After numerous listens to the Sonic Boom CD, that’s where I come out: good album, great single – and bear in mind that I’m a huge, long-time KISS fan.
Don’t misread that. This is the best KISS record since 1979′s Dynasty (obviously I’m not a fan of the ’80s KISS stuff – but Creatures of the Night was good!). And a good, classic-sounding KISS album is a huge achievement because:
> It’s KISS’s first studio album since 1998′s Psycho Circus, and with long breaks come high expectations.
> It’s a “new” band, at least in the studio, and Paul Stanley has said as much – yet the band inspired the album. Paul said he was dead-set against ever doing a new album until he liked what he saw and heard live over the past couple of years.
> I imagine it’s a huge temptation to use outside songwriters, as KISS has for decades, as well as studio trickery. But no stunt-writers were used, and it sounds like digital crap was kept to a minimum.
> Paul is in his late 50s and Gene is 60. Not only were they willing to try and make an “old”-style KISS record, but they were able to – and can still rock harder than guys a third their ages.
So Sonic Boom is good, but it’s not Rock and Roll Over, Destroyer or Love Gun – which, despite knowing better, all us fans are waiting to hear again! In places Sonic Boom sounds very much like that-era KISS, which given everything KISS has gone though in those 30 years is, again, a big achievement.
Modern Day Delilah
For me, the highlight of the album is the single “Modern Day Delilah” – which interestingly I didn’t like too much when I first heard it. But it keeps growing on me.
In a video interview, Paul said that the tune is a “classic KISS song,” with a cool riff (not chords!) and a good vocal. I’ll give him both of those, but to my ears it’s not classic KISS, which to me would be a little faster and more urgent-sounding.
That said, it’s a really good KISS song with a damn good lead, which to me as a guit-slinger really helps the tune – literally. As we all know, that’s what good solos do!
To me, this tune points in the direction the current KISS might want to go if the band makes another album. It has its roots in the old KISS but points in a slightly different direction.
Guitar Tone and Overall Sound
As I said in a recent post, “Sonic Boom has good, old-school guitar tone all over it. I’ll probably find out later it’s a dang Pod,” but I doubt it. According to the Holiday 2009 edition of Guitar World, Paul used vintage Marshalls and a vintage Fender Bassman head, and Ace replacement Tommy Thayer used his signature Hughes & Kettner amp and a ’70s Marshall.
The guitars wreak of old-school Marshall tone – defined (not too distorted), midrange galore (F that scooped crap), no effects (no dripping delay or reverb). Sweet! For a taste, check out the “Hot and Cold” chorus riff.
In terms of overall sound, the CD sounds like classic KISS in part because of two things (beyond Paul’s riffs, and his and Gene’s vocals):
1. Tommy has Ace’s style DOWN. Long-time fans would be able to tell it’s not Ace, but it definitely sounds like Ace, complete with signature Ace riffs/figures and vibrato.
2. I’m not a drummer, but to my ears Eric doesn’t play drums remotely like Peter Criss. That said, his husky lead vocals in “All for One” are eerily – and I mean eerily – similar to Pete’s.
So maybe we begin to see where Paul’s comfort came from: it’s him, Gene and able stand-ins for classic Ace and Pete.
> According to the Guitar World interview, Paul primarily used a ’94 Gibson Les Paul Standard and Tommy used a ’61 reissue SG: “SGs, Flying Vs and even Explorers have a little more midrange punch to them than Les Pauls,” Tommy said. “It’s a little bit of a tighter sound when you’re recording. Tommy also used a vintage Ibanez Tube Screamer for solos.
Modern Day Delilah (Stanley) – Cool riff, great beat, great tune, great lead. Love it!
Russian Roulette (Simmons/Stanley) – I like the chorus, which sounds like classic KISS.
Never Enough (Stanley/Thayer) – First tune on the disc to feature those Rolling Stones-ish chord shapes so prevalent in early KISS – and yet it reminded me of “Lick It Up” when I first heard it. Sounds a little “King of the Night Time World”-like after the solo.
