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Saturday, November 07, 2009

CD Review: Kiss - Sonic Boom

Kiss - Sonic Boom
2009 Kiss Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Sobering in 2009 to be witness to a rock 'n roll skirmish between one-time brothers under bizarre circumstances. Almost a few ticks ago, original Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley proudly dusted himself off and returned to the music scene with his first solo album in twenty years, the free-spirited Anomaly.

Should it be considered foul play Ace's former running mates likewise manifest this year pimping their own new product within weeks of his, their first slab of original material since 1998's ill-fated Psycho Circus? One gets the impression Ace had no intention other than to enjoy peeling out his new music for his faithful audience, while Kiss' re-emergence unfortunately seems suspect by attrition, particularly on the heels of Anomaly's release.

As one of a kabillion Kiss fans of the seventies, I never wanted to see the original foursome of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley part ways, but when you consider the disastrous Unmasked and the foiled The Elder, plus the disco-inflated Dynasty and trainwrecked solo album experiments (all except for Ace's, natch), well... At least The Beatles had enough common sense and courtesy to know when to call it a day with the grace of finishing on a high note.

Of course, the only other parallel between Kiss and The Beatles outside of being worldwide phenoms of their times lies in the songwriting distribution. Lennon and McCartney were the chief songwriters for The Beatles, yet entertaining a handful of selections from their lead guitarist and drummer, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. In turn, Simmons and Stanley have likewise grabbed most of the writing kudos unto themselves, ocassionally giving life to Ace and Peter's creations when the opportunities seemed fruitful enough. Not that Gene and Paul possess half the songwriting prowess of their genius-speckled predecessors, but you can understand the correlation.

Call it narcissism, but there's a reason why Ace and Peter turned right back out through the Kiss turnstiles after briefly sparking the old magic courtesy of their ultra-nifty MTV Unplugged get-together in 1996 and subsequently lighting up the world in union at the turn of the new milennium.

The fact the genuine Ace and Peter were considered disposable enough to accommodate scab replacements in their trademark platforms and kabuki paint schemes by their one-time partners-in-crime is still unforgivable. Of course, Kiss as an entity has continued to ride a decade-long "farewell tour" without actual closure to consider this moment a comeback. What then, to make of shameless posturing in the form of brand new material featuring two original members gallavanting in their cash-tooling alter egos and a pair of impersonators who are clever enough at their instruments to pull off the facade that is Sonic Boom?

I'm not going to lie, Sonic Boom pisses me off by its mere presence. No disrespect intended towards Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer; I dug Black 'n Blue during the eighties and I was ecstatic Thayer took the time to oblige me a few email questions in the middle of his first tour as the new "Spaceman." Eric Singer gets a free pass of sorts as he was technically Kiss' standing drummer before Peter Criss came back. Singer played on the meaty Revenge album and he's a genuinely decent guy, so neither he nor Thayer should be crucified too badly for trying to make a living like anyone else in this slumdog economy.

The blame thus falls upon the shoulders of Gene and Paul, who have been through so much together they are more than prepared to weather the gusts of scrutiny they've provoked by chump-changing and selling out their past comrades in dispicable fashion. Their latest maneuver in the form of Sonic Boom is vulgar and tasteless in the manner it tries to sell a new generation and their parents a mega rock 'n roll swindle by keeping the gimmicks afire, no matter who has to sell the illusion.

That being said, Sonic Boom is a grudge-filled, frustrating success.

The riffs and the grooves are all recycled from much of Kiss's glory catalog beginning with Dressed to Kill through Creatures of the Night. Paul is still the panting loverboy with better range than anyone his age and road mileage should have. Ditto for Gene, who nonetheless still thinks with nothing more than his flaming dragon and snarling bass. Eric honestly is a much better drummer than Peter, sad fact, and his audile presence is perfectly welcome. The guitar solos from Tommy Thayer are beautiful but frequently painful to consume as they rob Ace blind. Sorry, bro, you know it's true. Take your pick of wailing tugs and distorto-fed wah-wails showcased on "Russian Roulette," "Yes I Know (Nobody's Perfect)" or "Danger Us..." It's a wonder Ace isn't screaming plagiarism. At times, Thayer is his own man with his soloing using "All For the Glory," as one example. In fact, Sonic Boom actually takes a decided nod towards Black 'n Blue on its closing anthem "Say Yeah."

To be fair, Kiss sinks the hooks immediately with the snappy "Modern Day Delilah" and they seldom lose their bounce on the album. They're derivitive as hell throughout Sonic Boom, but then again, AC/DC still has a career based on a handful of the same songs set on repeat. If it fits like a glove, you go with it, and that's exactly the case here as Sonic Boom tips its coif to Kiss' past so much it becomes playtime for long-established fans who can sniff out all of the old-time riff and slide excavation at work here.

