Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Kiss ~ Psycho Circus

(Click on heading to visit official website.)
Style: hard rock
Label: Mercury
Year: 1998
Home: n/a

Members: Paul Stanley ~ lead vocals/rhythm guitar/bass
Gene Simmons ~ lead vocals/bass/rhythm guitar
Ace Frehley ~ lead guitars/lead vocals
Peter Criss ~ drums/lead vocals
Tommy Thayer ~ lead guitar
Bruce Kulick ~ guitar

Additional: Bob Ezrin, Shelly Berg ~ keyboards
Kevin Valentine ~ drums


Is there anyone who didn't rejoice with Kiss's MTV Unplugged, for countless reasons including a reunion of the original band & a unique take on the classic hits? Growing up I was surrounded by the unmasked Kiss, the Revenge comeback & everything in that nearly embarressing era that they're now working on putting firmly behind them. It wasn't a good era to become a Kiss fan with & I could never figure out what was so great about them, it was just a bunch of guys with characters that didn't seem to have any relationship to each other or a mythology like Alice Cooper. Yet, I still hunkered down to watch Kiss go acoustic, though I didn't know any of their music at the time. This is one of the biggest bands in the world, love them or hate them. & I loved the results, still do & think that might be one of their best moments. The songs aren't any less dumb sex ballads, but the gig is fun, intimate & the music still hits a good strong beat & you get six members of the band instead of the normal quartet. So, of course, when they went to record a formal reunion album with the studio release Psycho Circus I was interested for the first time, the hologram cover also helped lure me ... though I felt sad for the dumping of temporary boys who put up with a lot of big egos for many years & did a great MTV performance to be let go so unceremoniously, but that's business. I love the idea of a psycho circus, but this is not a concept album that such a title belays & given the disasterous Music From The Elder it's probably good for Kiss to avoid concept albums. What this actually is is an album of big rock anthems typical of the Kiss catalog with a lot of quasi-throwaway wannabe memorable lines & hooks. It's the band doing what it always did with little variation. It's big riffs, shallow lyrics written around a catchy chorus hook & as much of an in your face album that Kiss probably thought they could churn out at the time without going too overboard ... their overboard, of course, not being defined the same as for other bands. This is very much the opposite of Unplugged & the opposite of what made that so great. This could have been more, I believe I wanted it to be more, but when the name of the album is describing a musical entity & not the music itself that's not a good sign to start the show with. My lack of Kiss knowledge meant I misinterpretted an album name for representing great creative musical strides. Kinda like when you hear Jon Anderson's Olias Of Sunhillow you think this is going to be something interesting. No, Kiss is the psycho circus not the album. This is a summation of their career as much as the Rolling Stones Bridges To Babylon was about describing their stage set. Kiss know how to turn out lots of layers, chugging basslines & soaring solos without doubt ... but they're playing the same music now they always did just with better production values & more layers, & I still don't think anyone in the band are particularly interesting singers beyond adequate & Peter Criss will be forever stuck with ballads to sing, while circus pomp flies without embarressment as always. Yet again, Kiss has not made me a fan or given me something I'm going to turn to with joy in the years ahead. MTV Unplugged was a fluke of pleasure - sad to say. The problem with Psycho Circus is that years later when I think about it I don't think substance. It hasn't aged well & listening again I'm actually a bit disappointed ... my memory forgot the blandness of so much of it & the enormous amount of filler for a meager ten songs. Too many songs (i.e. title track, "Raise Your Glasses", "You Wanted The Best", "I Pledge Allegiance To the State Of Rock & Roll") are self-saluting anthems of look at how great we are because we're Kiss & we survived & now we're gonna give you the best rock'n'roll ever ... the fact that rock'n'roll takes on its own definition for the sex-ladden cock rock of Kiss is another story ... balanced by more under-developed personal moments lost in the bombast as the die was cast too early that this is going to be a big album not a reflective album (i.e. "Within", "We Are One", "I Finally Found My Way", "Dreamin") with some absolute bland topic filler of meandering phrases but no meaning (i.e. "Into The Void", "Journey Of 1,000 Years") with all the songs built around a catchy chorus line & little lyrical development. I will say, while the lyrics do little for me, musically the album is not so much a failure. Well, it's not that interesting on the whole but it has moments. A lot of work was put into the music, no doubt. The riffs are quite powerful, the layers thick & when Gene Simmons lets his bass gurgle like a beast (i.e. "Within", also featuring a great guitar solo) the songs are amazing & rival the intensity of Tool or any thrash band out there. & there's a lot to listen to in many of the guitar riffs, solos & some great passing notes. But, any band can turn out a killer riff, particularly when they have the production experience of Kiss, but in the long term I still want substance & passion more than fluke good riffs. Here there's too many shallow songs that sound like Mick Jagger big stadium rockers ... & you know what we all prefer is Keith Richards softer "I Want To Hold You" more often than not. Perhaps if Paul Stanley & Gene Simmons didn't dominate the writing process that change might happen. But, Kiss is these two immature boys turned old immature boys with more business sense & anyone else is just a throwaway opening circus act, even if they are original members. "Into The Void" with returning Ace Frehley singing, though a Paul Stanley composition as Frehley & Criss get no writing credits, for all the hype around the glory of the legendary riffer Space-Ace can you get any more boring? Not even a good guitar solo. It's just too bad & giving us quasi-power ballads with "We Are One" or "You Wanted The Best" - which is the only Kiss song ever to feature all four members singing lead - just don't do much to make up for it. Though at least they gave the orchestrated acoustic "I Finally Found My Way To You" to Peter Criss to sing, as the song is great for him & goes right back to the 70's ... but its so out of place it's almost like Simmons & Stanley didn't know what to do with him so they dug a classic song out of the vault as he's not good for anything else. A nice little dancing seal act. This might be a reunion in membership but its still a two man game & if you know the game already there's no suprises in the outcome. It shouldn't even be a surprise that its not really a reunion. The Space-Ace only sings & plays on two songs ("Into The Void", "You Wanted The Best") & Criss is only singing on two songs ("You Wanted The Best" & "I Finally Found My Way") & drumming on one ("Into The Void") ... though doing the math one find that its only three out of ten songs that include the returning boys & only two of these with all four members. You're actually listening to Tommy Thayer on lead guitar, who would take over the lead guitar spot on subsequent tours & albums, & former lead guitarist Bruce Kulick gets a backwards guitar intro as his unceremonious goodbye to Kiss ... his final kiss off. I have to say that Thayer turns in some great riffs when given a chance. Of course, neither of these boys get credit in the album, which says all lead guitar parts are by Frehley & Stanley. Indeed, welcome to the psycho circus where the show is big, the riffs are big, Gene Stanley's cock is big & so his is codpiece ... the music is not important. The fact that this is a weak/fake reunion is almost an after-thought. Reunion is just an excuse to make another album. It's much better than a lot of the unmasked years, but don't have too high expectations & you'll be fine with this moment when Kiss actually had to do something other than merchandise themselves.

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