November 26, 2009
By ALAN SCULLEY - For the North County Times

The previous Kiss studio album, "Psycho Circus," did little to prove that the band still had creative life in it.

The disc 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.

Instead, Frehley and Criss hardly played on that 1998 CD, with studio musicians handling what ostensibly were their parts. The band also had several outside writers contribute to roughly half of the songs.

So Kiss had something to prove when the band decided last year that it wanted to make a new studio CD. 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; one, there was no outside producer," Singer said, commenting in a recent phone interview about Stanley's role in the CD. "I think working with great producers can be a really great thing. People can get you to think outside of the box or think of things differently than you might ordinarily do it, and sometimes bring a certain type of performance out of you that you might not be able to get yourself. ... But ultimately at this point, nobody knows how to make a Kiss record better than Kiss. I think that was kind of the mindset."

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' 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the record, no outside writers, no outside musicians ---- do it the right way, the real deal, like the way records were originally made."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 early 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. 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 that would run from that summer into 2001. Before the tour was over, Criss split with the group, and Singer, who had joined the group after the 1991 death from cancer of drummer Eric Carr, rejoined Kiss to finish the 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 again play with Kiss. This time, Criss lasted only for about a year, and as shows became sporadic during the next four years, it truly looked as if Kiss might actually fade from the scene.

But in 2008, with the 35th anniversary of the band's formation in New York City looming, Kiss announced it would begin the "Kiss Alive/35 World Tour," with Singer and Thayer joining Stanley and Simmons. Singer said he was angry at the band after it brought back Criss in 2003, although he had no complaints about the group cashing in by reuniting the original lineup. Before rejoining Kiss, Singer said he cleared the air with Simmons and Stanley over the band's handling of firing, re-hiring and firing again.

"I told Gene how I feel about how they dealt with me in certain things," Singer said. "I always understand the business side of things. It's not called music friends. It's called music business. I'm fully aware of that. I've been doing it for a long time. I get it. The only thing I ever said was, there is a way to do it, you know? I'm a big boy and you should just tell people your intentions when you want to do something, just be aboveboard. That's the best way to deal with it. That way you keep the door always open. And Gene, he respects my opinion about it.

"But you know something, the relationship I have now with Gene and Paul and the band is the best it's ever been for me," the drummer said. "They get along really good now, and they've had their ups and downs. ... How can you not have a relationship and expect it to not be peaks and valleys? But once I came back, I remember saying if I'm going to come back, then it's got to be under the right kind of situation. I don't want to keep playing, literally, musical chairs. But I think when Paul called me up and said come back, he basically said, 'This is what I want to do. I want you to play drums.' And that was it."

Playing drums with Kiss is exactly what Singer is doing as the "Kiss Alive/35 World Tour" continues, stopping Nov. 27 at the San Diego Sports Arena. The stage show continues to be as spectacular as ever. In fact, Singer noted, the band has an entirely new stage with high-tech video screens and the usual array of visual effects.

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. ... 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."

On the early part of the tour, the band played almost the entire 1975 "Alive" album. But Singer said the set is evolving to include "Sonic Boom" material.

"As we get into fall, we're going to start gradually working in more new songs off of 'Sonic Boom' and morphing the set list, tweaking it as we go along," he said. "But it's a work in progress. We kind of (always) figured it was going to be 'Kiss Alive 35' eventually morphing into the 'Sonic Boom' tour."