September 16, 2009
For those of you who have been living on another planet for the past few months, Kiss is celebrating its 35th anniversary by releasing a new album entitled Sonic Boom in October, and the band has been hyping the new disc as the best Kiss has recorded since the heyday of its classic lineup with albums like Rock And Roll Over and Destroyer.

I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical when I first heard that. After all, Kiss is a band whose output has been, uh, "somewhat uneven" over the years, to put it diplomatically, and Kiss hasn't exactly been shy about over-selling its work in the past, whether it was deserving or not.

Okay, okay, I admit it... I was wrong. It turns out Sonic Boom really is the album Kiss fans have been waiting for all these years. From its no-frills production (no apparent Pro Tools trickery here) to its uber-classic put-your-fist-in-the-air rock anthems, Sonic Boom is the most satisfying album by a "classic rock" artist I've heard since... honestly, since I don't know when. Sadly, it's kind of accepted that most bands that are 35 years into their career are going to release new work that is in no way comparable to the albums that made their legacy. Sonic Boom destroys that pre-conception by delivering an album as raw and vital as the best of Kiss' back catalog.

The main thing that sets this record from some of Kiss' uneven later studio efforts is that it has a true band identity. There are no pop songs from slick outside writers, and there isn't a cast of thousands providing instrumental augmentation to the members of Kiss. This is a record that was written and performed by the members of Kiss, for better or worse. In this case it's very much for the better. Sonic Boom has all of the hallmarks of a classic Kiss record; heavy guitar riffs informed by the melodic and harmonic pop craftsmanship of Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, powerful rock drumming, strong bass lines, and lyrical, well-crafted guitar solos.

Gene Simmons' public persona and marketing savvy often overshadow the fact that he's a great bass player, and Sonic Boom is a return to the kind of melodic stylings that characterized the best of early Kiss. "Never Enough" and "Hot And Cold" contain some of Simmons' best work in decades. As for Tommy Thayer, every track contains the kind of deliberate Ace Frehley-isms that could only come from someone who loves Kiss music as a fan first. Thayer's take on these songs is such a tasteful amalgam of classic Kiss licks, stylings, tone and phrasing that it will have some fans wondering what year it is. It's an approach that isn't so much gimmicky as it is timeless. Paul Stanley and Eric Singer round out the album's classic performances with contributions that are perfectly suited to each track.

I'm sure there are going to be those naysaying critics who carp that with Sonic Boom, Kiss is shamelessly pandering to a particular demographic base by deliberately tailor-making a record to fit its needs. In fact, maybe that's exactly what they did. If so, then more power to 'em. If more bands would bother to make great records that their fans will actually like, then maybe guys like me wouldn't have to dread getting sent new work by older bands so much. I've been a Kiss fan since the mid-Seventies, and I can't imagine any Kiss fan not liking Sonic Boom.