With Kiss seemingly happy to spend the last decade as little more than a travelling nostalgic circus, and it’s two founding members pushing ever closer to pension age (Gene Simmons has just hit 60, Paul Stanley is 57), I honestly never thought I’d live to see another full album of original material by these guys. After their last studio effort, 1998s ill-conceived and disjointed Psycho Circus, Simmons and Stanley have both bemoaned the fact that the music industry is dead, killed by illegal downloading and an audience mostly apathetic to new releases by ‘heritage’ acts.
Produced by Stanley and recorded in the old-fashioned analogue way, Sonic Boom is much better than any Kiss album produced at this stage of their career has the right to be. While it might not be the vintage sounding recording that the band were hyping it up to be, it does combine elements of their most successful epochs into one tight, cohesive little package. Opening with Modern Day Delilah (which bases itself around a heaving, swaggering riff that could almost pass itself off as an obscure 1970s stoner rock classic), Sonic Boom ploughs through its ten tracks in just over 40 minutes, ensuring a brief but savage aural attack that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Refreshingly ballad-free, Sonic Boom may rank as one of Kiss’ most consistent albums, with not a weak track in sight. Only When Lightning Strikes (sung by lead guitarist Tommy Thayer, wearing the Spaceman make-up made famous by Ace Frehley) comes close to being considered filler, although Thayer’s blistering fretwork throughout the album more than compensates (even if he does ape many of Frehley’s trademark licks and solos in order to achieve that classic Kiss sound). Even drummer Eric Singer is given a chance at the mic, with great results, on the rousing All for the Glory.
While Stanley the Starchild handles the more commercial material (the anthemic closer Say Yeah sounding like it could have come off one of the band’s mid-1980s recordings), it’s Simmons who is clearly the star here, with the Demon coming up with possibly his strongest contributions to a Kiss album to date, combining a thumping bass tone with his typically lascivious lyrics (“Baby, feel my tower of power”) on tracks like Russian Roulette, Hot and Cold and the album’s high point, Yes I Know (Nobody’s Perfect), a rocking boogie shuffle that could easily be an outtake from 1975s Dressed to Kill.
While it’s unlikely to win them an army of new fans, Sonic Boom should restore the faith in many die-hard followers who have stuck with the band throughout their 35+ year history, and is a powerful reminder that, beneath all the make-up, bombast and crappy merchandising, Kiss remains one hell of a good hard rock outfit. If this is to be their last offering, then it is a fitting and memorable swansong.
Copyright John Harrison 2009