REVIEW: KISS – Sonic Boom (2009 Walmart 3 disc edition)

We’re not done yet!  Part 48 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!   See below for my original 2009 review, unaltered.

KISS – Sonic Boom (Walmart exclusive versions — my original review from 2009)

This album was hyped as the the return of classic KISS.  Is this the best album since the 1970’s? Personally, not for me. I think both Revenge and Creatures are stronger — heavier, more aggressive, more challenging. However, Sonic Boom is really strong. Paul Stanley’s concept of having all 4 band members write and record without outside help is exactly what KISS fans had been asking for since the semi-disasterous Psycho Circus. It may not be the original members, but this is real KISS and this is real rock.

The production isn’t rough like I was expecting — I was hoping for something more akin to Jack White, since Paul chose to record analog. There are glossy harmonies and background vocals (check out “Stand” and “All For The Glory”) that are very unlike 70’s KISS and more like what happened later on with Revenge.

What grounds this album in the 70’s is Tommy Thayer, who is the star of the show here. Not only does he get a lead vocal (all four members do) but he demonstrates why (whether you like it or not) he was chosen to replace Ace Frehley. Basically, he cops Ace’s style, including several signiture Ace licks. How you feel about this is up to you. KISS have obviously wanted him to sound as much like Ace as he can, and that’s exactly what he does here on Sonic Boom. The result is a series of guitar solos that sound familiar, but are still catchy as hell.

The songwriting here is solidly above average. Paul and Gene write together — something that happens very rarely these days. Along with Thayer they have crafted a series of rock songs (no ballads!) that pay homage to KISS’ past catalogue. Moments of Rock N’ Roll Over are shaded with things that sound like Creatures, Revenge, Psycho Circus and even melodies that could have come from Crazy Nights. So while the press have misled us into thinking this was some 70’s retro-fest, it’s not that at all. Have you heard Angel of Retribution by Judas Priest? This is the same deal. Sonic Boom pays tribute to past KISS sounds, it re-grounds the band. In retrospect that is probably exactly what KISS needed to do. Maybe if they make another album (we can hope!), they will take another step forward like Priest did and come up with something more unique.

Interestingly, at least one song here does actually date back to the 70’s. “Hot and Cold” was written by Gene for Rock and Roll Over in 1976, except back then it was called “Rotten to the Core”. He re-demoed it several times for consideration on various Kiss albums until finally the chorus was re-written as “Hod and Cold”, and included here. So if you think it has some of that “Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em” vibe, that’s why. Both songs were written at the same time!

I was disappointed about some blantant ripoffs here, riff-wise.  “Never Enough” is “Nothing But A Good Time” by Poison rewritten.  This is nothing new, unfortunately.  Somtimes it worked, sometimed it didn’t.  Going back further, if you’re a KISS fan you already know that “Deuce” was ripped off from the Stones, and “I Just Wanna” is “Summertime Blues”. Alice Cooper sued them for using the riff to “I’m Eighteen” on a Paul song called “Dreamin'”  This has been happening since day one.  Come on, guys.

I won’t comment too much about the bonus CD, Kiss Klasssics, since I have already reviewed the Japanese import version that came out in 2008. What this is, is greatest hits re-recorded.  It’s fine — songs were re-recorded so KISS could use them on movie soundtracks and whatnot without having to pay off Universal. No big deal. The sound is OK. “Hotter Than Hell” sounds better than the original, but the rest sound too even and sterile. It’s hard to re-record a group of songs that span two decades, because the originals all have different sounds and vibes. However, again Thayer shines here, because he can nail the Ace solos as well as Kulick’s fantastic “Forever” solo — something even Ace wouldn’t be able to do.

Highlights:
“Modern Day Delilah” — simply catchy as hell, and featuring a really great Paul vocal.
“Yes I Know (Nobody’s Perfect)” — the best Gene song on the album, and one of the most 70’s-sounding. Simply infectious!
“All For The Glory” — Eric Singer shreds on his first official vocal (aside from Black Diamond on the re-recorded disc) and his voice is a nice raspy replacement for Peter Criss’.
“Say Yeah!” — my current fave. It just has this epic vibe to it, a great melody, and a chorus ripped off from “She Loves You” by the Beatles. (If you’re gonna keep stealing, steal a diamond, not a lump of coal.)

Still, pretty much every song is good. I like some better than others but there’s nothing dreadful on here. No “I Pledge Allegiance To The State of Rock and Roll” (which I hated), nothing that bad, no filler in particular.

The bonus DVD is pretty cool. 6 songs, played heavy and mean. KISS have proven that they still deliver the goods live. The live versions always seem superior to the studio versions. “100,000 Years” in particular just rocks. And hey, it’s free!

On a side note, I also picked up one of the “instant live” albums from the Montreal October 1 show. And yes, “Modern Day Delilah” kicks butt live. Pick one of these discs up as a companion piece to Sonic Boom.  (Mini review:  Paul’s voice is getting hoarse, really bad.  He’s gotta take it easy on the vocal cords!  The raps between songs are great and I love when Paul speaks French (better than I do) and gets them to “booooooooooo!” the mere mention of Vancouver!

Good effort, KISS. Hit one out of the park next time!

4/5 stars

Here’s some new pics too, just for the fun of it.

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7 comments

  1. Another review nailed! Sonic Boom was a bit of a funny one for me… I really enjoyed it and was really disappointed with it at the same time. Definitely an improvement on Psycho Circus but too many songs just sounded like other bands. I’m hoping they’ll give this excellent line-up its own definitive statement with Monster.

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  2. Thanks! Much appreciated coming from a metal scholar such as yourself. I have high hopes for Monster too. Maybe Sonic Boom was the album they needed to do, in order to create something more original. When Monster comes out we’ll know for sure. I just pre-ordered the iTunes edition for their bonus track.

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    1. Why, thank you! Despite my own qualms about Sonic Boom it certainly had its moments, like every KISS record, and seems to have been the right album for them at the time.

      The chat from the band about Monster has been quite intriguing so far. For once they’re not describing it as the “best since Destroyer”. I always hate it when they say that!

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  3. I saw some interesting quotes from Paul on Friday, that said the album is “different” and not a re-tread of past Kiss albums. As long as all four of them write and sing, no outside musicians or writers, I’m happy. To me the main thing about Sonic Boom was having all four guys play. It’s been way too long since that was the case.

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