Classic Lightning, vocal frightening…
t’s big and booming, it’s rock and roll and heavy metal, an homage to classic KISS and a testament to modern KISS.
Sonic Boom is the 19th KISS studio album (after an 11-year gap since the last one – Psycho Circus, 1998); the 44th KISS release (counting Solos, Compilations and Live albums), the most successful KISS album ever on worldwide charts, and the first album where Eric Singer wears Peter Criss, and Tommy Thayer wears Ace Frehley — oh, will the whining never end?!
Let’s shove that elephant out of the room first:
The “Reunion” was all any KISS fan could talk about – until it happened in 1996. That separated the FANS from the LOONIES. For awhile, everything seemed jim-dandy in KISS world, but very soon, the same cracks appeared that drove the band apart in the late 70s. Whether it was Gene-and-Paul’s fault or Ace-and-Peter’s fault is IRRELEVANT: it was apparent to any sensible person, promoter, manager, musician, distributor, that the band KISS, with those particular members, DID NOT FUNCTION AS A VIABLE MARKETABLE UNIT. End of story. True FANS also sensed that the music was nowhere near as tight and polished and groovy as it was when Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer were touring Revenge. FANS were willing to sacrifice a little musicianship for rose-colored memories. When it all fell apart though, true FANS accepted it and moved forward with the band.
The LOONIES were busy: a) DENYING that the music suffered and b) BITCHING that the KISS Organization should keep touring and recording with Frehley and Criss – in other words, whining for a corporate entity to do something counterproductive to profit, to art, and to just plain psychological wellbeing. The LOONIES insisted that the KISS Organization retain two employees who had no desire or wherewithal to perform their job descriptions, which was not – as the LOONIES thought – just to play music; when you’re a part of a world-girdling organization, your LIFE is contracted to a 24/7 business ethos. Frehley and Criss did not want to step up to the myriad responsibilities their positions entailed. End of story again. But not with the LOONIES. Check YouTube or any social media right now – the LOONIES are still out there, complaining – 15 YEARS AFTER ACE AND PETER HAVE LONG DEPARTED – bitching and moaning that Gene and Paul (who have to answer to shareholders and innumerable other interests, and who tried their best to keep Ace and Peter in the band against all their better judgment and Ace’s and Peter’s resistance) should re-hire Ace and Peter…
Can anyone say delusional? Or let me put it in terms even a KISS LOONIE can understand: Ace was Snow Blind and Peter was Into The Void. They were Radioactive and hit Rock Bottom, so Gene and Paul had to Love Em And Leave Em, because the KISS machine is Not For The Innocent. Yes, Tears Are Falling but it can’t be Any Way You Want It; you need to Lick It Up and accept the Sweet Pain. There’s Nowhere To Run, Love’s Like A Slap In The Face; in A World Without Heroes, you need to Rise To It and remember We Are One. But still You Love Me To Hate You. So Burn Bitch Burn and Let Me Go Rock and Roll and Dance All Over Your Face. Are we getting the message, LOONIES?…
I’ll try to save anybody who’s drowning – until they start pulling me under. Then I gotta cut ’em loose.
— Paul Stanley
The lineup of Gene, Paul, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer is KISS truly Reunited – with their best musician contractors. An intelligent retort might be to substitute Thayer with Bruce Kulick, and that would be a fine rational argument. But what I do not, will not, and just cannot tolerate any more is the mindless apologia circus that swirls around the Ace-and-Peter mongers. You call yourselves KISS fans, and then display not one whit of understanding of how KISS operates! Even Ace and Peter don’t want to be in the band any more! Why do YOU keep pushing them to rise above their level of competence?
And those LOONIES that maintain, “I stopped listening to KISS when Tommy and Eric started wearing Ace’s and Peter’s makeup.” Really? Let’s unpack that ignorant statement:
Firstly, your own heroes (Ace and Peter) SOLD their makeup designs to the KISS organization, so why are YOU complaining on their behalf that other people are wearing it? (Ace maintains he only “licenses” his makeup to KISS, but then, Ace doesn’t know whether today is Tuesday or not.)
