KISS: Lickin' it up at the State Fair

 

The previous Kiss studio album, Psycho Circus, did little to prove that the band still had

creative life in it.

The album was billed as the return of the original Kiss, since it came in the

midst of the reunion of guitarist/singer Paul Stanley and bassist/singer Gene

Simmons with the two other original members, guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer

Peter Criss.

Psycho Circus, though, ended up

being a lackluster effort on a musical level, and far less than advertised when

it came to being called a triumphant return of the classic Kiss lineup.

Instead, Frehley and Criss hardly played on that 1998 album, with studio

musicians stepping in to handle what ostensibly were their parts. The band also

had several outside writers contribute to roughly half of the songs.

So Kiss had something to prove when the band decided it wanted to make a new

studio CD, Sonic Boom. For one

thing, this was a new lineup for Kiss, with guitarist Tommy Thayer making his

full-fledged debut and drummer Eric Singer, who since 1996 has been the band's

drummer whenever Criss wasn't in the lineup, back on board.

Now a little more than a year later, the verdict on Sonic Boom is in, and it's been positive, with some critics

even saying it's the best CD from the band since early career albums like Dressed

To Kill and Destroyer.

Thayer is pleased to have seen Sonic Boom win such support.

"I think on a lot of different levels, it has had impact," Thayer said in an

early July phone interview. "First of all, just as far as the music and being a

great Kiss record, check that off the list. In terms of the band, the lineup,

this incarnation of the band, a lot of people from a critical standpoint would

say they're just kind of re-creating what's happened in the past. They're just

out there playing the songs of the '70s and early '80s and things like that.

And I think what has happened here is put that to rest, too, because suddenly

it's a viable, creative unit that can put together a great record and go out on

tour with a fresh new approach to songs and writing and things."

Interestingly, the band decided if Kiss was going to fail on Sonic

Boom, there would be no one to blame but

the band members themselves, as Stanley took the reins on the project.

"We were lucky to have Paul kind of spearheading the project, taking charge and

being the leader," Thayer said. "It's really important to have somebody doing

that in the producer's role. In this case it was just important in laying a

groundwork for what direction we're going in and it worked very well to have

him doing that. Of course, nobody knows Kiss better than Paul does."

The success of Sonic Boom

represents a welcome turn of fortunes for Kiss, whose future looked cloudy only

a few years ago.

The reunion tour of 1996/97 with the four original members was a major success

as a live venture, but by the end of the decade, it appeared the band's days

were numbered. In early 2000, the band announced it would do a farewell tour

that would run from that summer into 2001. Before the tour was over, Criss

split with the group, and Singer, who had joined the group following the death

from cancer of drummer Eric Carr, rejoined Kiss to finish the farewell tour

— which of course, turned out to be far from a final jaunt.

By 2002, Frehley had also played his final gig, with Thayer filling that slot.

When the band returned to the road in 2003 to co-headline a tour with Aerosmith,

Criss had been brought back, prompting Singer to say he would never play with

Kiss again. This time, Criss lasted only for about a year, and as shows became

sporadic over the next four years, it truly looked as if Kiss might actually

fade from scene.

But in 2008, with the 35th anniversary of the band's formation in New York City

looming, Kiss announced it would begin is "Kiss Alive/35 World Tour," with

Singer and Thayer joining Stanley and Simmons.

Now Kiss will cement the idea that the band is back on track both creatively

and as a live unit by touring amphitheaters (and state fairs) this summer and

fall. Thayer said the show is notably different from the one the band took on

the road last fall.

"I know this sounds like a typical answer, but it is bigger than ever," he

said. "It's a bigger stage. We've got more effects, bigger pyro and added

songs. We have a new opening as well. So there are a lot of new bells and

whistles. You try and take a Kiss show and take it to a new level, and that's

really what we try to do each time because it has to be bigger than the time

before."

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