Kiss Album Focus - Psycho Circus
“There’s bliss in ignorance. Anyone who ever believed that every band member played on every KISS song is a fool. Sometimes a fantasy element is attached to being in a band. The Beatles all living together in a bunch of flats in ‘Help’? That’s absurd” (Paul Stanley, Classic Rock Magazine, Nov. 2001).
On the heels of the wildly successful “Alive/Worldwide 1996-7” reunion tour KISS faced a new challenge by deciding to enter the studio and record a “reunion” album. The band members had not worked together in the studio since the recording of “Dynasty” in 1979, regardless of how “together” those sessions really were. Essentially, the last time the band had properly worked together in a studio, as a band, would have been during the recording of the “Love Gun” album in 1977. Simply, while Peter Criss had been absent from much of the recording of “Dynasty,” the other members were playing musical-chairs with their basic instruments.
As soon as the band announced their intention to record a new album questions were raised about how the band would manage to pull off a new recording in the late-1990s. The opportunity that recording a new album provided was to expand on the “reunion” theme and inject it with some new life. This would allow the band to continue touring rather than rehashing the initial “reunion” concept, though without doubt there was still mileage in that. Early on it was decided to gear the album towards the “Psycho Circus” theme. It would be the theme, rather than music any album contained, that would be guiding factor surrounding the project. This marketing tie-in was the brainchild of manager Doc McGhee who also envisaged the 3-D tour concept.
Even during 1997 many merchandise avenues were already being pushed towards the “Psycho Circus” direction with the publication of the Todd McFarlane “Psycho Circus” series of comics that was first published in September. It is perhaps ironic that the band was also becoming something of a circus at the time. According to Jeff Jensen of Advertising Age Magazine, the “comic book series from Image Comics is serving as a laboratory for next year’s album of the same name, as well as licensed products, concerts and a pre-show carnival. The new KISS mythology re-imagines the band as a superhero group, each possessing unique powers, weapons, vehicles-even pets. The makeup will stay the same, but the new costumes and even new characters are in the works” (Advertising Age Magazine, 11/10/97).
Unfortunately, the dangers of such a project were far greater than simply embarking on another live tour, even though the licensing opportunities were endless as the band moved from the “Carnival” into the “Circus.” However, it was felt that the band needed new music with which to continue to tour and that re-branding the band would allow them access to new markets via Sony Signatures, the company handling their merchandising and licensing. In some ways, the preconceived notion that was being built around the project was as dangerous as uttering the word “Elder.” KISS were once again getting conceptual, trying to do something grand in scale rather than simply crafting the best possible album and then developing the marketing around it. Perhaps they hadn’t learnt their lesson the first time around; though business plans had management had changed by the late-1990s.
People, using the broad definition of the word that encompasses those who really cannot be considered active ‘fans,’ were willing to go see the band – simply for nostalgia. Once their nostalgic urges were satisfied then it was highly doubtful that they’d give the band much more than a second thought as they moved on with their lives. By releasing a new album KISS were going to measure their current state of popularity and define whether they’d ever be a non-nostalgic active musical unit again. The speed at which the fair weather fans departed should have been obvious with the band being able to sell merchandise, not albums. Perhaps after the initial “reunion” glow, the fan’s interest would have waned as their returned to the normality of their now adult lives – they’d had their fix of “blast from the past,” and tuned back into their AOR radio stations or whatever modern crap they dug. According to Gene “Psycho Circus” was little more than he and Paul satisfying their contract with the record company.
KISS in the studio in 1998 was another big question: How would that work? Gene made the concept of what KISS in 1998 was clear: “When I say KISS, I mean Paul and me. We were the only real members of the band. Ace and Peter were not signatories to the contract [with PolyGram]” (KISS & Make-Up). Bob Ezrin, who had guided the band to their creative zenith with “Destroyer,” and to their very public nadir with “The Elder,” was initially slated to produce the album. However, there was soon plenty of confusion and rumor, and with all things KISS, reality was not always what it seemed to be. There was never a concrete agreement that Ezrin was going to produce the album, though he was used as a sounding-board by both Gene and Paul.
According to Gene, “Bob Ezrin... started working one a new album... But after a while, it became obvious to us, and to Bob himself, that he was too busy with his internet company. During the initial rehearsals, he didn’t think his contributions were as good as they should have been, and he took himself out of the picture” (KISS & Make-Up). The excuses for his non-involvement also included Bruce’s schedule not permitting involvement. It should be noted that Bob’s was the CEO of the multimedia entertainment company 7th Level, Inc., which was in the process of an attempted merging with Pulse Entertainment in late-1997. The company would have become P7 Solutions, though the merger was cancelled in April 1998, right in the period that KISS started recording their album. He was also working on founding Enigma Digital, an early internet radio provider. As a result 1998 was one of the quietest in Bob’s producing career while he focused on other projects. Unlike the case in 1981 perhaps Bob Ezrin’s musical radar was working properly in 1997 as he looked to new technologies and business avenues.
Without Ezrin, KISS instead announced that they would be working with another Canadian, Bruce Fairbairn, who was better known for his work with bands such as Bon Jovi and Aerosmith. Bruce had been rumored as the producer as early as October 1997 when 105.5 FM WDHA in New Jersey announced his selection. While that rumor was initially denied by McGhee Management, Bruce’s involvement was officially confirmed in December. Aerosmith’s Tom Hamilton described Bruce as “a very big, no bullshit, in-focus, demanding producer who made sure the conditions were right to let the creativity happen. I mean this guy had the ability to make us play better than even we thought we could. A lot of it was painful, because we gave up some control, big time” (Walk This Way). And from that angle, perhaps the choice was perfect for what KISS needed in 1998. According to Bruce, “Doc McGhee called me, said, ‘Bruce get on a plane you’ve gotta come and do this KISS album’” (Gerri Miller). As a result Bruce met with Gene and Paul following KISS’ show in Winnipeg on April 29, 1997. This makes it pretty clear that Bob Ezrin was out of the picture as a producer well before the band members even really had a chance to work on any material for the album.
At a time when KISS had been struggling to emulate other bands, Bruce Fairbairn had been producing the hit albums that KISS wanted. Bruce’s track-record was certainly impressive. He had been responsible for the production of the mega-hits “Slippery When Wet” and “New Jersey” from Bon Jovi. He produced Aerosmith’s “Permanent Vacation” and “Pump,” and AC/DC’s “The Razor’s Edge.” According to the RIAA, as of mid-2006, those five albums combined have shipped over 36 million copies. He also worked with the likes of Loverboy, Krokus, and Yes, after getting his start in production in the late-1970s.
While Bruce was a new producer to the KISS camp, like Ron Nevison had once been, he certainly had a clear vision about what he wanted to get out of the project: “If KISS was going to make another record they really had to come out with something that was strong from a recording and music point of view. A great sounding record with great sounding songs, so it would stand apart from all other KISS records and maybe would be like ‘Destroyer 2’ in a way, because that to me... It became clear that it was where the band wanted to go with this record” (Gerri Miller). Like Bob Ezrin had once done, Bruce’s role would also be as a sounding-board for Gene and Paul to bounce ideas off. About his demos Gene pointedly told Bruce: “Some of this is garbage, some it is great. You have to make the call. If you don’t like something, fine with me, let’s move on to something else. If you like something, pick it out and let’s get going on it” (Gerri Miller).
