Sonic Boom is about the best possible scenario for a 2009 release from a band whose peak came more than 30 years ago. Prior to its release, Sonic Boom was hyped as a “return-to -form”. Everyone assumed it was just the usual hyperbole that precedes any new release, but in this case, the hype was more or less correct.
Granted, there are a couple of tunes (“All For The Glory” and “Danger Us” in specific) that are absolute embarrassments to everyone concerned. And with 11 tracks on the disc, my thought is that if legendary producer Bob Ezrin had produced this one (as he did KISS' most lasting album Destroyer ), those 2 songs would've wound up on the cutting room floor. If that had happened, Sonic Boom would arguably be the most solid KISS album of their career.
The metallic muscle of Paul Stanley's “Modern Day Delilah” opens the album with a sound more in line with early ‘90s unmasked KISS. It's good enough, but not quite what's been promised. After that, the album takes off. Gene Simmons is without a doubt this album's MVP. While Stanley's lyrics bring his songs down a notch by taking themselves a bit too seriously, Simmons, on the other hand, sounds like he's having good old fashioned fun. Sure, “Yes I Know (Nobody's Perfect)” is arrogant and over-the-top, but what makes it work so well is the fact that the leering, unapologetic Simmons gets that. He runs with it and gets the joke so clearly that he even laughs during the song. On top of that, the song legitimately sounds like it could have been an outtake from Rock And Roll Over or Love Gun . The same can be said for Gene's “Hot And Cold”. It sounds unlabored. The lyrics are slight and a bit ridiculous but the attitude delivers it just right. It's nothing but a good time, so to speak.
Speaking of “Nothin' But A Good Time”, Stanley and Tommy Thayer's co-write “Never Enough” borrows so heavily from the Poison song that it's at best distracting. Of course, Poison was simply stealing the music from KISS' “Deuce”, but still, the Poison tune is so well-known that I have a hard time giving this one a thumbs up without strong qualifications. To me, it sounds like the Poison song was linked together with the hook from Whitesnake's “Slide It In” with the lyrics changed. If you can get past that, it's another potential gem.
“Stand” works even better. At first, the chorus seemed a bit hokey to me. At some point it dawned on me that this was straight-up, old school glam. When I realized that, it all clicked. I'd have loved it if it was Slade or Sweet or Mott The Hoople, so there's no reason I can't love this one, too. The intricate harmonies and a capella break down naturally invite more comparisons to the production of Bob Ezrin, but again, KISS pull it off. And if not them, who else?
As for the two “new guys”, Tommy Thayer borrows original spaceman Ace Frehley's tone and style to a fault. Most of the time, he's literally rearranging Frehley's licks from “Firehouse”, “Cold Gin”, “Rock And Roll All Nite”, “100,000 Years” and every other phrase that Frehley made famous. I've actually had fun playing "name the source of the lick". That's not as much of a complaint as it sounds like. Tommy Thayer's playing is a huge part of why Sonic Boom sounds like a true KISS album. Eric Singer doesn't ape original drummer Peter Criss' style nearly as often as Thayer apes Frehley. Sometimes Singer will come close (with a cowbell or a simple 4/4 beat) but he does it while still being himself. Unfortunately, Singer was saddled with his lead vocal debut for KISS on “All For The Glory”, which is one of the songs that should've never seen the light of day. Maybe Stanley and Simmons knew it was the weakest link as they wrote it, but didn't take it for themselves. Tommy Thayer's song “When Lightning Strikes” fares a bit better, but it's still not as strong as the rest of the album.
Simmons' “I'm An Animal” and Stanley's “Say Yeah” redeem the album from the previous pair of eyesores before the whole affair ends. Both songs show what the two primary members do best. “Animal” is a riff-heavy Simmons vehicle and “Say Yeah” has Stanley as the crowd-baiting ringmaster, which is perhaps where he shines brightest.
The bottom line is that if you're a KISS fan, Sonic Boom is an absolute must-own disc. Sure, there are a couple of massive misfires, but most of the material is among the best they've ever released. This is the first record that sounds like an unabashed, straight-up KISS record since KISS Alive II in 1977. This album made me feel like a kid again. The best part is that Sonic Boom doesn't sound like a retread. In fact, it feels fresh and light. Sonic Boom could be KISS' swan song or it could be a new beginning. The choice belongs to Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons.
As an added bonus, the (Wal-Mart only) Sonic Boom package includes a 15-song greatest hits CD (re-recorded by the current lineup) and a DVD of a massive (and incredibly impressive) performance from earlier in 2009 in Buenos Aires. If nothing else the DVD and bonus CD prove that the current lineup of the band can be (and is) “KISS”. For less than $13, it's a heck of a deal, which makes it great for anyone who has ever even had a vague interest in KISS.
Chris McKay / concertshots.com
Give my favorite song from the record a play and see what you think.
Now, a little addendum that I wanted to share with my friends. I don't think either artist will be thrilled with this concept, but I enjoyed it! So my apologies to KISS and Ace Frehley for this.
If I might be so bold, I would actually recommend picking up original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley's new album Anomaly at the same time. I'm hesitant to say this, but I'm gonna! I challenge you to make the following compilation. Take away the 3 worst songs from Sonic Boom (“All For The Glory”, “Danger Us” and “When Lightning Strikes”) and add in the 3 most KISS-like from Frehley's album (“Outer Space”, “Fox On The Run” and “Sister”). If you do this, you may be hearing the best KISS album of all time (even if it can only exist in the land of iTunes). Try it out for yourself. Let me know what you think. Am I crazy?
Chris McKay's recommended running order with what I consider the duds removed and the most fitting from Ace Frehley's album added in.
And here's a clip of Ace's cover of The Sweet's "Fox On The Run", which I think is full of the old '70's KISS sound as well. What do you think? If you like, take the challenge, get both albums and see!
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