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KISS Box Set

By Frank Meyer, Contributing Editor
Friday, December 21, 2001 @ 4:06 PM


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KISS soldiers, this is what you have been waiting for. A five-disc retrospective that assembles re-mastered greatest hits, live cuts, unreleased nuggets, rare gems, and demos, this is the motherload for fans of these hard rock legends. As the back of the box states, this is the definitive collection.

Now let’s not squabble over whether KISS deserves such treatment or if they’re better than Aerosmith or the Coop, or if Gene Simmons is a creep or not. Let’s just assume that if you are here at KNAC.COM then you are a rocker and can at least acknowledge KISS’ influence on generations of musicians and fans alike and admit that having lasted past the 30 year mark makes them worthy of such n endeavor. So assuming we’re all on the same page with that, this leaves the primary question: for KISS-aholics that have been waiting their whole life for such a treasure, is this as good as it could’ve possibly been? Is this worth the wait?

The answer is yes…hell yes.

Each disc spans a significant period of the band and collects some choice hits, some fan favorites and some rarities. The first three CDs (which cover 19966 – 1982) are obviously a bit more exciting as the band was at it’s peak with the original lineup of Simmons, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss, and Ace Frehley on most tracks, yet each disc stands up quite well, with no real clunkers to be found. Obviously the unreleased tracks are the most fun so we’ll mainly mention those here.

Disc 1 contains three demos by Stanley and Simmons’ pre-KISS band, the much-bootlegged Wicked Lester -- “Keep Me Waiting,” “She,” and “Love Her All I Can.” The sound is poppier than KISS and they are certainly more overtly hippy sounding, but hearing early versions of KISS classics is actually quite intriguing. All the elements are there but the presentation isn’t nearly as bombastic. We also get early demos of “Strutter” and “Deuce,” both sounding a touch more glam but still as rockin’ as ever. Most noticeable on these songs is Stanley and Simmons’ use of harmony lead vocals. This trick is used much less prominently on the final versions of the songs. We also get some tracks from the infamous 1973 Bell Sound sessions in the form of “Let Me Know,” “1000,000 Years,” “Let Me Go Rock n’ Roll,” and “Firehouse.” These tracks have all floated around the KISS bootleg circuit for years but never with such pristine sound quality. Other highlights include a 1966 Paul Stanley demo of “Stop, Look To Listen,” a 1969 Gene Simmons demo of “Leeta,” and rip roarin’ live version of “Acrobat” from The Daisy in 1973. In between we get klassic kuts from KISS, Hotter Than Hell, and Dressed To Kill.

Disc 2 features mega-hits from Alive!, Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over, and Love Gun but a little less in the way of rarities. The coolest part here though is that you can hear the evolution of songs as they made their way from rough demos to completely different songs. The demo of the unreleased “Mad Dog” showcases the riff later used in “Flaming Youth,” while “Bad, Bad Lovin’” is basically a sketch of “Calling Dr. Love.” We also get the original version of “Doncha Hesitate,” a live soundcheck version of “I Want You,” and the demos of “God of Thunder,” “Mr. Speed,”and “Love Gun,” plus the unreleased Simmons acoustic ballad “Love Is Blind.”

Disc 3 contains tracks from Destroyer, Alive II, Dynasty, Unmasked, (Music From) The Elder, Creatures of the Night and the solo albums. One highlight is the smokin’ demo of Simmons solo hit “Radioactive,” which features an even rawer, dirtier groove that the original. The demo of “You’re All That I Want…” is equally cool and an unissued live version of “Talk To Me” is also a keeper. Fans will be delighted with the inclusion of the hard to find “Nowhere To Run,” previously only available on import versions of Killers. Again, a little less in the way of rarities, but every song is a winner.

Disc 4 basically covers the non-make up era of the ‘80s by way of Lick It Up, Animalize, Asylum, Crazy Nights, Hot In The Shade and the greatest hits comp Smashes, Trashes & Hits. You know, a lot of people will tell ya now that this era of the band -- which at various times included Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John, Bruce Kulick, and Eric Singer – was the weakest, but this CD makes a damn good case that it just ain’t so (see Disc 5 for that award). While the material is a little glossier than prime KISS and they certainly looked a lot goofier (and who woulda thought that NOT wearing Halloween makeup would look funnier than wearing it!), nearly every song here stands the test of time as an example of textbook rock n’ roll. With the exception of the cheesy “Crazy Nights” and the hilariously awful “Let’s Put the X in Sex,” every cut here is a homerun, including such hits as “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose,” “Heaven’s On Fire,” “Tears Are Falling,” and so on. Not much in the way of rarities but a demo of an unreleased Eric Carr tune called “Ain’t That Peculiar” and Crazy Nights leftover “Time Traveler” are thrown in for good measure

Disc 5 culls performances from the ‘90s output of the band, including Revenge, Unplugged, Carnival of Souls, the reunion album Psycho Circus, the soundtrack to Detroit Rock City, and the still unreleased Alive IV. The Greatest KISS live version of “Shout It Out Loud is spot on, as is the closing liver version of “Rock n’ Roll All Nite” from Alice IV. The demo for the radio rocker “Domino” is pretty faithful to the original but is a nice choice for inclusion nevertheless. Elsewhere, the unreleased coda to Carnival of Souls, “Childhood’s End,” is interesting if a tad boring. Two new KISS studio cuts round out the disc towards the end, and while the Diane Warren penned power ballad “Nothing Can Keep Me Away From You” is a little too pop for my taste, “It’s My Life” is pretty damn ass kickin’. Originally written for Wendy O’ Williams by Simmons (and she recorded it too!), this song is a mid-tempo classic Kiss-sounding riff rocker with a big sing-a-long chorus, huge baking harmonies and some lead vocals tradeoffs between Gene, Paul and Ace. Klassic KISS!!!

As with all official KISS companions these days, the packaging is top notch. The booklet is as thick as a novel and features tons of pictures in glorious full color. Every song is detailed with liner notes from Paul and Gene (mainly) and complete track information. For the purists and the completists, this is a goldmine. The booklet alone will keep ya reading on the crapper for weeks. While the last two discs aren’t quite as strong as the first three, they definitely ain’t scrap heap material either. Nope, KISS proves once again that they having staying power and still make sense after all these years. They also happen to know what it takes to impress rock fans even in the year 2002 and this box set is indeed very, very impressive.


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