Released: 2003, Sanctuary Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Ever the showmen, Kiss has found a way to make itself even larger and grandiose—performing with the 60-piece Melbourne Symphony Orchestra! Since Kiss has done everything from comic books to condoms, caskets to credit cards, the orchestral collaboration seemed like the next “big” step in their 30-year career. This “event” was not the first pairing of a hard rock band with an orchestra. Deep Purple did it in 1970, The Scorpions did it last year and the most obvious is Metallica’s dismal S&M project from 1999. On their S&M record, Metallica failed to gracefully insert the backing orchestra into their music. It often sounded as if two songs were being played simultaneously, yet slightly out of synch. The once powerful Metallica actually seemed to take a back seat to the Michael Kamen-led San Francisco Symphony. Kiss, on the other hand, has succeeded in becoming one with the orchestra. Each song blends the horns and strings with the drums and guitars perfectly to create an interesting listening experience. For the most part, the songs are not radical departures from the originals, but they do reflect what a proper symbiosis of rock and classical music can be. Also of note is that ALIVE IV is the first recorded performance of Ace Frehley’s replacement, Tommy Thayer, on lead guitar. He fills Ace’s platform boots nicely, handling the difficult solos and familiar riffs as if the Space Ace never left.
The first CD is made up of 2 parts: a “typical” Kiss show with the 4 members performing their respective instruments on Act I, followed by Act II which utilizes a scaled down version of the orchestra to perform an acoustic set with the band. Act I has the usual bombast of a Kiss show. The band chose the 6 songs carefully to reflect each period of their career. The performances are nothing special or extraordinary from other the other live albums but one gets a sense of how the band has evolved. Act II is a more stripped down set with 5 ballads. While “Beth” is an unfortunate but expected part of any Kiss show, hearing the band play “Shandi” (their first hit in Australia) and “Forever” (co-written with Michael Bolton—shudder!!) is a nice treat and both are done wonderfully. Don’t expect to hear these during a regular Kiss show, so enjoy them while you can!
Act III is where things start to get really interesting. Kiss’ best-known studio album is 1976’s DESTROYER. Of the nine songs on that album, six are represented here just on the second CD alone (and “Beth” on Disc #1)! Could this be called “The DESTROYER Suite”?? “Detroit Rock City”, “King of the Night Time World”, “Do You Love Me?”, “Great Expectations”, “Shout It Out Loud” and “God of Thunder” are played in succession to kick off the disc. I suppose the most obvious choice for inclusion with the orchestra is “Great Expectations”. The original featured a boy’s choir and for ALIVE IV, the Australian Children’s Choir does a great job. The best songs of the bunch are “Detroit Rock City”, with its prominent horn section, and “God of Thunder”, with the orchestra providing excellent atmospheric string fills to make the song even creepier. The other highlight from Act III is “Black Diamond”, which features Peter Criss on lead vocals. This song has always been one of my favorites and this version is damn near as good as the original.
When I first heard that the New Year’s Eve 1999/2000 show that Kiss performed in Vancouver was going to be used for ALIVE IV, I was excited because I was at that very show. Contractual negotiations caused the album to remain on the shelf and finally the band decided that the orchestra idea would make for a more unique (i.e. bigger-selling) experience. All biases aside, this was the right choice, given that the band already has ALIVE!, ALIVE II, ALIVE III, MTV UNPLUGGED, and YOU WANTED THE BEST, YOU GOT THE BEST as records of their legendary live shows. For those of us who could not make the trip to Australia for this once-in-a-lifetime show, ALIVE IV is an excellent reference piece. The Kiss Symphony will also be released as a DVD this September.