Secondly, not only does it prove you are a non-musician and/or terrible judge of musicality, you are agreeing with KISS’s early critics in saying that KISS are purely image and nothing else! Their actual music, lyrics, the construction of the songs, the virtuosity of any passages, the raunch or subtlety of execution, the production values, the sound of guitars, drums, Paul Stanley’s and Gene Simmons’s vocal timbres – none of that matters. You admit you are SO SHALLOW that all it takes to stop supporting one of your favorite bands is whether you approve of what they wear on their faces? Please see a psychiatrist as soon as you can.
Metal guru and KISS fan Eddie Trunk (THAT METAL SHOW) has a salient point about Thayer and Singer wearing Ace’s and Peter’s makeup: it doesn’t allow them to express themselves – which is what the original makeup designs were intended to do. And I agree. But that’s not the point of KISS anymore. If KISS were mere mortals, Eddie’s point would hold water. Sounds like I’m being facetious, but hear me out:
Simmons and Stanley have hit on a multi-generational entity here, albeit by accident. They’re now playing this merch game on a planetary level. They realize they need not bring in other “characters” because all of humanity can find affinity and resonance with one or more of their existing four “elements” – boiled down to base instincts, these four are all that is required.
They have the demonic (Demon), the angelic (Starchild), the earth-based (Catman) and the space-aced (Spaceman)! The characters within this “band” personify evil, goodness, soil and space; ugliness, beauty, bestial and celestial; Mythological, Physical, Agrarian and Technological. Fire, Water, Earth and Air! Who woulda thunk?!
Thus, it becomes moot to speculate on new members taking on new “characters.” What would their aspirations be? The four existing characters are inscribed in our limbic consciousness; they are ALL that anyone would aspire to; they are the yin and yang, the north and south, the heaven and hell that every human on the planet possesses within themselves. Why should Stanley and Simmons give up their stranglehold on such powerful icons?
And these characters will continue rocking and rolling all nite long after the original members are pushing up daisies in their Kiss Kaskets!…
Rock bands make music. Phenomenons impact society.
— Paul Stanley.
Sonic Boom is recorded on analog equipment, released as a triple CD, and distributed exclusively by Wal-Mart. The cover artwork emulates 1976’s Rock And Roll Over (same artist, Michael Doret).
CD 1 is the album proper.
CD 2 is a Greatest Hits compilation.
CD 3 is Live in Buenos Aires (5 April 2009, River Plate Stadium).
A notable artistic point is that Paul Stanley, as co-producer with Greg Collins (Meat Loaf, Scorpions, Hannah Montana, Goo Goo Dolls), did not employ any outside writers for the first time in years, keeping all the writing credits between himself and Simmons, with a couple of bones thrown to Thayer. Also – no session musicians. KISS perform all their instruments on every song. Never too late to become a solid lineup!
Modern Day Delilah. A modern day classic! One of the strongest opening songs since Detroit Rock City. Though lead guitarist for the band since 2002, only seven years later does Tommy Thayer get to tootle on his first KISS album! In keeping with the KISS ethos, his solo is eminently hummable. We notice immediately that Stanley’s voice is somehow “changed.” His last KISS studio recording was 1998, eleven years ago. Time just rolls on and on… Back during Love Gun (1977) when he had that “phlegm” quality in his voice, we knew it was a simple case of “spitting it out” whenever he chose, but now – he sounds jammed up with phlegm, and there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to spit! It’s alarming, because on this studio track (where a multitude of production tricks can be utilized to hide inadequacies) we can still discern that the legendary Paul Stanley throat is struggling against something. Is it simply old age – that killer of giants?
Video features the band as giants, stalking through the city, and performing in front of a stadium crowd. Stock pap, well-produced, except for the quantity of explosion foley fed to us like we’re in a Michael Bay movie. I counted no less than 43 explosive sounds to accompany the visuals of firestacks, fire-breathing, sparks and flashpots onstage. I don’t mean to sound like one of those fans who trolls KISS forums just to find fault with modern KISS, but come on! Can we have a little MUSIC to go with our EXPLOSIONS, please?
Russian Roulette. Simmons has the right vocal idea. He’s keeping it in a low range, and pushing it up in key spots for impact. Chorus ripped off one of his songs from so long ago, I can’t quite pick it… or is it Burning Up With Fever (1978, Gene Simmons Solo)?