"Never Enough" comes out on its verses in the same meter, rhythm and groove as Poison's "Nothing But a Good Time," switching up a chord or two and then opting for a peppery bridge splicing up the breaking-all-the-rules flair on the choruses. Make-um sense-um considering Poison lifted more than enough of Kiss' fireworks for their own party rawk. "Never Enough" sounds absolutely farty coming out of the mouths of men within striking distance of legal retirement, yet Paul sells "Never Enough" like he's in his thirties and looking for someone to investigate his tiger-striped leotards from the Lick it Up and Animalize years.

Suffice it to say, Sonic Boom is filled with the same jizz and filthy sweat as past trash classics Kiss weaned generations of fans on such as "Ladies Room," "C'mon and Love Me" and "Ladies in Waiting." "Yes I Know (Nobody's Perfect)" is a prime example as Gene practically pops a boner while wailing like a pervert to an admittedly catchy drive. On "Hot and Cold" Gene's a freaking stalker amidst the Dressed to Kill riffage and chuckly professions of "if it's too loud, you're too old." Nearly 40 years in the biz and God bless Gene's presumably untorn eardrums, much less his perpetually-shined love gun.

An interesting turn to the juvenile shenanigans comes on the shifty surf and soul tweaks found on the otherwise raunchy "Stand." Did Brian Wilson slip omnisciently into the studio and forget to tell Kiss to grow up on this one?

A lot is being made about Eric Singer's replication of Peter Criss' gravelly chops on "All For the Glory," ditto for Tommy Thayer's vocal delivery on the "Plaster Caster" reminiscent "When Lightning Strikes." All part of the game in keeping Sonic Boom set upon its mission. Thayer honestly sounds very little like Ace and eventually he's smothered by howled backing vocals you notice no transgressions. Singer's sung for Kiss in the past and yes, he's always betrayed hints of Peter, so it's no shock this time around, albeit there's something undeniably sinister about "All For the Glory's" mocking chorus. Ask Ace and Peter how they feel about the chorus line "all for one, all for the glory..."

"I'm An Animal" is the heaviest cut on Sonic Boom, a noisebucket stomp affair which would be at-home on either Creatures of the Night or Revenge. This one's for the pure headbangers, an obligation Kiss has almost always dedicated themselves to with each album: the inclusion of one louder-than-a-pack-of-lions monster jam.

Without the makeup, Sonic Boom would be an all-around triumph. Nobody's mad at Tommy and Eric for taking residence in Kiss, not when they do their jobs efficiently and they give Paul and Gene sharp chops to work with. To their credit, the seniors throw themselves a throwback shindig at the expense of their juniors, which is why Sonic Boom works as well as it does. "Say Yeah," "Modern Day Delilah" and "Never Enough" would zip right up the charts if we were in a more rock-friendly music climate and the hottest band in the world would likely be hot again.

However, to assume at this point there's a need to perform Sonic Boom under grossly false pretenses in borrowed (or usurped, if you will) personae shows Kiss is naive as well as greedy. Sonic Boom has the goods on its own rock 'n roll merits. Why can't that speak outside the paint and the Rock 'n Roll Over-ripped cover?

Rating: ***1/2


Anonymous said...

Lotta words for some crappy music.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

hee hee...I like that one!

Anonymous said...

All your reviews are the same middle of the road 3 stars how can I take anything serious ,what about a great 5 star or terrible 1 star then we can gauge what you're trying to say?

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Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

and considering I vary my reviews elsewhere, I will grant you your point, btw...just happened I stacked "x" CDs into a pile where I thought I wanted to listen to them right away instead of fielding some of the tougher-to-digest albums as I would for my other outlets...thanks for the flag

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

BTW, if you go through the archives, you'll see a handful of 5 star albums, but I hesitate to go full marks on albums unless they floor me... Mastodon got a 5 and this awesome Japanese death prog band got a 5 from me... I gave the new BTBAM a full 4 at, albeit not everyone agrees on that last assessment

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

that Japanese prog band is Gonin Ish, for the record...fucking astounding

theumpteenthtimes said...

Employees at Kiss Coffeehouse Fired, Replaced by Look-alikes

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.—This weekend, employees at the Kiss Coffeehouse in Myrtle Beach received a surprise announcement by its manager, Chad Dashmundson. Apparently, the coffeehouse plans to replace all of its counter people with look-alikes, much like the band,... »


"Music News That's Fit to Fake"

Anonymous said...

Japanese death prog sounds interesting:Goninlsh.Mastodon latest got a 5er.Myself really getting into that Ancestros-Of Sound Mind and Krallice-Dimensional Bleedthrough.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Umpteenth, you made my day, LOL!!!

Anon, dig up Gonin Ish...if you're the same person who continues to hassle me, I will stake my rep you'll like that one. That Ancestors album is great, too. I went pretty high in my review at

Anonymous said...

Good deal I'll check out Gonin lsh, only healthy criticism ,Keep Rockin'.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

healthy criticism is acceptable and welcome...thought you might be my resident heckler who only throws insults with no substance...cheers to ya

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