After the very successful Reunion Tour from 1996-1997, it was time for the original band members to put other their first album in 20 years with the Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter. The last one they did together was 1979’s ‘Dynasty’. Let me tell you, I was super excited to get a new album with only the original 4 guys. I couldn’t wait. I would get to hear Ace rip solos and cool riffs on every song and Peter would bang those drums until the cows came home. Man, I am getting goosebumps just thinking about it. Now imagine my surprise when it wasn’t even close to the build up.
Yes, it was a new album that did feature all four original members. Their pictures are on the front, they each sing song, but it was far from only being the original four guys. Ace appears on only 2 of the 10 songs and Peter sings on 2 and only plays drums on 1. Nothing seems to have changed as ‘Dynasty’ was also an album Ace and Peter slightly appeared on as well. Gene and Paul still rule the roost and do things the way they want to do them. Ace does appear on the Japanese only track so on that release he is on 3 of the 11 tracks. The only song that features all four members is the Ace sung song “Into the Void” which we will discuss later. To be fair, the reason behind Ace and Peter not getting to play much as they were trying to renegotiate their contracts with Kiss and I don’t think that sit real well with Gene and Paul.
The album was recorded from January to April of 1998 and finally was released on September 22, 1998. The album was produced by legendary producer Bruce Fairbairn and would go to #3 in the US Billboard Charts as well as #1 in Australia and the UK. Kiss, in make-up, was back! The production of the album does sound crisp and clean and very modern. But is it the Kiss we remember, a new Kiss that is fresh sounding and alive or is it all production magic with no life whatsoever? All great questions, we might explore.
The album itself was issued with what is a called a ‘Lenticular’ cover which means as you hold the album in your hands and move the cover up and down, side to side, you get a different picture. It could be a closed curtain with the band members faces or a scary ass clown with its tongue hanging out. It is a really cool cover and one that will catch your eye. Outside of that, I am not sure there was anything else special about. It is a very colorful and striking cover and I think one of their better ones.
Okay, enough with the chit-chat, it is time to dissect the album, pull out its guts and examine every song under the microscope until we can scientifically deduce a conclusion as to if the album is alive or dead. I guess if we are dissecting it, that probably means it is already dead so a bad analogy there.
The first track is the title track, “Psycho Circus”. The song opens with a carnival tune which was actually written for the album ‘Carnival of Souls’ but never used. If you are interested, the demo for the song is on Gene Simmons ‘The Vault’. The rest of the song was written by Paul Stanley and Curt Cuomo (who will show up in another review down the road). The song was written specifically with the Psycho Circus theme and as the opening track. The band was missing the BIG song to open the album and Paul delivered. It worked so well it has been used as a great opening track for the live shows. It might be one of my all time favorite Paul songs he has ever done. It is hard and heavy and kicks some major ass. It has a dark quality to it that really makes it stand out. There is a break near the end where Paul speaks sing some of the lyrics in a very menacing style that sounds cool. It is a beast of a song and musically has some stellar musicians. On drums is the great Kevin Valentine, the lead guitarists is some guy named Tommy Thayer, bass is Bruce Kulick and then you have Paul. Cool that it has 2 Kiss members not in the band at that time.
The next track is a Gene track that blew me out of the water. The song is “Within” and it was written by Gene. There is a backwards guitar intro handled by Bruce Kulick and the guitar riff right after is so gritty and dirty that it comes across as pure evil. Gene’s vocals are a soft, dark and brooding delivery and then he explodes forth on the chorus and goes back and forth between each style. It has a great bass riff that gets even heavier during Bruce’s guitar solo. It is a standout track for me and one of Gene’s best. There is a demo of the song on Disc 2 of ‘The Vault if you were curious.
“I Pledge Allegiance to the State of Rock & Roll” is Paul’s next song. The song was written by Paul, Curt and Holly Knight (she helped write “Hide Your Heart” for Kiss back in the 80’s). It is a typical Kiss rock anthem. It is a fun song, nothing special, but I enjoy it enough to not skip it. This one is mostly a Paul solo effort as he plays rhythm, handles the solo and the bass. Kevin Valentine handles the drumming. So nice the whole band was involved…sarcasm.
Finally we get the whole band in a song. “Into the Void” is the Ace lead song with all original members playing their respective parts. The song was written by Ace and Karl Cochran. It is a classic sounding Ace song, not his best, but still pretty cool to have another song in the Ace catalog.
The first side ends with another Gene song called “We Are One” which he wrote, of course. It is a ballad and was actually released as a single. It has a nice groove and actually a pleasant track. It is nice when Gene can pull out a good power ballad as usually you wouldn’t expect that from him. I will admit, I really dig this track. Gene is the only Kiss member on here as he plays bass and rhythm guitar with Tommy laying down a solo and Kevin on drums. And don’t worry, the demo is on ‘The Vault’ if you were wondering.
