With a slow churning build-up that segues into drums and Paul Stanley screaming out, "Yeahhhh," Psycho Circus supposedly heralded the return of KISS in all of its original glory on a brand new album in 1998. While fans rejoiced over the original lineup's return, Psycho Circus would prove to be just one more controversial part of the ongoing Stanley/Gene Simmons versus Ace Frehley/Peter Criss debate.
Stanley, Simmons, and former bandmates Frehley and Criss reunited in 1995 to the surprise of fans sitting in on the recording of the band's KISS Unplugged album and television program. Frehley and Criss sat in for a few songs along with Stanley, Simmons, and then current drummer, Eric Singer, and lead guitarist, Bruce Kulick. The reunion was so well received that the four original members decided to get back together and go on a highly successful two year reunion tour.
This lead up to the recording and release of Psycho Circus. Frehley's "Space Ace" and Criss' "Catman" images were on the album cover, but much like the last few albums that featured the duo before their individual exits, their actual musical contributions were very limited.
Criss played drums on only one song. Kevin Valentine, who worked with KISS on Revenge, played the drums on the rest of the album. Ace Frehley recorded guitar tracks for two of the album's songs, but the rest of his string duties were recorded by his eventual replacement in the band and current "Spaceman," Tommy Thayer.
Considering these factors, Psycho Circus managed to turn into a decent album that has managed to remain one of KISS' heaviest albums to date. Like many of its non-original predecessors from the 1980's and early 90's, the album features a few really great tracks and a decent amount of filler. These filler songs aren't bad, but they do nothing to stand out on their own on the album.
Here's a track by track listing of each song and my opinion of each one:
Psycho Circus--The album's title track starts things off with a bang. It's one of KISS' heaviest songs and really pulls the listener into the album.
Within--The first song to feature Gene Simmons on vocals, Within is a dark and very "Demon" sounding track. Simmons' voice sounds excellent and is accompanied well by Thayer's guitar work.
I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock And Roll--With its long and somewhat awkward chorus, this track, while a nice rocker, is the first tune to derail the KISS train.
Into The Void--Ace Frehley takes over vocals and the original lineup played their instruments on this groovy rocker. Ace is known for injecting a heavy dose of metal into his songs, and Into The Void does not disappoint.
We Are One--A somewhat nostalgic track with undertones of the band's "reunion," We Are One has a Beatles vibe to it (no surprise, since Simmons penned the track) that, in my opinion, once again derails the album.
You Wanted The Best--Featuring all four original members on vocals (but not on instruments), You Wanted The Best punches naysayers in the face and reminds critics that KISS ain't going nowhere any time soon. It's pretty much a big hug to fans, and is one of the best tracks on the album.
Raise Your Glasses--Another nostalgic track, Raise Your Glasses, written by Paul Stanley and Holly Knight, has a bit too much pop in it to make it stand out on this album. It isn't a terrible track, but doesn't fit with the rest of the album.
I Finally Found My Way--Peter Criss' raspy voice is in excellent condition, and this slower tune actually manages to hold its own on an album loaded with heavy tracks.
Dreamin'--Written by Paul Stanley and Bruce Kulick, this tune sounds a lot like some of KISS' 80's and 90's work. It's no surprise since during that period, Kulick was their primary guitarist.
Journey of 1,000 Years--Simmons's vocals shine once again on this final album track. It slowly builds up into a very dark tune laced with a wonderful string section and even a piano. It once again hints at his "Demon" persona and how it feeds off of the crowd. It's an excellent track.
My personal favorite tracks are You Wanted The Best, Into The Void, Psycho Circus, and Journey of 1,000Years. These four tracks keep the album from being an entire muddled mess. I Finally Found My Way is another tune that rises above the rest of the album, as is Within. Unfortunately, the rest of the tracks do nothing to add to the album or the nostalgia of the original band reuniting.
The album's production quality is brilliant, with each guitar lick, bass thump, snare snap, and Stanley screech sounding crystal clear and mixed to perfection.
As I've already stated, Simmons' vocals are great and his bass is just as steady as ever. Stanley is his usual over-the-top self. Frehley, on the only two tracks he plays guitar on (Into The Void, You Wanted The Best) sounds heavier and very refined. His vocals are good, but I've never really been impressed by his voice. Criss' drums sound great, if uncharacteristically heavy for him, on Into The Void, and his vocals sound better than they did back when he was known for tunes like Beth and Hard Luck Woman.
The session guys, Valentine and Thayer, do very good jobs. Valentine's style is a lot heavier than Criss', and it shows on all of the tracks he performs on. Thayer, a brilliant guitarist in his own right, is a very good Frehley mimic. Having seen him live and hearing him on a number of studio recordings with Stanley and Simmons, he was the perfect choice to handle the guitar work on the bulk of the album.
So, after a long and wordy explanation, should you purchase Psycho Circus? If you are a KISS completionist or have no problems with people other than Frehley or Criss being on a KISS album, absolutely. If you enjoy heavy rock n' roll, yes. If you want an entire album featuring all four members of the original band on every song, skip this and purchase Love Gun.
Recommended, but with a few reservations about some of the tracks.