Kiss: Hotter Than Hell
Originally published in Guitar World, Holiday 2009
Paul Stanley said for years that Kiss would never make another studio album. But when the latest lineup proved to be a stage-smoking performance machine, he changed his tune. The result is Sonic Boom, an explosive return to form by a group that never really went away.
"Somebody had to have a vision and a direction. And that had to be me.” Sounding only slightly less dictatorial than Benito Mussolini, Kiss guitarist and frontman Paul Stanley is talking about the making of the band’s new album Sonic Boom. The first new Kiss studio album since Psycho Circus 11 years ago, Sonic Boom represents a triumphant return to form for the iconic Seventies rock band. Packed with 11 stadium-razing, hard rock scorchers, Sonic Boom is all killer, no filler. There isn’t even a ballad in the mix.
But it is an album that was almost never made. For years, Stanley staunchly refused to make another Kiss studio record ever again. “I was against the idea for as long as I can remember,” he says. “The fact that Kiss had been able to continue over the years, being able to do concerts and do great business, was a blessing. I just wasn’t sure, up until the last year or so, that there was a reason to do another album.”
What changed Stanley’s mind? It was Kiss’ Alive 35 tour, a monumental worldwide trek the band undertook to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Alive!, the 1975 album that launched Kiss into the outer stratosphere of rock superstardom. Out on the road, the current Kiss lineup—which combines founding members Stanley and bassist Gene Simmons with Eric Singer on drums and Tommy Thayer on guitar—became a powerful, well-oiled juggernaut. Stanley heard echoes of Kiss’ Seventies glory days.
“It was just so clear how great the band is now,” Stanley says enthusiastically. “I think everybody was ready to go in and do this album.”
Fans who buy Sonic Boom will get a healthy dose of today’s Kiss and a nostalgic backward glance as well. The album will be packaged with Kiss Klassics, a CD of Kiss hits re-recorded by the current lineup last year. In addition, it will include a bonus live DVD culled from a recent show in Buenos Aires.
Tommy Thayer, who officially joined Kiss in 2002, is a major reason why Stanley believes the current Kiss lineup is one of the best ever. “I think Tommy’s playing is off the hook,” Stanley says. “It’s great in the sense that it refers back to all our influences, certainly, and everything we’ve done in the past and kicks it up a couple of steps.”
“There is a great spirit in the band now,” Thayer confirms. “We’ve all been on a high over the past year and a half, mainly because of the touring.”
But Stanley had a few preconditions that needed to be met before he would enter the studio with his bandmates. “First and foremost was that I would produce the album,” he says. “Ground rule number two was ‘no outside songwriters.’ I think that when other people get involved in the band it may expedite things and make the process easier, but it certainly dilutes and diffuses what the band is. We don’t need someone else’s interpretation of who we are. We need our own.”
And Stanley’s third precondition? “Basically what you’d expect as a producer,” he says, “and that’s that my word is final. Everything—from the songs themselves to how they were recorded to the mixes to the sequencing of the album...I had to have the final say. And I have to say, from the get-go, it was clear to everybody that the results were terrific, which excited us that much more.”