Kiss: Still Rock's Clowns on Psycho Circus

Kiss - Psycho Circus
(Mercury Records)
2 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

By Tony Bonyata

It's funny because although over 25 years have passed since they started churning out head-banging rock and carefully applying Maybelline makeup nightly before their shows, not much has changed with the band Kiss.
Sure they've had personnel changes throughout the years, with guitarist / vocalist Paul Stanley and bassist / vocalist Gene Simmons always intact as the band's nucleus, not to mention a few years where they actually stripped away their trademark greasepaint. But fear not kids, because all four original members complete with kabuki-styled make-up and cartoonish alter-egos - the Catman (drummer Peter Criss), Space Man (guitarist Ace Frehley), the Starchild (Stanley) and the Demon (Simmons) - are back together to 'rock and roll all night and party everyday' on their latest album Psycho Circus.
Without trying to create anything really new, they instead seem content in recycling the crass, clunky teen-age anthems from their 70's heydays, a time when their music took a backseat to their explosive live shows which featured elaborate costumes (with heels so high they'd frighten Scary Spice), state-of-the-art lighting, pyrotechnics as well good old fashioned fire-breathing antics.
On Psycho Circus, their first studio album in 18 years with all four original bandmembers, some of their assaults down memory lane pay off while others fail miserably. The pounding stadium-tailored anthems such as the title number "Psycho Circus" as well as "You Wanted The Best", where all four bandmembers trade off vocal duties, and "Raise Your Glasses", with it's catchy melody and great guitar hook, will probably appeal not only to today's teenage rockers but to a group of nostalgic parents who today probably won't admit to being one of the original members of the Kiss Army (the band's huge fan club) some twenty years ago.
The band's 'fire and brimstone' sound is brought down to a wavering pilot light, however, on the self-righteous "We Are One" and the sappy "I Finally Found My Way" sung by Criss, no doubt trying to recreate the popularity of their best-selling single "Beth", a ballad in which Criss also sang. Although the number "Within" sounds as though it could have easily fit into either of their breakthrough albums Dressed To Kill or Destroyer, the obligatory dueling lead guitars of Frehley and Stanley finds this song sounding more dated than it does a healthy revisit to the past.
The look and sound of Kiss is not the only thing that is reminiscent of the band's glory years. While the 70's saw the release of such items as Kiss dolls, games, makeup, pinball machines and comic books (which actually had their real blood in the ink!), Kiss are in the middle of a similar marketing blitzkrieg including the world's first ever 3-D rock tour, where audience members wear 3-D glasses for the full effect (as if Simmons disgustingly long reptilian tongue wasn't close enough already), action figures, a full length feature film, their own Internet Service Provider ($19.95 a month for unlimited Internet use) and a Kiss Visa card (with a low APR introductory rate).
Psycho Circus may not be that great of an album but the band doesn't seem to care that much because, like 25 years ago, they sure know how to sell it.

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