October 07, 2009
By Steve Beebee

In 1996, KISS decided to reform their original line-up - make-up, stack heels, costumes, the lot - for one final pyrotechnic hurrah. It was a KISS many fans weren't old enough to have seen first time round, and burying the memory of their sometimes dodgy hair metal era, it was utterly spectacular. What most people (including original guitarist Ace Frehley) didn't realise was that KISS figureheads Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons didn't plan to stop there. Thirteen years on, and despite Frehley and original drummer Peter Criss being replaced by younger and fitter alternatives (Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, respectively), the KISS nostalgia machine continues to crush all in its path.

Nostalgia that is, until now. Few believed KISS would ever follow-up 1998's questionable Psycho Circus. What would be the point, given that they could tour on the fruits of their legacy into their dotage? The only way it could be anything other than a disaster would be to forget the excesses of the 80s, forget modern production paraphernalia and simply get back to the beating heart of what made KISS one of the greatest bands in the history of rock. Enter Sonic Boom.

Produced entirely "in house" by Paul Stanley himself, Sonic Boom is almost phenomenal, an achievement few would expect from a band so long withdrawn from studio activity and one that is, without question a piece of work that can be stacked alongside their best. It's not just the uncluttered production that brings everything into your face and eliminates any trace of flab, but also the style and tone and execution. It might sound trite to praise a KISS album for sounding like KISS, but having deviated from their intended path for so long in the 80s and 90s, this might make a few fans weep with joy.

There isn't a genuinely weak track here. The nearest they come is the lighters-in-the-air arena pomp of Stand, but even here Paul and Gene's vocal interplay - and their surprisingly tender tributes to each other - almost compensate. You can't fault Gene's superb rockers Russian Roulette, Hot and Cold, and I'm An Animal, nor Paul's high wire vocals and punchy hooks on Danger Us, Say Yeah! and Modern Day Delilah. The unsung hero, though, is probably Tommy Thayer, whose incendiary but unselfish guitar work recalls that of Ace Frehley beautifully.

Classic KISS in 2009? You better believe it!

The Insider: Tales from the Studio

Paul Stanley - Vocals/Guitar

Is this album an attempt to get back to your roots?

"I wanted to capture what the band has become live. We didn't want it to sound retro as such, but just to reflect the spectacular, take-no-prisoners live show that we put on."

Why did you decide to produce this yourself?

"It's all too easy to shirk the responsibility that should be on your shoulders. It means that somebody else gets to interpret what they think you should be, rather than what you are. I needed to make sure that everyone in the band - Gene included - was totally focused and committed to this album. I don't think any previous KISS line-up could have made this album."

How did Gene react to you being in charge?

"As the project evolved, Gene became more enamoured with what was going on. I don't think he was initially prepared for how well it would go. It was essential to get back to our original chemistry. As soon as we did, it became effortless."