Kiss smacks DTE on Sept. 11Written by Alan Sculley | | ASculley@toledofreepress.com
The previous Kiss studio CD, “Psycho Circus,” did little to prove that the band still had creative life in it.
The CD 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 CD, 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 a recent 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.
“That was the good thing about doing it,” he said. “It does open a lot of peoples’ eyes and changes some peoples’ opinions on what’s going on with Kiss, but it’s all good.
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.
“We wrote some songs very organically, sitting down in hotel rooms and each other’s houses, just us, no outside writers, no agendas with record labels to write a hit song or anything like that or a commercial radio song. We just wrote tunes,” he said. “(We approached “Sonic Boom”) very naturally and from the gut, no over-thinking anything. That’s the truth.”
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.
Singer admits he was angry at the band after it brought back Criss in 2003, although he had no complaints about the group cashing in by reuniting the original lineup in the first place. Before rejoining Kiss this time, Singer said he cleared the air with Simmons and Stanley over the band’s handling of firing, re-hiring and firing again.
“I told Gene how I feel about like how they dealt with me in certain things,” Singer said in a summer 2009 phone interview with this writer. “I always understand the business side of things. It’s not called music friends. It’s called music business. I’m fully aware of that. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I get it. But I said, the only thing I ever said was there is a way to do it, you know. I’m a big boy and you should just tell people your intentions when you want to do something, just be above board. That’s the best way to deal with it. That way you keep the door always open.
“But you know something, the relationship I have now with Gene and Paul and the band is the best it’s ever been for me,” the drummer said.
For Thayer, stepping in to replace Frehley has also gone well. While early on there were fans that had a hard time accepting that Frehley was gone, he said he feels like he’s come to be embraced by the Kiss faithful.
“Over the years I’ve had to build what I’m doing and make more out of it, and people have needed to see what I can do live or on ‘Sonic Boom’ and things like that. And after awhile people don’t question it anymore,” Thayer said. “A lot of new fans, they don’t know the difference.”
Thayer and Singer – as well as Stanley and Simmons — get to continue building their relationship with fans new and old this summer and fall as Kiss tours the United States. 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.”