Sound — 7
Gene Simmons is no fool. As the mouthpiece and businessman (often to a fault) of KISS, he probably is well aware that you don't screw with a formula when it works. It's been 11 years since his legendary quartet released a full-length album of original material, and Sonic Boom certainly sounds like what you'd expect out of a KISS record. This is where the slippery slope comes into play. Does the audience want something a little different after so many years? Do you risk artistic freedom? It's hard to say if Simmons even broached these subjects, particularly when Sonic Boom is the latest in several rock records to be sold exclusively at Walmart (a move which reeks of marketing ploys). Once you get over that elephant in the room, you're left to enjoy an album that at least has the fun factor going for it. You'll get your standard KISS fare on Sonic Boom, with both the sleazy rockers and arena anthems coming out in full force. Once again Ace Frehley is a no-show, but the current lineup is a familiar one with Stanley, Simmons, guitarist Tommy Thayer, and drummer Eric Singer lending their efforts. If there is one thing that is still impossibly impressive, it's that Stanley's enthusiasm and vocal delivery has not been affected in the slightest by age. He's still a dynamo at what he does, and that's jaw-dropping at 57 years of age. Simmons' up-to-no-good vocals are always a hoot, particularly when paired with some of the cheesy lyrics heard on Sonic Boom. Singer and Thayer make a good showing, with Thayer actually bringing the record up to a different level. There are some incredibly juicy riffs (it wouldn't have hurt to hear even more) and Thayer deserves credit for keeping the album fresh at many points along the way. The first single Modern Day Delilah is a perfect opener with its blues-rock, in-your-face intro. The guys in KISS aren't reinventing the wheel, but Thayer's riffs (plus solo) and Stanley's vocals make the track incredibly likable. Russian Roulette is pure Gene Simmons, with even the monster-tongued rocker's bass thumping brilliantly in the mix. As far as core songwriting is concerned, Russian Roulette is Simmons' most memorable song when acting as singer, but Yes I Know (Nobody's Perfect) is so over-the-top and sleazy lyrically that it might be the latter that garners the most attention. The key feel-good song on Sonic Boom is Stand, but it doesn't necessarily start off as your run-of-the-mill spirit lifter. Although the intro is fueled by a fantastic riff and the verses are power-chord driven, the chorus utilizes KISS' trademark harmonies. In fact, there's even a moment at the end where that harmonization goes in more of a Beatles' direction. The band isn't getting all artsy on us, but it makes for a refreshing change. You could argue that the new KISS record sounds somewhat cookie cutter in fashion. Never Enough is reminiscent to Poison's Nothin' But A Good Time during the verses and Hot and Cold actually runs fairly close to Dr. Love. There is, however, a good chunk of your standard fun KISS material, with I'm An Animal delivering a dirty, grooving riff and When Lightning Strikes supplying plenty of cowbell.
Lyrics — 7
The band rarely takes itself too seriously on Sonic Boom, with plenty of tracks covering sexual topics or general machismo. A lot of the boisterous lyrics come from none other than Simmons (in Hot and Cold' he sings, What's your name; We're both thinking the same thing; Now we'll let the games begin), and not surprisingly, he sells the content pretty well. If you're familiar with any of KISS' past material, the lyrical content should be par for the course and not create too many waves.
Overall Impression — 8
KISS won't make any huge splashes with Sonic Boom, and it feels like the quartet is maintaining the status quo. Guitarist Thayer is an unexpected highlight, and he actually could have been utilized more so throughout the course of the 11-track album. At no time will you likely be surprised by the material, and that might be disappointing for anyone who is expecting Simmons or Stanley to change their tune at this stage in the game. But if all you're looking for is some groove-oriented straightforward rock tracks that stay true to KISS' roots, there's a good chance you'll enjoy Sonic Boom.