The 1996 reunion of Kiss’ original lineup has led to overlooking the actual significance this MTV Unplugged live album has in Kisstory. We are here to portray its true relevance.
Written by: DaveT
ALBUM: MTV Unplugged
LABEL: Mercury, MTV Music Television
SERIAL: 314 528 950-2
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: Paul Stanley – vocals, guitar * Gene Simmons – bass, vocals * Bruce Kulick – guitar * Eric Singer – drums, vocals
Additional Musicians: Ace Frehley – guitar, vocals * Peter Criss – drums, vocals * Phillip Ashley – piano (11) * Jon Grindstaff – conductor, string arrangements (11)
TRACK LISTING: 01 Comin’ Home * 02 Plaster Caster * 03 Goin’ Blind * 04 Do You Love Me * 05 Domino * 06 Sure Know Something * 07 A World Without Heroes * 08 Rock Bottom * 09 See You Tonight * 10 I Still Love You * 11 Every Time I Look At You * 12 2000 Man * 13 Beth * 14 Nothin’ To Lose * 15 Rock And Roll All Nite * 16 Got To Choose (Japan bonus track)
WEBLINKS: Site Link
The MTV Unplugged session held on August 9, 1995 prompted the 1996 reunion of Kiss’ original lineup: Paul, Peter, Ace & Gene for those unaware. This important historical fact has led to overlooking the actual significance this live album has in Kisstory. We are here to portray its true relevance.
After the Kiss conventions tour of 1995, one of which saw Peter as special guest in Burbank, CA, plus a couple of rehearsals from the original lineup at SIR studios in New York, Kiss jumped to the fancy stage decorated in Rock And Roll Over style at Sony Studios in NYC for an unplugged set crowned by a mini set with the originals, the only one ever played by the latter without makeup.
Kiss was at an all-time low business-wise after the rise of Grunge. Musically and performance-wise, that’s another story we are intending to tell.
The first eleven songs feature the then-current Kiss lineup of Stanley/Simmons/Kulick/Singer while for ‘2000 Man’ and ‘Beth’, Frehley and Criss substituted Kulick and Singer respectively, both of whom returned to the stage for the last two songs played with three guitars and two drum sets.
During the rehearsals, Frehley tried an acoustic version of his signature song ‘Shock Me’. The highly challenging nature of the guitar solo made the band change their minds in favor of ‘2000 Man’, a Rolling Stones cover Ace had made his own for ‘Dynasty’.
Several facts give the album a special status. It’s the only Kiss official live recording without overdubs, as the fantastic 2CD bootleg ‘Uncut & Completely Unplugged’ (which is the full concert) proves. Moreover, the setlist is a Kiss fan’s wet dream including obscure songs off their catalogue and even one from the disowned ‘(Music From) The Elder’.
Lastly, the performance is top notch. That lineup was the most accomplished ever as instrumentalists in my book and their work was a catalyst for Ace’s and Peter’s performances as well. Notice also how relaxed they look on the accompanying video and how confident they sound as consummate professionals enjoying the gig, Simmons even smiling most of the times.
As it happens with the best live performances, several songs come off as definitive versions like the opening one-two of the obscure album tracks ‘Comin’ Home’ and ‘Plaster Caster’, the dark ‘Goin’ Blind’ that recovers its original lyrics ‘Little Lady from the land beneath the sea’ from Simmons’s 1970 original demo called ‘Little Lady’, plus ‘Sure Know Something’ and a hard-hitting version of ‘Rock Bottom’.
Simmons shows his Beatlesque face on the silky ‘See You Tonight’ and the surprising appearance of ‘A World Without Heroes’, the only official live release of a ‘(Music From) The Elder’ song. Stanley was at a vocal peak during the times of the recording, and his bluesy acapella impromptu during ‘I Still Love You’ is out of this world.
The refreshing rendition of the ballad ‘Every Time I Look At You’ with a featured string section also proves Bruce Kulick did not deserve to be replaced by the great, late Dick Wagner (Alice Cooper) for Revenge’s studio version, such is the quality and feeling of his live guitar solo, not too far from the original.
While all songs deserve a mention, a very special one goes for ‘Beth’. Stripped down to an acoustic ballad in A minor (the relative to C major, the easiest of all music keys), Criss’ impassioned vocals and Frehley’s perfect acoustic solo built the definitive version of the Destroyer’s hit single.
A hillbilly version of ‘God Of Thunder’, ‘Hard Luck Woman’ sung by Stanley and ‘C’mon And Love Me’ were left off the album and kept only for bootlegs amongst other songs and snippets.
This is perhaps the most magic moment of Kiss’ career. Back in those simpler pre-Internet or early-Internet times, many fans broke into tears of joy at the sight of Peter and Ace unexpectedly entering the stage for ‘2000 Man’. As I’ve stated in a previous article, the band have always been synonymous with singalong melodies and catchy songs. The unplugged environment makes it even easier to perceive these qualities.
Why not giving it a perfect rating? It’s not related to the superb performance, but I’m taking a license here, I would have asked Kiss to give the pop perfection of Shandi (a song they had played during the Australian leg of the convention tour) the MTV unplugged treatment. Finally, no. Nirvana‘s own ‘MTV Unplugged In New York’ does not even come close to this monumental live album. Far from it. Do not believe mainstream media’s hype, listen and draw your own conclusions.
A World Without Heroes