Released: 1996, Mercury Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
I guess it was inevitable; Kiss (like seemingly every other group who has ever recorded an album) HAD to do an MTV Unplugged special in the ‘90s. Most of the Unplugged shows were run-of-the-mill at best, but Kiss really did something special. Not only did they bring back Ace Frehley and Peter Criss as a surprise to play on stage (which they hadn't done together since 1980), put the band played some obscure songs from the "vaults", some of which they had never even played live before. This is exactly what made Nirvana's entry in the series so good! To me, this is what SHOULD happen on these Unplugged specials; have a few surprises and play some of the rare stuff or rework the hits--don't just play the same song the same bloody way) as on the album!
Kiss' musicianship really shines here. The intimate, acoustic setting allows the instrumentation and vocals to take center stage, rather than the theatrics Kiss is famous for. They’re a tight band, especially the rhythm section of Eric and Gene. Bruce and Ace (and even Paul) tear up the acoustic guitars, especially on “2,000 Man”, “Rock Bottom”, “Domino” and “Plaster Caster”. Paul still has some of the best lungs in the business as he shows us on “I Still Love You”. Gene's gravelly rasp has gotten worse over the last ten years but it is giving his voice a distinctive sound. True, he can't hit the high notes anymore but “Domino” has a real sleaziness to it thanks to Gene's voice. At the same time, Gene can still make those quieter songs like “A World Without Heroes” and “See You Tonight” sound great. And this version of “Goin' Blind” damn near beats the original! I've always felt that Gene could succeed as a singer rather than the growling demon who rips out songs like “God of Thunder” and “Calling Dr. Love”.
It’s nice to hear such rarities as “Comin' Home”, “See You Tonight”, and “Rock Bottom” brought out. To be honest, I'd never even really noticed “Comin' Home” from the HOTTER THAN HELL album but after giving it another listen, I was awakened to its possibilities. “See You Tonight” has always been one of my favorite Gene songs, and “Rock Bottom” has all the energy of the original. I really like these versions of “Goin' Blind”, “I Still Love You”, “2,000 Man”, and “Nothin' To Lose”. In fact, “Nothin' To Lose” is probably my favorite cut on the album. Having the "old" Kiss and the "new" Kiss play together was a great idea and Peter's singing really adds something extra to the song. “Every Time I Look At You”, though good to begin with, is accentuated even more with the string section.
I can't say too many bad things about Kiss: MTV UNPLUGGED. I really enjoyed it as it offers some fresh takes on old songs and some that are not available except on the original albums. It would have been nice to have Ace and Peter play throughout the set rather than just the last 4 songs, but I guess having them there at all was cool enough, despite all the crap that went down since they split. I have to wonder though if Bruce and Eric knew that their days were numbered at this point. It was a classy touch to keep them on stage when Ace and Peter came out but even they had to know what the fans wanted. What a feeling though playing with the original Kiss! The chemistry is there between Ace, Gene, Paul, and Peter for the first time in a long time and it really shows. After 15 years, the band finally gave the fans what they wanted: a Kiss reunion show. But greater things were still to come...