CD Review: Kiss, “Sonic Boom”

BoomAny good label manager would tell you: don’t name your album something a reviewer could turn into a catchy, snarky counterpoint. But as we know far too well, most of the labels are hanging by a thread, the management inside reduced to bean counters versus quality controllers and, heck, if Hollywood keeps naming their movies in blindly self-insulting ways, why can’t the record industry follow suit?

Besides, we’re talking about Kiss here, who have built an iron-clad and insular fanbase that views such flaunting of common sense as an act of rebellion. Who cares if the new album Sonic Boom, the first since 1998’s Psycho Circus, opens itself up to opening paragraphs such as this, begging the question, “Boom or Bust?” What really matters is if the band has spent the decade-long downtime productively or not, and luckily for you, the Popdose staff has gone through the work of sussing it out so you don’t have to. Strap on your steel dragon-face boots, smear on your kabuki greasepaint and shake off your love gun. It’s time to rock and roll.

Rob Smith: I mentioned in my Overnight America Popdose segment a couple weeks ago that I cannot name a single Kiss studio album that’s great from start to finish (I hate “Beth,” so suck it all you Destroyer fans). After listening to Sonic Boom, I can still say I cannot name a single Kiss studio album that’s great from start to finish.

That said, I like “Never Enough” a lot, though the verses remind me of Poison’s “Nothin’ But a Good Time” a little TOO much.  Wasn’t Paul Stanley supposed to produce that album, too?

David Medsker: Funny, I heard Whitesnake’s “Slide It In” in the chorus to “Never Enough.” And I hear “Heavy Metal” (Hagar, not Felder) in the riff in the verses to “Russian Roulette.”

The album pretends that the last 30+ years never happened, and I’m of two minds as to whether that’s a good thing. On one hand, I will take this entire album over nonsense like “Let’s Put the X in Sex,” “Crazy Crazy Nights” or “Uh! All Night.” On the other hand, those lyrics are awful, no matter the decade. I give them high marks for the music, no matter how many songs they nicked in the process – it’s uncluttered, and that sounds nice. The vocals and lyrics, though, could use another take. Did they record this after trying to sing “Livin’ on a Prayer” at a karaoke bar?

Dave Steed: C’mon now. I just spent 45 minutes listening to nonsense. If this was pretty much any other band this late in a career, they would be mocked for the utter stupidity on this record but Kiss will surely get away with it yet again. They are great entertainers, I give them that, and even something like “Crazy Crazy Nights” you could sing along with — but there’s nothing even remotely memorable or worth a second listen on this album. Though I’m sure this is my fault, as I’m clearly expecting way too much from these guys. You know really, the best thing Gene Simmons has ever given us is Sophie (and when she turns 18 next year, that statement won’t be quite as creepy).

Medsker: If you expect great things from Kiss, that’s your problem, not theirs.

Steed: I’m not expecting anything “great.” I’m just expecting decent, and this isn’t even that. But maybe my level of decent is different than most. I mean, after all these years making music, you’d just think they would improve the level of songcraft by default. I mean look at GWAR. Those guys couldn’t hold a tune at the beginning of their career and yet their last album was thoroughly enjoyable. Kiss still makes the same music they always have. Of course, they also know what works for their fans, which clearly I’m not.

Personally, if I want songs about sex I’ll jump back one week and listen to the Steel Panther record. For a glam band parody the musicianship on that record far surpasses Sonic Boom.

Medsker: That Steel Panther album is funny, but that joke is going to get old really quickly, and the musicianship isn’t going to make up for it.

As for improving the songcraft by default, I think they would if they were capable. Did they bring in ringers like Desmond Child for a bunch of their ’80s singles? Granted, I haven’t listened to a full Kiss album in decades, but this was still better than I was expecting it to be. But to be fair, I was expecting very, very little.

Steed: And Michael Bolton.

Maybe I should have expected nothing and this would have surprised me, ’cause it’s better than nothing – I can concede that.

