Kiss - Sonic Boom
Release Date: October 6, 2009
Label: KISS Records

out of

Well, it's taken eleven years but the new KISS CD, Sonic Boom, has finally arrived on store shelves. Specifically, Wal-Mart store shelves as this CD's release is exclusive to the Wal-Mart chain similar to what AC/DC did last year with their highly successful Black Ice CD.

This CD, as I said, is the first new KISS studio recording in eleven years. Their last studio release, 1998's Psycho Circus, was the epitome of everything that could go wrong with a KISS album. By using outside producers, songwriters, and musicians, what was supposed to be a celebration of the then-reunited band turned into a giant steaming turd of a record.

The songs were not KISS songs. Specifically, they weren't about rock and roll topics: girls, sex, girls...well, you get the idea. These songs were about camaraderie and championships and vaguely themed anthems except for Ace Frehley's lone song, "Into the Void," which was the most KISS like song on the whole disc. (And, not coincidentally, the only song to feature all four original members playing together.)

So, KISS finally decided to get their heads out of their collective ass and record an album without outside musicians and outside writers. The only problem is that original drummer Peter Criss and original guitarist Ace Frehley jumped ship years ago. In their place are drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer.

Well, fans, guess what? This is still a KISS album. And, I'll tell you why: It gets back to what KISS is really about. Songs about sex, girls, and sex and girls. And, yeah, a little bit of that "believing in yourself" stuff that they've done over the years.

Sonic Boom kicks off with the first single, "Modern Day Delilah", which rocks as hard as anything the band has ever done. Paul Stanley's voice may have weakened since the band debuted in 1973, but this song shows he still can deliver the goods.

The next track, "Russian Roulette", makes it clear that Gene Simmons can still play a growling bass and write lyrics as original as "I know you want me/You got desire/Out of the frying pan/Into the fire". In other words, this is classic stuff. (KISS were never known for thought-provoking material.)

"Never Enough" takes inspiration from Poison's "Nothing But A Good Time" in the verses but since KISS inspired Poison in the first place, I'll cut them some slack. This track wouldn't sound out of place on a KISS album from the 1980s. It's not quite classic KISS, but it's certainly closer than anything on Psycho Circus.

The fourth track, "Yes I Know (Nobody's Perfect)", is definitely classic KISS, though. Gene's vocals are spot-on. The call-and-response pre-chorus is tailor made for stadiums and Tommy Thayer's short-and-sweet solo is nearly perfect.

At about this point in listening to the disc, it becomes apparent that the band seems to be having fun with these songs. KISS has never stressed the music as much as the merchandise, but the songs up to this point paint a picture of four guys having a blast in the studio.

Unfortunately, "Stand" sounds a bit like a Psycho Circus throwaway. It's great to hear Gene and Paul trade-off on the vocals, but the chorus is pure cheese.

The band redeems themselves on "Hot and Cold", the sixth track on the disc. Again, another Gene song and another great chorus. It sounds like a distant relative of "Calling Dr. Love" from 1976's Rock and Roll Over. Not in that it's similar sounding but it just has that nasty vibe to it.

The Gene and Paul-penned "All for the Glory" is sung by drummer Eric Singer. Singer has a voice that's naturally raspy. It's somewhat reminiscent of Peter Criss' voice, but he's not imitating him. The lyrics, however, sound like something Peter would sing about. Tommy's solo is great, though, and I like the song overall.

"Danger Us" is a Paul song and it also sounds like an '80s KISS song. It's a little too gimmicky with the "Danger you/Danger me/Danger us" wordplay. Lyrically, it's not one of the stronger songs on the album, but the music fits the rest of the album well.

On the 9th song, "I'm an Animal", Gene once again brings a great vocal performance. The song, written by Gene, Paul, and Tommy, is another track that wouldn't sound out of place on an older KISS album, like Love Gun. It's minimalistic and heavy. Tommy's solo is definitely in the Ace Frehley mold. A solid track through and through.

Speaking of Tommy, he takes the mic on "When Lightning Strikes", a song he co-wrote with Paul. He's got a relatively decent singing voice. He doesn't sound like he's trying to sound like Ace when he's singing, so that's good. In fact, his voice has elements of Gene's gruffness and Paul's mid-range. The lyrics and the music aren't that great but the solo break is played quite well and it saves the song from being the most generic tune on the album.

The disc-closer, "Say Yeah", sounds like it might have started life as a demo for Paul's 1978 solo album that was revived by some 80s style choruses that were spliced into it. That's not an insult. It's Paul's best cut on the album by far.

So, despite the promises from the band that this would be the best KISS album in 30 years, it's not quite to that level. However, fans of the earlier style of the band will find a lot to like here. Fans of the '80s, make-up free KISS will also find this to their liking, I think. This is definitely a KISS album. It's the best KISS album in the last 20 years. I'll give it that much. I still think Revenge is a stronger album.

One can't argue with the value of the packaging, though. For $12, the band gives you not only the Sonic Boom CD, but also a CD full of fifteen classic tracks, including "Deuce", "Rock and Roll All Nite", "Forever", and "Lick it Up", that were re-recorded by the new line-up. And, the band also throws in a 6-track live DVD of the band playing a concert in Buenos Aires, Argentina in April, 2009.

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