Casablanca Records, 1975
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/30/1998
Since its release in 1975, fans of rock music have fawned over Kiss's Alive! as one of the best live albums ever released. They've claimed that this album captured the true energy of a live show featuring Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Paul Stanley and Peter Criss.
Had I been a rock critic in 1975 (which would have been tough, seeing that I would have been four years old), I probably would have questioned why a band would release a live album after only three studio efforts, all of which came out in less than a two-year span. (Then again, I think that very little in the music industry would surprise me.)
All that said, Alive! is indeed an accurate portrait of a typical Kiss show, and is still enjoyable 23 years after it came out, though I'm not ready to elevate it to sainthood like other fans.
Capitalizing on the success their single "Rock And Roll All Nite" had started to earn for the band, Kiss came out with their first live effort, beginning what is considered the glory period for the band. And from the sound of things, it sounded like they knew how to put on a great rock show back then. (I was fortunate enough to catch Kiss during their 1996 tour - son of a gun, it almost felt like I was in the audience during the taping of Alive!)
Frehley's guitar skills were still very much in development, though he proved himself to be a more than capable axeman. (And to answer the question now, I don't think Frehley came into his own as a guitarist until 1987's Frehley's Comet album.) Simmons may surprise some people with his skills on the bass - he's no Geddy Lee, but he knows how to work his four-string into a groove. Stanley's rhythm guitar work is solid, while Criss's drumming (overindulgent drum solo excluded) is a powerful backbone to the music.
If anything, Alive! could be called a live greatest-hits collection for the first two years of Kiss's career. Songs like "Hotter Than Hell" and "Got To Choose" take on a whole new life here, proving that the live setting is more productive for them than the confines of the studio. Why some songs were included I'd call into question, like "100,000 Years" and "C'mon And Love Me" - but I'd have to admit I don't think I could name other songs that should have gone on the album in place of them.
But is Alive! one of the ultimate "must-own" live albums? Frankly, I dunno. It is good, no question about that. But it's not the greatest live album ever released, and it still shows some limitations of live recording. Stanley's crowd inciting is weak, at best - I've been to enough shows, and I know there are better ways to get audience members to blow out their vocal chords. More limiting is the fact that a Kiss show is 50 percent audio, 50 percent visual, and it's really hard to translate the images one would see on stage onto an audio recording. They do try - I'll give them credit for that.
Alive! is worth picking up if you fall into one of two camps: you're a diehard Kiss fan, or you're interested in discovering the band past the hits and some of the modern-day work. I know there are other collections that would do the job just as well ( Smashes, Thrashes & Hits or Double Platinum), but Alive! is a pretty accurate portrait of a band about to cross the threshold into superstardom, and it's kind of interesting to hear them just before they jumped over that line.