Side 2 opens with the stellar rock anthem “You Wanted the Best” which has all four members taking part in singing. Gene wrote the song back in 1977 and back then it was titled “Just Give Me Love”. He changed it up to be more current and about the band and their struggles. It is a kicking rock track and the play on the title with how the band is introduced at concerts is awesome. You know where they say…”You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best…” Now on a side note, ‘The Vault’ has several demos of this song including the original 1977 one. In one of the demos, Gene sings the part of each member and makes up lines that are poking fun at each member and doing it in their voice and I have to say it is quite hilarious. Back to the song, this song sounds like it would be killer live and I could see the fans really getting into it. This is a classic sounding Kiss Anthem!!
Then the album completely falls apart from here. The first song is “Raise Your Glasses” written by Paul and Holly. It is a cheesy, cliched pile of cow dung. There is nothing original about it and I find it quite boring both lyrically, vocally and musically.
Next up is the only Peter Criss sung song called “I Finally Found My Way” which was actually written by Paul and Bob Ezrin specifically for Peter to sing. It is a ballad and was a released as a promotional single, not an actual single. It didn’t chart or do anything at all. To me it feels like an attempt at another “Beth” but fails miserably. It is piano based, played by Shelly Berg, but lacks any heart or soul to it. If there was a picture of boring in the dictionary, this song would be that picture. Peter doesn’t even play drums on it as that is Kevin. Paul handles everything else.
“Dreamin'” starts off great with some cool riffage by Tommy and you even have Bruce on bass. But when the vocals kick in on the verses, it left me a little empty. The chorus had some promise as it is a little catchy, but I don’t really like the style of the overall song. It can’t tell if it is trying to be a rocker or a power ballad or something in between. It is not a song that left me singing it after I heard it.
Now we are saved from total damnation on Side 2 with “Journey of 1,000 Years” which was written by Gene. And of note, Gene wrote all of his songs without help, no co-writes, and they are some of his best. The song has an epic feel to it and that it feels larger than life. There is a grandness to it that it is both dark and foreboding. Gene delivers an earnest performance both believable and serious. It is pure magic. Might be my favorite song on the album. It is a great song to end the album as it feels important and you want to hear it again. There is a great demo of this on ‘The Vault’ called “Roar of the Greasepaint” that is just as killer that is so worth checking out.
- Pyscho Circus – Keeper
- Within – Keeper
- I Pledge Allegiance to the State of Rock & Roll – Keeper (1/2 Point)
- Into the Void – Keeper
- We Are One – Keeper
- You Wanted the Best – Keeper
- Raise Your Glasses – Delete
- I Finally Found My Way – Delete
- Dreamin’ – Delete
- Journey of 1,000 Years – Keeper
The Track Score is 6.5 out of 10 or 65%. The real disappointment of this album is the fact it is not a full Kiss “Band” album. When I found that out, it deflated my feelings towards this album. I am not sure why I was surprised, but still it flattened it for me. The production on the album is great and there are some stand out tracks especially from Gene. I think he batted a thousand on this one. His tracks were by far the more stellar tracks. But we did get a couple great songs from Paul with Psycho Circus and the rock anthem from the band with “You Wanted the Best”, but outside of that it fell a little flat. It is not anywhere near their worst album, but not near the top either. I think there are more great moments than not, so I will give it a 3.0 out of 5.0 Stars. Regardless of the score, the make-up era Kiss was back and I am glad it is.
Before we leave, there is a bonus track on the Japanese Edition called “In Your Face” that was sung by Ace Frehley that was written by Gene. My vinyl is not the Japanese edition so I don’t have that song. But I do have two demos from ‘The Vault. One with Gene on vocals and one with Ace. Ace’s version is far superior and a great rocking track. The song sounds like a Kiss song, some great guitar work and that classic Ace vocal. I actually like it better than “Into the Void” so not sure why it wasn’t kept for the main album. Now that is all…on to the next stuff.
Next we will be taking a break from Kiss, sort of. The next 4 reviews are going to be dedicated to the albums released for some of the members after they left the band. We will go through Eric Carr’s Rockology, Mark St. John’s E.P., Eric Singer’s project ESP and then Bruce Kulick’s solo album Audiodog. These were all released between Psycho Circus and Symphony Alive IV. Get ready for more fun.
Next Up: Kiss – The Second Coming Documentary (1998)
Check out the rest of the series if you have time!!