From the plethora of material that Gene generated in the lead up to the recording of the album Bruce would become a very necessary filter for the flood of Gene’s ideas. This was vastly different to the role of a Vini Poncia who would take what was available and refine it until it reached an acceptable state of polishing. As a result the filtering of all of the material dragged the whole process out. According to Bruce, “Before we even got in the studio we spent quite a lot of time working on songs. Gene would come up with stuff - he likes to record, he’s got a little 4-track operation going - and he had a million ideas. I had a lot of songs that I needed to sort through with him” (Gerri Miller). And Gene was always diligent at working on ideas, writing them down, rearranging them, and producing plenty of notes.
Bruce’s vision was to ensure that he and the band created something that fit in with KISS’ legacy. He recalled, “I Started by first grabbing the stuff that to me was classic KISS or was really musically different. ‘Within,’ for example. When I heard Gene’s demo of that it really jumped out from the other stuff. And so I said, ‘Gene, you may think I’m nuts here, but this is something I think that you should bring along. And he did and it turned out to be one of the most interesting songs on the record” (Gerri Miller). On the one hand Gene was highly flexible, because Gene recognized the need to have an outsider help filter his material down to the best possible quality. He was also not worried about material being rejected and would simply move on to other stuff without giving the rejected stuff a second thought (it could always be reused later).
Paul, on the other hand, operated differently to Gene in the creation process – in fact the two are polar opposites. He usually brought far fewer songs or ideas to album sessions, but more of them made it onto albums. Those demos were usually vastly more complete ideas and often varied only slightly during their transition from demo to full album recording. He had definite clarity in the expression of his vision and his use of music as language. Two excellent examples of this are the songs “Love Gun” and “Crazy Crazy Nights,” the demos of which circulate in collector’s circles for comparison. Paul also didn’t waste effort on old ideas. He figured that if he hadn’t already used something there wasn’t any point trying to use what he’d already discarded so everything he brought in to “Psycho Circus” was going to be fresh.
According to Bruce, “The stuff that Paul didn’t like, that never got off the ground, I didn’t hear... He would bring me songs that were in more complete form and say, ‘Bruce, I think this is really strong.’ I would send them back and say, ‘Go back and work on this.’ And he’s so good and so cooperative as a writer he would just take it back with him and come back in a week or so, ‘Here’s what I came up with on this so far. What do you think?’” (Gerri Miller). Like Gene, Paul was willing to utilize Bruce’s feedback to help hone the material into the best form possible. Even he recognized the value of an outsider’s point of view, to a degree. Ace and Peter presented a whole different problem with the creation of the album.
It is unfortunate that little of substance has been said by either Ace or Peter about their perceptions concerning the recording of the “Psycho Circus” album. As a result, and has often been the case throughout KISS’ history, we really only have the words of Gene and Paul to go by. And that means that only their perspectives are presented to the public. At the time of the recording of the album Ace and Peter were being kept on a tight leash, and with the situation within the band they didn’t have much to say anyway. As previously mentioned, and as should be clear, Ace and Peter were no longer full members of the band, they were simply employees who had signed five-year contracts in 1996. It is also unfortunate that Peter and Ace did a very good job of masking the recording issue rumors following the recording of the album.
What is clear is that Ace and Peter were not present for much of the album sessions and it is common knowledge that Tommy Thayer and Kevin Valentine were brought in to handle guitar and drum duties, respectively. According to Gene, “When it came to doing the record, they wanted to renegotiate the contract, and so for most of that record those guys never even showed up” (Classic Rock Magazine, 11/01). Ace and Peter may have felt that they had adequate grounds to renegotiate their contracts with KISS. The staggering amount of money that the band had generated, regardless of the contracts that they had originally signed, would probably have left Ace and Peter feeling slighted, even though they were likely being paid very well for their services. They had seen the massive success of the “Alive/Worldwide 1996-7” tour and knew that it was their involvement that had helped create that success. While it is clear that the “reunion” would have been nothing without them, they had sold out their partnerships in the band and could in no way still be considered equal members with Gene and Paul.
It had been them, especially Paul during the 1980s, who had kept the band alive long enough for the “reunion” to be possible – and thus long enough for the four original members to benefit financially, though not equally. It was a simple matter of looking at the tour and seeing that it was the band’s most successful tour of their history, even surpassing their legendary 1970s heyday. Gene and Paul had also assumed all of the risks of the initial “Reunion” that could have easily fallen to pieces.
By 1998 there were no unknown factors, as had been the case when they had initially negotiated to participate in the “Reunion.” The tour hadn’t failed. But there was also, apparently, very little consideration about the fans who would care about a new KISS album – there was fighting over pieces of the monetary pie, and Gene and Paul were certainly in a stronger position to simply get on with the recording of the album and dictate to Ace and Peter. For this, right from the beginning of the recording process, the whole point of the “Reunion” album was essentially negated. To even call it such is perhaps hypocritical; then again as a KISS album it may be as honest as any other album in their catalog.
Ace and Peter may also have felt that their contributions were not being valued, with the way Bruce operated. They certainly made a creative effort and submitted material for consideration for the sessions at some point. According to Peter, “There was a referee, and that was Bruce Fairbairn. At times I thought he was fair, at times I thought he wasn’t fair. There were songs I brought in that did not get on the album, and that sort of bothered me, but we left it up to him and he was the referee” (MusicsBottomLine.Com). Bruce skirted their absence from the process early on: “Ace brought his songs along kind of midstream because Ace spends a lot of time working up his demos as well. Ace brought in his batch of songs and we wanted to find a song or two from Ace that really was very stylistic for him because he writes a very different kind of music and he has a special kind if character that he brings into the mic” (Gerri Miller).
So, from Bruce’s perspective it was okay for Gene to be experimental, but Ace was going to be pigeon-holed into the “Shock Me/Rocket Ride” vein of material he’d contributed during KISS’ classic era. It was clear from this sort of comment that Bruce’s unfamiliarity with KISS meant that he wasn’t aware of Ace’s diversity. Take “Cold Gin,” “Parasite,” Rip It Out,” “Hard Times,” “Take Me To The City” or “Torpedo Girl” - Ace didn’t exactly have a formula to his creativity apart from presenting what came out artistically at the time. He had also evolved somewhat during his years as a solo artist, perhaps not as much as a Paul Stanley, but he had found a musical groove that was just as valid. His creativity was honest in that he didn’t paint by numbers.
Bruce was also adamant that there were going to be no fixed number of contributions from any members of the band: “The point was to get the best songs on the record. We really wanted to have the Ace and Peter perspective because if it was gonna be a real band record it had to have them in there. But we didn’t want to put a song on the record just because somebody had to have an extra song. It had to be really strong” (Gerri Miller). Gene was slightly more direct about the ethos, commenting, “Ace and Peter always thought there was some kind of conspiracy going on, but just being in the band isn’t reason enough for you to have a song on the record” (Classic Rock Magazine, 11/01). And unfortunately it would be that ethos that would help make the “Psycho Circus” album what it became.
