Derek Sherinian

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Alive III (1993)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 44

 – Alive III (1993 Polygram)

A brief club tour warmed ’em up.  The full arena tour put Kiss back on the big stage, this time with a huge statue of liberty in addition to the Kiss sign.  As the show went on, the statue crumbled to reveal a skulled figure…giving the finger.  Not everybody got that.  The tour suffered from very poor attendance in the United States, partly blamed on grunge, and partly blamed on a late start (October).

Regardless, it was clearly time for Kiss Alive III.  There was early talk of Alive III back in 1986, set to follow the next studio album.  That never materialised, and some would argue rightfully so.  Kids of the 80s generation already had their own Alive III:  It was called Animalize Live Uncensored, and with the benefit of hindsight, it easily could and should have been the official Alive III.

The real Kiss Alive III was issued in 1993, produced once again by Eddie Kramer, and in the sacred tradition of all Kiss Alives….was heavily overdubbed in the studio.  It is the only Kiss Alive from the non-makeup era, and therefore the only Alive with the lineup of Stanely, Simmons, Kulick and Singer…and Derek Sherinian on ghost keyboards.  He followed Eric Singer over from the Alice Cooper group.

Although there is some overlap with Kiss Alive and Alive II, the third instalment is largely made of newer material, like opener “Creatures of the Night”.  Some fans were upset that “Detroit Rock City” was moved to the end of the set, but a shakeup on a Kiss setlist is usually a good thing.  Opening with “Creatures” was fresh and set the scene firmly back to the heavy sound of 1982, which really seemed to be what Kiss were trying to re-create.

Gene takes over on “Deuce” (1st repeat – Kiss Alive) and for the first time in years it seemed like Gene didn’t look and act goofy on stage.  Give credit to the beard.  It finally gave Gene an image he could work with.  Meanwhile on stage right, Kulick nails a vintage Kiss guitar sound, but without losing his technical advantages.  Another first:  Kulick finally sounded at home playing Ace Frehley guitar solos.  His revamped greasy rock solos fit love a glove.

But wow, does that crowd noise ever sound fake, and fans say that Paul’s stage raps were recorded later, because they’re not from Detroit, Cleveland or Indianapolis where the album was recorded.  “I Just Wanna” is the first Revenge track, but it sounds sterile like a studio version with glistening backing vocals.  It’s also too early in the album to stop the song for a singalong (and a bad singalong at that).  That’s followed by a fairly flat “Unholy” which, Kiss were discovering, didn’t work as well on stage.  Paul’s “Woo-woo” intro to “Heaven’s On Fire” sounds very dubbed, but the track smokes hotter than it did on prior tours.  You can hear Eric Singer clearly on backing vocals, adding a bit of sweetener to the mix.

“Watchin’ You” came as a surprise, an oldie from Hotter Than Hell (and 2nd repeat – Kiss Alive).  With Eric Singer on drums, they captured the jazzy Peter Criss drum vibe once again, but this time with more power and precision.  This is as close as it ever got to original Kiss.  Some would say it’s even better than original Kiss, but that would just be stating a preference.

Back to Revenge, “Domino” is the first song to really click live.  That’s probably because it was always close to that vintage Kiss vibe.  Another surprise is rolled out:  “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” from 1979’s Dynasty, but Wikipedia says this version was recorded at soundcheck.  Whatever the case may be, it’s not as purely heavy as the one on bootleg Unholy Kisses but it’s still good to have it on an Alive.  A set highlight is “I Still Love You” from Creatures, a real chance for Paul to sing.  In 1992 and 1993, Paul was arguably at his vocal peak strength.

They chose an interesting slot for “Rock and Roll all Nite”:  the first track on side two (original cassette version, side three for LP)!  Again, some fans loudly stated a preference for “Rock and Roll all Nite” (3rd repeat – Kiss Alive) as a closer, but it’s stale no matter where it sits.  It’s followed by 80s classic “Lick It Up”, a good song but always a little sparse in the live setting.  Don’t forget the overplayed “I Love It Loud” which was chosen as the only Alive III single.

“Forever” is a little surprising by its inclusion in the setlist that.  A good ballad, yes:  but was a ballad necessary?  It must have been because according to Paul “Every time we play this one, the place lights up like a damn Christmas tree.”  Also true:  Paul’s stage raps are not at all memorable this time out.  A great example is “Detroit Rock City”, although that may also just be that “Detroit” doesn’t belong near the end of an album (4th repeat – Kiss Alive II).

