The month of September is a huge month for KISS fans, even if they don’t know it. Why you may ask? Because the month of September is the anniversary month for the releases of TEN KISS albums. I’ve talked about Alive!, Animalize, Asylum, Paul, Gene, Ace, Peter, Lick It Up and Crazy Nights. Here’s the last one for September. It’s one of great debate, I’m sure. I am conflicted with it myself. And, I’m doing it a day early because Saturdays are scheduled for something else.
Heavens Sake, the band that I was in and still the proudest of (we were greatly influenced by KISS), was still happening in 1998. It was in and out but it was happening. I had seen MTV’s “Unplugged” featuring KISS, along with a reunion of the original members while at drummer Bob’s apartment. We saw KISS actually reunited in makeup on the Grammys, introduced by Tupac. They had a reunion tour and we went. So, it was inevitable that there would be an album. This was the “reunion” album, Psycho Circus, in 1998 on September 22.
I say that in quotations because Peter really only played on Ace’s “Into the Void.” And, current KISS “Spaceman” Tommy Thayer played leads on all but four tunes. And, Bruce Kulick, former KISS member, played bass on the title track and “Dreamin'” and played the backward guitar track on “Within” and rhythm guitar on “Dreamin’,” as well. The drums, this time, weren’t played by Anton Fig in Peter’s stead, this time it was Kevin Valentine (who played on Revenge and Hot in the Shade, as well), known from Donnie Iris & the Cruisers and he was a touring drummer with Cinderella for a bit. Valentine also is an Emmy award-winning composer.
Whilst it was supposed to be a “return of KISS,” even in sound and feel it wasn’t old KISS. There were a lot of aspects of Carnival of Souls, the grunge-metal hybrid they were working on before getting the wise idea of “putting the band back together,” still on here. “Within” is the prime example of that, and in fact was demoed for that album. They had stuff that really sounded like most of the 80s-era stuff, especially Crazy Nights and Hot in the Shade. Again, this was a reunion album in concept only.
When you go out and play American football with all the rules, the same team, the same players, and call your team the New York Yankees, it’s still American football. You can call it a return to the “old KISS” but when the same two people are in charge of the songwriting and the same players are in the studio, it’s still the “new KISS.” Now, all that being said, I’m glad.
I loved the new KISS. I loved the old KISS. I still love KISS. As I said, up until Hot in the Shade, they couldn’t do any wrong, and, even with a few hiccups since that album, I still love them. It’s like that uncle that you know does dumb stuff but you still love him. The band evolved. They grew. They regressed. They moved forward. They moved backward. They adapted and that’s probably their biggest sin, here. I don’t think it would have been possible to return to Destroyer or Love Gun. I don’t think they forgot how to play and write like that, I just think it wasn’t them. If you listen to Sonic Boom or Monster (more on those next month), it’s not far from the same sound as this album.
I think they loved the idea of a KISS reunion but didn’t love being reunited. In a Rolling Stone interview in 2009, Paul said, “We tried to do a Kiss album, and it was an ill-fated attempt because there was no real band. For a band to make a great album, it has to share a common purpose…and we didn’t have it.” It was also revealed that Ace and Peter were trying to negotiate more money out of the “partnership.” You don’t negotiate money with Gene and Paul, not anymore. They feel they’ve survived without Ace and Peter, they kept the name going – regardless of the circumstances, and I think they knew that it was only a matter of time before it all came to an end.
In a very tongue-in-cheek attempt to return to some semblance of the old KISS sound, what do they do? They hire Bruce Fairbairn who was known for Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet and New Jersey albums, Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation, Pump and Get a Grip, and AC/DC’s The Razor’s Edge. Now, all of those are fine and decent albums but do any of them scream what KISS would have sounded like as “old KISS?” All of those are the slickly-produced, sugary popped, the 80s/early 90s hair band mess. Which, I am quite fond of, actually. But, most folks aren’t when it comes to a KISS reunion.
People were disappointed. I wasn’t. Is it my favorite KISS album? Absolutely not. Is it top 10? Absolutely not. Is it top 20? Well, considering there are only 20 studio albums, it kind of has to be, right? It ranks higher than does either Sonic Boom, Monster, Hot in the Shade, Ace or Peter’s solos, and the gasper for this whole thing, Dressed to Kill. Yeah, I’ve really always been so-so about that one. Live with it. I do. This was the last good KISS record to me.
Contrary to what my blog always sounds like, I’m not anti-Ace or anti-Peter, I just don’t care. They squandered their chance and it’s okay that they milk what they can from what they had: sober, not sober, whining, moaning, happy, in, out… whatever. But, I’m really indifferent about their involvement in the band. I felt a little down when they didn’t all play together on stage for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but I’m kind of glad at the same time. Upon the announcement of the “End of the Road” tour that is coming to be the actual retirement tour (we’ll see), people are calling for Ace and Peter to be part of it. Nah. They don’t deserve it in my eyes. Plus, even on the reunion and “farewell” tours, Peter couldn’t keep up and Ace was Ace. Tommy does the same licks, doesn’t mess them up and still has feeling in his playing. Just let it go. If you’re the “F.You without Peter and Ace,” then go back and listen to the old stuff and relish what you had but shut the heck up. Stop living in the past. Paul and Gene aren’t going to change their minds and they don’t care if you don’t give them money. You’re just grandstanding at that point.
My favorite tunes on this album are the title track, “We Are One,” “Dreamin'” (which got Paul and Bruce sued for copyright infringement from Alice Cooper, he won, they settled out of court) and “Journey of 1,000 Years.” I could have done without “You Wanted the Best” because I’m not a fan of “cheerleading” songs and that’s all it was. “Into the Void” was okay. I do actually like “Within,” but then again, I liked COS, too. The rest are okay, too. I like it. Most don’t. I get it, but oh well.
Tomorrow will be 20 years since this came out. To me, it’s still the “new KISS album.” It’s hard to count Monster and ESPECIALLY Sonic Boom. I just listened to Psycho Circus again for good measure.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“I’ve been waiting here to be your guide. So come, reveal the secrets that you keep inside. Step up! No one leaves until the night is done. The amplifier starts to hum. The carnival has just begun. You’re in the psycho circus. And I say welcome to the show.” – “Psycho Circus” (Stanley/Cuomo)