There were always going to be a tremendous number of very disappointed fans when KISS’ “Reunion” album was released on September 22, 1998. But, conversely, there were also going to be rabid packs of KISS fans who were truly pleased with the results of KISS’ efforts as a reunited group in the studio – regardless of some minor technicalities such as the album not being the “band” album it was being presented as. The concept of a KISS “band” album was totally false premise from the beginning, and few KISS albums had ever included every member on every track. Paul summed it up succinctly: “There’s bliss in ignorance. Anyone who ever believed that every band member played on every KISS song is a fool. Sometimes a fantasy element is attached to being in a band” (Classic Rock Magazine, 11/01). However, just having a new KISS product to purchase, especially an album, was enough to drive some fans into convulsions. It was at least new music, something that had been in short supply from KISS for much of the decade. It was as if the band were delivering the “Ten Commandments,” rather than a piece of over-priced plastic.
KISS’ 30th studio album was never going to be predictable, though comparisons with “Dynasty” would not be unfair. It was going to be everything to everyone, or so the hype machine would have the peons believe. Reality, though, was somewhat different for there were many differing views concerning the album. Many fans seem to have been expecting a time-warp back to 1976/7. They simply wanted to buy another copy of “Destroyer” or “Love Gun.” It seemed that many fans were expecting KISS to pick up exactly where they left off circa 1977. While the tour may have dialed back the clock a couple of decades nothing could undo the personal, musical, and perspective changes that the members had undergone during two decades of their lives. Neither was there much desire to do so.
There had been way too much personal and musical development by each of the members during the 19-year gap in recording as the original line-up. These personal evolutions could simply not be erased or ignored, except in the case of the chameleon-like Gene Simmons. As audio evidence one simply has to listen to Ace’s 1995 demos (in the form of “Sister,” “Don’t Want To Lose You,” or “Take Me To The City”), Criss’ 1994 album and 1995 demos (such as “My Reality,” “Zig-Zag,” or “Adalyne”), and KISS’ “Carnival Of Souls” to hear where everyone was “at” stylistically and musically before the reunion ever took shape. All of the band members were creating a sound diametrically opposed to the classic rock ‘n roll that had defined KISS in the 1970s. Even Peter, who seemed to have finally figured out that his fans were his loadstone (or perhaps being Catholic he could handle them being described as being his cross to bear) and he’d never be left alone if he tried different genres of softer music, was rockin’!
Unfortunately, a studio recreation of the past was never going to happen, nor was it something that was a realistic expectation. It would be to those fans who had never managed to progress past the point they’d been at two decades previous. They lived with a tunnel vision with their aging brains addled by the bright lights of the past. The image of 1977 had been seared in their memories during the “reunion” tour and that was all that they could anticipate. This sort of issue suggests that some supposed fans believed that KISS were totally generic, and could be canned. Pour all of the ingredients into the studio mixer and out would pour something from the past. It would have suggested that KISS as musicians and people had not developed past where they had been in their late-20s. While some of this is certainly true, there was no way that the guardians of the band would permit that to be presented in 1998. Where the “Alive/Worldwide 1996-7” Tour was about celebrating the past, bringing back the memories of the halcyon days of many a fan’s youth, “Psycho Circus” was supposed about the “now” and future.
Slightly later than originally planned, KISS entered the studios on January 4, 1998 for two weeks of pre-production work marking the beginning of the arduous process of recording the “reunion” album. What is now known is that KISS didn’t enter the studio – Gene and Paul did. Ace was elsewhere, but obviously working on material for the album. Everything that KISS fans hoped for would be in vain, and in some ways the biggest betrayal of the fans would be perpetrated by the band and management. Perhaps it would also be fair to suggest that the fans betrayed themselves, or at least deluded themselves with unrealistic expectations.
During a three month recording period nearly 20 songs were committed to tape from a selection of 40-50 songs – some of which dated back over two decades. Gene later commented in a British magazine interview, “We recorded 19 songs [for Psycho Circus] and used 10. Many that didn’t make it were quite a bit heavier. One of them was called ‘Carnival Of Souls’ which would have been the title song from the last album, but it was too heavy and a little too punky. Another one I wrote for Ace called ‘I Wanna Rule The World’ was very Mott The Hoople, crossed with a bombastic John Bonham beat. You British like the heavier stuff, but we purposely left out a lot of the heavier ones because the record as it stands makes a much stronger musical statement” (Classic Rock, 1/99).
History repeated itself with both Gene and Paul writing the title track for the album. This had been the case where Gene had once suggested a song-title for “Black Diamond,” which Paul then borrowed to write; Paul had later suggested “Christine Sixteen,” as a song title, which Gene then proceeded to write. This time, it would be Paul’s song that would be used, though the song was integral to Paul’s work in the album recording and writing process. Gene’s “Psycho Circus (Weapons Of Mass Destruction)” was a very much darker piece than Paul’s song, as fans later discovered. Paul’s song included contributions from Curt Cuomo, who had worked with the band on their previous album. Bruce Kulick and Bob Ezrin helped Paul demo the song. According to Bruce Fairbairn, “When Paul brought that song in, he sat me down in his car and said, ‘Bruce, I’ve got the opening song for the record and the opening song for the show’” (Gerri Miller). Paul played the solo on the song.
This song was more than a first step for Paul. Bruce has suggested that Paul had been having difficulty with writing for the album, but once he had this song it broke his block. Within a couple of weeks Paul had nearly completed all of the songs he’d submit for the album. The song also went some way towards defining the musical theme of the album. According to Bruce, “I really liked it because it introduces that guitar theme in the middle. It then comes back in ‘Journey of 1,000 Years’ at the very end of the record with the orchestra playing it. We tried to musically tie the front of the record in with the back just a little bit and it’s a great lyric for beginning a live show or a record” (Gerri Miller). This was almost taking a play right out of Bob Ezrin’s “Destroyer” play-book where the audio story-telling started by the introduction to “Detroit Rock City” is concluded with the filler presented by “Rock And Roll Party.” With the extended introduction KISS finally had the animal circus introduction similar to the one that the Beatles had once used on “Magical Mystery Tour.” For the track Paul was attempting to write a big visual piece, similar to “King Of The Night Time World.” He apparently played lead guitar on the track, and one piece of documentation suggests that Bruce played bass on the demo.
“Within” was a left-over from the “Carnival Of Souls” album session and thus dated from late-1995 at the earliest, probably stretching back to 1993/4. This song has one definite extra-KISS performance, though not one that dated to the recording of the “Psycho Circus” album. Bruce Kulick appeared on the track during the backwards introduction to the song which Gene pulled from the original demo. According to Bruce Fairbairn, “That weird heavy guitar sound that comes in. It was realizing what that guitar sound was. It appeared in one of Gene’s demos. And it was so exciting when we brought it in the studio and made that happen. Just that sound.... and the thing that thing has.... That’s not like anything I’ve really heard from KISS before” (KISS Online w/ Bruce Fairbairn).