The Kiss Review Series:
- Wicked Lester and the Progeny Demo Sessions (Bootleg)
- Kiss – Kiss (1974)
- Kiss – Hotter Than Hell (1974)
- Kiss – Dressed to Kill (1975)
- Kiss – Alive! (1975)
- Kiss – Destroyer (1976)
- Kiss – “Flaming Youth” 45 Promo Single – Bonus Edition (1976)
- Kiss – Special Kiss Album For Their Summer Tour (1976)
- Kiss – The Originals (1976)
- Kiss – Rock & Roll Over (1976)
- Kiss – Love Gun (1977)
- Kiss – Alive II (1977)
- Kiss – Double Platinum (1978)
- Kiss – Paul Stanley (1978)
- Kiss – Gene Simmons (1978)
- Kiss – Peter Criss (1978)
- Kiss – Ace Frehley (1978)
- Kiss – Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park Movie (1978)
- Kiss – Dynasty (1979)
- Kiss – “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” (1979) – 12″ & 7″ Singles (Bonus Edition)
- Kiss – Unmasked (1980)
- Peter Criss – Out of Control (1980)
- Kiss – Music From The Elder (1981)
- Kiss – Killers (1982)
- Kiss – Creatures of the Night (1982)
- Kiss – Lick It Up (1983)
- Kiss – Animalize (1984)
- Wendy O. Williams – WOW (1984) (Bonus Edition)
- Kiss – Animalize Live Uncensored (1985)
- Kiss – Asylum (1985)
- Kiss – “Tears Are Falling” 7″ Single (Bonus Edition) (1985)
- Kiss – Creatures of the Night (1985 Re-Issue)
- Vinnie Vincent Invasion – Vinnie Vincent Invasion (1986)
- Black N’ Blue – Nasty Nasty (1986)
- Ace Frehley – Frehley’s Comet (1987)
- Kiss – Exposed VHS (1987)
- Kiss – Crazy Nights (1987)
- Kiss – “Crazy Crazy Nights” – 12″ Single (Bonus Edition)
- Kiss – “Reason To Live” – 12″ Picture Disc (Bonus Edition)
- Kiss – Chikara (1988)
- Kiss – Smashes, Thrashes & Hits (1988)
- Kiss – Hot In The Shade (1989)
- Kiss – “God Gave Rock And Roll To You II” (1991) – 12″ Picture Disc
- Kiss – Revenge (1992)
- Kiss – Alive III (1993)
- Kiss – Konfidential VHS (1993)
- Kiss – Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved (1994)
- Kiss – MTV Unplugged (1996)
- Kiss – You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best!! (1996)
- Kiss – Greatest Kiss (1997)
- Kiss – Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions (1997)
- Kiss – Psycho Circus (1998)
The Bootleg Series:
- Kiss – ‘Accept No Imitations’ (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (ASYLUM TOUR)
- Kiss – Look Wot You Dun to Me (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (CRAZY NIGHTS TOUR)
- Kiss – The Summer of Satan: The Devils Ride Out! (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (DESTROYER TOUR)
- Kiss – Return to Capital Center (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (DYNASTY TOUR)
- Kiss – With Fire & Thunder (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (HOTTER THAN HELL TOUR)
- Kiss – Northhampton PA March 19th, 1975 (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (DRESSED TO KILL TOUR)
- Kiss – The Hottest Show On Earth (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (THE HOTTEST SHOW ON EARTH TOUR 2010)
- Kiss – All the Way to the Ball Room (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (Australian Tour 1995)
- Kiss – Kiss of Thunder (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (The Rising Sun Tour 2006)
- Kiss – Agora Ballroom 1974: The Cleveland Broadcast plus Bonus Cuts (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (THE KISS TOUR)
- Kiss – Hotter Than Hell: Radio Broadcast 1976 (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (ROCK & ROLL OVER TOUR)
- Kiss – The Tickler (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (LICK IT UP TOUR 1983)
- Kiss – Barbarize (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (ANIMALIZE WORLD TOUR 1984 – North American Tour)
- Kiss – They Only Come Out At Night (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (ANIMALIZE WORLD TOUR 1984 – EUROPEAN TOUR)
- Wicked Lester and the Progeny Demo Sessions (Bootleg)
Kiss – The Box Set:
- The Box Set (Part 1 of 6)
- The Box Set – Disc One 1966-1975 (Part 2 of 6)
- The Box Set – Disc Two 1975-1977 (Part 3 of 6)
- The Box Set – Disc Three 1976-1982 (Part 4 of 6)
- The Box Set – Disc Four 1983-1989 (Part 5 of 6)
- The Box Set – Disc Five 1992-1999 (Part 6 of 6)
Gene Simmons – The Vault:
- Part 1 – The Grand Opening
- Part 2 – Disk 1
- Part 3 – Disk 2
- Part 4 – Disk 3
- Part 5 – Disk 4
- Part 6 – Disk 5
- Part 7 – Disk 6
- Part 8 – Disk 7
- Part 9 – Disk 8
- Part 10 – Disk 9
- Part 11 – Disk 10
- Part 12 – The Bonus Disk
- Part 13 – The Best Songs of the Vault
- Part 14 – The Worst Songs of the Vault
- Part 15 – The Final Verdict