You loved ’em in the seventies, abhorred their naked faces in the Eighties and bought tickets to their Nineties reunion. As both rock gods and objects of ridicule, Kiss — the classic lineup of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss — have always been there for you. Why expect to approach the millennium without ’em?
The original quartet’s first new studio record in almost two decades, Psycho Circus — an album of platform-stomping rhythms, roller-coaster guitar riffs and sing-along choruses — is far more respectable than any of the awkward flops from the no-makeup years. Here, the pure allure of Kiss is bottled into anthems like “I Pledge Allegiance to the State of Rock & Roll,” with lyrics made to reverberate off arena walls: “The amplifiers start to hum/The carnival has just begun” (“Psycho Circus”). You can almost feel the heat of Gene Simmons’ flaming breath.
It’s not all blood-spittin’ fun. In “You Wanted the Best,” Simmons admits that even Kiss are not forever: “Let’s make up or break up/’Cause we’ve seen better days.” But as culturally irrelevant and hopelessly wack as they might be next to Canibus or Rancid, Kiss still have a place in rock, even if it is one created and occupied only by them. The band has made no attempt to hip up its style into some misshaped form of alternative rock or hip-hop. Instead, Kiss do only what they know best: rock & roll all night and party … well, you know the rest.