“I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock And Roll” was written at Curt Cuomo’s house with Curt contributing the melody and bridge. When Paul thought he had a completed song he took the piece to Holly Knight who was able to make some additional improvements to the song. It was one of the last songs recorded for the album. Paul played bass on the chorus and shared lead guitar on the track with Tommy. “We Are One” was another unusual Gene contribution. According to Bruce, “It was a hard call for Gene to sing a song like ‘We Are One,’ but I think it was time that people heard a different side of the God of Thunder. He’s very musical. That music is very much in him” (Gerri Miller). Gene played some guitar on the track while Paul played bass and acoustic guitars. Gene did several rewrites of this song, some dating to early 1997, before it reached an arrangement that he was satisfied with. Minor lyrical changes would take place with verses being moved around.
“Raise Your Glasses” was another song that was written by Paul and Holly Knight. Like the title track it was calculated to fit in with the 3-D theme that was being planned for the tour, though it also fulfilled the anthemic requirements for the album’s material. Paul had also apparently discovered that all double-entendres did not have to be sexual in nature. With “Dreamin’” one may very well wonder if Paul Stanley had listened to Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” prior to writing the song, though it was written by Bruce Kulick and Paul while they were in the studio working on demos for the album (Ken Sharp – Goldmine Magazine).
It was hardly surprising when Alice’s publishing company, Six Palms Music Corp, sued Mercury Records, Paul and Bruce. In the October 21, 1998 complaint they alleged that the song bore too much of a similarity to “I’m Eighteen” and claimed copyright infringement. The suit was eventually settled out of court and didn’t have much of an effect on the relationship between KISS and Alice. Alice, personally, hadn’t had anything to do with the suit in the first place. This would be another of the songs in the large KISS catalog to get the un-credited input of another member. Initially the band and producer were generally unimpressed with the song since it really didn’t jump out of the speakers in demo form. Gene saw that it had possibilities and rearranged the piece turning it into the form recorded for the album. This, according to Bob retained all of Paul’s original work but took the song from “good” to “special.”
Gene’s somewhat epic “Journey Of 1,000 Years” would become the final song on the album and can be seen as being something of a latter-day “Great Expectations.” It was also stylistically very similar to “You’re My Reason For Living,” a song that Gene had originally demoed with members of Silent Rage around 1991/3. According to Bruce Fairbairn, “KISS can get away with having an intro and an outro on their albums, and this one has a perspective... and a sense of theatre... If anybody can pull it off, it’s KISS. It can use different elements and tricks that may be hokey and over the top to someone else, but KISS can get away with it” (Tom Harrison - The Province). It would be for that reason that the “Psycho Circus” solo would be tied back, using strings, into the end of the song to bring the whole album together.
Peter brought at least four songs to the sessions: “Space Fever,” “Hope,” “Justice For All,” and “Together.” None of them would make the cut. Peter thought that “Space Fever” would be a good song for Ace with its obvious subject matter. The song was written well before the recording sessions, and may have had the input of Mark Montague. According to Peter, “I actually just told him [Ed. Ace] about it and he loved it, so we’re going to write some stuff together. It’ll be very cool because we’ve never done that before. It’s amazing. It’s like we’re kids again” (Go Figure, 1997). Nothing ever came of the song or the planned Ace/Peter collaboration idea.
Peter considered “Hope” to be an excellent piece of work. A ballad, it was written in a similar vein to the song Bob Ezrin and Paul Stanley eventually gave him to. As the title implies, the song was about Peter facing the numerous challenges in his life in a positive manner. According to co-writer Mike McLaughlin, “I originally wrote the music back in around ‘97 and sent it to Peter, and he liked it and wrote the melody and lyrics. We went in and recorded it with the intention of using it for the ‘Psycho Circus’ album. But the rest of the band rejected it. Peter and I were both really bummed cause we both loved this song, so it just seemed natural to bring this one back for the new CD” (JG).
“Together” was written by Peter and Tommy Thayer and had been mentioned as a song written on the road back in 1996. “Justice For All” was ironically written with Gene Simmons in mind. This was another track which would be discarded at an early stage. With some of the political problems facing the band throughout the recording of the album it may have had subtle over-tones about how Peter felt about the 1996/8 “reunion” financial structure of the band.
Instead of performing any of his own material, Paul Stanley and Bob Ezrin wrote “I Finally Found My Way” for Peter to sing on the album sing – like throwing the cat a bone. Paul nearly didn’t feel that the song was suitable for use on the album and to some fans he should probably have followed those instincts. The only inspiration for this song was for Paul and Bob to try and write something that they felt was perfect for Peter’s voice – thus it was totally contrived, a weak attempt at “Beth II.” Peter was flattered by the song while being disappointed that his own material was being rejected, especially with his own ballad having a similar message to the one Paul and Bob had delivered.
According to Bruce Fairbairn, “We had listened to a couple of things that Peter had written for this record, but they weren’t appropriate, so Paul and Bob Ezrin got together and wrote a song for Peter with his voice in mind. This is a great song and a beautiful piece of music. Peter weighed in and took on the personality of the song even though he didn’t write it” (Craig Thullner – Professional Sound, Dec. 1998). Peter suggested that he and Paul both sing the bridge. Bob played the Fender Rhodes on the track, as he had done at the demo stage with Paul. Paul would play bass on this track while Gene isn’t even on the recording.
According to Gene, Ace brought six songs to the sessions, “Songs that the producer... turned down... Ace was furious” (Classic Rock Magazine, 11/01). Fans should remember that Gene and Paul ultimately run KISS, not any hired producer who would have been sacked had he really done anything that Gene and Paul didn’t like or couldn’t accept. The excuse of “giving control” to the producer is simply that: An excuse. A cop-out and attempt to deflect blame. Ace’s contributions to the album included “You Make It Hard For Me,” “Life & Liberty,” and “Shakin’ Sharp Shooter.” Ace had written “Life & Liberty” with Anton Fig who had recorded a bunch of songs with Ace at Ace’s studio prior to the album sessions. “You Make It Hard For Me” was written by Ace and Sebastian Bach (ex-Skid Row) in early January 1998. When Bach’s solo band played a show in Lincoln, Nebraska on February 6 he announced that the song that he, Richie Scarlet and Ace had written would make it on to the KISS album.
The song had also made it as far as attaining the initial approval of producer Bruce Fairbairn, but its inclusion on the album was certainly not definite at that early stage. As the title would suggest, there is some sexual innuendo reminiscent to KISS’ own “(You Make Me) Rock Hard” from the “Smashes, Thrashes, and Hits” album. Unfortunately, the song was eventually scratched from the album, probably not progressing past the original demo stage.
Sebastian recalled, “I wrote one song with him called ‘You Make It Hard For Me.’ He called me and told me it was gonna be on ‘Psycho Circus.’ He had talked to Bruce Fairbairn and Bruce told him it was gonna go on. But, something happened and it wasn’t on there. I talked to Gene Simmons and I asked him what happened and he said he didn’t want any songs about sex on the new record because he had done so many songs like that. I thought Gene would have loved that, but, I was wrong. Maybe that’ll come out on Ace’s solo record if he does one” (Paul Autry interview with Sebastian from www.ballbusterhardmusic.com). As with many things KISS, there is no lack of irony in Gene apparently rejecting a song about sex!