Anthony Hansen: Okay, confession time: I really like Kiss’ ’70s stuff. Like, genuinely enjoy it without a hint of irony. Hell, I’ll even cop to liking parts of this album from a musical perspective, in spite of the fact that it occasionally sounds like a hair-metal album performed by real human beings instead of sentient masses of spandex and hairspray. That said, the lyrics are… how should I put this… ALL CAPS STUPID. What is ALL CAPS STUPID, you ask? Here, let me quote a chorus for you: “DANGER YOU! DANGER ME! DANGEROUS!” See, that’s ALL CAPS STUPID. At best, this album sounds like AC/DC with a less screamy singer. At worst, it sounds like a really bad Bon Jovi album. Performed by Kiss.

John Young: “Modern Day Delilah” is an above average rock song, with a likable hook and solid rock-guitar production.  The playing is tight, if somewhat sterile…kind of what you’d expect from the two original members and two session guys dressed up like original members.  I still love Paul Stanley’s voice, and it appears to be in solid form here.

“Russian Roulette”: Not another Gene Simmons-penned “You can’t get enough of me… I’m the greatest cocksman ever… I want to put my (clever word for penis) into your (clever word for vagina)” song. I’m (almost) longing for some outtakes from “Carnival of Souls”.  Again, the music is serviceable, but the lyrics and uninspired singing force me to give this song a two on a scale of one to 10.  The background harmonies are good – because Paul is singing them.

“Never Enough”: “Give Me Love, ‘till I’m Shakin’!”  Now THAT’S a great line!  This good-time party anthem is one of my favorite songs on the disc.  Drop the top, turn it up and peel out!  The riff is standard rock fare, but it works in the same way “Hotter than Hell” and “Rock Bottom” do: crunchy, Paul Stanley rhythm guitars drive the song while Tommy Thayer does a great Ace Frehley imitation.  This song will make its way onto my i-Pod. Hell, I should talk the bar band I’m in into covering this song!

“Yes I Know (Nobody’s Perfect”): Wait a tick. A Gene Simmons song with a decent riff (“Calling Dr. Love”, anyone), boring but non-annoying vocals and lyrics that don’t tout the veracity of his baby-maker?  I like this song, I like the groove – three stars!  Great Rhythm Guitar sound, by the way.

“Stand”: This could be a song by The Cult. It’s like you dialed up the “Riff-O-Matic” and came up with this little barn burner!  When you put these songs in context, you see a very yeoman, early AC/DC approach to putting this album together: “let’s write a bunch of riff-heavy, three- chord rock songs, allow Gene to throw in his usual musical bowel movement tunes that bring the overall quality of the album down, produce it so the guitars are front and center and let the public eat it up!”  I sound like I’m trying to get backstage passes to Paul Stanley’s ass, but I really like the vocal on this song. Again Tommy Thayer proves he is an apt disciple of the Ace Frehley school of “hard rocks.”  Three stars!

“Hot and Cold”: Is it wrong to prefer Katy Perry’s “Hot and Cold” over this ditty?  I like the intro, and I like the way the song is mixed to emphasize the crunchy guitars. I’m having trouble getting over the lyrics (again).  The interesting thing, to me anyway, is Gene Simmons is an intelligent, well-read guy who can talk at length about Jewish settlements in Gaza, right-wing censorship, the history of prostitution. The guy speaks like four languages fluently!  There has got to be more ideas for him to explore, lyrically, then the “You Know You Want Me” paradigm. All that being said, this song fits into the collection thematically, as do all these serviceable rock songs.  For the last time: this lyrical conceit began and ended with “Calling Dr. Love”.  Enough.

“All for the Glory”: Hey!  Eric Singer is singing!  He sounds like a more in-tune Peter Criss, and that’s great!  Eric’s been singing back-up for these guys for almost 20 years. It’s about time they wrote a song for him!  This song has some nicely-sloppy guitars (especially in the intro), and I like that, too.  Dumb title, but serve me up more Eric Singer vocal goodies!

