Kiss album a painful reminder

CD REVIEWS

October 08, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Kiss

Psycho-Circus (314-558-912)

When the four original members of Kiss announced two years ago that they were getting back together for a reunion tour, even die-hard fans figured that it would be a one-shot deal. Seeing Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons playing all the oldies was one thing; imagining them back in the studio, working together on new songs, would be quite another.

Yet, here they are, delivering their first new studio recording in almost 20 years. "Psycho-Circus" is classic Kiss in many ways, from the elaborate circus imagery of the CD package to the self-aggrandizing bombast of the songs themselves. Naturally, the CD booklet also includes four panels of advertising for Kiss T-shirts and tchotchkes.

But where "Psycho-Circus" most seems like an old Kiss album is in its utter inconsistency. Although some songs on the album do a credible job of recalling the band's glory days, others offer a painful reminder of why Kiss singles are generally better remembered than the album tracks.

Things start off strongly with the title tune, a surging rocker built around crackling power chords, a thumpingly insistent beat and a soaring, well-harmonized chorus. The slight lisp Paul Stanley applies to the lyrics tends to undercut the song's sense of drama, but on the whole, it's a solid piece of work - as is the dark, crunchy "Within" and the punchy-but-predictable "I Pledge Allegiance to the State of Rock and Roll."

Unfortunately, it's pretty much straight downhill from there. "We Are One" is a moronic pastiche of new-age aphorisms and middle-of-the-road rock cliches (think Deepak Chopra jamming with Bon Jovi), "Raise Your Glasses" sounds like a bad attempt at a beer jingle, and the string-laden "I Finally Found My Way" sounds as if the band wants us to remember that Garth Brooks, too, was a Kiss fan.

Sometimes, reunions bring back too many memories. ... *

Christian

dc Talk

Supernatural (Virgin)

Initially, dc Talk was streetwise and pop-savvy, as into rap music as rapping about Jesus. But over time, its point of reference shifted more and more toward rock - so much so that "Supernatural" actually sounds more like art rock than hip-hop. Not that these three have gone off to sail Topographic Oceans or some such; however ornate their arrangements may be, the emphasis remains on vocals, not on instrumental excess. So "It's Killing Me" is as punchy and well-harmonized as a King's X track, "Godsend" boasts the sort of gossamer vocals and well-groomed textures of a 10cc oldie, while "My Friend" is blessed with a sound as blustery and baroque as a Queen single. ** 1/2

Country

Lyle Lovett

Step Inside This House (Curb/MCA 11831)

Everyone knows that Lyle Lovett is both a singer and a songwriter, but it's tempting to think of him more as a composer than an interpreter. "Step Inside This House" ought to change that. With 21 songs spread across two CDs, it offers a generous serving of songs, and the fact that none are by Lovett in no way diminishes its appeal. It helps that these songs are by the Texas tunesmiths who shaped Lovett's sound and sensibility, from the Guy Clark title tune to Walter Hyatt's "Babes in the Woods." But the best thing about the album is the ease with which Lovett puts his stamp on each track, taking possession of the songs as only a great singer can. ***

Pop/rock

P. J. Harvey

Is This Desire? (Island 314 524 563)

Between the slashing rage of the guitars and the throat-rending violence of the vocals, it was impossible to mistake the emotional intensity of P. J. Harvey's earlier albums. "Is This Desire?" is nowhere near as overt in its aural assault, but that doesn't make it any less visceral. Indeed, there are moments when the hush of Harvey's breathy whisper is far more disquieting than the moments when she simply screams. That's definitely the case with the brooding, slow-boil blues of "Angelene," but the album truly soars when Harvey moves from guitar rock to more dance-oriented sounds, as with the chugging, distortion-tinged "A Perfect Day Elise" or the lush, trip-hop flavored "The Wind." A true marvel. *** 1/2

Chemical Brothers

Brothers Gonna Work It Out (Astralwerks 6243)

Usually, a remix album is considered a lesser event than a regular album, since all it does is recycle pre-existing material. But considering that even new material by the Chemical Brothers ends up recycling pre-existing material (at least in the form of samples and turntable tricks), it seems fair to treat a project like "Brothers Gonna Work It Out" as a full-fledged album. Particularly since the Brothers have imposed such a solid sense of structure on this hour-plus DJ mix. Drawing from their own material as well as a spate of well-spun oldies, the Brothers effectively break down the boundaries between old and new, borrowed and original, leaving us with a groove that is as distinctive as it is unstoppable. ***

The Goo Goo Dolls

Dizzy Up the Girl (Warner Bros. 47058)

Part of the reason the Replacements were the great, bright hope of rock critics was that the band understood how to blend pop/rock sweetness with hard rock bluster. The Goo Goo Dolls understand, too, and part of the pleasure of "Dizzy Up the Girl" is hearing how well the Goos deliver on the Replacements' promise. It isn't just that the band offers melodies as memorable and melancholy as "Iris" and "Slide"; what really makes those singles sizzle is that the group never sacrifices its rock-and-roll vitality for the sake of a pop hook. Even better, rockers like "Bullet Proof" and "Dizzy" never let the guitar crunch obscure how catchy the riffs are. What more could you ask? ***

* = poor

** = fair

*** = good

**** = excellent

Pub Date: 10/08/98

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