KISS — Interviews, concert reviews and commentaries

by Alan K. Stout

'Welcome To The Show': KISS Back With A Bang And Ambitious Reunion Album

(Album Review, September 1998)

The Times Leader
September 18, 1998

By Alan K. Stout
Times Leader Staff Writer

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Ask any fan of the rock group KISS what's the most compelling aspect of the band, and the answer will usually be the same.

No, it's not the over-the-top, outrageous concerts that helped redefine the modern stageshow. Nor is it the greasepaint and flamboyant costumes that helped make the group's faces - at least at one point in the late '70s - rock's most famous mugs since John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Nor is it the endless line of collectibles ranging from action figures to trading cards that can still be found on wall-sized displays at any 'ol Spencer's near you.

That - for better or worse - is all part of the KISS mystique. But the most alluring aspect of the band is, to its purest of fans, the same as any other group that's sold 80 million albums:

The music.

And it's music that's again taking center stage with the release of "Psycho Circus," KISS' first album in nearly 20 years featuring original members Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss.

Although KISS - sans make-up and with Simmons and Stanley at the helm - continued to successfully record and perform throughout the '80s and early '90s, it was the original line-up's 1996 reunion tour that put KISS back among rock's elite.

"Psycho Circus" and subsequent tour should help keep them there.

Although it may not be their best, "Psycho Circus" is - without question - KISS' most honest, fashion-free record since 1982's "Creatures of The Night." It's an ambitious blend of 25 years worth of writing and recording, featuring traces of the all of group's past work and outside influences. And like all of the band's albums, it remains true at its core to the band's own distinct sound.

"Welcome to the show!" shouts Stanley repeatedly during snarling opening title track. Featuring two engaging arrangement changes, "Psycho Circus" was obviously written with the intention of opening the shows on the band's upcoming tour. Stanley's rhythm guitars bleed with energy and Frehley's solo is compact but fitting. Serving as ringmaster, Stanley's soaring vocals compel the listener to join him on an imaginative, spirited ride into the world of KISS.

Simmons' "Within," is the album's darkest track and expands upon 1995's alternative/post-grunge "Carnival of Souls" sound, while Stanley's '80s-ish anthem "I Pledge Allegiance to The State of Rock n' Roll" revisits KISS' often sung themes of individuality and triumph. Same goes for the equally gladdening "Raise Your Glasses."

Frehley still sings like a ticked off young punk on the groove-laced "Into The Void" and Simmons - as he first did on his 1978 solo LP - again reveals his musical roots with the melodic, uplifting, Beatleesque "We Are One."

All four members trade off on lead vocals for "You Wanted The Best," the band's shameless, unabashed tribute to itself and its fans. Although a highly unusual track and brazenly self-serving, the song somehow manages to serve as a genuine celebration of the band's reunion. Stanley's mock British accent during its fadeout, where he can be heard murmuring the words "No more war," likely refers to the internal mudslinging that became common in the '80s.

Criss - who scored one of the band's biggest hits in 1976 with "Beth" - again takes on the roll of balladeer with the lush "I Finally Found My Way." Although not quite on par with its predecessor - nor other KISS softies such as 1987's "Reason To Live" or 1989's "Forever" - the hooky chorus, string arrangements and Catman's raspy vocals are comfortably on target.

Elements of the brash "Creatures of The Night" LP fuel Stanley's driving "Dreaming," while Simmons' grand "Journey of a 1,000 Years" closes the album with a decisively heady feel. Here, Simmons - whose words are usually more cut and dry - offers more ambiguous lyrics and takes the band on a musical path it has never fully explored: an intriguing combination of Zep's "Physical Graffiti" and The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's."

"Psycho Circus" may disappoint those hoping for KISS to strictly revisit its '70s sound, but will certainly please those eager to hear what the original four could come up with in 1998 after years of both growth and separation. Most of the songs are internal; there's no singing about babes or rebellion, which would have come off as false from four middle-aged millionaires.

Producer Bruce Fairbairn's (Aerosmith) work allows the songs to both bite and breathe, and Stanley - who at times during the '80s seemed to single handily carry the band - again comes up big.

"I feel the sunlight shining down on my face," sings the Starchild at one point on the album. "Not a cloud in my mind."

That, musically, also seems to be KISS' place in 1998.

Welcome to the show.