“Danger Us”: This chunky rock tune sounds like an amalgamation of the Kiss songs “Take Me” and “She”. Hey, if you’re going to plagiarize you might as well do it from yourself!  If I was in a band with a back catalog as rich as these guys have, I’d be “pullin’ a Dr. Frankenstein,” too, and putting together songs from different past riffs and choruses.  Great guitar and drum sounds (the quiet intro is reminiscent of several of their older tunes); this rocker fits nicely into the overall collection.

Dw. Dunphy: Imagine this: the most smoking hot babe in the history of history has just walked into the room, and there you are. You’re wearing your sharpest suit, a silk tie, shiniest shoes, you have swagger for days, confidence to match and you’re going to chat her up. Then you open your mouth and it’s flopsweat, shame and the panicked realization you just pooped yourself. That’s a Sonic Boom.

It’s Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley sidling their asscheeks up to either side of your head and farting down your ear canals and it’s nothing but utter contempt. Why? Because musically, Sonic Boom is the tightest hard rock the band has produced in decades, but then they open their mouths. Within a minute of “Russian Roulette” the fire/desire watermark has been breached. The endless stream of double entendre is mathematically flawed as these can’t even begin to approach single entendre and it could only get worse if one of them just came right out and sang, “I wanna jam my wee-wee into your she-she.” Do remember that Gene’s solo album Asshole does feature a song with a reference to, “a bucket of pee” so I’m not exaggerating.

It would be different if newer members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer didn’t play the hell out of their instruments, but they do, raising the bar for Simmons and Stanley to meet the challenge. We have to, at the very least, assume these are the players as everything is cloaked in shadow and duplicity in the land of Kissylvania, as it has come to light that 1998’s Psycho Circus, while purporting to be the original lineup including Peter Criss and Ace Frehley only had a couple full-band recordings on it. We have to run on the information given, and if that’s the case, the group have outshone themselves musically. Why they decided afterward that as much care with the lyrics wasn’t necessary is the big mystery. Beyond mystery, the word “contempt” springs up yet again. Did they feel the Kiss Army is so loyal and doting that they could burp the alphabet over their tracks and still make a mint, and hey, why don’t we just go ahead and try that?

I’m not coming down on you, Kiss Army. Believe me, I’m not. I was once a Star Wars fan. I know what it is like to have your heroes crap on the carpet and then expect you to rub your own nose in it. But this is all coming down to the million dollar question: what are you going to do about it? If the answer is to dutifully suck it up and buy the thing, fearing that if you don’t then the next Farewell tour, the hundredth so far, will actually be the last, go right ahead. Nothing stopped me from seeing George Lucas turn Darth Vader into a simpering emo teen and nothing will stop you from biting that frozen, chocolate covered rock ‘n roll banana being presented to you with a smirk and a barely-contained giggle. You wanted the best, but you’re gonna get screwed.

Ted Asregadoo: If there were an Amway meeting for rock stars, Kiss would easily earn diamond awards for their marketing plans.  The album releases since their hey day have grown more tiresome, but with the release of Sonic Boom, the band has done a fantastic job by doing one simple thing: repeating over and over that Sonic Boom is Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over, and Love Gun wrapped up into one album.  It’s kinda like when U2 announced in late 1999 that the “classic Coke” sound of their early albums would come back.  Initially, it was greeted with a “Oh thank GOD!” and then we got “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.”

When it comes to Kiss, I know that hype and Kiss go hand in hand. And that’s what I love about them!  Their shtick is overblown, their music — when not venturing too far from their solid rock-n-roll roots — is designed for partying, and they sell a shitload of product that is destined to gather dust in closets all around the world. Given all that, there was something really magical about the Alive/Destroyer/ Rock and Roll Over/Love Gun/Alive II era of Kiss.  So when hypemaster Gene Simmons said Sonic Boom is a return to the mid-’70s era, like a dog hearing the “plink, plink, plink” of kibble pellets being dropped into a bowl, my ears perked up and I started to salivate a bit.

