KISS - Psycho Circus (1998) Aug 15, 2011 22:59:55 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Aug 15, 2011 22:59:55 GMT -5
KISS IS BACK!
Well, in 1996 that was the rallying cry for the KISS Army. It resonated so loudly that hundreds of thousands of KISS Civilians showed up to see what all the commotion was about. KISS' 1996 Reunion Tour (the first to feature the original line-up in 17 years) was the #1 tour in America that year. It was so successful that it carried over into 1997.
So what would be next for the band? Call it a day? Continue on with more touring? Or maybe do a new album?
Well, the best promotion for a new tour is a new album (and, conversely, the best promotion for a new album is a tour), so it made a lot of sense for KISS to do a new album. A Reunion Album.
That's where things got... weird.
Without an album contract for either guitarist Ace Frehley or drummer Peter Criss KISS mainmen Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons plunged head first into the writing and recording of the new album. Without the services of Ace or Peter. Now, exactly what happened and when gets a little fuzzy, but in the end Ace and Peter only made minimal appearances on the album - but enough for KISS to call it a, "Reunion," album.
Producer Bruce Fairbairn has been given the responsibility for having made the call not to use Ace and Peter on the whole album, but stories vary as to the accuracy of that claim. Whatever happened, the album was not what it was advertised to be. With one exception.
Even so, despite the conflict surrounding the making of the album KISS came through with a classy album that had some real winners on it. Unfortunately, it also featured a couple real stinkers and overall the album failed to capture the vibe or feel of the original band.
All of this despite the band attempting to come up with Destroyer II.
Then again, maybe that was the problem. Instead of organically coming up with the best songs they could enlisting the original line up for the whole album they had a template in mind that they felt they had to fit songs into.
"Psycho Circus," is the epic opening track like, "Detroit Rock City," had been 22 years earlier. Like that previous opener the title track here is arguably the best song on the album. It has some real depth, and shows some real dynamics. Paul Stanley has stated he tried to emulate what producer Bob Ezrin would have done with his song, and Ezrin has said that Stanley achieved that goal. This is a great mid tempo stomper that manages to sound like KISS despite not featuring Ace or Peter. It would have sounded more like KISS had they appeared on the song, however, which was a missed opportunity. A missed opportunity that most of the album would suffer.
Gene Simmons makes his first contribution to the album with the Carnival of Souls leftover, "Within." This is a blatant attempt to come up with this album's, "God Of Thunder," an attempt which is only partially successful. "Within," is a very good song with some extremely good vocal melodies and even some good lyrics, but the song just doesn't quite click as well as it could have. Something seems just slightly off on this one. Still, it is a very good track.
KISS is well known for their Rock and Roll anthems, and Paul Stanley tried to come up with another one in the form of, "I Pledge Allegiance to the State of Rock and Roll." As clunky as that title is the song is still pretty good. Not great, but good. Despite being a good track it sounds more like a Paul Stanley solo song than a KISS song. That's due in part to the drumming of Kevin Valentine and the lack of an Ace Frehley guitar solo. Future KISS guitarist Tommy Thayer handles the solo on this one, and he does a fairly good job - but it sounds more like a Paul Stanley solo than an Ace Frehley solo (which is odd given Thayer's ability to copy Frehley's style). This really seems to be a running theme on Psycho Circus - it sounds like KISS. 1980's KISS - not the original line up.
Well, that's true up until the next track, Ace Frehley's, "Into the Void." This is the only song on the album to feature Peter Criss on drums, and it is the only song to really, really sound like Classic KISS. "Into the Void," easily fits into the type of songs that Ace was known for around 1977 ("Shock Me," and, "Rocket Ride"), and it holds up well next to those tracks.
The claim made on occasion by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons regarding Peter Criss' non-appearance on most of the album was due to diminished skills. That claim by supposedly backed by producer Bruce Fairbairn who reportedly stated that waiting for Peter to get proper takes would have taken far too long. While Peter Criss didn't have the chops of Kevin Valentine he certainly could have gotten passable performances down. Had KISS actually taken advantage of this opportunity the album would have had more character, even if the individual performances may not have been as clean.