Sebastian was excited about the time he had spent working with Ace: “Dream come true # 8,648: I spent the last 2 days writing songs with the most talented guitarist in history, Mr. Ace Frehley of KISS. Ace invited Richie Scarlet, myself & Anton Fig to come up for a couple of days & work on brand new songs. Anton Fig has been one of my favorite drummers on the planet ever since I heard ‘Rip It Out’ on the first Ace solo album, and his grooves these last 2 days knocked me on my ass. He is so nice as a person that any intimidation I may have felt was immediately put to rest. I was extremely honored to write music with these consummate professionals. Ace has tons of new songs and I’ve never seen him in such a creative state of mind! Our songwriting styles clicked like a lock blade knife & we came up with tons of ideas that Ace is tightening up as we speak. Pinch me I’m dreaming right? You all know that Ace has always been my favorite guitarist, songwriter & live performer, & he’s probably the funniest alien that I’ve ever hung with. To jam with these guys was one of the highlights of my life & we’re meeting up later this week to do it all again!” (RMAK, Jan. 1998).
It would seem likely that parts of song, if only the title, was based on a song with the same title Ace that had written with Marty Kupersmith in 1985 (Marty had written “We Got Your Rock” in 1983 and brought it to Ace later…). Marty had copy-written the song (PAu-1-829-029) in early 1994, noting Ace’s co-write. Additionally, Marty released his recording of the song on his 1997 album, “It’ll Come To You.” This release of the song could go some way to explaining the song’s absence from “Psycho Circus” and further Ace interest.
“Shakin’ Sharp Shooter,” also referred to as “Picture Without A Frame,” was written by Karl Cochran and Ace and later became “Into The Void,” with a little bit of suggestion from Gene Simmons. According to Ace, “Originally, when I played that song, it was rejected. And I thought the guitar riff was great; I thought the music to the song was great, but Paul and Gene and the producer rejected it because they didn’t feel it was strong enough, and it wasn’t so much in tune with the themes of the other songs” (Prime Choice). Ace has also made it clear that Karl came up with the riff and much of the music.
Gene has suggested that he “Rewrote the chorus called ‘Into The Void,’ Paul stuck in the bridge, and the song appears on the record” (Classic Rock Magazine, 11/01). Ace later vehemently and categorically denied Gene’s assertion: “I can’t fuckin’ believe that on ‘Into The Void’ Gene had the balls to say that he wrote the chorus on that song - Unfucking believable! Unfucking believable... Fuckin’ Gene to insinuate that ‘Into The Void’ wasn’t not a enough song that him and Paul Stanley had to rearrange it and make it better. It’s one of the best songs on the fuckin’ record. And I can fuckin’ play you the original demo with different lyrics and it’s almost the fuckin’ same song” (Ace Bash ‘02).
Unfortunately, in an interview with Roger Lotring Ace also admitted that Gene did have some legitimate input, following the rejection of his original “Shakin’ Sharp Shooter” demo. According to Ace, “Gene said to me, ‘Why don’t you rewrite the lyrics and write something about space, about yourself.... y’know, like you’re in a black hole, or you’re in the void.’ I said to myself, ‘Yeah, ‘Into The Void,’ that sounds good’” (Prime Choice). Ace also admitted other minor assistance with the track, stating: “Everybody’s got a little input in it. Paul helped me rearrange the song, musically; Gene came up with the title; Peter played a great drum track. We rehearsed it in just a small rehearsal studio. In the afternoon, we went over to the studio we were tracking in, and we did three or four takes. We ended up keeping the first take, which I loved, because the first take always has spontaneity” (Prime Choice).
Karl Cochran has also commented on the song’s transformation: “As far as the basic song structure, almost nothing was changed from what Ace and I wrote. I have the original demos that were cut in Ace’s studio, and basically it’s the same song. Ace just changed the title of the song after the demo was done, which Gene had mentioned to him” (morbid-sounds.de). Even with the changes the song very nearly didn’t happen for the album with producer Bruce Fairbairn being unsure that Ace could get the song fixed in time to record it the next day. Ace would still be finishing the final verse in the studio as the recording commenced. Regardless, the song was credited as being written by Ace and former Ace Frehley Band member Karl Cochran. Once recorded Ace was unhappy with the Bruce’s mix and insisted on remixing the track himself. This would result in the song being more raw, with the guitars and drums higher in the mix, perhaps a bit of vengeance. “Into The Void” is the only song on the “Psycho Circus” album on which Peter Criss would drum. It is also the only track on the album to feature all of the members of the band, though Ace would also play additional rhythm guitar.
Two other songs were mentioned in conjunction with Ace: “Jaded” and “Crazy On The Wild,” which were submitted to Ace by one of his long-time co-writers for consideration. If he had liked the material then he would have done some work on the songs to make them his own and submitted them for consideration on the album. Apparently nothing came from the songs. Gerri Miller, posting online, suggested that Ace’s three original submissions had been rejected during February/March, indicating that “Into The Void” was re-written around that time. Ace was also given one other song on the album, “In Your Face.”
According to Gene, “I wrote a song for Ace that appeared on the Japanese version, it just didn’t turn out quite good enough for the American one” (Classic Rock Magazine, 11/01). The song was also included on special CD singles in the United States and elsewhere. Ace’s only other contribution to the album would be the guitar solo and shared lead vocals on “You Wanted The Best.” Gene also tried to involve Ace in the recording of another song. According to Gene, “I convinced him [Ace] to come down to the demo studio to try and sing ‘Weapons [of Mass Destruction].’ I still have the demo. It didn’t work” (Simmons, Gene – Sex, Money, KISS).
Some of the other songs known to have been recorded for the “Psycho Circus” album included “Carnival Of Souls” (Gene), “I Wanna Rule The World” (Gene), “Sweet & Dirty” (Gene), “Body and Soul” (Paul), “It’s My Life,” and “I Am Yours” (Gene). It’s currently a mystery what the remaining two songs recorded for the album are. “Carnival Of Souls” was the left-over unused title-track from the 1997 album which the band tried out to see if the theme fitted with the direction the album had taken. It didn’t. “Sweet & Dirty” had been doing the rounds in Gene’s personal demo catalog for over two decades. In this case, the core riff from the 1975/6 demo “Jelly Roll,” was used on a then current song. Lyrically, the song borrowed parts of the verse of the original “Jelly Roll” demo.
According to Bruce, “We have one song that we didn’t put on the record called ‘My Sweet Dirty Love.’ We all took a good hard look at that tune and said, ‘It’s more of the same old, same old.’ It didn’t fit with the rest of the record” (Gerri Miller). And that same-old same-old took the focus of the album’s material away the classic KISS topic of sex. This was apparently done on purpose. Bruce: “A lot of records with a whole bunch of songs, they’re filler and there’s no focus to the record. We decided to put out 10 songs that were thought were really good. I’d rather people listen to it looking forward to every song rather than pick their three or four favorites and not remember most of them. Or not want to play it again because they gotta go through al the garbage” (Gerri Miller).