Yes I Know Nobody’s Perfect (Simmons) – Paul said this is “a song Gene came in with that captured that ‘Ladies Room,’ ‘Plaster Caster,’ that golden era when he really was on target, so it was a surprise and a good one to hear…. It’s Gene very much back on track.” To me it sounds pretty close to classic KISS compared to some of the other tunes. A little “Mr. Speed” in the riff, kind of a cool reference. Song is helped by a seriously Ace-derivative lead!
Stand (Stanley/Simmons) – Paul: “Stand is anthemic in perhaps the way ‘God Gave Rock and Roll To You’…homage to ‘All the Young Dudes’ [as an example of an older anthem']…almost like a teen song.” It is an anthem, but to me it’s more in the vein of “Great Expectations” than “Rock and Roll All Nite.” A little of the end of “Do You Love Me.” That said, to me this doesn’t sound like classic KISS. IMO the weakest tune on the album – but it has a cool old-school break about two-thirds of the way through.
Hot and Cold (Simmons) – Verse guitar ripped off from The Who, but the chorus riff and singing is classic KISS. You can hear the fingers’ slight vibrato on the strings in the chorus, the upper mids of a Marshall – great! Ace fills, Ace vibrato, Ace lead excerpts all over the solo, even the pickup-switch trick!
All for the Glory (Stanley/Simmons) – This is the tune sung by Eric, also sort of an anthem. Also doesn’t sound like old KISS to me.
Danger Us (Stanley) – “Take Me”-derived riff and chorus, pre-chorus also derivative of classic KISS. I like this tune. Paul says the riff is “really classic…somewhere between ‘Deuce’ and ‘Take Me.’”
I’m an Animal (Stanley/Simmons/Thayer) – Opening riff (Paul’s) sounds a little “Dazed and Confused”-ish (Zep). This, according to Paul and Tommy, was a conscious attempt to come up with a classic Gene tune. To me this sounds Creatures-era.
When Lightning Strikes (Thayer/Stanley) – Tommy said, “I wanted to write a song that was really straight-ahead rock and roll…and wanted something with a little bit – I’m the spaceman [so] a little bit of a spacey swagger to it…. I came up with a riff…got together with Paul [who] helped a lot.” To me, this tune sounds like ’80s KISS, but I can’t tell you why. Just the impression I get.
Say Yeah (Stanley) – Paul: “…a song I knew would be great, but the other guys kind of scratched their heads…it turned out exactly the way I had hoped and really better because the band has four great voices, so when we do a chorus together it sounds like the world singing….” To me this sounds like a Paul solo album tune. Distinctly Paul, poppy, brushes up against KISS in places, but not squarely KISS.
Here’s what Paul says about the album in Guitar World: “The last thing I wanted was to make a retro album. I just wanted to make an album that was true to KISS, that captured the vitality, focus and energy of us at our best.”
> The two other discs in the Wal-Mart package are a re-recording (with this band) of 15 classic KISS tunes, from “Deuce” to “Heaven’s on Fire,” and a DVD shot in Buenos Aires of eight KISS Alive-era tunes. The DVD is fun to watch – because it’s KISS! – and it was interesting to see how much Tommy really wants to nail the Ace stuff. The re-recordings are very good renditions of the classics (as they should be!), but are obviously missing some of the urgency and fire of the originals. I wonder if they were recorded before the album so Paul could nail the “old” sound.
> At some point KISS will be voted into that pathetic institution called the Rock and Hall Hall of Fame. At that point you will probably see the four founding members of the band play together, but not before. Here’s what Paul told the New York Daily News: “It’s so great to have a band of guys who all love the band, and all want to do what’s best for the band, as opposed to further themselves at the band’s expense. Anybody who would kid themselves into believing that ‘Sonic Boom’ could have been made by any four other members is out of their mind.”
> OK, but here’s one man’s opinion (mine): If you took the best songs from Sonic Boom and the best ones from Ace Frehley’s recent Anomaly solo album, you would’ve had one HELL of a KISS album. And that’s as far as I’ll go down that road.
Take Me, Live, 1977