Tick, Tick… Sonic Boom

When I was a kid, nearly every day I would go over to the house of my friend Mark Schwartz to read comics or play with our Mego Action Figures (I had the Spider-Man with Spidermobile). One day, we were playing outside near his older brother’s open bedroom window. That particular day, he was playing an LP on his record player and the sounds were nothing like I’d ever heard before. Up to that point, I was fed a steady diet of Simon and Garfunkel, The Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack and the Monkees.

We went up to his window and he showed us the album cover. It was KISS Alive! From that moment on, I knew I’d found something cool, maybe dangerous, and in my grade school mind, rebellious. Soon after, I bought my first KISS album with my own money. KISS Love Gun was played over and over and to my parent’s credit, they never once asked me to turn it down.

KISS were rock and roll super heroes who sang about love guns and meeting in the ladies room. To my mind, this group was the coolest thing ever. The funny thing is, I still think they are one of the most innovative and cool bands in the world. Sure, they aren’t U2 or The Who or Led Zeppelin.  They carved their own niche. One that millions of fans love.

Today, I’m the father of my own 14-year-old finding her own way with her own music. I wonder if 25 years from now she’ll still be listening to Muse or Angels & Airwaves the way I still listen to KISS.

I love all eras of KISS. The 70s Super-KISS with appearances on the Paul Lynde Halloween Special, the Jerry Lewis Teleathon and starring in KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. I love 80s KISS with the harder sound of Creatures of the Night and the sans make-up years. I love 90s KISS with the swagger of heavy new material from Revenge melding with make-up gems. I love the Reunion era and the magic of seeing the original line-up at the height of their reclaimed glory.  Lastly, I love the current incarnation of the band finally striking out with it’s own identity.

Which brings me to the brand new KISS album, Sonic Boom.

Sonic Boom is so good it makes me forget about Ace Frehely and Peter Criss. Nothing will diminish Eric Carr in my heart as the best KISS drummer ever, but the line-up of Stanley, Simmons with Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer is one of the most tight, yet loose groups ever.

As they toured off and on from continent to continent, this line-up has gelled like no other. They re-recorded older material and it sounded great. From what I can tell, the experience of working together in a studio setting plus night after night on stage has re-energized the band. Nothing showcases this energy better than Sonic Boom.

You might think Sonic Boom would be the last gasp of the well-documented Stanley/Simmons money machine. You would be wrong. This is easily the most solid effort to create a KISS album since probably the early 70s. They used no outside writers or producers. They worked together as a band in a way they probably hadn’t done in a long time. And it shows.

Sonic Boom sounds like a modern KISS record, but stuck in the Rock and Roll Over/Love Gun years. The opening track and first single, “Modern Day Delilah,” grooves seamlessly with classic KISS. In fact, the whole record just feels like classic KISS.

Gene’s songwriting is easily the strongest in years. Aided by Stanley for the first time in decades, the Simmons tracks keep the right vibe both sonically and lyrically. It just sounds the way KISS is supposed to sound. The bass playing, for instance, is a showcase of his talent not heard since, say, “Detroit Rock City.”

Stanley brings a unique tone to his vocals this go ‘round. Not content to scream on key or hang around in a high register throughout a song, he utilizes a more normal register which makes it uniquely KISS and nothing like his recent solo album.

Thayer plays like someone who has been a huge fan of the band for many years. In fact, the solos feel like Frehely solos as if they were played less sloppy and with a contemporary ear. While he doesn’t directly lift from Frehley (except for a few licks), his playing adds classic KISS pixie dust to each song. He isn’t trying to be Ace, but he easily sounds the most Ace-like than any lead guitar player KISS has ever employed.

Almost a year ago, I wrote an open letter to Doc McGee and KISS asking them to consider several things I felt the band should do in preparation of the new record and tour. On nearly every point, the band followed through. From new outfits to no outside song writers to Wal-Mart exclusivity to video documentation of the recording to stage-size video screen, the band and I were uncannily simpatico.

The only misstep I’ve seen so far is the album cover. It’s obvious the band wanted to try and catch lightning in the bottle again by utilizing the same artist who created the iconic Rock and Roll Over cover. The result is just not good. Of course, in this day and age of digital music, does the cover really make or break an album anymore?  I don’t have any answers, but I know I would have loved to have seen what my suggestion of Todd McFarlane could have done.

The bottom line, this is the best KISS album since Revenge and the most classic KISS sounding record since Love Gun. I hope the experience was so good, they do it again.