“Modern Day Delilah” is no “Detroit Rock City.” Instead, like many have pointed out, Kiss is parroting early to mid ‘90s rock.  If you’re looking for the melodic and rockin’ sounds of “I Want You” or “Love Gun,” just forget it.  This is Kiss trying too hard to be like respectable elder statesmen of rock — musically, that is.   That said, I have to say that I rather like the song. What can I say? I’m a sucker for this stuff!

The closest the band gets to sounding like the mid-’70s version of themselves, is on “Never Enough” — which, to me, is quintessential Paul Stanley swagger with the right amount of pop hooks, borrowed heavily from “Traveler” by Devin Townsend. Also, like John Young pointed, out for all the intelligence Gene Simmons purportedly has, he writes lyrics like a 13 year old. Sure, in 1977, it was amusing to hear “Christine Sixteen” or “Dr. Love,” but now when Gene sings lyrics that haven’t ventured beyond his puerile and callow style, it’s creepy in a pedophilia kind of way.

The band plays well together, but there’s nothing distinctive about it; nothing that has a signature Kiss sound beyond the fact that Simmons and Paul Stanley are singing most of the songs. Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer clearly have the chops, but there’s something missing from their playing – and that would be a style of playing that sets them apart from any other session player.  Overall, though, Sonic Boom should do well for Kiss.  The album rocks pretty hard from start to finish, but to say that Sonic Boom is like the albums that made Kiss superstars of the ‘70s is great marketing from Simmons, but in the end, like advertising in general, is more sizzle than steak.

Sonic Boom is available in physical format exclusively through Wal-Mart or online at Amazon.com.

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  • jack

    Excellent job, folks. The real issue for the casual fan will be this: After nearly two decades of being sold single CDs for close to $18, Wal-Mart is offering you a new CD, a rerecorded greatest hits CD, AND a live DVD for about $12. Quantity over quality. The food might be crap, but it's all you can eat!

    I'm tempted to impulse buy on that basis alone, which kind of shames me, because I'm sure I'll dislike the new CD and most of the completely unnecessary rerecorded hits CD. What have we become as consumers?

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ GrayFlannelSuit

    “Kissylvania” – thumbs up on that one. I may have to steal it.

  • Nud

    This did its job, telling me I still would have no interest in Kiss. Eric Singer left Paradise Lost for this?? Well, I guess I would, too…

  • Brooke Bissin

    I have been a fan since 1975. I don't live with my parents and I don't eat up everything KISS, but they did well with this album. Considering the songs have catchy lyrics and melodies, as a rock band, KISS have done their job…..again. Maybe there is a reason this album is selling out everywhere, KISS creates music that is fun and memorable.

    If you want something forgettable, look at most of the “rock” bands today. None of their songs feature innuendos or any sleaze at all. They all last about 2-3 albums before folding, sadly. Their stage shows have no memorable features….much like their music arrangements.

    As a self-professed music whore, I am always interested in new music. As far as new bands go, or anythings past 1990….my only favorite current bands are Green Day, Coheed and Cambria, The Futureheads and The Kings of Leon. I keep on the lookout for bands that will stand the test of time, but it seems they never do.

    But, none of these bands, can write songs like “Shout it Out Loud”, “Never Enough”, or “Calling Dr. Love” like KISS has or does…..well, maybe, Green Day….just one band. You see?

    It takes a rare breed of rock band to be able to write uplifting, singable fun songs and have the fan base to keep them around for 35 years….let's hope Green Day can keep it going. I remember their logo on the American Idiot tour kinda resembled the KISS logo, and they had stage explosions, too. I wonder where that came from???

  • russellight

    Release date: October 6, 2009
    Record label: KISS/Universal
    Official Web site: http://www.kissonline.com/

    The buzz: After years of reality shows, iffy business propositions (KISS Kaskets? A KISS Coffeehouse?), horrid solo albums (see: Gene Simmons’ 2003 abomination “A–hole”…or better yet, don't), line-up changes (bye Ace and Peter!) and endless greatest hits tours, the aging masked rockers return with a brand new album…available only at Wal-Mart. This can't be good, right?

