Graded on a Curve:
Kiss, Alive!

Kiss: The McDonald’s of Rock! The ultimate mass-produced fast food for your ears! Over 100 million albums served and counting! Hell, they actually kinda LOOK LIKE Ronald McDonald! And their concerts should have drive thru windows!

Which is to say that while other bands may produce better songs, when it comes to dependable lowest-common-denominator rock product, Kiss makes most (if not all) of your other hard rock outfits look like mom and pop burger joints.

But I’m not slagging ‘em. No matter highly evolved your tastebuds may be, don’t you ever get the unshakable hankering to sink your teeth into a Mickey D’s cheeseburger? They’re so wrong they’re right! And it’s just like that with Kiss. I can make fun of the make-up and the dumbed down music (they make Grand Funk sound smart!) but when push comes to shove I can’t resist songs like “Strutter” and “Black Diamond” and “Rock and All Nite” any more than I can a holster of McDonald’s fries. They’re greasy and taste great with salt on ‘em!

And THEE DEFINITIVE Kiss product is of course 1975’s Alive!, which in the great seventies live el pee tradition is a twofer and as such probably one LP too long, but who’s counting? Think of it as a double Happy Meal! As a graduate of the Class of ’76 I couldn’t escape this baby, everybody owned a copy on 8-track and played it nonstop in their cars as they rolled down the main drag of Littlestown, Pennsylvania (which was so small it didn’t EVEN HAVE a McDonald’s) looking for girls WHO DIDN’T EXIST, that is when they weren’t playing Frampton Comes Alive! (which in the great seventies live tradition was a double album as well).

Alive! offers up a brutal, non-stop ear pummeling and sounds like the no-nonsense din mastodons would have made had they possessed electric guitars and opposable thumbs, and if you’re looking for SMART you’d better look elsewhere cuz this shit is, as one of their songs defiantly announces, the absolute “Rock Bottom.” Most of it is abominable poontang hunter jive; with the exception of “Cold Gin” Kiss leaves “drugs” out of the great sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll equation, and I’ll betcha Gene “I have hard proof I’ve banged 5000 chicks” Simmons could do without the rock’n’roll part as well.

Lotsa folks have gone on record calling Alive! a classic but not me–a Kubuki Kitsch Cultural Touchstone and major signifier of the Dazed and Confusion Generation for sure, but a classic? There’s simply too much sameness to these blustering songs; you know how almost all of Emily Dickinson’s poems can be sung to the tune of “A Yellow Rose From Texas”? Well, almost every one of Kiss’ songs sounds uncannily like Cheech & Chong’s “Earache My Eye.”

If the best thing about a McDonald’s cheeseburger is that you know exactly what you’ll be getting, that you can be 100 percent guaranteed that every McDonalds cheeseburger is going to taste exactly like every other McDonald’s cheeseburger, do you really want to eat 16 McDonald’s cheeseburger in one sitting, especially when one of ‘em (“She”) is a Big Mac and another (the appropriately titled “100,000 Years”) is two fucking Big Macs served up with an off-the-menu order of boring drum solo? Then again, my old L-Town buddy Bradley Kindig was known to devour three Wendy’s triples WITH fries, and he could have downed this baby in one bite!

Which ain’t to say I don’t love the best of ‘em; there’s a reason the Replacements and Redd Kross covered “Black Diamond” and “Deuce” respectively, and both the Donnas and Extreme have covered “Strutter.” And they ain’t alone; If I were to reform my old band Lesbian Boy tomorrow I would sure as hell cover the hand-clapping great “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll,” and “Nothin’ to Lose” while I was at it. At their best these barbarians sink their incisors into a primitivist two-chord riff and never let go, and while Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley ain’t what I’d call great lead singers, they BOTH remind me of the Dictators’ Handsome Dick Manitoba (minus the sense of humor, unfortunately), and I LOVES me some Handsome Dick.

Look, you would have to be an even bigger party-pooper and nattering nabob of negativity than me to shit on this baby, which despite all the overdubs and (possibly) canned audience noise taps into the human lizard brain in much the same way as the Nuremberg Rallies did, except (and we should all be grateful) these four cretins were selling rock and roll every night and party every day instead of racial supremacy and Lebensraum.

What else can I say about Kiss? Well, not only have their put their official imprimatur on a line of coffins (Kiss Kaskets!), my old pal Ian just wrote to tell me about a patient at the mental institution where he works who instantly identified “Strutter” as Ian was playing it, making “Strutter,” in Ian’s words, “the official anthem of 62-year-old, rural Utah, Jack Mormon, registered sex offender, mental patients.”

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B

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