kiss Alive, deliciously remastered, with each album fit onto a single CD without losing any songs. There’s even a bonus track: the single edit of “Rock and Roll all Nite”, from the original Kiss Alive! This 3:23 version is from the 7″ single, edited down from the 3:59 Alive! album version. It was the first CD release of that version.
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice: Alive II is an album that for me, gets kinda lost in the shuffle amidst the Kiss discography. Not because it’s not a good live album, but more that it’s very much Alive-lite. There are definite highlights on this record of course, but it doesn’t pack the consistent hit-parade punch as the first “live” record. I also have never really understood why side four was all studio tracks. Kiss did get a minor hit out of “Rocket Ride” though, a pretty good Ace tune here, and a sign of things to come with an Ace song on the charts. The other studio tracks feature some good guitar work, but not memorable overall. If Kiss has played any of these songs live at all I would be surprised, but I’m sure LeBrain will have some Turkish B-side thingy that will prove me wrong. [I don’t. – LeBrain]
I was wond’ring aloud (purposeful and cheap Tull shout-out there) earlier about the whereabouts of a good “God of Thunder” cover in an earlier review, but perhaps that cover is right here. Kiss plays it live here in double time and I like the feel of it. “Shock Me” shines on this album. So do a few other Kiss classics. I just see a few unnecessary garnishes on this plate.
Favorite Tracks: “Shock Me”, “Detroit Rock City”, “Shout it Out Loud”, “God of Thunder”, “I Stole Your Love”
Forgettable Tracks: Side four
To be continued…
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/07/12