“Body And Soul” wouldn’t be used because Paul thought that while the song was great it didn’t blend with the overall tone of the album. Bruce apparently played bass on the demo that was similar to “Raise Your Glasses.” “It’s My Life,” a song that had first been recorded by KISS in 1982 again found itself excluded from a KISS album for which it was recorded. Even more disappointing for fans was that Ace Frehley played some guitar on the recording and shared some of the vocals. By the time the song was released on the box set, it would be incorrectly subtitled “Original Version.” Perhaps it had been intended to be called the “Originals Version,” since the song had first been recorded in 1982 during the “Creatures Of The Night” album sessions without the involvement of either Ace Frehley or Peter Criss. Bruce Fairbairn knew what he liked as he narrowed down the material to that which would be used. He rated the following songs as his A list: “We Are One,” “I Am Yours,” “Into The Void,” “I Wanna Rule The World,” “Rain Keeps Fallin,’” “It’s My Life,” “Within,” “Killing Joke,” “Everyday Above Ground,” “You Wanted The Best,” “I’m Back,” “Sweet & Dirty.”
Many of Gene’s songs on the “A” list dated to the early 1990s. Most notable among these are “Rain Keeps Fallin’,” a song that had been demoed by Gene and members of Silent Rage prior to the “Revenge” sessions. “I’m Back” was a Paul Stanley song that apparently never made it too far in the production process. Bruce rated the following for his B-list were: “Carnival Of Souls” (to be re-done as “Psycho Circus”), “Sweet & Dirty,” “Rotten To The Core,” “Everybody Knows,” “Everybody Knows Somebody,” “Hunger,” “Master Of Flesh,” “Turn To Stone,” “Star Child,” and “Gonna Be Alright.” The majority of these were Gene ideas, again with material like “Everybody Knows” and “Everybody Knows Somebody” dating back to Gene’s sessions with Silent Rage. “It’s Gonna Be Alright” dated back as far as 1982. Gene originally had offered this song to the band Heavy Pettin,’ who had opened up for KISS on the European leg of the Lick It Up tour along with Helix, in 1983. Smashed Gladys would record a version of the song titled “Give It All You’ve Got” on their demo EP prior to their being signed by Elektra Records.
And least liked were: “In Your Face,” “Spirit Is Willing,” “Psycho Circus,” “Rocket,” and “Granny Takes A Trip” (which was marked to have its rift stolen for use on another song). “You Are Mine” was another Gene composition for the album. It is not clear if it was demoed or recorded. Of all of the interesting notebooks Gene auctioned off during the Butterfield’s/EBay auction of 2000, one piece included a note which listed this song among possible tracks and the following: “Negotiated the following deals: Drums – Kevin Valentine, $125,000; Gtr – Tommy Thayer, $20,000; A&M overdubs, $1,000 per day.” Whether those salaries are what they actually got paid is another matter.
Gene’s lyrical idea books listed numerous compositions that were at least written or conceived around the time of the album sessions. They included: “Damn, I’m Good,” “Radioworld,” “Never Gonna Leave You,” “Thank You And Good Night,” “I Turn To Stone,” “Eternally,” “Roar Of Greasepaint,” “I Come Out At Night,” “I Had A Dream,” and “Shadows.” Some, like “Roar Of Greasepaint” would get recycled into other songs, such as “Journey Of 1,000 Years.” Others await eventual (hopefully) release on Gene’s “100” demo box set.
It is important to understand that some of these were probably simply song titles, little more. Some may even have had chord structures or lyrical snippets, but could hardly be considered as complete songs. Gene was well known for simply writing down what he thought were “cool” or interesting possible song titles. Sometimes they’d stay as such, sometimes he’d attempt to build songs around them or incorporate them into other songs. This had been the case in 1974 when Gene wrote “Man Of 1,000 Faces,” “Drive Me Wild,” “Daddy Longlegs,” “Don’t Want Your Romance,” “She’s One Of The Boys,” and “(You Make My) Jelly Roll” down as possible songs.
When KISS returned to the studios in January 1998 such an event could not be ignored by the press following the success of the “reunion” tour. USA Today reported, “Fresh off a reunion tour, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss have started work on a new KISS record, ‘Psycho Circus,’ set for release this summer” (1/20/98). Even the ever-present comparisons to “Destroyer” started early with Paul Stanley stating in Entertainment Weekly: “‘Destroyer’ comes to mind immediately. That’s what I want this album to be” (USA Today, 1/20/98). That sentiment even before a note of music had been recorded. It was at least an admirable height for Paul to be aiming for, to attempt to recapture the glory of the band’s classic era.
It is difficult to ascertain how the band started work on “Psycho Circus.” One thing is clear is that the four members were not working together, with Paul and Gene being on the west coast and Peter and Ace remaining on the east. There is little doubt that while the sessions started without them, Peter and Ace continued to work on material in hopes of getting it on the album. Regardless, their participation would be a slight problem with the battle raging concerning the original “reunion” contracts that they had signed. This in effect had resulted in Ace and Peter decision excluding themselves from the creative process.
Yet they were not as “out” of the recordings as Gene would indicate. Peter commented, “I played on a lot of the stuff. There were days I would walk in and play some stuff and leave for a week and there would be some other stuff added. For me, it was kind of like a mixed emotion. It was stuff I put down and it would get mixed around into something else. So yeah I did, and yeah I didn’t. I was on some of it and I wasn’t on some of it. Gene didn’t even play bass on half of the stuff. Same thing with Ace with Bruce [Kulick]. Bruce would be in there, and then Ace would be in there. It was like a consistent circling thing, and again, I go back to Bruce Fairbairn who was the ringmaster to this insanity. At times I was happy about it, and at other times I wasn’t happy about it. But again, I would say, ‘you’re in the band. This is THE BAND. You don’t want to walk out of the band and cause a huge brawl. Let’s see where the cards will fall. If it turns out cool, the fans will...’ They always know. You can’t bullshit your fans. You can’t bullshit music. It’s either great or it isn’t great. Whatever I did on the record, I tried my best. If it doesn’t, then we can kill Valentine for it. It’s that type of situation. At times I was happy with it, at times I wasn’t happy with it. I’m sure Ace felt the same way” (Metal Sludge).
Once again, the “new” (returning) members found them in the same position their replacements had found themselves in during the 1980s. Because of the structure of the band Gene and Paul were in control and were able to retain the song-writing and performance credits on the album for themselves. Of course, an alternative explanation is possible: That the material that Peter and Ace brought to the sessions sucked or was inappropriate for the band, the sound, or whatever. Perhaps one day fans will be able to judge the material for themselves.
