Saturday, November 07, 2009

Music Review: Kiss - Sonic Boom

Rock ‘til you drop. Or at least until you can’t do it anymore. For B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Roger Daltrey and so many other active icons of rock and blues circuits, those are words to live by. And 35 years after influential NYC quartet Kiss came on the scene with its self-titled debut and immediate follow-up Hotter Than Hell, they too are back touring the world and releasing new music.

Released last month exclusively to Walmart as a three-disc set, Sonic Boom is Kiss’s 19th studio album and first since its 1998 album Psycho Circus. Disc one has 11 new tracks, disc two has 15 re-recorded Kiss Klassics, and disc three is a six-song excerpt from a Kiss show this past spring.

Age is of no concern to this band – half of whose members are pushing 60 years of age. Nor does it show on record or in concert for these make-up-wearing mega rock stars. Founding member and rhythm guitarist/singer Paul Stanley still has his dynamic vocal range and knack for writing instant hard rockin’ classics, like album opener “Modern Day Delilah.”

Co-founder and bass machine Gene Simmons still effortlessly spouts out groove-laden licks (not to mention fire, in concert) and gruff vocals. Guitarist Tommy Thayer, who plays a similar style of lead guitar as the “space man” he replaced, Ace Frehley, does a more than admiral job throughout the album of playing exciting leads and fills, as on “Delilah,” the excellent ‘80s-ish “Danger Us,” and the Simmons-sung “I’m An Animal.”

Not all 11 tracks are A-material, however. Recycling is good for the environment but doesn’t always work in a musical setting. For example, the Thayer-sung and cowbell-strong “When Lightning Strikes” again recycles the same old AC/DC chords and rhythm in its chorus you’ve heard before. Thayer’s ascending guitar solo is the song’s pure highlight. “Never Enough” has an anthemic-sounding chorus but from its beginning sounds like “Rock And Roll All Nite” if it was written by AC/DC or Ozzy (think: “Flying High Again”). And silly, clich├ęd lyrics like “If it’s too hot, then you’re too cold” drag down “Hot And Cold” a bit.

Disc two’s Kiss Klassics compilation was, before this release, exclusively sold in Japan in 2008, along with a live 11-track DVD of a Kiss show in Budokan in 1977. Most of these re-recorded Kiss Klassics don’t veer much from the originals. But, the new version of fan favorite “Black Diamond” (with drummer Eric Singer replacing Peter Criss on drums and lead vocals) is an improvement over the original simply because the slowed down tape at the end lasts for under 30 seconds now instead of going on and on for nearly two whole minutes.

Disc three, the six-song DVD, is a short excerpt of a Kiss show from Buenos Aires, Argentina in April of this year during its KISS Alive/35 World Tour. And the selections from it are all aces, from “Deuce” and “Hotter Than Hell” to “Watching You” – one of Kiss’s most underrated hard rockers – and closer “Rock And Roll All Nite,” the band’s signature party rock song. Also included is a stretched out version of “100,000,” which on record and on stage still has a vintage Black Sabbath-type rhythm to carry it along.

The only disappointing aspect of the DVD portion of this release is that it is only six songs long. Ones guesses that the band had to resort to the short DVD in order to keep this three-disc set at a reasonable price. Kiss fans can certainly live with and appreciate that. And besides, any fan looking for a full Kiss show has decades of live albums and bootlegs to choose from. Ones does hope that eventually Kiss will release this full Buenos Aires show, as the rowdy, enthusiastic fans down in Argentina always seem to bring out the best in bands who play there, especially metal bands.

In short, Sonic Boom, even with its few flaws, is a fun, sleazy hard rock and roll record mostly in the vein of its ‘70s material. In other words, it’s the album Kiss fans have been wanting the band to make for over 20 years and likely wondered would never be made.

With 33 tracks for a recession-friendly price of $12 at your local Walmart, it’s one hell of a bargain (though one wishes it was available at this price at other actual music stores). Nonetheless, if you’re a new or longtime fan, you’d be a fool to not pick it up. And with the holiday season fast approaching, Sonic Boom will make a great stocking stuff for dad as well.
3.5 stars for the album
4.0 stars for the whole package

FYI, Kiss will continue its current tour in the USA and Canada in November and December. For dates and more info on Kiss, visit KissOnline.com.

Please note: This article was first published by Blogcritics 11/5/09

Monday, November 02, 2009

Bushisms & Bidenisms: The Gifts & Gaffes That Keep On Giving

I had originally planned on doing a comparative summary of the worst political gaffes ever made by ex-president George W. Bush and current vice president Joe Biden for Suite101.com. It would've been a Bushisms v. Bidenisms type of piece. But that article ran WAY too long, to the point of becoming nearly unreadable.

Therefore, I put together two distinct Top 10 compilations of Bush and Biden's weirdest, funniest, and most embarrassing statements ever uttered in public - who knows what kind of buffoonery they've engaged in private over the years.

These are by no means the "ultimate" lists, since neither of these politicians are capable of going a year without making another political gaffe and thus will likely continue to make embarrassing remarks for years to come. These lists, however, are up-to-date, through comments made in 2009.

First, here's my best of Bushisms article, followed by a best of Bidenisms article.

Note: The articles in the above links were originally published at Suite101 in late October.