Never Enough. A composite riff ripoff (there’s some Whitesnake Slide It In, some of KISS’s own Ladies Room, some Poison Nothin’ But A Good Time) that finds Mr. Paul straining again. My eyes well up. One of the greatest vocalists in the rock universe is staring down the final curtain. He’s going for those inhuman notes that he used to hit so effortlessly in the late 80s. He’s hitting them. But he’s not fooling anyone. It ain’t effortless any more. And we can hear ligaments tearing with each struggling gasp. This focus on Stanley’s voice is actually ruining whatever enjoyment the song is aiming to provide me with. He’s my hero, my actual American Idol. And he’s dying one line at a time right before my very eyes.
To understand the immeasurable loss to fans – and to Stanley especially – watch how he used to command a stage and a mic. From 1989, the Animalize Live Uncensored tour: look at that arrogance – not just the voice; the strut, the animal magnetism; he knows his legend, his allure. I remember watching this full VHS concert with KISS friends. How could any of us know back then the preciousness of this performance, the way time would ravage our hero? Fuck Time. Fuck Old Age. Everyone should – in the words of Sabbath – Die Young.
Yes I Know (Nobody’s Perfect). Gene’s rock and roller with the classic throwback sound; like a leftover from one of the first three albums.
Stand. Stanley and Simmons trade off vocals, like the old days. An epic anthem about being there for you and standing by your side and all that jazz. In the vein of Shout It Out Loud, I (Believe In Me), or God Gave Rock & Roll To You II – with a vocal harmony interlude that echoes that song.
Hot and Cold. In this straightforward rocker, Simmons gets to cite “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.” (Now he can really claim that he wrote that line.) Tommy uses Ace’s phrasing. I can see why this would annoy Ace fans, but this band is thinking on another level – they’re recreating their legacy with this release. Remember there are new fans being born every day (or, in the words of P.T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute”). For continuity, KISS consciously make these seemingly plagiarist decisions that will enable their creation to live into the future as no band has ever done before.
All For The Glory. Eric Singer vocalizes this Stanley composition. “All for one / And we’re all for the glory…” Probably the best actual vocalist in the band now, it’s amazing that Singer’s voice does have that original Catman-ish rasp; but, unlike the original Catman, his brain is thankfully fully functional. Tommy’s solo is copped from many of Frehley’s licks – intentionally. That’s the gag, Ace-heads. Shut the fuck up!
Danger Us. Slightly ripping off God Of Thunder, Stanley sings: “Danger you / Danger me / Danger us!” Ha! Dja see what he did there?…
I’m An Animal. That’s a Simmons song, of course. A good one. Cruelly constructed, boldly inducted into the live set.
And When Lightning Strikes must be an Ace song– I mean, go Tommy!… Thayer’s playing on this album is controlled and melodic, and definitely styled after the great Ace Frehley. Now I believe it’s meticulously planned, but that won’t make any difference to the Ace-mongers and whiners, who will claim, a) he’s ripping Ace off if he comes up with memorable solos, or b) he’s not as melodic as Ace if he chooses to shred, or c) he doesn’t play like Ace – even though it’s right there on record, or d) he hasn’t got his own style – but again, that’s not what this band is aiming for…
Say Yeah. Well, one person would definitely say yeah to this Stanley homage to 80’s hair-bands – Bruno Mars, who just blatantly rips off the chorus on his 2010 single, Grenade. Then again, until someone trademarks the VIm-V-I-IV chord progression, I guess it’s anyone’s marble.
One last word on Stanley: It’s a tragedy that one of the greatest voices in rock didn’t spend the last few remaining years of his golden throat creating new product instead of just performing old material. Freddie Mercury knew his time was short, so he poured it all into studio work; Stanley got hit outa the blue with a throat operation that suddenly diminished him, so he never had the time to plan for a studio direction. Unfortunate that there is so little original product over the past two decades from these great rock and roll songwriters (Simmons and Stanley), who produced nearly two albums per year in their formative years. If KISS would continue to produce enjoyable, almost “retro,” albums like Sonic Boom, they could ride out the rest of their career still firmly entrenched as legends. Now, after the 2012 release of Monster and the rigorous KISS touring schedule, there seems to be less time than ever to devote to new music, as we constantly see KISS live performances ruined by Paul’s ever-decreasing vocal range. It’s so, so sad!
All we can do is hope that Paul’s avatar will be coming soon to rescue the legacy. It’s out in the open now (that’s where I get the license to speculate above on KISS’s ongoing characters) – Paul has brazenly said that none of the KISS characters are safe from replacement when the time comes!
The quest for the Paul Stanley sonic boom begins…