Ensuring that the MySpace/Facebook generation will have their very own line of branded lunchboxes, action figures, tampon, pinball machines and other assorted merchandise, KISS is back (if you haven't noticed) with their first studio album in over a decade, "Sonic Boom". While I can't say that this one lives up to the band's claim to be their best in 30 years, they have proven that it is possible to recapture that bigger-n-shit, balls-out bravado and swagger that saw KISS rule the '70s.
I'll spare you the rants about Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer running around in Ace and Peter's clothes, Gene's mind-numbing reality show and the "American Idol" appearance tarnishing the KISS legacy and cut right to the chase here, because that's exactly what the band did. Free of the polish of Pro Tools and heart-broken ballads, "Sonic Boom" is that meat-and-potatoes rock album that fans have been pining for since the letdown that followed the '97 reunion tour. Being a kid who cheered for, dressed like, even fought for KISS (fuckin' SKYNYRD fans down the street…) back in the day, nobody wanted another classic like "Destroyer" or "Dressed To Kill" more than I did. Well, a good portion of "Sonic Boom" delivers just that.
One of the better Paul Stanley-penned tunes in decades, "Modern Day Delilah" kicks things off with a driving groove and huge chorus. Toss in a smokin' solo from Thayer and you've got a song worth getting excited over. Following the dynamic opener is one of Gene's gems, "Russian Roulette". Vocally, he seems to have lost the grit of "God Of Thunder" and the sleaze of "Domino", but he can still rock out, despite the cheese-soaked innuendos. Things get a little shaky during the verse of "Never Enough" when I realized I could almost sing POISON's "Nothin' But A Good Time" over the top of Paul's vocals. Said tune, along with "Yes I Know (Nobody's Perfect)", provide a few good sing-along moments that should come across nicely live, but neither is as effective as "Stand" in that regard. One of the most infectious choruses (almost annoyingly so) on the album, "Stand" is one of those anthems that you can't help but get into; even after you've grown sick of it. Think of a tolerable "God Gave Rock N' Roll To You" meets "Strutter".
It's at this point where we get less killer and more filler. The trio of "Hot And Cold", the Eric Singer-sung "All For The Glory" and "Danger Us", despite recalling shades of "Destroyer" and "Rock N' Roll Over", pass by with little fanfare. Things snap back a little with "I'm An Animal" and its "War Machine" with a bit of "Watchin' You" vibe. This is the closest we come to hearing the Demon of old, which is probably what makes the Thayer-fronted "When Lightning Strikes" a decent, but all around generic hard rocker, less exciting than it could be. Ending in the '80s, "Say Yeah" takes us back to the "Asylum" era for a somewhat disappointing end to an otherwise spandex-free album. Sure, it's a catchy song with big riffs and bigger melody, but lacks that spark that much of the album's first half carried.
Keep in mind a couple of things when approaching "Sonic Boom". First off, it's a KISS album. By now, anyone who comes into this expecting schooled musicianship or lyrical depth is fooling themselves. KISS has always been about entertaining their fans and that's just what "Sonic Boom" does. Despite its lower points, this is a fun record when taken as such. The other thing to keep in mind is that the release is available exclusively through Wal-Mart, so really, they just want your money. Ultimately, "Sonic Boom" once again reminds us that KISS is that middle-aged guy with the top three buttons of his Hawaiian shirt undone who drives around in his convertible and still manages to bag the occasional college chick with his old pick-up lines from the '70s. You want to roll your eyes, but admit it; you love hanging out with the dude.