KISS Alive! (Casablanca)
Based on the supposition that one way to discover the true merit of an artist or group is to track their career back to its source well, how do you think Ozzy would prefer to be remembered, as the bat-chewing reality television show veteran or the howling beast of Sabbaths original incarnation? here I am at reputedly one of the early peaks of Kisstory. I suspect that, as Mike Myers and Peter Buck have observed about Peter Frampton and Aerosmith respectively, theres something about early Kiss that encapsulates the adolescent experience in mid-1970s America: the recent, posthumously-released collection of early Elliott Smith material, New Moon, features in its packaging a photograph of the grinning pre-teen songwriter clutching a copy of Alive II, and such ubiquity explains covers of the bands songs by the likes of The Lemonheads and The Replacements, who mightve otherwise been presumed to exist way outside the Kiss catchment area.
Initially, at least, Kiss thumping, no-brainer bubblegum rock is actually quite exhilarating: theres a refreshing unpretentiousness to the likes of Deuce and Strutter. But Gene Simmons cliché-ridden performance (well, this was 1975 after all, and maybe his antics were considered fresh and exciting way back then) diminishes considerably in credibility after I realised that he sounds unnervingly like a greasepainted Muppet The Amazing Mumford, at a guess; I kept half-expecting him to holler A la peanut butter sandwiches!
Gene I have Polaroids of the 2000 women Ive slept with Simmons might not be the first person youd expect to receive a lecture on the joys of monogamy from but, on Got To Choose, there it is; shame he torches all those accrued correctness tokens with the knuckle-dragging likes of Parasite and She. Watchin You sounds like Led Zeppelins Trampled Under Foot, uh, trampled under foot, but the album really bottoms out on 10,000 Years; lasting roughly as long as its titular timeframe, its mainly taken up by a drum solo and Paul Stanleys ludicrous crowd-baiting routine: I wanna know how many people here tonight believe in rock n roll!. It doesnt sound like hes too concerned about the statistical validity of the response. Black Diamond is probably one of the better bits, if only because of its familiarity from The Replacements cover, which admittedly isnt quite as battered by pyrotechnics.
Whats most surprising about Alive! is how weedy it sounds think The Spiders From Mars on a pantomime engagement. Doubts have apparently been retrospectively cast on the accuracy of the albums title, with producer and engineer Eddie Kramer, a Hendrix and Zep veteran, remember, claiming on various occasions that only the drums or lead guitar remained from the original concert recordings. Paul Stanley has also commented that the album sounds as if it was recorded in a washroom.
As a take-home for the bands loyal fans, in a pre-video era Alive! arguably earned its stripes by providing, through fair means or foul, a close approximation to their idealised Kiss concert. Two steps removed from the truth, an escapist fantasy version of an escapist fantasy, perhaps its relevance has diminished over the years in ways that a completely accurate document of the 1975 Kiss concert experience might not have suffered.
KISS Dressed To Kill (Mercury)
Mysteriously, I find the mid-70s studio-bound Kiss experience far more appealing that Alive!, discussed a few issues ago. Maybe its the absence of that albums uningratiating bathroom acoustics and cheesy banter; perhaps it has something to do with the acoustic guitars frequently deployed to crispen the mix. Admittedly, most of Dressed To Kill sounds like The Spiders From Mars playing The Archies, and the songs rarely aspire to anything higher than teenage white boy wish fulfilment (opener Room Service being a prime example), frequently mired in an unreconstructed attitude to gender politics (yes, that means you, Ladies In Waiting and She), but on this showing Kiss bubblegum rock is mysteriously palatable.
The classical guitar introduction to Rock Bottom a real Lick My Love Pump moment if ever there was one takes up half the song here. On the other side of the sexism coin, the doe-eyed commitment of Anything For My Baby (a lobotomised, stadium rockin Byrds) and Love Her All I Can (the harmonies! The cowbell!) deserve recognition. The gang vocals and mentality of Rock And Roll All Nite are so inclusive (in a way that, for example, Led Zeppelin never were) I can almost see why people would want to buy into it by the million. I could complain about how that same puppeteers shrewdness is almost certainly responsible for the fact that the albums been pared down to a wafer-thin 30 minutes why make an album thats longer than it has to be when you could be shunting that material towards the next product, six months down the assembly line? but to do so might suggest that I wished it were longer. Could I really be enjoying it? Hmmm.