KISS – SONIC BOOM (ROADRUNNER 2009)

2009’s “Sonic Boom” is something many never thought would see the light of day, I certainly didn’t believe it either and forgot the grand rule of the Kiss world: never say never. Both Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley stated many times that new Kiss studio album would absolutely “not happen.” According to Simmons no one bought CD’s anymore and Stanley refused to do it unless he was given complete control over production and choosing the songs. And besides, nothing they could ever do would top something like “Love Gun.” However, the Kiss twins are world famous on eating back their words, so here we were 11 years after “Psycho Circus” and a brand new Kiss studio album “Sonic Boom” is upon us. And there was more to come as 2012’s “Monster” would prove. And still they are going, going strong? That’s debatable. But going nonetheless.

With “Sonic Boom” Stanley got his way and had the final say in everything, producing the album and blocking the second rate Simmons-material. Of course when was the last Kiss album released where every track by Paul Stanley was a winner? Uh, “Dynasty”..?

Even with all its good intentions 1998’s “Psycho Circus” was a critical and commercial failure. The expectations were sky high and under pressure Simmons and Stanley caved in. Fresh (though still not sober) from outstanding Kiss reunion tour, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were pushed aside and session musicians and ghost drummers brought in. The album got made on schedule but the fact that its best song “Into The Void” was Ace’s tune, speaks volumes. After two cruel world tours and rapidly rising tension, Peter left the band in 2000 and Ace followed suit couple of years later. Criss would return for one more tour, but his playing had deteriorated to a point where the band had no choice but to replace him. Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer stepped in, took over their predecessor’s make-up and the band kicked off endless string of tour dates mostly in the US and Japan. All original members worked on solo albums, eventually some of them were good (Ace), some average (Paul), some crap (Peter, Gene). Excluding the excellent retrospective “Kissology” DVD’s, the last new release before “Sonic Boom” by the band was 2003’s “Kiss Symphony: Alive 4.”

The new burst of activity came in form of “Alive ‘35” tour in 2008, new costumes, playing the classic 1975 live record from start to finish and also touring Europe for the first time in almost 10 years. And finally after that the long awaited new studio album made it to our hands. Let’s go through it track by track:

Modern Day Delilah

The album openers have traditionally been great anthems in the Kiss world, and first single “Modern Day Delilah” is no exception. Excellent and heavy guitar riff carries the song along with Paul Stanley giving a classic delivery, he belts out the trademark “oh yeah!” and “listen!” often enough to make sure this is Kiss you are hearing. The chorus is good with backing vocals supporting, Gene’s voice is up on the mix as it should be. This track sounds mostly like something from the early to mid-1980’s, “Lick It Up” or “Animalize.”

Russian Roulette

Gene’s turn to prove himself. Decent enough melody, good bass line though the reference to 1970’s Kiss material is maybe too obvious. I do have a sneaking suspicion this song is one of the rejects from earlier Kiss albums. It’s better than anything Gene had on “Psycho Circus” so a promising start nonetheless.

Never Enough

This tune has already been accused of ripping off Poison’s “Nothin’ But A Good Time” and I have to admit there is a certain similarity. This isn’t one of my favourites although it’s not bad by all means. It’s one of those songs that kind of strives to sound like “Shout It Out Loud” but ends up being more like “Raise Your Glasses.”

Nobody’s Perfect (Yes I Know)

A classic Gene Simmons stomper, it’s his shining moment on the album and one of only two songs he’s written all by himself. On others Stanley has helped him out (at least that’s how I think it has happened, knowing how much Gene writes and what is the overall quality). This is a great track, really good to hear Gene on top form again. Backing vocals are reminding me of something from “Lick It Up” again.

Stand

At first I didn’t like it one bit and almost pressed the skip button after two minutes, since then it’s grown a bit but it’s still the worst song on the album. The chorus is weak, it’s cool Paul and Gene trade off verses but it simply doesn’t work in a song like this. It’s Paul trying to re-write “God Gave Rock’n’Roll To You” and since GGRNRTY isn’t exactly a masterpiece, the effort is pointless.

