Released: 14 October 1977
Track List: Detroit Rock City; King of the Night Time World; Ladies Room; Makin’ Love; Love Gun; Calling Dr. Love; Christine Sixteen; Shock Me; Hard Luck Woman; Tomorrow and Tonight; I Stole Your Love; Beth; God of Thunder; I Want You; Shout It Out Loud; All American Man; Rockin’ in the USA; Larger Than Life; Rocket Ride; Any Way You Want It
Best song: “All American Man” overall, but “Detroit Rock City” of the live portion
Worst song: “Rockin’ in the USA” or “Any Way You Want It” on the studio portion; on the live portion, “Beth” or “Makin’ Love”
Well, a live album after the first three studio albums was a great idea; let’s do it again after the second three, right? Sort of.
Alive II has three quasi-live sides, cobbled together from a few sources: a live recording of Kiss at Budokan, and some soundchecks before shows at the Forum in LA with crowd noise dubbed in later. The fourth side of the double album is a set of five new studio tracks.
Secretly (at the time of release), Ace plays on only one of the studio tracks: the one he wrote. Paul plays all the guitars on another by himself, and the other three feature one Mr. Bob Kulick, who was the runner-up to Ace when the band formed in the first place. Paul stayed in touch with him and as Ace’s substance abuse got more and more out of control, he was recruited to cover for the damage. Still more years later, Bob’s kid brother Bruce will hold the position as Kiss’s lead guitarist for a decade. But back to 1977.
Alive II should be better than Alive!, because all of its live songs come from the second trilogy, which is uniformly better than the first. Right? Well, it doesn’t work out that way. For one thing, a few of the songs chosen are some of the lamer ones, notably (all together now!) “Beth” and “Hard Luck Woman”. For another, the mix on Alive! is brighter and clearer. Alive II, while decent, is a bit muddier than its predecessor, probably a result of trying to equalize its disparate sources.
There was apparently a minor misprint on some copies of the album packaging: the cover claimed “Take Me”, “Hooligan”, and “Do You Love Me?” were on the album, but they were not. Dear god, don’t I wish? Go back to my reviews of the previous trilogy and note: the first two are underrated, in my opinion, and the third is deservedly well-loved.
As with Alive!, I won’t dwell too much on the live portion of the album. The songs are definitely full of energy, but as I said, there’s a certain muddiness in much of the mix. “Detroit Rock City” and “King of the Night Time World” reprise their double-opener role from Destroyer and they do it well. “Ladies Room” is still a goofy song, but it definitely has more life in it (heh) here.
I gotta call it out: as great as “Makin’ Love” is, Paul changes the second “we do the things that we want to do” to “we do the things I want to do”, even emphasizing the new pronoun. It made me cringe as a kid before I even knew what feminism was. The choruses are also less engaging than in the original, changing a bunch of “makin’ love, makin’ love, makin’ love” iterations to just “looooooooooove”.
I told you when I reviewed Rock and Roll Over that I believe “Makin’ Love” was the dry run for “Love Gun”, and here, the songs are back to back. Thanks, guys! Unfortunately, “Love Gun” is okay, but it’s perhaps the clearest illustration of the problem with this album; where Alive! turned weak originals into entertaining songs, Alive II turns masterpieces into, well, merely okay. And that kinda summarizes most of the rest of the live tracks as well.
Now for the studio tracks. The first three feature Bob Kulick, sorta attempting to sound like Ace. Bob tells a story about running into Ace in the studio, where Ace sees Bob leaving and asks him, in that goofball Ace way, “So how was I?” and Bob replies “It was the best you ever played.” Ace apparently found it funny.
“All American Man” is the best of the lot. The riffs are juicy — they were not shy about having Bob prominent in the mix — and Paul is (for once) sorta taking Gene’s role as the “oh look, we got a badass here” character, down to some of Gene’s growling by the end of it. It’s what Kiss does best: a good sorta-dumb rocker.
“Rockin’ in the USA” is Gene’s paean to his adopted homeland (remember, his actual homeland is Israel!). Whatever. It’s filler. He name-drops a few places, badly: “I’ve been to England, too / there wasn’t much to do.” I suspect Gene was too busy getting laid to pay attention to good museums, good history, or good ale. Well, I know he didn’t pay attention to good ale, and I suppose I have to respect that choice, but what about the rest? If I’m gonna have jingoism, I’d like it to be well-informed and less repetitive.
On the other hand, Gene gives us what may well be his quintessence in song: “Larger Than Life”. He’s talking about “his love”, folks. “My love is larger than life.” And when he says “love”, well …
The thing is, the song is actually kinda catchy and goofy fun! It’s irrepressible! Just sit back and enjoy it. The song, that is.
“Rocket Ride” is Ace’s contribution to this side, and the only song on which he plays. Now it’s Ace’s turn to take a page from the Gene playbook: the rocket in question, well … do I need to include the GIF from Dr. Horrible a second time? No? Okay:
There we go.
The song is enjoyable, though; Ace has grown more confident in his singing, and rightly so; and when he plays, his guitar is pretty damned great. It’s just the right length (no pun intended in this context); he doesn’t dwell on the sex aspect so much, and keeps it “spacey” for the most part. Good stuff.
The last song, with only Paul on guitar, is “Any Way You Want It”, a cover of the Dave Clark Five song. The Five did it better. This version is a tad too slow, too polished, too professional, not vital enough. And we’re done.
One wants this album to be as good as its predecessor, and with three superior studio albums to draw upon, it should be, but … it isn’t. It’s not bad in itself, but when the studio versions sound more alive than this … well. Once again, many of these tracks aren’t really alive in the proper sense; soundchecks may replicate some of the acoustics of the arena, but the presence of an audience, even if the audience itself is silent, affects those acoustics, and certainly it affects the energy of the performers.
Watch any YouTube videos of actual live Kiss performances and you’ll see how much more they bring when their fans are in attendance. Two things you can never say about Kiss: you can’t say they didn’t work damn hard in the 70s, and you can’t say they didn’t try to deliver a hell of a show. It’s just a shame this album doesn’t capture it. Which makes the achievement of Alive!, if it’s not really live, all the more remarkable.