KISS – Sonic Boom (2009, KISS Records)
- Modern Day Delilah
- Russian Roulette
- Never Enough
- Yes I Know (Nobody’s Perfect)
- Hot And Cold
- All For The Glory *
- Danger Us
- I’m An Animal
- When Lightning Strikes **
- Say Yeah
*(Eric Singer on lead vocals)
**(Tommy Thayer on lead vocals)
Paul Stanley – Guitars & Vocals
Gene Simmons – Bass & Vocals
Tommy Thayer – Guitars & Vocals
Eric Singer – Drums & Vocals
Producers: Paul Stanley & Greg Collins
Total Time = 43:19
It’s been 11 years since KISS released a brand new album of new material. Back in 1998, the band released PSYCHO CIRCUS, the first album from the original KISS lineup of Peter, Paul, Ace and Gene in 20 years. The band was deep into their reunion success and the album came out to initial success…..then the power of the Internet took over and the project was exposed. PSYCHO CIRCUS was hyped as a unified band effort but plenty of information came out that not all the members contributed, some barely even played their instruments! The KISS machine took it’s first serious hit broadside and I never looked at my favorite band the same way again. Now I have SONIC BOOM in my hands, the first album with the current masked lineup including Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer. The album is the first to be released independently by the band (with Wal-Mart distribution) on their own label (KISS Records) and it’s being hyped as “Klassic KISS” in line with albums like KISS (1974), DESTROYER (1976) and LOVE GUN (1977). Co-founder Paul Stanley has taken over the reins of KISS musically as producer and he basically forced all the members (Gene Simmons in particular!) to write songs and play their own instruments to make this a true band effort. To call SONIC BOOM a classic KISS record in line with the band’s roots is what the KISS hype machine usually says about any new album that comes out. KISS is always going to hype anything they do with their usual grandiose bombast so the band’s credibility is always on the line. After the Reunion Tour of 1996-1997, the band took a ton of shots with PSYCHO CIRCUS, the Farewell Tour, replacing Ace & Peter with Tommy & Eric, Gene’s reality TV series and tons of merchandise. Any normal band would duck tail and run for cover but to KISS any press is good press and they have remained in the spotlight despite all the criticism. Even the talk of never releasing a new album was all talk!
The opening track is the first proper single, ‘Modern Day Delilah’. Having heard this song the most with local radio airplay and seeing the band in concert pre-release date, I have to say it’s a solid KISS song. It’s like a cross between the CREATURES OF THE NIGHT & REVENGE eras with a driving bassline and solid vocals. The song has a typical thick chunky Thayer riff, Singer uses his double bass technique to the fullest and there are good background vocals. There are a couple of lead vocal lines that sound a little familiar and KISS has never been afraid to borrow from themselves. I can hear a slight similarity on a couple of lines to a line from ‘When Your Walls Come Down’ on CRAZY NIGHTS (1987). Paul also sounds a little strained when hitting the high notes just like he did in concert, that could also be the way the song is supposed to be sung. Many KISS diehards will recognize the song title ‘Russian Roulette’ as one Gene has been trying to use for years. He finally gets to use it on SONIC BOOM and it’s another pretty good song recalling more REVENGE era. It has that heavy thick sound that defined mid-’90s KISS and you can hear some quick basslines that have similar counterparts in ‘Spit’ and ‘Paralyzed’ from REVENGE. It’s not a total copy, just a quick hit here and there, and Gene’s voice sounds pretty good considering that he’s had vocal issues live since 2003.
Every KISS album has an anthem and ‘Never Enough’ fits the bill perfectly. It kind of reminds me a little of ‘Raise Your Glasses’ from PSYCHO CIRCUS due to the song’s upbeat positive attitude and celebration of all good things. The problem is that the song sounds exactly like Poison’s ‘Nothin But A Good Time’…..seriously. The main guitar and vocal lines on the verses sound almost exact! I’ve sat there and sang the Poison lyrics and they fit. Paul had a problem like this on PSYCHO CIRCUS with ‘Dreamin’ because it sounded like Alice Cooper’s ‘Eighteen’ in certain parts. Eventually Alice sued and a settlement was reached, I hope Bret Michaels isn’t listening! Take the Poison connection out and you have a pretty good song, very upbeat ‘Shout It Out Loud’ style with a solid vocal from Paul. The return to the classic KISS style starts with ‘Yes I Know (Nobody’s Perfect)’ with Tommy Thayer channelling Ace Frehley for his guitarwork and Eric Singer simplfying his drum style to do his best Peter Criss. The song is very Rock ‘n’ Roll, not Hard Rock, and it could easily be mistaken for a late ’70s KISS song. Another good vocal performance from Gene with the classic lyric of “it’s time to take off your clothes”. Listen to the guitar solo and tell me Tommy can’t do Ace to a tee and Eric has Peter down to a science with that small touch of cowbell. A very ’70s style song and that’s what Gene & Paul mean when they say “Klassic KISS”.
