Review Summary: Kiss actually delivers a good album? Well I'll be damned.
When Kiss released Psycho Circus in 1998, it was unbelievable to anyone that eleven years later, the band would be back with a new album. It was even more unbelievable in light of years of comments from Gene Simmons that neither he, nor Kiss itself, was interested in making new music. Kiss had become a touring machine, on an endless "retirement tour" that made any new recordings worthless. A new album wouldn't sell more tickets to the shows, and the fans were always going to prefer the classic Kiss albums to anything they could come up with at this point.
A funny thing happens with musicians, though. Music is harder to flush from their veins than would be imagined. After Paul Stanley made a solo record with hitmaker Desmond Child, his creative fire was stoked. He was no longer content to treat Kiss fans to an endless parade of the same songs for the rest of time, so he prodded the band back to life, bringing them into the studio to turn out the first Kiss album in a decade, the first vital Kiss album in two.
Sonic Boom is a throwback in every sense of the word. Eschewing any outside help, the band wrote the record themselves, turning out the best set of songs to bear the Kiss name in many a year. Gene Simmons was enlisted to play all of the bass tracks on the album, something he rarely did even during the height of Kiss. New guitarist and drummer Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer each join in the proceedings, both even being given the honor of singing lead on a track.
The swinging riff of "Modern Day Delilah" opens the record, and immediately announces that this is the Kiss we all remember, not the band that produced Psycho Circus. The guitars buzz with a thick vintage tone, modern but not so much that they sound foreign to the band's trademark sound. The song announces Kiss means business, Paul Stanley's voice sounding exactly as it did when Alive became a phenomenon. Even Gene Simmons puts in a good performance, his voice more energetic than it has been in years, selling his songs as being actual craft, and not just an exercise in branding.
Gene's first song on the record, "Russian Roulette", puts to bed any fears that he is not fully invested in making this Kiss album something special. As expected, the bass leads the way through the verses before a big arena-ready chorus rises unexpectedly. This is the kind of song that made Kiss famous, and is perfectly suited for being sung by the thousands of members of the Kiss army at concerts. Likewise, "Stand" is a testament to Kiss being more than a gimmick. The song, unusual for Paul and Gene sharing vocal duties, features a super melodic chorus that rises through their ranges, breaking down in the middle for a quiet bridge with an intricately woven, overlapping melody.
Sonic Boom features many twists that come as surprises. From Paul and Gene sharing vocals on "Stand", to Thayer and Singer each taking a turn at the mic, the album is fully a band effort. Thayer takes the lead on "When Lightning Strikes", a song that Paul seems to have pulled straight out of the 80's, complete with cowbell. The song is good, and Thayer proves himself capable as a vocalist. The biggest shock on hand, however, is Eric Singer. He sings the lead on "All For The Glory", undoubtedly the best song on the album. With a sticky chorus that is among the best the band has ever written, Singer turns in a performance that is nothing short of amazing. His vocal is raspier than Paul or Gene, but as strong and trained as men who have been singing for decades. Letting Thayer and Singer have a turn behind the mic may sound like a gimmick, but they prove that they have the voices to pull it off, making the move work better than could be imagined.
Of course, Kiss is still Kiss, so not everything here is great. The riff in "Never Enough" sounds like a rewrite of "Shout It Out Loud", and "Yes I Know (Nobody's Perfect)" rips the melody from the verses of "Rock & Roll All Nite". "I'm An Animal" goes for the Sabbath-inspired heft of "God Of Thunder", but has no hook. The worst of all is "Danger Us", a competent song built on a terrible pun that men their age should be ashamed of putting to record.
All of that is forgotten when the last notes of "Say Yeah" echo through the speakers. The song is a statement, replete with gang vocals and a ripping energy that makes Sonic Boom feel like a lost Kiss record from the 70's. No, Sonic Boom is never going to replace people's copies of Destroyer or Alive, but it is a welcome return to form. Not only is it a great record from a band that had been all but written off, but it's a great record; period. Sonic Boom proves that Kiss has always been more than makeup.
There are no guarantees with anything that goes along with the band, so if Sonic Boom turns out to be the last Kiss record, they went out with a bang.