Music Review: KISS, Sonic Boom

Posted: October 14, 2009 in Album Reviews

kiss_sonic_boom

It’s been quite evident since oh, say, 1982, that KISS’s best recording days are well behind them. That was the year Ace Frehley officially left the group (although he didn’t contribute anything to that year’s great Creatures of the Nightalbum. Aside from Lick it Up and 1992’s Revenge, the band hasn’t produced many memorable songs, let alone albums.
They have, however, remained a viable touring band, seemingly unleashing a farewell tour every two years or so. They even reunited in the late 90s with Frehley and original drummer Peter Criss, putting the makeup back on and pleasing many fans on a few tours.
The only album from that reunion, 1998’s Psycho Circus was pretty disappointing and as it turns out, wasn’t really much of a reunion at all. Frehley and Criss appeared on just a handful of tracks, although they were given full credit throughout the album. Aside from that, the album was overproduced, which definitely hurt the few worthwhile tracks the album contained.
That was the last we’d heard from KISS, studio-wise. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons continued touring (with replacements Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer), also keeping the KISS marketing machine going with all sorts of merchandise (including a KISS Kasket, for crying out loud).
They finally headed into the recording studio earlier this year to lay down their first album in 11 years, Sonic Boom. In interviews, Simmons said it was the best thing the band had recorded since their 70s heyday, and I was very skeptical. For one, every band says this when they’re promoting a new album. And for KISS, three good albums in 27 years isn’t a very good ratio.
I bought Sonic Boom at Wal-Mart (you can only get it there as the band signed an exclusive deal with the retail chain like AC/DC did last year), and much to my surprise, the thing rocks. Opening track “Modern Day Delilah” is the album’s first single, and it’s one of the best tracks on the record. Heavy guitars, a classic Paul Stanley vocal, it feels like it could have fit nicely on an early 80s album like Creatures or Lick it Up.
I’ve always enjoyed Gene Simmons’ songs the most (if you exclude Frehley from the equation) and on this album, he’s produced four songs that fit rather nicely with some of the band’s 70s work. The lyrics are still pretty juvenile (as are most KISS lyrics) as Gene sings things like “If it’s too hot, then you’re too cold, if it’s too loud then you’re too old” on “Hot and Cold” and commanding his female companion to “take off your clothes” in “Yes I Know (Nobody’s Perfect), but I’ve always enjoyed his bravado. He sings this stuff with such conviction and you truly believe his arrogance with a line like “Yes I know nobody’s perfect, but baby I come awful close.”
Stanley has always been the band’s most consistent songwriter. He’s written most of their most successful singles, including the aforementioned “Delilah.” He has a few other strong rockers on the album, including “Danger Us” and the excellent closing anthem “Say Yeah.” He spouts some ridiculous lyrics, as well, like “Danger you, danger me, danger us” but great lyrics were never the band’s forte. Putting out tight, rocking, melodic tunes is, and it’s something they haven’t done much of since their glory days.
Even though Criss and Frehley are no longer with the band, their replacements Thayer and Singer, do a nice job of filling in. In fact, they each get a lead vocal on the album, making it feel like more of a band effort. Singer’s “All for the Glory” is the better of the two, as his voice sounds like a less rough version of Criss’. Thayer’s “When Lightning Strikes”, which he co-wrote with Stanley, is very good, though, and it almost sounds like a tune Frehley could have written.
There are a few missteps. “Never Enough” sounds way too much like Poison’s “Nothin’ But a Good Time”, and sounding like Poison is never a good thing. “Stand” has good intentions, it’s the closest thing there is to a ballad on here. It was probably the most challenging song to write, with several chord changes and musical shifts. Co-written by Stanley and Simmons, the verses are very good, and the Beatle-esque coda near the end is a left-field surprise. However, the chorus just ruins the song for me. “Stand by my side, I’ll be next to you, stand by my side and we’ll make it through” is not only cheesy, the way they sing it sounds like it was lifted right from the worst of hair-metal ballads in the 80s.
Still, this is an album I’ve enjoyed cranking in the car. The production is clean, no bells and whistles added, just guitar, drums bass and vocals. It has the feel of a classic KISS album, which is something the band should be proud of. With a bit of editing and slightly better lyrics, it truly could have ranked up there with Destroyer, Love Gun or the self-titled debut album. As it is, it’s the best they’ve done since 1982, so I’ll take it.

The Sod rating: *** 1/2

Kiss discography as seen through my eyes
KISS (1974) *****
Hotter than Hell (1974) ****
Dressed to Kill (1975) **** 1/2
Alive (1975) *****
Destroyer (1976) **** 1/2
Rock and Roll Over (1976) ****
Love Gun (1977) *****
Alive II (1978) ****
Dynasty (1979) ***
Unmasked (1980) ** 1/2
Music from the Elder (1981) ** 1/2
Creatures of the Night (1982) ****
Lick it Up (1983) ***
Animalize (1984) **
Asylum (1985) * 1/2
Crazy Nights (1987) *
Hot in the Shade (1989) ** 1/2
Revenge (1992) ***
Psycho Circus (1998) ** 1/2

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Comments
  1. gravediggerhebner says:

    Holy Crap! I had no idea their catalog was so extensive. When I was 10 “Alive” brought them to my attention and I quickly used my allowance to purchase all their previous albums which I then played constantly on my little one-speaker black & white plastic record player.

    When I first heard “Detroit Rock City” I nearly lost my mind at how amazing it was. Very vivid, very rockin’. I stuck with them through the “solo” albums (“New York Groove” will always be a favorite of this native New Yorker) but, perhaps coincidentally, I started high school the next year and moved on to girls and synth-rock. “Hungry Like The Wolf” opened new doors and closed old ones for me.

    I vaguely recall hearing “Lick It Up” years later and thinking “oh, they still exist?”

    KISS will always be an important part of my childhood memories. Like many pre-teen young men I and some friends dressed up as them one Halloween and we took in a record haul of candy that year (I was Criss).

    But despite your rave review, I just can’t imagine KISS’s current music becoming a part of my current life. Kudos to them for soldiering on (yes that’s a vague KISS Army reference) but right or wrong their music is stuck in a time warp of sorts for me and unless/until I find a fountain of youth KISS will remain an enjoyable part of my past without becoming a part of my present.

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