There was a Japanese/vinyl bonus track, finally available on wider release within the Alive! 1975–2000 box set:  “Take It Off”.  This is the one where the strippers came up on stage; yes indeed, a calculated move to shed Kiss’ kiddie image in the 1990s.  As a live song, it’s way better than  “I Just Wanna”.

Kiss closed the show with the complex anthem “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll to You II” followed by an actual anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner” as a Bruce Kulick guitar showcase.  This works surprisingly well to wrap up a Kiss Alive that is very different from the other Alives.  Turn it up and hear the bombs bursting in air!

Where does Kiss Alive III sit today among the Alives?  It’s not the worst Alive, but we’ll get there.  Think of it like a movie.  Superman was amazing, and nobody expected Superman II to be as good as Superman.  But it was good enough to make a Superman III which wasn’t as good as I or II.  In reality, Superman III was a total bed-shit, but Alive III is not.  For its flaws, it is a pretty good live album.  There were a lot of live albums out in 1993 for Kiss to compete with:  Iron Maiden (two singles), Ozzy (a double), Van Halen (a double) and Metallica (a triple CD and triple VHS monstrosity).  Alive III is better than most of them (you figure out which).  Kiss were only modestly asking you to part with a single CD’s worth of money, and if you bought it at certain stores you’d get an Alive III poster while supplies lasted.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars

Alive III finally behind them, Kiss were still not ready to record their next studio album.  For better or for worse, the post-Alive III era was a complicated, scattershot period with a few interesting releases to cover.

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/11

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REVIEW: Platypus – Ice Cycles (2000)

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Complete studio albums (and more!), part 13


Second review from Mike and Aaron Go to Toronto…Again!  I paid $2.99 for this CD at Sonic Boom.  A steal.

PLATYPUS_0001PLATYPUS – Ice Cycles (2000 InsideOut)

Platypus are:  Ty Tabor – Guitars & vocals (King’s X).  John Myung – Bass (Dream Theater).  Derek Sherinian – Keys (Dream Theater, Alice Cooper, Kiss).  Rod Morgenstein – Drums (Dixie Dregs, Winger).

From the information above, you already know several things: 1. Platypus is a supergroup. 2. This is going to have plenty of incendiary playing on it. 3. It’s gonna be progressive. Much like their first album (this is their second), it’s also gonna be fun!

If you’re a fan of any of these guys, you will love to hear them in this band’s context. There are plenty of King’s X-isms, but the personalities of the players have their own influences. Nobody plays drums like Rod Morgenstein, and I always enjoy the chance to hear him work.

The opening track, “Oh God” is quite heavy, with quieter keyboard moments. The track has some serious weight to it. Ty of course is a melodic singer, so that balances it. It’s just one of several standout tracks.  “Better Left Unsaid” has a pleasant aura, similar to Faith Hope Love-era King’s X, but with Sherinian’s keyboards lending a completely different sound. Myung doesn’t play bass like Dug Pinnick does, but he does create a thick sound. Morgenstein’s drums have marching band precision.

PLATYPUS_0002The heavy melody-driven “The Tower” really gets the engine running during the chorus. The verses lack a bit, but that chorus section is furious, as is the guitar solo. The piano tinkle of “Cry” has a moment that is playfully lifted from Alice Cooper’s “I Love the Dead”, but the chorus is like Alice In Chains! This is a complex track, not instantly likable. Give it some time to sink in. Morgenstein, once again, leaves jaws on the floor.

My favourite tracks are two: the brief “I Need You”, which has the lush Tabor vocals that we know and love.  This track is probably the most like King’s X, coincidentally.  Then there’s the smoking hot “25” with its Dream Theater keys and Zeppelin guitars.  There’s also a Rush riff in there somewhere.  This is one of only two instrumentals on the album, but it sure is a corker!  Just stunning.

The final track can only be called an epic.  “Partial to the Bean (A Tragic American Quintology)” is a instrumental that goes all over the board, in seven parts.  If you’ve heard instrumental epics by these players before then I’m sure you know what you’re up against.  A challenging but rewarding listen.

That can be said for the album in general.  It’s a rewarding listen that will, at times, challenge you.  I like that.

