Released: 2001, Mercury
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Christmas always brings a wave of greatest hits collections, career retrospective box sets and other contractual obligation releases that make perfect gifts for hungry music fans. For years, Kiss had been promising "the mother of all box sets" to its fans. Finally, they have delivered this 5 CD mammoth and it was definitely worth the wait. Available in three different versions, THE BOX SET finally makes available many recordings that fans were only able to hear on badly dubbed, umpteenth-generation bootlegs, and some songs that have never been available before at all. Of course, the requisite studio and live versions are thrown in as well. Overall, this is an excellent retrospective of the band's 30 year career and even includes some recordings from the pre-Kiss years, going as far back as 1966.
The packaging varies depending on which version you purchase. The basic version will set you back around $120 CDN and comes in a black, encyclopedia-sized case, which houses 5 CD's and a 120-page soft-cover booklet. The limited edition "Deluxe Guitar Case" version runs around $250 CDN, and it comes in a 19" x 9" x 3" replica guitar case with red velvet-lined insides, the same 5 CD's, the same 120-page book but in hard cover form, and a note from the band. For the fan where money is no object, the "Premium Gold Edition" costs around $1,300 CDN, but along with the 5 CD's and hardcover book, you also get an official RIAA certified copy of Kiss' breakthrough ALIVE! gold record award fitted in a full-size 46" x 16" x 4" custom guitar case, along with special reissue ALIVE! handwritten liner-notes from the band individually printed in gold ink on parchment paper. Personally, I sprung for the Deluxe Guitar Case version and found it on eBay for only $110 US and it was still in the original plastic. Not too shabby! If it's just the music you're after, save your money and stick with the regular version. If you're a HUGE Kiss fan, treat yourself and go for the guitar case just for bragging rights. I love the packaging and the guitar case looks really cool.
Despite umpteen greatest hits, best of’s and other collections, THE BOX SET finally houses all the band’s classic studio and live highlights together in one comprehensive package. “Black Diamond,” “Parasite,” “Rock And Roll All Nite,” “Detroit Rock City,” “Beth,” “I Was Made For Lovin’ You,” “I Love It Loud,” “Lick It Up,” “Heaven’s On Fire,” “Forever,” “Unholy” and “Psycho Circus”…these are just the tip of the iceberg! Along with over 60 studio tracks from their storied career, the band has included a slew of demos that have never been released before. On the first disc, the master recordings of the long-bootlegged Wicked Lester sessions, as well as their first demo that led to their first album are nice to hear in such cleaned up form. Some early pre-Kiss demos are a collector’s dream. Also of note is the only live performance of the track, “Acrobat,” which would go on to become “Love Theme From Kiss” on the first record. The second disc contains the original demo of “God Of Thunder” with Paul Stanley on vocals as well as several Gene Simmons demos, most of which are, unfortunately, completely forgettable. The third and fourth discs focus on the albums of the time and are expendable in terms of rare stuff, with only five tracks in total being previously unreleased. Of these, “Time Traveler” featuring Paul Stanley and “Ain’t That Peculiar” are the most interesting. “Time Traveler” is a demo from 1986 that could easily have fit onto their CRAZY NIGHTS album, while “Ain’t That Peculiar” is some rare input from perhaps Kiss’ greatest drummer, Eric Carr. Disc five finishes up the final years of the band and has a track that is special to me—“Rock and Roll All Nite”—that was recorded right here in Vancouver on New Year’s Eve 1999/2000…and I was there!! This track was supposed to be part of ALIVE IV that was being recorded that night, but unfortunately got scrapped in favor of the pairing with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. “It’s My Life” is a scrapped track from 1998’s PSYCHO CIRCUS album that had been on the bootleg circuit for almost 20 years before finally being recorded properly by the band for that album.
WHEW…94 tracks covering 33 years of Kisstory is a lot to take in. There is over 6 hours of material here and the extensive book features track-by-track notes, so plan on taking an entire day to absorb the whole package. This is the best representation that I can think of for one of the most influential and enduring bands in the history of hard rock music. Of course, there are songs that I would have included and others I would not but overall, Kiss has given the fans the best they have to offer with this box set. You wanted the best, you got the best!