Review Summary: KISS manage to age gracefully
The story of KISS in the late 90’s is a simple one. In 1995, rehearsal for the unplugged MTV sessions pave the way for the return of the original formation; after the return had been milked through a couple of “greatest hits” packages, the previous lineup of Kulick and Singer – responsible for 1992’s successful and above-average Revenge
– is bidden farewell to through the release of 1997’s frighteningly sub-par Carnival Of Souls: The Final Sessions
; and the following year, what was for many the only “real” formation of KISS starts work on a new album, to the heightened expectations of millions of fans. The result comes out in late 1998, in the form of Psycho Circus
, an album not without its share of problems: once again, Frehley and Criss bailed quite often and Simmons and Stanley had to resort to session musicians, like the ousted Bruce Kulick, soon-to-be permanent guitarist Tommy Thayer, and drummer Kevin Valentine, to finish recording.
Now, Psycho Circus
was one of the most charged albums in the band’s history, in the sense that it served many purposes. On the one hand, it was supposed to please old-school fans, and the ones who had stuck with the band through the 80’s wasteland and the bumpy early 90’s; on the other, it was to recapture the fiery reputation the band had let slip with sub-par album after sub-par album; additionally, it should prove that KISS still knew how to party, a notion dispelled by the drearily gloomy Carnival Of Souls
; and finally, it would hopefully introduce KISS to a whole new generation of potential listeners.
I can vouch for the success of at least one of these goals, since it was in 1999 that I myself first heard of KISS, through an ad for their videogame on the back of a comic book. I was 14, just starting to get into metal, and it looked like that band would be right up my alley; after all, they had a bad-ass FPS game and one of the guys looked like a demon; where could I go wrong? Fortunately, I never did get round to listening to the album, or I might have been disappointed.
Not that the album is bad, not at all. It’s just not heavy, like I expected it to be. Instead, and despite the scare-inducing holographic cover, it recaptures the party-hearty hard rock the band had chosen to abandon years previously. KISS are here to rock, and they state it right off the bat, with titles like Raise Your Glasses, You Wanted The Best
or the gloriously goofy I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock’n’Roll
. The attitude extends to the sound, as the ten songs on here sound like they were assembled from several previous KISS albums, with a bit of each era shining through. The main link is to 1980’s Unmasked
, for the poppy hard rock most tracks present. But there are also a few riffs reminiscent of other albums; Within
, for example, brings influences from the previous album (why?!), while I Finally Found My Way To You
harks back to (shudder) The Elder
. You Wanted The Best
is an old-style, fast paced stomper, and power ballad Dreamin’
could perfectly well have been on Revenge
. Overall, a mish-mash which sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t.
The best songs on this album are decidedly in its middle section. It is here that we will find the catchy riffs and choruses of Ace Frehley’s Into The Void
, as well as tasteful ballad We Are One
and absolute album standout Raise Your Glasses
, which features one of the best choruses in the band’s career. Mid-point You Wanted The Best
is, as noted, a groovy fast-paced track, and boasts the particularity of featuring a duet between Simmons and Stanley, as they trade lines back and forth. Overall, rather good stuff.
Sadly, the album is not without its flaws. The tracks that bookend Psycho Circus
are much worse than those in the middle, and while some are listenable, others are a disgrace. The title track is an example of the former – it even starts out sounding like a standout, if only because it is the polar opposite of the band’s previous album. However, repeat listens show it to be no more than a decent track. I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock’n’Roll
is decent as well, but with a title like that, it should make much more of the chorus section than it actually does. Dreamin’
and the trippy, slightly experimental Journey of 1.000 Years
are listenable too, but lose some of their impact through their placement in the three-ballad-back-to-back overkill that is the end of the album. Firmly representing the awful side is I Finally Found My Way To You
, a disgrace of a track that aims to join the band’s Beatles influences to orchestral samples and ends up sounding like one of the most atrocious outtakes from The Elder
. Also uninteresting is Within
, a track which continues the trend found on Carnival Of Souls
and, as a result, sounds rather out of place.
Still, the good marginally outweighs the bad on this one. While it is no classic – only Destroyer
continues to merit that title in the band’s discography – it’s a listenable album, perfectly on a par with works like Love Gun, Rock and Roll Over
itself. Despite some obvious flaws – two woeful tracks, a handful of bad lyrical lines and the placement of three ballads towards the end, back to back – and some style inconsistency, [i}Psycho Circus[/i] at least shows KISS aging gracefully, which is more than you can say for many bands. It remains, however, for fans only.
Into The Void
We Are One
Raise Your Glasses