And when it comes to clean, the next track is way too clean for a KISS album. Gene Simmons goes all sugar coated Pop on, "We Are One," his ode to the fans that make up the KISS Army. It's a nice sentiment, and the crunch of the hanging chords during the chorus save the song from being utter dreck, but even so this isn't a song that belongs on a KISS album. Clearly, remembering the experimentation of, "Great Expectations," from Destroyer Gene and Paul wanted to make sure that there was a song from Gene on the album that broke the mold. "We Are One," certainly did that. But not in a good way. It should have either been this one or the later, "Journey of 1,000 Years," but not both.
Getting things back on track is, "You Wanted the Best," which was something that Gene had been toying with since the 70's. In this one all four KISS members sing lead on the same song for the first time as Gene took quotes from various magazine interviews during the 1980's and turned them into the lyrics for the song. As for the song itself, it's got the Sweet, "Ballroom Blitz," marching band drums going on, and some killer riffing as well. The chorus isn't immediately hooky, but it grows on you (kind of like fungus). This is a strong song, despite not having a strong chorus hook. Attitude carries the day with this one. That and a killer rhythm guitar tone.
From there we go back to the Paul Stanley solo album mode with, "Raise Your Glasses." This is another very good song, but not one that sounds like KISS. Certainly not 1970's KISS. Crazy Nights era KISS? Maybe, but not Destroyer era or Love Gun era KISS. This is a hard edged Pop Metal tune that would have fit in perfectly on Crazy Nights (and would have been one of that album's highlights), or, better yet, it would have been a perfect fit on a Paul Stanley solo album. This is another song where the performances are too clean and too neat for a KISS song. It's just a little sterile, something that KISS was never accused of being during their 1974-1978 heyday.
Destroyer II rears it's ugly head again on, "Beth II." Wait, it's not called, "Beth II??" My mistake. Because it sounds like a Grease 2 version of a, "Beth II." This one just being called, "I Finally Found My Way." It is an awful song. Terrible. Completely fabricated and phony. And the worst part is that even though they were following a template they completely missed the mark. The vocals by Peter Criss are weak (some even redone by Paul Stanley), and the music and lyrics are just mind numbing. This is shlock. This is the kind of thing that gives KISS a bad name among those who aren't fans.
Then to add insult to injury the band got sued over the next song. "Dreamin," was found to be just a little too close to Alice Cooper's, "I'm Eighteen," and the band was ordered to pay damages. In truth this song sounds only superficially like the classic Cooper song, and it stands on it's own as a very good moody, dynamic Hard Rock song. This one was co-written by former KISS guitar player Bruce Kulick (who also played bass on a track or three on Psycho Circus), and it sounds more like KISS than most of the album.
Then the American version of the album closes with yet another Gene Simmons moody, experimental track in, "Journey of 1,000 Years." This is the experimental, not so heavy track from Gene that should have been included on the album. The syrupy pop of, "We Are One," wasn't necessary. A killer Rock song in it's place (like, say, "It's My Life," which they did record for the album) would have been much better. And that song should have been left off because this one is a great track. "Journey," is an excellent contribution to the album from Gene. But it is also painfully obvious that Ace and Peter are not on the song.
The Japanese version of the album closes out with a bonus track called, "In Your Face," which, despite the in your face title is anything but. It's a pedestrian song that screams mediocrity. Gene Simmons wrote this one, but gave it to Ace to sing. I'm not sure if Gene did Ace any favors by, "Letting," him sing this one. Actually, calling this song mediocre may just give mediocre songs a bad name. This one is closer to bad than mediocre. The Japanese fans must have felt really special to get this as their bonus track. (What did they ever do to you, Gene??)
What sabotaged Psycho Circus and kept it from being a great album were two factors. First, Gene and Paul went with the idea of creating Destroyer II. So much so that almost song for song you can hear what song on Psycho Circus is supposed to be which song on Destroyer. It wasn't an honest album - it was prefab. It was product. Second, the failure to take advantage of actually having the original line-up in place made Psycho Circus (largely) a sterile album that lacked grit or feel. Sure, waiting for Peter to get his drum parts done would have taken longer, but he had the ability to play most of these songs. Psycho Circus was a missed opportunity.
And still there are some good songs on the album (one great song, and a couple very good tracks even). Psycho Circus is not a complete failure. It is a good album, just not nearly as good as it should have been.