November 19, 2009
Special to The Press-Enterprise

The 1998 Kiss studio CD, "Psycho Circus," looked more like a last gasp than the celebrated event it was intended to be.

The CD was billed as the return of the original Kiss, since it came in the midst of the reunion of guitarist/singer Paul Stanley and bassist/singer Gene Simmons with the two other original members, guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss.

"Psycho Circus," though, ended up being a lackluster effort on a musical level, and far less than advertised when it came to being called a triumphant return of the classic Kiss lineup.

So Kiss had something to prove when the band decided it wanted to make a new studio CD last year. For one thing, this was a new lineup for Kiss, with guitarist Tommy Thayer making his full-fledged debut and drummer Eric Singer, who since 1996 has been the band's drummer whenever Criss wasn't in the lineup, back on board.

Interestingly, the band decided that if Kiss was going to fail on this album -- the newly released "Sonic Boom" -- there would be no one to blame but the band members themselves, as Stanley took the reins on the project.

"I think the most important thing that I noticed about this record was it was really done, well done, there was no outside producer," Singer said, commenting in a recent phone interview about Stanley's role in the CD.

"Ultimately at this point, nobody knows how to make a Kiss record better than Kiss. I think that was kind of the mind-set," Singer said.

But it wasn't just Stanley who went into "Sonic Boom" ready to step up to the plate.

"Everybody went in with the attitude of hey, we know what we want to do," Singer said. "We want to make a rock 'n' and roll record. We want to do it organically, which means us recording the record live, everybody playing on the record, no outside writers, no outside musicians. Do it the right way, the real deal, like the way records were originally made."

The decision to keep "Sonic Boom" an in-house project has paid off. The new CD has been greeted by many reviewers as the best Kiss album since such classic releases as "Dressed To Kill," "Destroyer" and "Love Gun" -- and a CD that actually sounds much more like the work of the original Kiss than "Psycho Circus."

The success of "Sonic Boom" represents a welcome turn of fortunes for Kiss, whose future looked cloudy only a few years ago.

The reunion tour of 1996-97 with the four original members was a major success as a live venture, but by the end of the decade, it appeared the band's days were numbered.

In early 2000, the band announced it would do a farewell tour. Before the tour was over, Criss split with the group, and Singer, who had joined the group following the 1991 death from cancer of drummer Eric Carr, rejoined Kiss to finish the farewell tour -- which, of course, turned out to be far from a final jaunt.

By 2002, Frehley had also played his final gig, with Thayer filling that slot. When the band returned to the road in 2003 to co-headline a tour with Aerosmith, Criss had been brought back, prompting Singer to say he would never play with Kiss again. This time, Criss lasted only for about a year, and as shows became sporadic over the next four years, it truly looked as if Kiss might fade from scene.

But in 2008, with the 35th anniversary of the band's formation in New York City looming, Kiss announced it would begin is "Kiss Alive/35 World Tour," with Singer and Thayer joining Stanley and Simmons.

Singer admits he was angry at the band after it brought back Criss in 2003. Before rejoining Kiss, Singer said he cleared the air with Simmons and Stanley, saying he wouldn't be part of another round of musical chairs in the drummer slot.

The stage show continues to be as spectacular as ever. The band has a new stage with high-tech video screens and the usual array of visual effects, Singer said. Of course, some traditions continue.

"There are certain things that have become synonymous with Kiss, Gene breathing fire or Gene flying and spitting blood," Singer said. "Those kinds of things you have to do. If we didn't do it, it would be a cardinal sin to not have those certain Kiss staples, just like certain songs that have to be in the set. It wouldn't be right without them."