Psycho Circus Review (MTV)

Kiss was always more about rock spectacle and shrewd marketing than anything else (including songwriting), which is why this album plays more like the original cast recording of some Vegas-style heavy metal revue than the work of reborn rock legends. To their credit, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss have actually become better players since the early days, and this album is a vast improvement over last year's quasi-reunion Carnival of Souls (although that's not saying much). Producer Bruce Fairbairn (who polished Aerosmith's Pump so adeptly) gives Psycho Circus a suitably ominous, dense feel, but all the knob-twiddling in the world can't fix the fundamental problem with this album: a total lack of substance. The songs lumber along, beefy and predictable, from start to finish.

The opening track, for anyone who wasn't paying attention to the album title, features lots of creepy ambient circus sounds before kicking into a sinister grind punctuated by lots of "welcome to the show" exhortations. The rest of the program features a couple hits of mock psychedelia ("Within," "Journey of 1,000 Years"), pockets of sludgy bumping and grinding (highlighted by some ill-advised stabs at bluesy vocalizing), a couple of pleasantly spry if not particularly memorable pop metal numbers ("Into the Void" and the optimistically-titled "You Wanted the Best"), a track that sounds like a cross between a "Fame" outtake and a bid for a Pepsi endorsement ("Raise Your Glasses"), and some of the most watery sentimentality this side of the funeral home section of the yellow pages. "We Are One" sounds like "We Are the World" revisited (sans worthy cause), and the über-sensitive "Finally Found My Way" oozes enough piano-manliness and string flourishes to send it right off the schmaltzographic scale.

Kiss hit their creative peak two decades ago, and surely they must know that the current resurgence of Kiss-mania is fueled purely by high-octane nostalgia. They don't need any new material -- and neither do we. -- Sandy Masuo