Sonic Boom


KISS, 2009

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Can anyone really pinpoint what the last true Kiss album was?

People may bemoan the fact that Ace Frehley and Peter Criss aren’t the people behind the famous greasepaint anymore, but it has been well documented on the Web how Kiss often used guest musicians or doubled up on instruments, so the idea of what band truly is Kiss is pretty much moot so long as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley are still running the show.

The group’s last studio effort, Psycho Circus, left a lot of people wondering if Kiss should have called it a day. Eleven years later, their most recent studio effort, Sonic Boom, suggests there still is some life in the Kiss engine, even if they still coast more often than they should.

There’s a bit of reverse Dorian Grey-type aging going on with Kiss. Stanley is definitely starting to look his age (without makeup, of course), but his vocals are still as rock-solid as ever. In contrast, Stanley still looks like the fresh-faced Starchild, but when he goes for the falsetto notes in numerous songs, the wear in his voice is quite obvious.

Guitarist Tommy Thayer does try to mold his solos as if Frehley were playing them, so there’s not always as much flash as he could be capable of. That said, his fretwork fits the band well. As for the drum work, there’s never been a question of Eric Singer’s capabilities, so he fills the role more than adequately.

Musically, Sonic Boom starts off – well, with one hell of a bang. I can’t say that “Modern Day Delilah” was the best choice for a leadoff single, but given a few listens, it proves to be much catchier than a lot of recent (read: in the last 20 years) tracks that Kiss has recorded. But the true driving force is heard when Simmons takes the lead vocal over on “Russian Roulette” – a track that, if Kiss were smart (and no one ever claimed Kiss didn’t know how to market themselves), they would put out as a single my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 immediately. Stanley and Simmons have hinted in interviews that the music on Sonic Boom is reminiscent of 1977-era Kiss, and this track shows there was proof to that boast (In fact, it’s better than Love Gun-era Kiss.)

For about the first 15 minutes of this disc, Kiss simply cannot do any wrong. The first sign of weakness comes with the cut “Stand,” a number that sounds like the boys were trying too hard to write a rock anthem. But this slip is almost completely forgotten when “Hot And Cold” kicks in – and, no, this isn’t a cover of Katy Perry’s song. Sure, some of the lyrics are a bit formulatic (“Well / If it’s too hot / You’re too cold / If it’s too loud / You’re too old”), but as much as one would like to lambast Kiss – dammit, they fit!

Kiss has always been a band that tends to rely on filler material too much – and with an 11 year gap between studio albums, the fact that any made it on this disc is simply a crime. But between “Stand,” “All For The Glory,” “Danger Us,” and “I’m An Animal,” there’s plenty of filler still present here. And, sadly, it does distract from what really is one of the better Kiss releases in recent history.

One could argue that rock ‘n’ roll is a young person’s game, and with it comes all the lewdness and debauchery that would make Hugh Hefner look like an amateur. But, seeing that Simmons is 60, do we really need to hear him singing about sex on songs such as “Russian Roulette” and “Yes I Know (Nobody’s Perfect)” – songs I otherwise thought were fantastic? Seeing that I’m within sniffing distance of turning 40 myself, I should feel like there’s hope of me scoring later in life, but it’s getting to the point of it being a little creepy hearing Simmons call for a nubile young lady to take off her clothes.

Kiss does close the disc on a strong note with “Say Yeah,” another track that could easily become a hit single, and is much closer to the rock anthem I think they wanted to record than “Stand” could ever dream of being. With this song, Kiss does leave the listener wanting more.

Sonic Boom – at least the copies that were initially available – comes with a bonus disc, Kiss Klassics, which features rerecorded versions of some of the band’s best-known songs. Diehard fans might wonder why such a disc is even necessary, but for those who can’t afford tickets to any of the Alive 35 shows, this might be the second-best thing to seeing the show live. (The next-best thing, of course, is the bonus DVD, Kiss Live In Buenos Aires, that also is packaged in the set. I have yet to get to the DVD, but it doesn’t matter, because the final rating is based on the new album only, not the bonuses.)

Sonic Boom definitely shows that, despite 35 years of slugging it out, Kiss can still surprise with some outstanding material, as well as bore with subpar stuff.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


The songs you cite as filler; "All For The Glory,” “Danger Us,” and “I’m An Animal" are where the album really picks up, in my opinion. Along with "Lighting Strikes" these are some of the best songs on the album.
Make no mistake, compared to numerous other recent Kiss albums - even going back to the "classic" days - I'd much rather listen to these songs than another insipid cover version. ("Then She Kissed Me," anyone?) Maybe I had higher expectations for these songs after hearing what I thought were some strong efforts.

What is surprising me is that, if Hits Daily Double accurately reflects what Billboard will report, "Sonic Boom" should enter the charts at #3. That's the same chart position that "Psycho Circus" peaked at - and from my vague recollections of that album, I think "Sonic Boom" is better.
Correction to my previous comment - "Sonic Boom" debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 - their highest-charting album in their history.

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