SONIC BOOM DELIVERS!
October 05, 2009
By Joe Szczechowski

When word started circulating last year that Kiss was working on its first new album in 11 years, even long-time fans were a bit skeptical. The band's last studio album, 1998's much touted reunion effort, Psycho Circus, recorded (at least on paper) with original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, had been a disappointment. More recent solo albums by founding members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley had also failed to live up to expectations.

Simmons had Family Jewels, his hit A&E reality television series, and Stanley had his artwork, which had become more profitable than his latest musical endeavors. Stanley and Simmons seemed content to take Kiss on the road less frequently. The crowds still came, and classics like "Detroit Rock City," "Shout It Out Loud," and "Rock and Roll All Nite" still brought them to their feet. Ironically, with drummer Eric Singer and lead guitarist Tommy Thayer back and the group, Kiss was playing better, tighter, and with more energy than it had in years.

Still the question remained. Why would Kiss bother making a new album?

To hear Kiss tell it, it was a combination of two things - the fans clamoring for new music, and the band members themselves realizing that they were musically in top form and how much they enjoyed playing together. When the quartet went into the studio to re-record 15 Kiss classics for a Japan-only CD, (Jigoku Retsuden) the band found that the process was not only painless, it was fun.

Paul Stanley agreed to make a new Kiss album, but only on the condition that he would produce it, and that it would be recorded on his terms. Those terms included no outside writers or no guest musicians - it would be a Kiss album in the purest sense of the term.

The album was hyped as a return to the classic Kiss sound of '70s albums like Rock and Roll Over and Love Gun. It was being recorded using analog not digital equipment. The band was using vintage instruments, and recording live in the studio as much as possible.

To Kiss fans that all sounded well and good but the question remained - could their aging heroes dig deep and make a great rock 'n' roll album?

The answer is yes. Sonic Boom, which arrives Tuesday, October 6 exclusively at Walmart and Sam's Club, is a great rock 'n' roll album. It's filled with the best elements of Kiss's past memorable melodies, sing-along choruses, pump your fist anthems, and enough air-guitar opportunities to fill a season of "Wayne's World." It manages to sound classic without sounding dated. And there is not a ballad, string quartet, or synthesizer to be found on any of the album's 11 tracks.

First single "Modern Day Delilah" kicks off Sonic Boom in style - with Stanley's voice sounding in fine shape as he sings over a driving guitar riff in a song that thematically revisits the Kiss classic "Strutter." The track, like everything on Sonic Boom, has a "recorded live" vibe. You can hear Simmons' distinctive voice leading the chorus, not a homogenized blend of overdubs. Singer plays with his usual energy and precision, and Thayer serves up the first of many scalding guitar solos.

Simmons takes lead vocal duties on "Russian Roulette," a track that changes tempo from a slow grind to a fast chorus and back again. Along the way Simmons gets to show off both his underrated bass playing skills and his lascivious sense of humor. See if you don't find yourself bobbing your head to the "ahh ahh ahh" of the chorus after a few listens.

"Never Enough" sounds like late-80s Kiss something that might have been at home on an album like Asylum or Crazy Nights. With a catchy chorus and strong, upbeat melody, it should be given future single consideration.

"Yes I Know (Nobody's Perfect)" is a fun Simmons song in the style of "Ladies Room" or "Plaster Caster." Set to a classical rock 'n roll beat anchored by Singer's spot-on drumming, "Yes I Know (Nobody's Perfect)" features Simmons' best vocal on the album. His phrasing is perfect as he wraps his tongue around double-entendres like "Flip a coin/ Is it heads or tails tonight?"

What would a Kiss album be without an anthem? "Stand," a song about friendship, love, and solidarity is that anthem. Stanley and Simmons trade off versus leading to a chorus that will have lighters raised in the air and arenas of fans singing along. A nice acoustic vocal harmony bridge lifted from Kiss's version of "God Gave Rock and Roll To You" leads to a majestic finish.

"Hot and Cold" is a high-energy, four-on-the-floor Simmons track, again anchored by Singer's drumming (love that cowbell!) and highlighted by Thayer's guitar work. Simmons howls, yelps, and references some of his old lines ("You're gonna be in misery" a la "Calling Dr. Love") all the while sounding like he's having a blast.

"All For the Glory" features Singer on lead vocals on a rousing "one for all, all for one"-themed track that would make a great soundtrack to a sports montage - in fact ESPN used it for just that over the weekend. On one of his best solos on the record, Thayer weaves bits and pieces from Kiss's past into something cohesive and new.

Stanley revisits the harder rock style of his first solo album on "Danger Us." Stanley's voice has developed a gritty edge over the years, and the vocalist uses it to his advantage on this track. Tight instrumental work all around.

Some fans like playful Gene Simmons, some like "Mean Gene." For the latter there's "I'm An Animal" a cross between the menace of "God of Thunder" and the "sing-along and pump your fist" quality of "I Love It Loud." Simmons is in full Demon mode throughout.

Thayer gets a turn at lead vocals on "When Lightning Strikes." Power chords, drums, and yes, cowbell drive this track, another catchy tune that will have you bopping and singing along.

Sonic Boom ends on a high note with "Say Yeah," an anthemic track that recalls the style of "Do You Love Me" with a chorus that is catchier than swine flu. Stanley and Simmons pay tribute to their Beatles' influence with the best use of the line, "Yeah, yeah, yeah" in a song since "She Loves You."

If you're looking for deep, insightful lyrics, or rock music that calls itself progressive because it can't call itself jazz, you probably won't like Sonic Boom. But if you're looking for a FUN rock 'n' roll album that will get your feet taping, your head bopping, and will have you turning up the volume every time it's played, Sonic Boom delivers.

GRADE: A-

Sonic Boom is available exclusively at Walmart and Sam's Club. It is packaged as a three-disc set featuring the Sonic Boom CD, a CD of 15 re-recorded Kiss classics, and a DVD featuring six songs performed live in Argentina on Kiss's recent tour of South America.