    The verdict: Liking a KISS album in 2009 involves a certain suspension of disbelief—for instance, you have to believe Gene Simmons still sounds dangerous, not old man pervy (sample Gene lyric: “No-no-nobody's perfect/M-m-maybe I come awfully close/Baby, it's time you take off your clothes!”). But give the band credit—the 11 songs on “Sonic Boom” hold up nicely against the band's late-'70s work, with just the right hints of the group's poppier '80s material. The riffs are top-notch, the songs are stupid smart (“Danger you/Danger me/Danger us!”), and “Say Yeah” and the Bad Company-ish “Never Enough” could possibly be…hits? Plus, the band throws in an extra album of re-recorded greatest hits and a live DVD, all for $12. They're practically paying you to enjoy it!

    Did you know? If there are still any indie record stores in your town, you simply must hunt down the bootleg album “People, Let Me Get This off My Chest: The Very Best of Paul Stanley's On-stage Banter,” a compilation of the Kiss singer's best/worst on-stage diatribes. At the very least, you can use it to make great ringtones (our friend employs Paul's shout-out, “Who likes to get licked?!?”).

    http://tinyurl.com/KissAlive35

  • http://www.freedomjunkie.net/ Mark Stone

    Sounds like those who reviewed this album need to take their thumbs out of their asses. Rock was never meant to be stuffy and overly complicated. Its intent was to be fun and loud, as is Sonic Boom. If you start to take Rock so seriously, as they have, you need a new life or at least a new outlook on it.

  • fjordprefect

    Well I liked it. But I'm a Kiss fan. However, being a Kiss fan doesn't mean I liked “The Elder” or “Asylum.” I'm a completist so I own them both, but I don't ever put those albums on because they're pretty bad. “Sonic Boom,” however, shouldn't be judged by anything except how close to their former glory can they get. That's all you can expect from these guys at this point. They're old, they've seen the world a hundred times over. They've got families and they realize that there's WAY more to the world than pop music. So when a band's in that headspace, what do you expect? I'm just impressed that they made a very classic-Kiss-sounding record with some decent new tunes. I enjoy this album much as I would enjoy seeing a really good Kiss cover band play. It's all about the recreating the feeling of a time when Kiss was king. Nothing deeper than that.

  • fjordprefect

    Well I liked it. But I'm a Kiss fan. However, being a Kiss fan doesn't mean I liked “The Elder” or “Asylum.” I'm a completist so I own them both, but I don't ever put those albums on because they're pretty bad. “Sonic Boom,” however, shouldn't be judged by anything except how close to their former glory can they get – and by “former glory” I mean “Destroyer,” Love Gun,” etc. That's all you can expect from these guys at this point. They're old, they've seen the world a hundred times over. They've got families and they realize that there's WAY more to the world than pop music. So when a band's in that headspace, what do you expect? I'm just impressed that they made a very classic-Kiss-sounding record with some decent new tunes. I enjoy this album much as I would enjoy seeing a really good Kiss cover band play. It's all about the recreating the feeling of a time when Kiss was king. Nothing deeper than that.

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  • raytiberis

    The album SONIC BOOM is actually a good album. I like the songs russian Roulett, never enough, stand, Say yeah, when the lightining strikes, and i'm an animal. it sounds like klassik KISS all the way. Great job KISS

  • kevin kaatz

    do you guys play any instruments? If you answered no, youre not qualified to review music. I think this new Kiss album is great-start to finish. Oh, and ive been a musician since I was a little kid. So, go back to listening to Cold Play or whatever BS is going to be playing a keg-party in 5 years

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    Quite a few of us play, actually, and have released albums of our own. Have you ever run a website where an angry ignoramus left a comment? No? Then you're not qualified to criticize our review.

  • kevin kaatz

    do you guys play any instruments? If you answered no, youre not qualified to review music. I think this new Kiss album is great-start to finish. Oh, and ive been a musician since I was a little kid. So, go back to listening to Cold Play or whatever BS is going to be playing a keg-party in 5 years

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    Quite a few of us play, actually, and have released albums of our own. Have you ever run a website where an angry ignoramus left a comment? No? Then you're not qualified to criticize our review.