Kiss

Kiss Symphony: Alive IV

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It has to be quite a thrill to count off "one, two, three, four...hit it!" and have a full orchestra launch into the same power chord you are. Kiss got to experience it during a one-off show with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and Alive IV is the document. The band is continuing the makeup revival that started in 1996, but Ace Frehley has moved on, taking his oddball tunes and loose attitude with him. In a move that fans might see as sacrilege, former Black 'n' Blue guitarist Tommy Thayer has assumed the role of the Spaceman, and the Melbourne show was his debut. Considering the monolithic pressure put upon him, it's no surprise he plays it straight, often too straight. It's just one of the disappointments on an album dragged down by a muddy mix and under-rehearsed interaction of band and orchestra. Kiss plays without the orchestra for the first six numbers, most of which have shown up in better versions on the first two editions of Alive. Gene Simmons' bass is pushed further down in the mix than ever, and only the most die-hard fan would want a live version of "Psycho Circus." The Melbourne Symphony Ensemble joins for the rest of the first disc, accompanying retreads of MTV Unplugged performances minus the excitement of a freshly reunited Kiss. Simmons' vocal is an embarrassment as it struggles through "Goin' Blind," but the appearance of Unmasked's "Shandi" is a pleasant surprise. The extra strings work fine over this easygoing chamber version of Kiss. The full orchestra shows up, in Kiss makeup of course, for the whole of the second disc. It sounds more bloated than bombastic as the mix ping-pongs between crunchy guitars and disco-style string and horn flourishes. Other than the inspired counterpoint in "God of Thunder" and "Love Gun," the orchestra is given little to do but imitate the band's simple melodies. In an especially wicked moment, Destroyer's arrangement of "Great Expectations" reappears with its unwholesome mix of children's choir and groupies-in-waiting lyrical content. A couple other grand moments make the record more satisfying than the pointless Alive III. Sadly absent is Frehley's cool demeanor, always a relief from Simmons and Paul Stanley's pompous swagger. He's definitely missed on Alive IV and a 60-piece orchestra can't make up for it. [Sanctuary reissued the album in 2008.]

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