At the time, Doug Snazel of the AceFrehley.com website reported that “Bruce Fairbairn has said there is no definitive track listing. In fact he has made it very clear he’s going to pick the best 12 songs that are submitted period. It will not matter who writes them. There is no rule of Ace only getting 1 song or Paul getting at least 4 or 5 as previously reported. Bruce has been given final veto on what tracks are selected.” Furthermore he added, “Ace has 5 or 6 really good songs completed. Two written with Sebastian which are very heavy, sounding much like old Metallica. Two written with Anton Fig which are excellent.” By late January Ace was working separately demoing songs with Karl Cochran who had written one entirely, “with Ace coming up with the solo and lyrics” (Doug Snazel). That song would become “Into The Void” and actually would make the album, after, according to Gene, some work on it that he and Paul undertook without taking a credit away from Ace.
Even Gene had to answer some of the allegations about songs in an interview with Gerri Miller. He responded when asked about him and Paul rejecting Peter and Ace’s material, “That’s absolutely not true and fantasy for the simple reason the producer has the right to pick the songs, who has said no to most of the songs I’ve contributed as well as Paul. I was championing a song brought in by Ace, that I felt should be on the record and the producer vetoed it” (Metal Edge). However, anyone with half a brain knows who owns the keys to the KISS car, and Gene and Paul would hardly ever cede artistic control of the band to an outsider – they’d tried that before and seen where it had led them. Almost immediately rumors started circulating, mostly via the internet, that outside musicians were being used instead of the original members.
Most notable of these is Bruce Kulick who was forced to issue a statement about the situation: “Regarding the ‘Psycho Circus’ record, as usual lots of rumors are flying on the board regarding the record. I have been involved with some pre-production demos with Paul, which was quite fun. I really do enjoy working with him. I was just helping out and was not asked to appear on the record” (Bruce Kulick via KISS Asylum, 3/98). Ever the team-player, though some refused to believe Bruce, and statements such as “not asked to appear on the record” leave plenty of scope for his contributions to appear un-credited or be imitated by other “players.”
However fragmented the sessions were Ace found time on February 1st to jam with former Ace Frehley Band members Karl Cochran and Anton Fig, and Eric Singer, at the NAMM Show in Los Angeles. That night saw an incredible piece of KISStory when Ace jammed with Slash during the final song of Slash’s set, trading solos on the classic blues song, “Rock Me All Night Long.” Even though it was well after 1am Ace was soon joined on stage by Anton Fig, and Karl Cochran who proceeded to let rip into “Rip It Out” and “Cold Gin” before being joined by fellow KISS-alumni Eric Singer for “Strange Ways” which he had performed on the Ace Frehley tribute album, “Return of the Comet.” That song had also been a favorite of the late-Ace Frehley band in the mid-1990s. Closing the night was another Ace Frehley Band standard, “Parasite.”
For the remaining time that the band members were in the studio information concerning the album was sparse with the details of the sessions being kept under remarkably tight control. April saw several KISS related releases with the reissue of Peter Criss’ post-KISS solo albums, “Out Of Control” and “Let Me Rock You,” on CD, the latter of these being released in the United States for the first time. Sadly, on April 7th KISS were affected by the death of Wendy O. Williams, the legendary punk rocker from The Plasmatics, who had been found dead, the result of a suicide. Wendy had worked closely with KISS on her 1984 album WOW, which included the KISS tracks “It’s My Life” and “Thief In The Night,” along with other tracks written or co-written by the band. The album also included guest appearances by Eric, Paul, Ace, Vinnie, and was produced by Gene Simmons who had played bass on the album.
With the reissues of Peter’s albums, the US label had apparently considered reissuing “Killers” and “Best Of Solo Albums” on CD for the US market, since these had never been released in the US. However, the idea would be scrapped, regardless of the possibilities of fans snapping them up. For the rest of the month there was little additional KISS related information and the recording of “Psycho Circus” was completed towards the end of the April.
Somewhat amusingly, on June 2, Gene Simmons was reported dead by USA Today. The newspaper seemed to have believed that he had died of a drug overdose. Ace Frehley must have cackled! Needless to say they were very wrong and corrections were hastily added, and readers with any knowledge of Gene’s lifestyle were humored by the thick irony of the report. It would be interesting to find out what the source of this report was.
On July 9 Paul Stanley made a very rare personal appearance at the grand opening of MARS Music in Nashville, TN. Several days later, the moment many fans had anticipated came in a world exclusive, when radio station WRAT in Point Pleasant, New Jersey played the first song to be heard publicly from the “Psycho Circus” album, the title track. After several more plays over the next couple of days the radio station received a Cease & Desist order from Mercury Records forcing them to stop airing the track. Most online fans went wild, though much of the fanfare is simply the result of hearing something new as the song was quickly distributed via the internet.
In March a special Japan only vinyl box set was announced. With a $300 price tag the set is sub-titled “The Originals 1974-1979” and features the first 9 albums, excluding “Double Platinum” and the solo albums in a special repackaging featuring booklets, original inserts, a sheet of stickers featuring the artwork appearing on the KISS singles 1975-80, and a reproduction of the trading cards that had been included with “The Originals” in 1976 (1977 in Japan). Most importantly the records being pressed in various colors: “KISS” (Purple Vinyl), “Hotter Than Hell” (Yellow Vinyl), “Dressed To Kill” (Red Vinyl), “Alive!” (Pink Vinyl), “Destroyer” (Green Vinyl), “Rock And Roll Over” (Blue Vinyl), “Love Gun” (Clear Purple Vinyl), “Alive II” (Light-Green Vinyl), and ““Dynasty” (White Vinyl). The set was limited to 2500 copies. Just before it was originally scheduled for release this box set was cancelled in May, due to contractual problems, and then rescheduled for release in July. The box set would finally be released in July 15.
Several days after the WRAT broadcast of “Psycho Circus,” a radio station in Detroit, MI, also played the track. These early teasers, reminiscent of the “Revenge” leaks of 1992, all become a moot point in August when the whole “Psycho Circus” album is leaked. Unlike previous albums, this is the first KISS album to really suffer from the internet as it is quickly distributed via the net and reaches far more people than traditional methods would permit. The leak generates many arguments among fans, many news articles concerning the music industry and online ‘distribution’ of copyrighted material, and tons of hype. Some sites even refuse to discuss the album, having decided to wait until the official release date before listening to the album.
The press release for the album is everything one would expect from the band: “Ladies and Gentlemen it is with great pleasure that I bring you ‘Psycho Circus,’ the new album from KISS. ‘Psycho Circus’ is the first recording the four original members: Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss have made together in over twenty years. The album features ten new songs and was produced by Bruce Fairbairn. The album will be unleashed on the world September 22, 1998. KISS has defined the face and character of rock culture. For over twenty-four years they have been shocking and exciting people while inventing new ways to keep their fans happy. Their influence on today’s music and it’s artists is unparalleled. With ‘Psycho Circus,’ fans will get vintage KISS. The artwork for ‘Psycho Circus’ continues the KISS tradition of being totally original. The CD will be packaged in a never-before-seen special 3-D image. Other exciting things KISS will be doing to coincide with the release of ‘Psycho Circus’ include the creation of a KISS car and the unveiling of new costumes which are updated versions of the ones worn during the Destroyer tour. The KISS reunion tour ‘96-97’ was the top grossing tour of the year. They broke attendance records in every city and sold over $150 million worth of concert tickets. KISS intend to break those records this time around. The tour will kick-off sometime in November and will of course feature the guys in full makeup and costume. They also plan to have the tour be in 3-D” (Mercury Press Release, 1998).
