Thursday, October 8, 2009

KISS - Sonic Boom [music review]

* Released October 6th

I was a massive KISS fan for most of my life up until about five years ago. We're talking a run of about thirty years where they were the most important musical act to someone who lived, breathed, and slept music. Now, a statement like that won't win me credibility points with most music fans as KISS has never, shall we say, been a group that garnered a whole lot of respect, a fact they actually claim to enjoy. But I eventually hit the wall as far as the levels of my fandom for the band. The reasons are numerous and ample fodder for a future Mediaboy Musings posting. Suffice it to say, I approached the release of KISS' first studio album in eleven years with varying levels of skepticism, curiosity, nostalgia, and an almost ingrained conditioning of obligation. 
Sonic Boom arrived exclusively in Wal-Mart stores on Tuesday, the newest extension of the store's successful strategy of pairing classic rock acts with exclusive rights to their new releases. So far, the arrangement has paid impressive dividends: The Eagles and AC/DC enjoyed huge sales numbers, and Journey scored its best sales numbers for a new album in ages. Foreigner is taking the same gamble, releasing a new album last week that marked their highest chart debut since 1987 and spurring further sales for their catalog. KISS clearly wants in on the action. Like most of the aforementioned groups, the new album comes packaged with a live DVD and a disc of re-recorded classics, all for the low, low Wal-Mart price of only $12! It is good value for the money, but is the new material worth the wait? Here's a track-by-track review:
"Modern Day Delilah": Most impressive. The opening track with Paul Stanley on lead vocals is tight, has some tasteful drum fills from drummer Eric Singer, the lyrics aren't embarrassing and it delivers a great chorus. Although there's an eleven year gap to consider between 1998's Psycho Circus and Sonic Boom that yielded one, one new song ("Nothing Can Keep Me From You" from the soundtrack to the atrocious Detroit Rock City movie), this is probably the strongest song I've heard from KISS since "Unholy", off 1992's Revenge.
"Russian Roulette": Gene Simmons takes over the singing for this average, tempo-changing song anchored by a fat, greasy bass line. The pre-verse "ah ah ah ah" lines sound like they were just lazily tossed in, though. The pre-release hype from KISS itself was that this album recaptured the vibe of the band circa 1976's Rock And Roll Over, that "every song sounds like that". So far, I'm not hearing it. 80's and 90's era KISS sounds a little more accurate.
"Never Enough": Okay, now we're getting into this just sounding like other 80's hard rock hair bands (and I say that as a huge fan of the genre). The verses steal the guitar riff from Poison's "Nothin' But A Good Time", which in turn stole the opening guitar riff from KISS' "Deuce". Is it theft if you're stealing something back from someone who stole from you? The plagiarism continues as KISS borrows heavily from Whitesnake's "Slide It In" during the choruses. That the band failed to see the remarkable similarity to the Poison guitar parts is amazing, especially when you consider Paul Stanley was originally slated to produce the album it came from (1988's Open Up And Say...Ahh!).
"Yes I Know (Nobody's Perfect)": Now this sounds like 70's KISS...albeit quite average 70's KISS. Gene's words drip with that lascivious, creepy quality he's perfected over decades, at several points just cutting to the chase and vocally leering "baby, it's time to take off your clothes". Guitarist Tommy Thayer lays down a great solo, although it's a completely transparent mimic of original guitarist Ace Frehley's style, with even further elements of another former KISS guitarist, Bruce Kulick, thrown in.
"Stand": It wouldn't be a KISS album without at least one self-empowerment song...this would be that song. Gene and Paul trade off vocals, but there is simply nothing distinguishing about this track. Under the word "filler" in the dictionary, you'll find this song listed.
"Hot And Cold": Another obvious attempt to recreate some 70's magic, with mixed results. There's some funky bass and nice use of cowbell (more cowbell!), which momentarily distracts from the horrible lyrics. A sample: "Well if it's too hot you're too cold/If it's too loud you're too old/Baby, let go of what you can't hold/Baby, you're too hot and cold".
"All For The Glory": Singer gets a shot at lead vocals for the first time on a KISS album. He's a phenomenal drummer, the most technically gifted of the three players KISS have had over their history. Vocally, he's decent, probably a notch above original drummer Peter Criss (although Criss' voice had a little more character). The material Singer has to work with here is minimal, especially the cliched lyrics which are pretty much foreshadowed by the song's title.
"Danger Us": I literally held my head in my hands for a few moments when I listened to this song. The title had we worried, I'll admit. My God, how could it not?! Musically, it's actually quite good, though...the guitar work is simple yet catchy and Stanley sounds at the top of his game. Then I heard the lyrics during the chorus and my head collapsed into my hands. I'll show them here and then no more shall ever be spoken of this song: "Two parts trouble/Double down tough/Danger you/Danger me/Danger us".
"I'm An Animal": Definitely the darkest sounding track on the album, yet another in an accumulating pile of skippable songs. Another nice Thayerfrehley solo.
"When Lightning Strikes": Thayer assumes the lead singer role as the band tries to recreate one of the original concepts of KISS, that all members would share lead vocal duties (although Stanley and Simmons obviously would get the bulk of the work). His voice is completely bland, which meshes well with the lackluster songwriting. Thayer cowrote the song with Stanley and the same recurring thought popped up while listening to Sonic Boom that I had while listening to Stanley's disappointing 2006 solo album, Live To Win: how does a guy that's been writing songs for close to forty years come up with such shite lyrics? One could never accuse KISS of high-minded word craft, lest we forget their gem from 1984's Animalize album titled "Burn Bitch Burn", with the classic line, "Oh babe, I wanna put my log in your fireplace". Admittedly, Gene wrote that one, but you get the idea. This time we're saddled with "When lightning strikes/A howl in the rain and thunder/A fire ignites/A flash of light electrifies my heart and my soul/And lightning's gonna strike tonight". Really, guys? Seriously, you had over a decade to write this stuff.
"Say Yeah": *sigh* No thanks.
Sonic Boom, as the band has reminded us repeatedly during their media blitz to promote the album, contains no outside songwriters, musicians, keyboards or ballads. It also contains no heart or indication it is anything more than the latest slab of merchandise in the grand KISS marketing scheme, along with crap like KISS M & M's, KISS Mr . Potato Head dolls or KISS bingo games.
Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