Saturday, October 3, 2009

KISS "Sonic Boom" Review

The new KISS album, SONIC BOOM, arrives on Tuesday only at Wal-Mart stores, but I've been listening to it for about 2 weeks now (damn this Internet). Of course, I'll be buying the 3 disc (2 CD + 1 DVD) package on Tuesday, but I really felt the need to hear what I was getting into in advance.

Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer have been stating that this album of all new material is All Killer No Filler. Gene Simmons even went as far as saying it was the best thing KISS has done since DESTROYER in 1976. As a longtime KISS fan (I grew up in the 1970's, so it was required), I staunchly disagree with that statement. Even when I gave up on KISS after UNMASKED in 1980, I still considered their makeup-less 80's output as pretty damn good, even though it wasn't my KISS. After the PSYCHO CIRCUS album, which I bought and listened to once, I was absolutely skeptical that these boastful... well, boasts were just that.

I'm thrilled to report that it is a very good KISS album. It's not a great, end all, be all, KISS album, but it's probably the most consistently listenable KISS album since probably 1991's REVENGE. What confounds here is that the album is a winner despite being quite schizophrenic. The Paul Stanley sung material sounds like CRAZY NIGHTS / ANIMALIZE KISS while the Gene Simmons sung material sounds like ROCK AND ROLL OVER / LOVE GUN KISS.

The album opens with the first "single", MODERN DAY DELILAH. It's a Paul song that, I admit, sounded a bit generic and limp on the first listen. It has grown on me since. A Gene song follows,entitled RUSSIAN ROULETTE, that evokes REVENGE era KISS, but the chorus definitely hearkens back to late 70's KISS. NEVER ENOUGH follows and, being a PAUL tune, reeks of CRAZY NIGHTS era KISS.

At this point, I wasn't impressed, but I wasn't quite ready to dismiss the album. YES I KNOW (NOBODY'S PERFECT) was the turning point for me. A Gene song, this song is so very 70's party rock KISS that I got a little emotional. The sound is reminiscent of a ROCK AND ROLL OVER / GENE SIMMONS (SOLO) outtake with it's instantly recognizable guitar work and the trademark chanting of "I Know" (if you're a KISS fan, you could make a drinking game out of how many times the phrase "I Know" is uttered on a KISS album). Gene's vocals and Bass work is the best I've heard from him in literal decades.

The album gets a bit confused with the song STAND. It's great because Simmons and Stanley trade vocals on the verses. KISS was always the best when there was vocal interplay, for my money. The Four Tops/(REACH OUT) I'LL BE THERE style vocal interjections by Paul lift the song up considerably. However, the choruses (Reeking of I from 1980's MUSIC FROM THE ELDER album and the shifting musical styles within the song are a bit ill fitting. HOT AND COLD, which follows, is a standard Simmons 70's throwaway. No great shakes, but infinitely better than anything off of PSYCHO CIRCUS.

Eric Singer does lead vocal duties on ALL FOR THE GLORY, a particularly 80's KISS sounding track. His vocals are nice and raspy a-la Peter Criss and it's a pleasing song overall. DANGER US is Paul at his punniest. Another great 80's sound.

Gene pipes in next with the heaviest song on the disc, I'M AN ANIMAL. It's a song in the I LOVE IT LOUD / WAR MACHINE mold and it really showcases the commitment Gene had to the project. It's a fist pumper.

Tommy Thayer also gets a chance to shine vocally with WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES. His vocals are good, but his style is a lot like Gene's and it took a little bit for me to figure out who was singing at first.

The album closes with SAY YEAH. This is a great classic KISS song and the true anthem of the album. I mean, what's a KISS album without an anthem? It closes the album on a nice 80's vibe.

Paul Stanley's production works well simply because he understands KISS better than any current producer could. Another producer would have most likely tried an Everything Louder Than Everything Else approach and that would've killed it. The album also cheekily pays homage to 60's British Invasion and Motown Pop in refreshing and unexpected ways. In addition to the aforementioned Four Tops references, HOT AND COLD and SAY YEAH have sly Beatle winks in them and STAND shifts musically like a Metal GOOD VIBRATIONS.

Tommy Thayer, it should be noted, is the true star of the album. His guitar style is quite adaptable to each song and he plays Ace Frehley riffs better than anyone, including Ace. That is to say, Tommy balances the lead guitar work in a way that it sounds like KISS should sound without him losing his musical identity.

It's a highly recommended album. KISS fans are the intended target, of course, but anyone who misses Metal Pop should take a stab at this one.

I should also write that I've had the other re-recorded Greatest His disc for a while now already as a Japanese Import. You simply can't go wrong with that one, either. The redone songs are hard, raw and plain fantastic. This is how KISS sounds now and they sound better than ever. Unfortunately, the DVD isn't a complete concert, but a selection of 6 tracks from the Buenos Aires show this past year.All in all, though, for $12.00, you can't beat it. KISS Loves You. This proves it.

KISS M&Ms are going to be available at Wal-Mart, too. Awesome.


Jay Amabile said...

Lord - what an awesome review. I enjoyed reading it. I shared many of the same sentiments. I didn't write a complete review but I just posted a few thoughts with the main idea of "GO BUY IT" lol. I appreciate your mention of the Beatles nod because I caught that as well. I just found your site through a Google search of "Kiss Sonic Boom Review." I'm glad I did! Kiss DOES love their fans and It's so great to have the ability to buy various merch, go to concerts where they actually play live and SING for real, and listen to an awesome album of new material. This is the way all rock bands should be. None of this bickering with the lead singer, or breaking up, disbanding for 4 years then reuniting, having a tour, breaking up again, living off past fame. Kiss is the real deal and everyone else who isn't familiar with them needs to be. And for the record: WHO NEEDS THE HALL OF FAME ANYWAY? lol They snubbed KISS for years and NOW they come around? whatever.

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