Paul Stanley guided the direction of the album this time around and his influence is heard on ‘Stand’. It’s a strong co-lead vocal between Paul & Gene, something that they did successfully throughout their ’70s heyday, but it has that modern edge that could have fit onto Paul’s recent solo album LIVE TO WIN (2006). Very catchy and melodic with good background vocals and a breakdown mid-song that reminds me a little of the harmonized part in ‘God Gave Rock ‘n Roll To You II’ but not as long. This is one of my favorites of the album. More sexual innuendo from papa Gene with ‘Hot And Cold’ and more cowbell from Eric Singer. This is another solid Gene song with a ’70s style because Thayer does another good Ace impression and Singer drums down to Criss’ level. The background harmonies at the end of the song give it a vintage sound that could place this song on one of the first three KISS records. I’m not sure I like the fact that Thayer and Singer do good impressions of Ace and Peter, I would much rather have them put their own stamp on the songs. Singer has a solid double bass drum sound and Thayer has always been a talented guitarist, I just wish more of their personal talents would be used but the Starchild and the Demon are in charge.
The first chink in the armor comes with the Eric Singer lead vocal debut on ‘All For The Glory’. The vocal is pretty good, anyone who has seen KISS in concert since 1992 knows that Eric sings well with his performances on ‘Nothin to Lose’ and ‘Black Diamond’ specifically. It’s just a weak song lyrically but the performance is good. ‘Danger Us’ is another Paul Stanley song that could have easily fit on LIVE TO WIN with it’s modern edge. It has a bit of ’80s era KISS to it as well but the guitar work from Thayer sounds like Ace again so it gives that classic Kiss sound again. I like the bass line from Gene, it drives along with the main riff and provides a good base. This would be any even better song if Tommy could use his own guitar tone. Gene Simmons is the “God Of Thunder”, he is “Dr. Love”, and he’s a “War Machine”…..now he’s an “animal”. ‘I’m An Animal’ follows the direction of those type of big Gene songs and it has the heavy CREATURES/REVENGE sound…..I’d say more CREATURES. Of all the Gene songs on SONIC BOOM, I like this one the best. Very heavy, good vocal, heavy drums and crunching guitar…..Tommy finally gets to do his own thing and not the Ace thing. He gets to do his own thing again when he makes his lead vocal debut on ‘When Lightning Strikes’. Tommy sounds a lot like Gene vocally and I almost couldn’t tell the difference, if you put Gene on lead it would sound almost exact. Tommy’s vocals are complimented well with the background harmonies and the song has a modern feel to it. The guitar solo continues with the Ace Frehley tone but the overall song sounds mostly up to date. If you compare ‘All For The Glory’ with ‘When Lightning Strikes’ the difference is the songwriting but I’ll give both new masked men credit for performing very well. The final song is ‘Say Yeah’ and it has that modern upbeat sound Paul used on his last solo record. It’s got a melodic hook on the bridge to get you singing along but the main chorus is a little simple with it’s “say yeahs”. More Ace inspired solo work from Tommy but the overall guitar sound is very thick and modern. Another favorite from the album.
Let me just take some time to also mention the packaging and bonuses. The 4 panel full-color glossy digipak is very similar to ROCK AND ROLL OVER (1976). The artist, Michael Doret, was brought back to give KISS a larger than life, iconic image in the same style as the ROCK AND ROLL OVER cover. A couple of added bonuses are also included: a second CD of re-recorded KISS songs and a bonus DVD of KISS live in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The 2nd disc is actually the 2008 Japanese release JIGOKU RETSUDEN and the DVD from Argentina isn’t a full show but it is from the band’s ALIVE 35 international tour and is a multi-camera Pro Shot show. For $15, that’s a lot of KISS.
I bought SONIC BOOM at Wal-Mart on October 6 when it was officially released and it’s been my Album Of The Month for October. I’ve taken so long to review it because I wanted to live with it, listen to it daily and give a fair unbiased opinion. KISS fans are passionate fans and a lot of us always like to look at the positive aspects when it comes to our band…..even if it’s plainly obvious to everyone else that things aren’t always what they seem! If you take away all the issues surrounding lineup changes, the makeup, the merchandise and all the “final” tours and focus on the actual music then you’ll hear a very good, a very solid KISS record. The best thing that could have happened was letting Paul Stanley oversee the album, he’s been the talent in KISS and the driving force to keep the band going creatively since the early ’80s. If anyone knows what a KISS album is supposed to be, it’s Paul Stanley! By making the actual band members write and perform, Paul has given KISS more respectability. Overall, I would say that this is a strong KISS album. I would classify it as the natural progression from REVENGE (1992) and CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1997) and definitely better than the last KISS studio album PSYCHO CIRCUS (1998). There is a “classic” feel to some of the songs mainly due to Thayer & Singer performing as their masked couterparts Ace & Peter would, as well as, Gene’s songwriting. The “classic” sound isn’t limited to the ’70s era as you can hear plenty of ’80s & ’90s KISS influences and some of the more modern moments from Paul’s lst solo venture. For me, the strongest moments are when the band stays in the heavy modern range like on ‘Modern Day Delilah’, ‘Danger Us’ and ‘Russian Roulette’. The weakest songs are the two debut lead vocals of Singer & Thayer, ‘All For The Glory’ and ‘When Lightning Strikes’, and they aren’t even that bad! I also just realized that there isn’t a ballad included on SONIC BOOM, usually KISS throws in that ballad just to have a ballad but they’ve stayed the course with the heavier uptempo songs. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised with this album, I admit that even I was a little skeptical and I’ve been a KISS diehard since 1978! SONIC BOOM is very well done and is a good album, it’s definitely one of my favorites of the year.
I like the entire album but the standout songs for me are ‘Modern Day Delilah’, ‘Russian Roulette’, ‘Stand’, ‘Danger Us’, ‘I’m An Animal’ and ‘Say Yeah’.