3.5/5 stars

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994) + bonus “Pillow” promo single review
Part 8 – Ear Candy (1996)
Part 9 – Best of King’s X (1997)
Part 10 – Tape Head (1998)
Part 11 – POUNDHOUND – Massive Grooves from the Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (1998 Doug Pinnick/Jerry Gaskill)
Part 12 – Please Come Home…Mr. Bulbous (2000)

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Last Temptation (1994 CD, comic books)

Warning:  image heavy review!

LAST TEMPTATION_0001ALICE COOPER – The Last Temptation (1994)

When this album first came out, the local music geeks and I spent a lot of time discussing it. The foremost argument was, “What influence did grunge have on The Last Temptation?” While this is by no means a grunge album, I think there is a subtle grunge influence, and The Last Temptation is all the better for it.

The Last Temptation was heavier…more serious…more raw in production. These are all trends that grunge helped usher in. Alice had taken a bit of a slip, quality-wise, in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The Last Temptation was the album he needed to release in 1994.  While it was not a commercial success, it excited the long time fans.  It was the kind of thing we’d really missed from Alice, since the 1970’s.

The most obvious grunge influence is that Chris Cornell of Soundgarden wrote two songs and co-sings one. “Stolen Prayer”, the best song on the album, is Cornell’s, and his pipes have never sounded so good. Grunge forced a lot of hard rockers to drop the glossy production sheen of the 80’s, get serious a little bit on the lyrics, and write harder songs. This is evident in the world of Alice. This album spends a lot of time on the temptation of drugs, and while many rock fans might cringe at the idea of Alice delivering a “message” to us, this really is nothing new for our favourite masked rock star. He’s been serious before, on some of his finest moments in fact, but he always makes his messages fun to listen to and sing along with. West Side Story has always been a huge influence on Alice as fans know, and The Last Temptation is another album that shows this Broadway influence. “Bad Place Alone”, for example, has a chorus that sounds influenced by musicals.

LAST TEMPTATION_0007Alice is nothing if not ambitious. The Last Temptation was Alice’s first “true” concept album since DaDa in 1983. In fact there was a even three-part Neil Gaiman comic book available at the time to help flesh out the story. One edition of the CD came with issue #1.  Here you can find images from all three issues.

Marvel went all out on these comics.  The covers are hard stock, and the artwork inside by Michael Zulli is detailed and, at times, horrifying.  The colour palette evokes autumn (the story is set in October).  Even Alice himself appears as the Showman character, but the protagonist is (of course) Steven.  These comics were later reissued in a trade paperback, but all are affordable today, running at about $4 each.  The most desireable edition is probably the rare one that came backed with the CD:  issue #1, with a white border.

Musically, Alice is at the very top of his game here. Gone is the gloss. In fact, the opening track “Sideshow” sounds so much like the 70’s that you could swear it’s from the original Welcome To My Nightmare record. Awesome horn sections, great riff, killer lyrics; you’ll be singing this one for days after hearing it. “Nothing’s Free” rips off “Billion Dollar Babies” somewhat with the opening drum hook, but you won’t be complaining when you hear it. Most likely you’ll be pumping your fists to it. The first single “Lost In America” is a fast, tight rock song with insanely catchy lyrics, very different from a lot of stuff Alice had done in the 80’s.

The rest of the album is strong, with “It’s Me” being the sole ballad. “Stolen Prayer” is an absolute diamond.  Chris Cornell sings on the choruses with that classic, incredible 90’s Soundgarden voice.  Although the song is largely acoustic and mellow, the best word I can use for it is “epic”.  It’s a classic, and I believe that to be the reason that Alice used it to close his comprehensive box set, The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper.  (Cornell also wrote the track “Unholy War”, solely — even the lyrics, which Alice used without modification.)

Overall the direction of the album is dark and catchy, with great playing from the entire cast and Alice spitting out the words as only he can. The fact that most of these songs were played live on tour is a testament to the strength of the material and Alice’s confidence that he had made yet another classic album.

The Last Temptation is a record that is sadly unknown to many casual rock fans. However, anybody who loved Welcome To My Nightmare would be well advised to pick this up. They might find that Alice has built a musical time machine, an album that sounds timeless despite its 1994 release date. It may not be a grunge album, but I think we owe a thanks to the grunge movement for helping Alice make the strongest record he’d done since 1975.

What happens to Steven? You’ll just have to listen and find out.

5/5 stars