You've Never Heard Kiss' 'Alive!'?!
Note: This is a recurring series in which we ask our unimaginably young interns to review classic albums they've never heard before. Jenna Strucko is an intern for NPR Music.
I know nearly nothing about heavy rock and metal music. And even if Kiss isn't exactly metal, it's still much heavier than what I'm used to. From what knowledge base could I possibly write about this band? Up until this point, the closest I'd come to Kiss was singing along to the refrain of Wilco's nostalgic "Heavy Metal Drummer." Well, maybe that's not entirely true — I did see Kiss in those Dr. Pepper commercials during the Super Bowl a few years back...
Regardless, the question remained — how could I get the full Kiss experience in one album? Considering the band's theatricality, it seemed a good jumping-off point would be a live record. So Alive! was my Kiss record of choice, an early live album that predates the band's forthcoming 2012 release by 37 years (which, in the spirit of full disclosure, is nearly twice my age).
Maybe my exposure to the commercials as my only basis for Kiss are to blame, but as I listened to Alive! the picture in my head — pyrotechnic light displays, men in makeup jump-shredding their guitars, and screaming fans drowned out by mile-high speakers — took over anything else.
As a result, I found that the music by itself didn't satisfy my expectations. From the distinct sound of a firework cannon at the start of "Deuce," I found myself sitting at my computer itching to type "Kiss live videos" into my search bar. I sensed that by just listening to the live recordings, I wasn't quite getting the full experience.
Unfortunately, this is not a "You've Never Seen" piece, and so I resisted the urge to see Kiss instead of hear Kiss, and instead decided to focus on the music and see what I could learn.
The more I listened, the more I was frustrated by Alive! There were times when a catchy riff would command my attention, but for the majority of the record I felt as though I was trapped unwillingly at a repetitive, never-ending concert. All the songs began to sound alike to me. Even the guitar solos that should be the pinnacle of a song — which, I discovered, very predictably begin between 2:15 and 2:30 on nearly every track — became interchangeable. If the guitar solos from "Rock Bottom," "Got to Choose," "Firehouse" or "Nothin' to Lose" were placed over the A-D-E chords of "Rock and Roll All Nite," I hardly would have been the wiser. They all sounded similar to me.
Even my initial interest in seeing the live performance dwindled down to annoyance that Kiss' musical output didn't meet the grandeur that its glam get-ups seem to promise. What's more, the lyrics weren't enough to save the music in my eyes. I love lyrics that challenge me, lyrics that push me to a new understanding of what I'm hearing, and lyrics like "She looked good, she looked hotter than hell" or "Oh, it's cold gin time again" just didn't really do that for me.
Now, I know that there are diehard Kiss fans out there — quite literally, since you can be buried in a Kiss casket if you so choose — and to them I would say that I understand the appeal of the experience that Kiss offers. Their personas, repetitive riffs and sing-along lyrics make for a carefree, mindless musical experience that can be shared by a large group of people, and there's comfort and camaraderie that results from that. I get that part, but I feel that in the case of Kiss, I just missed the boat, and I'm more than fine letting it sail away.