Kiss’ return-to-form Sonic Boom was anything but a guilty pleasure for me

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It was sort of like when you’re a kid, trying to buy condoms for the first time: Time magazine, brown shoelaces, Trojans, Doublemint gum. Try to look casual. They won’t notice, right? Instead, it was: Colgate toothpaste, 3 pairs of socks, Sonic Boom by Kiss, Toms of Maine toothpaste.

The big exception is that I wasn’t really embarrassed about the Kiss CD. Sure, it’s been some 30-plus years since I bought my first Kiss record (which I think was Rock and Roll Over), and some folks say that they’re more a brand/corporate entity than band. No, it wasn’t the original lineup, as guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer officially replaced Ace Frehley and Peter Criss in the studio. Yet, Sonic Boom had a more cohesive punch than anything Kiss has put out since Love Gun.

I’m not embarrassed? Let me make a list first: the comic book with real Kiss blood in the ink, a full-grown man dressed like a demon-lizard who spews blood, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, the Kiss Army application form, Kiss Kaskets (one of the weirdest pieces of merch in all of rock). Isn’t that brief list enough? I suppose it should be, but I’ve never really felt the need to reject things just because I enjoyed them in my youth. Do I listen to much hair metal anymore? No, but the reason for that has more to do with how homogeneous it all was — not because I think I shouldn’t be listening. Screw that. Life’s too short to let external forces make musical choices for me.

Which is why me and TheWife™ (who just might have been a little embarrassed) were at that Walmart checkout, not long after Kiss’ Sonic Boom was released on October 6, 2009. I’m still sort of ambivalent about these exclusivity deals but every so often I’ll whore myself out for the big rock buzz. And that is exactly what Kiss delivered.

Sonic Boom was packed with hooks, overdriven amplifiers, pounding drums, snarling bass lines (“Russian Roulette” was a standout), anthemic choruses, and a lifetime supply of sexual innuendo. Sure, it was all pretty obvious and lacking in subtlety … and it was freaking glorious.

While so many of the songs made me remember what it was like to be 16, cruising down the street with the car stereo playing at obscene volumes, it’s not pure nostalgia that got me going. No, it was that overdriven guitar sound. It never gets old. It’s fun to do. It’s why I learned how to play guitar. Construct the right tunes with it and you arrive at the reason this stuff attracted you in the first place: sweaty, adrenaline-filled fun.

“Fun” is definitely the key word here. After listening to songs like “When Lightning Strikes” (oh man, they found cowbell from “Ladies Room”), “Hot And Cold,” and “Yes I Know (Nobody’s Perfect),” it became clear to me that they were feeling it too. Kiss sounded like a band again.

[SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: We dig into our old Kiss albums to highlight a few favorites, including “Detroit Rock City,” “New York Groove,” “Cold Gin,” “Unholy,” and others.]

Yeah, in the timespan between “Detroit Rock City” and the eventual purchase of a new Subaru (an “adult” activity if there ever was one), my tastes expanded in so many ways (another short list: jazz, free jazz, traditional country, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Kurt Vonnegut). That doesn’t mean that I can’t have a little (OK, a lot) fun every so often.

Now, where’d I put that Doublemint gum?

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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  • Dan

    Sonic Boom was the most “Kiss” sounding album they’d done since Love Gun (actually, side 4 of Alive II). And Monster is a continuation of that. Making these two albums the best back to back “Kiss” albums since Rock and Roll Over and Love Gun.

    This is not to say there’s nothing in between. I very much enjoy every phase of Kisstory. Revenge was all all-time great Kiss album and Psycho Circus was good “Kiss” fun too. (Not much of a fan of the grunge album, tho.)

    But the shift from rock and roll to metal around 1980 forced Kiss to change (away from disco, pop, and concept albums) to more metal which wasn’t their natural sound. Kiss kinda had to be something else (or so they believed) from 1979 to the late 90s (when they reunited). Glad they’re back to their old selves. Great rock and roll.

    Honestly, if you hate the last two albums, you’re not really a fan of Kiss or the Kiss sound. That’s what the last two are doing, a continuation from what they left behind in 1977. If you don’t like it, then it’s YOU who have changed, not them. Not Gene & Paul.

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