Hot And Cold

The chorus sort of sticks but otherwise this is the same mediocre plodder we were used to get from Gene 20-25 years ago.

All For The Glory

The first Eric Singer lead vocal on a Kiss record. While Eric has sung classic Peter Criss-numbers “Black Diamond” and “Nothin’ To Lose” in concert for several years, this is the real deal. Quite surprisingly it’s one of the album’s top three tunes, mostly written by Paul, it’s Stanley’s style but Eric’s voice really works on the song. Melody is great and guitar riff really stands out!

Danger Us

Pretty substandard number. It’s the kind of half tempo anthem Paul can toss out in his sleep. Not much to say about this one.

I’m An Animal

Same as above, somewhat weak song. Gene tries his best to push the demon persona but ends up sounding more like a pussycat than dangerous animal here. Musically it’s alright but they should have reworked the chorus and vocal melodies to suit the message better.

When The Lightning Strikes

Tommy Thayer debuts his voice here and he does okay job. Unlike Eric Singer, he’s not as professional on his singing and also “When The Lightning Strikes” is no match for “All For The Glory.” Tommy’s no Ace Frehley either despite the similar lead guitar style but for what it’s worth, he does fine within Kiss’ musical framework. At this point I might prefer the Revenge-era but it’s a fine line.

Say Yeah

Another feel-good sing along track that bookends the album with “Modern Day Delilah”. It’s also the second song so far debuted live from the new album. The track’s catchy but at the same time it’s very similar to Paul Stanley’s “Live To Win” solo record . While this would have been roughly the best song on that album, here I don’t think the “Say yeah, yeah, yeah” chorus makes that good of an impact. Maybe it will grow on me and overall this one’s a decent tune.

The limited edition includes a bonus CD “Kiss Klassiks” which sees the band re-recording 13 of their most well known hits. They are very faithful versions right down to the last note and you have to give credit for Stanley and Simmons being able to sing them as well as they do. They have really worked on the original phrasings. While you can hear it’s 2009 and not 1979, it’s much better than some of the vocal overdubs they have done on the old stuff in the past. Especially impressive is “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” – a song I’ve really grown tired of mostly because of the risible live versions from the last 15 years. Paul sings it respectfully interpreting the verses softly like they were originally done instead of ruining it with the usual screaming.

For collectors the only rarity is “Black Diamond” with Singer’s voice offering something totally new. Add to this, the package also has a DVD with six songs from group’s Buenos Aires concert from 2008. It’s nothing to get excited about as camera work is quite pedestrian and well, let’s just say the band is not on fire here. Best to stick with “Kissology”-series if you want a visual treat.

What’s the final judgement then? Well, “Sonic Boom” is not Kiss’ greatest effort, it’s probably not going to make it even to my personal TOP-10. Basically there are three great songs: “Modern Day Delilah,” “Nobody’s Perfect” and “All For The Glory.” The rest is above or below average at best. I don’t think there’s a song here that tops “Into The Void” from “Psycho Circus,” which proves the original band’s uniqueness. But even with couple of weaker tracks, taken as a whole it is and remains the most cohesive Kiss-album since 1992’s “Revenge.” It’s basically taking the bands sound back to its roots – even if most of it sounds like 1980’s more than anything. The last five years have been a struggle for the band but “Sonic Boom” was still a decent enough comeback to justify its existence.

3k

Ville Krannila

1. Modern Day Delilah
2. Russian Roulette
3. Never Enough
4. Nobody’s Perfect (Yes I Know)
5. Stand
6. Hot And Cold
7. All For The Glory
8. Danger Us
9. I’m An Animal
10. When The Lightning Strikes
11. Say Yeah

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About Ville Krannila