Part 38 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!
KISS – Psycho Circus (1998)
I have a really hard time rating Psycho-Circus. I played it every day when it came out, but I like it a lot less now than I did in 1998. Once I got over the novelty of “finally, a new album by the original Kiss,” I stopped listening to it. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Gene and Paul are essentially the only members of the original Kiss on most of it. That’s the biggest problem.
On all but one song, drums are by Kevin Valentine (ex-Cinderella), a good studio drummer. Guitars are handled by Tommy Thayer (who fits into the story later) on all but two songs.
The other problem is it’s way too overproduced and I lay that blame at the feet of Bruce Fairbairn, rest his soul.
Fairbairn was a great producer for Bon Jovi and especially Aerosmith in the 80’s, but he was the wrong guy to produce Kiss. I think he wanted to make a dense, lush album as if it were 1998’s version of Destroyer, and he failed miserably. Paul wanted Bob Ezrin to produce…oh, the album that might have been. Paul and Fairbairn clashed in the studio regularly over the direction of the album.
The title track, though is amazing! Vintage, anthemic Paul Stanley. The solo is great, also very vintage…but it’s Tommy. I don’t mind Fairbairn’s production here, the circus noises suit the song, however the drums sound way too plastic. This is the case with almost the entire album. The drums sound like samples throughout.
Gene’s “Within” follows, which I believe was a Carnival Of Souls outtake. (Two other COS/Psycho-Circus outtakes, “Sweet & Dirty Love” and “Carnival Of Souls” itself ended up on Gene’s solo album.) “Within” is a slow dirgey ditty. It’s a good song with lots of atmosphere, but it has nothing to do sound-wise with the rest of this album. It would have been more suited to Creatures or Carnival, but not so much this album.
The cumbersome Paul title, “I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock & Roll” is next. I hate this song. It’s a fast one, nothing special, a little stock, and to me is nothing but pure filler.
Then there’s finally a real Kiss song with all four members playing: Ace’s “Into the Void”. It is definitely one of the best songs on the album, with a riff that only Ace could play and the drums sound a lot better here. It’s quintessential Kiss. When I think of Kiss, I thik of songs that sound like “Into the Void”.
“We Are One” is a Gene song, and it sounds a lot like his 1978 solo album. It’s a nice song, I think it’s a tad slow, but it’s got that late 70’s vibe. Maybe like a “Great Expectations” too.
The second side of the album starts with “You Wanted The Best” which was clearly written by Gene as a Kiss “comeback” song. It’s neat in that all four members sing lead for the first time ever, but really that’s its only selling point. Fairbairn overproduced once again, and the guitars sound a lot more processed than they should. The solo is definitely Ace, though. I think “You Wanted The Best” is another one of those Gene songs that had been presented to the band and rejected from previous albums like “Within” was.
Paul Stanley takes the next track with “Raise Your Glasses”, which is yet again overproduced and also a bit too pop sounding. It sounds like something from Hot In the Shade or that general era. Paul sings some nice harmonies with himself in the middle, but the demo version of this is better (from the “Psycho Circus” CD single pictured below).
Since Peter Criss’ material was allegedly deemed too poor for this album, Paul and Ezrin wrote I “Finally Found My Way” for him to sing. It was meant to be the next “Beth” but I don’t need to tell you what happened there (nothing). It’s a piano ballad (that’s Ezrin on Fender Rhodes) and it’s a nice song, maybe it is was for Neil Diamond to sing. It’s just too darn soft, and Peter’s voice lacks the rasp. The rasp would have given it some edge like Kiss ballads of yore. He sounds great harmonizing with Paul on the bridge though.
Paul and Bruce Kulick wrote the next song, “Dreamin'”, which was ripped off of “I’m Eighteen” by Alice Cooper. It is basically the same song, and I believe Alice beat them in court too.
The most interesting song was saved for last, Gene Simmons’ epic “Journey Of 1,000 Years”. I don’t know what this could be compared to. Although it wasn’t popular with the Kiss fans I know, I think it’s the best song here. Overproducing worked on this song. It is loaded with strings and who-knows-what, and Gene’s chorus is just mindblowing. “Can you hear me calling, can you hear the sound? Can you hear me calling, or is the voice of the crowd?” If this song was on The Elder, it would have fit in better. It’s majestic and I think a good example of what Gene is capable of when he sets his mind to it.
Japan got a bonus track written by Gene called “In Your Face”. He wrote it for Ace to sing, so it has become a little bit of special song, a lost Kiss gem. The production is a little more sparse and though it is not a great Kiss song, Ace’s vocal sets it apart a bit. Worth having.
I have a couple versions of this album. I bought the Japanese version first, for the bonus track, and it was not cheap! The packaging here is cumbersome, but superior to the fragile lenticular jewel case that North America got. It is a digipack whose front cover opens like doors to reveal the Psycho Circus “clown” inside in 3D. Typical gradiose Kiss and I love it.
Australia got a 1999 reissue with a 6 song bonus disc called Kiss Live. It contains 3 classics and 3 newbies. So, in other words, you can get versions of these songs played by the original lineup. This is worth having. Track list: “Psycho Circus”, “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll”, “Into the Void” (with guitar solo), “Within” (with drum solo), “100,000 Years”, and “Black Diamond”.
When you hear Psycho Circus, you can’t help but think that Kiss blew a monumental opportunity to create history. In the end, it’s “just another Kiss album”, and not a particularly great one. It certainly inferior to the first 7 studio albums at best. It has a leg up on some of the 80’s records, but it just doesn’t rock hard enough! The right producer could have made this sound like Kiss, not Aerojovi.