KISS’ new CD Sonic Boom — A Review [Originally posted on FB 10.08.09]

This isn’t going to be easy.

First, I admit upfront that I cannot be, nor claim to be objective when it comes to discussing KISS. I have 32+ years of baggage, miles, celebrations and memories tied to the band and the music, so I see everything, good and bad, through the wonderfully distorted prism of fandom. I’ve loved them, hated them, defended them, questioned motives and at times thought it was time to put KISS to bed and call it a long, loud career.

As long as you know that as you read, we’ll get along fine. Now, onto the review of, oh my god I can’t believe it…a NEW KISS ALBUM!

‘Sonic Boom’ is in many ways, one of the strongest records KISS has released. Does it match the ferocity and fun of classics like ‘Rock And Roll Over’ or ‘Destroyer’? Not a chance. Is it better than most of their 80’s catalog? Absolutely.

KISS now consists of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Eric Singer [wearing Peter Criss’ makeup] on drums and Tommy Thayer [sporting the makeup of Ace Frehley] on lead guitar. Many fans, your dear reviewer included, had a real problem seeing other people wearing the makeup of original members. That being said, this lineup is probably the most musically talented since 1992, when Simmons, Stanley and Singer had Bruce Kulick on guitar.

The songwriting on this record is really much better than I had ever hoped. Now, don’t think that means KISS have matured all that much, they’re still singing about girls, sex, rock and roll and the celebration of being able to rock 35 years into their career.

Some specifics:

‘Modern Day Delilah’ was the lead single and kicks off the disc. I admit, I didn’t think much of the song upon first listen, but, after hearing it a few times, it really is a strong track with great harmonies and a great vocal from Paul. The star of the track though, even perhaps the star of the record is Eric Singer. His drumming adds a zeal and energy that has been absent…well since he last worked in the studio with KISS in 1992. Now, I love Peter Criss and he will always be ‘the drummer in KISS’ but, Eric’s a better drummer, and his talent carries the entire project.

You want a timeline of how long KISS has been around? In 1988, Poison released a song called ‘Nothin’ But A Good Time’ a song that many KISS fans thought sounded very much like classic KISS. Now, twenty-one years later on the song ‘Never Enough’, KISS ‘borrow’ almost note for note, the riff from ‘Nothin’ But A Good Time.’ Is it possible for Poison to sue KISS for a song they stole from KISS in the first place?

Gene Simmons is now 60 years old. I say that as a fact, and maybe, just maybe, to let Gene know that people really don’t want to hear him sing lines like ‘Baby, it’s time to take off your clothes’. The song, ‘Yes I Know [Nobody’s Perfect]’ has a fun chorus and is damn catchy. It’s just when Gene starts pleading with the woman to ‘take off her clothes’, what sounded in 1976 like a plausible plot sounds now like a desperate, creepy old man. I like the song as a whole, but that lyric creeps me out.

‘Stand’ is the most interesting song for me on the record. It could have been written in the 1980s and been a throwaway track on ‘Crazy Nights’ or even ‘Asylum’ and I would have hated it. I think again the musicianship, the harmonies and even Paul’s vocal [where he can’t really scream the notes at times] all work to make it a great listen, a song that could be part of the live show if the band felt like flexing their musical muscle by playing new stuff on tour. It’s tailor made for the audience to sing along to, but doesn’t sound too calculating.

Now, a word about Tommy Thayer. I applaud him for stepping into Ace Frehley’s imposing platforms when asked. He’s not a bad guitarist at all. And, truth be told, if you tell Tommy to play a Les Paul through the same amplifier setup that Ace uses, it’s gonna sound a lot like Ace Frehley. The problem I have with Thayer’s playing on almost all of the solos is it sounds as if someone cut and pasted classic Frehley solos from the 70’s in ProTools and told Tommy to play them. The only truly original sounding solo on the disc is ‘Modern Day Delilah.’ Everything that follows from the lead guitarist leans too heavily on past KISS glories. As I listened, I could pick out riffs, sometimes even entire solos, which sounded like classic KISSongs. ‘She’ for example seems to be a favorite template for Thayer as, on almost every song, you can hear moments from him that sound like that song from 1975.

Now, the lyrics are strong for the most part, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some eye-roll inducing moments. For example, the entire chorus to ‘Danger Us’ which goes, [say it with me now]: ‘Danger You / Danger Me / Danger Us.’ Again, a catchy song, but the chorus should have been rewritten long before it was recorded. The other moment that made me laugh when I first heard it was, from ‘Hot and Cold, when the line [originally featured on a KISS Lick It Up Tour T-shirt in 1983] ‘If it’s too loud, you’re too old’ is sung with a straight face. Well, I guess if they’re gonna steal lyrics from KISS T-shirts, better to use that one than the one featured on KISSKON shirts in 1994: ‘F*** You! You Blew It!’

In a move that some might question, Eric and Tommy each get to sing lead on a song. Eric’s ‘All For The Glory’ is good but not great. It comes off as a reworking of the same theme addressed in the song ‘We Are One.’ Tommy’s ‘Lightening Strikes’ is the one song I just can’t warm up to on the record. His vocal sounds like a much younger Gene Simmons, and it’s not bad. It just isn’t interesting to listen to. I will say that it is at least listenable. The same can’t be said for when Bruce Kulick sang lead on a song on the ‘Carnival of Souls’ album in 1996, so Tommy has that going for him.

The disc closes with perhaps Paul’s best vocal of the project, ‘Say Yeah’, another song that would work in the live show if they wanted to add it. The one drawback from Paul throughout the entire album is, often he sounds like he’s struggling to hit notes that he could hit just a few years ago. It’s not his fault; I just think some of the songs are a bit too high for Paul to pull off his vocal feats of old. Again, it’s 2009, not 1976.

If someone had told me in 1979, when ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ was racing up the charts and on the radio, that a version of KISS would still be recording music in 2009, I would have thought they were insane. I’m glad they are still around and putting out music that doesn’t [for the most part] embarrass me. Nothing will equal the nadir of their studio career in embarrassment, the classless, stupid ‘Let’s Put The ‘X’ in Sex.’ They’ve come a long way since then, but not so far that they don’t sound like KISS.

KISS is indeed the virus that has infected rock and roll, and it can’t be killed.

I must be sick. I’m [still] a KISS fan.

PS- A word about the re-recorded KISS KLASSICS disc included with ‘Sonic Boom’: Why do this? What’s the point? The recordings aren’t bad but won’t get much airtime on my iPod, in favor of the classic versions I grew up with. Look for this re-recorded album to be re-released with the crowd noise from ‘KISS ALIVE II’ added and titled ‘KISS ALIVE IX’ or whatever version they’re up to by now. — BH