During August “Psycho Circus” is issued as the first radio single from the album. It soon becomes one of the most popular songs on radio and attains the #1 position on the rock radio play charts. While radio listeners enjoy the first new track from the original KISS line-up, on September 15 the band premiers the artistic 3-D “Psycho Circus” video at the KISS news conference at Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA. The video had been filmed in early August and was directed by James Hurlburt and produced by Doc McGhee and Eddie Vasker. It currently stands as the final conceptual video created by the band. MTV refused to air the video using the age-old “KISS aren’t in our target demographic” argument. For what MTV was in 1998 (and now) the argument was completely valid. An online campaign to get the station to show the video resulted in failure as the station was adamant that KISS would not be aired. As a result few fans got to see the video initially.
On September 22, 1998 “Psycho Circus” was officially released. The same day KISS’ first official website, “KISS Online,” goes ‘live.’ While there is not much content initially the site soon begins to grow taking in material from a variety of sources, notably by eating existing sites. It is run for the band by SONY Signatures with Mike Brandvold serving as webmaster. He had previously been the webmaster for KISS Otaku, one of the oldest and most respected KISS websites on the internet.
On October 1 KISS’ reunion album is rewarded with the band’s highest ever chart position on the Billboard album charts. The album debuted at position #3 after selling nearly 110,000 copies in its first week of release which must be noted lacked any real competition. MTV reported, “In what plays out like a war for the nation’s souls, the vintage demon glam rockers in KISS edge out the Christian outfit D.C. Talk for next week’s top debut on the Billboard album chart. According to Sound Scan sales figures released on Wednesday, KISS will score next week’s number three slot after selling more than 109,000 copies (109,572) of ‘Psycho Circus’ in its first week in stores. The release edged out D.C. Talk’s Supernatural which sold more than 106,000 copies to land at number four. Both debuts fall behind Lauryn Hill, whose Miseducation of Lauryn Hill returns to the number one spot next week after selling another 167,000 copies. ‘N Sync jumps up to number two next week as its self-titled album sold another 112,000 copies” (MTV).
While in modern terms this figure was paltry, even this outstripped their previous best of chart position #4 with 1977s “Love Gun.” Unfortunately the album soon followed the trend of KISS albums of the 1990s by rapidly sliding down the charts. The album would only manage 14 weeks on the charts and had dropped out of the top-200 by January 1999. In numerous other countries the band was rewarded with high-charting debut numbers, including several #1 positions. In Canada the album charted at #2, held off the top spot by the Armageddon soundtrack.
In another throw-back reminiscent of the band’s relationship with Casablanca’s Neil Bogart, “Psycho Circus” was certified for Gold shipments by the RIAA on October 28. It is the band’s 23rd (or 27th should one include the solo albums) Gold album leaving only “The Elder,” “Greatest KISS,” and “Carnival Of Souls” uncertified at that time. That the album had not sold 500,000 copies was not a particularly important point. The album would one of the fastest selling albums in Canada and the band would be awarded their Gold record there following the Toronto show on the tour on December 2.
On October 27 the “Psycho Circus” VHS package was released. It contained the two versions of the video – the “regular” version and a 3-D version. The package included 3-D glasses and a special bonus CD, featuring one of four band-member specific screen-prints. Included on the CD was the Japanese bonus track “In Your Face.” Some early copies of the package had the CDs facing the wrong way making it pot-luck which band member was screen printed on the CD. The video package obtained RIAA Gold certification in the “Video Long-form” category on November 23, 1998 which leads to a bit of confusion. The release was certainly not a “Video Long-form” being closer to the RIAA requirements of a “Music Video Single” since it contained “no more than two songs per video” (RIAA) running no more than 15 minutes. As a result it is not clear whether the package sold 25,000 or 50,000 units for Gold certification (the difference between the RIAA criteria for “Music Video Single” versus “Video Long-form”). The role of the bonus CD also adds to the confusion. Regardless, the video package attained platinum certification, again in the “Video Long-form” category on January 13, 1999 making it KISS’ first platinum video since 1995.
By October 30 the band are under advance preparations for their one-off Halloween show which was to be a test run of the whole “Psycho Circus” touring concept. That night during a full dress rehearsal for the LA concert, at Dodger Stadium, KISS performed “Flaming Youth,” a gem left out of the set for years and one of the songs most requested for inclusion. Unfortunately, the song does not make it into the band’s set list for the following night’s show. With the Smashing Pumpkins (who get into the spirit of the occasion and arrive dressed up as The Beatles ‘64) opening, KISS play a long 22 song set. Included are gems such as “She” and “Nothin’ To Lose” while three tracks, “Psycho Circus,” “Into The Void,” and “Within,” are included from the new album. With more pyro than usual, this KISS show features a great deal of special effects, mainly floating laser displays and live 3-D segments, not to mention the real circus built around the theme of the album. This would be the only show which would incorporate the performing circus.
Also on Halloween night KISS appear on the TV show MAD TV, and on Fox’s Millennium, where all four members play cameo roles both in and out of makeup! Later that night Fox also broadcast live segments (1 and a half songs) from the LA Show... “As fans roared their approval, the 46-year-old ‘Starchild’ (as his costumed KISS persona is known) slipped one silver platform boot into a harness, stood up and launched himself off the stage, gliding above a sea of costumed ghouls and goblins to an elevated landing at midfield. He grabbed a guitar and tore into ‘Love Gun,’ prancing in place with his knock-kneed heavy-metal strut, and when it was done, he sailed back through a haze of fake fog to rejoin band mates Gene Simmons (“the Demon”), Ace Frehley (“Space-Ace”) and Peter Criss (“the Catman”). It was one of the more impressive stunts on opening night of the band’s ‘Psycho Circus’ tour, a three-ring extravaganza featuring acrobats, motorcycle stunts and sideshow freaks, more than two hours of pyrotechnic rock theater from KISS and--back on stage and better than ever--the Beatles! (LA Times). Described only as an unflappable LA review could make the show sound, in reality the show was very much bigger and very much stranger.
On November 23 “You Wanted The Best” became the second single off “Psycho Circus,” when it was added to radio. Originally, “Within” had been considered for release during October and had made it as far as becoming an acetate CD-Single. As a result a limited number of CD-R acetates of the track were produced with a 4:08 edit version of the track which cut around a minute from the track. It was abandoned in favor of this more anthemic single, one of the few songs on the album to feature all of the members trading off lead vocals. Gene had apparently started writing the song in 1977. The following day “The Second Coming” double-cassette video ships Gold, continuing a long run of success for KISS in the music video marketplace. Documenting the “reunion” the video is a selection of clips from all aspects of the last tour and reunion process, enough to make the fans drool about the sort of material the band have in their archive. Also on this day, “MTV Unplugged” is reissued in DVD format, the first KISS title to be released in that format. Meanwhile, as an advance for the next big KISS project the band film segments for their forthcoming movie, “Detroit Rock City,” in Toronto, Canada on December 3.
Concerning the “Psycho Circus” tour Gene commented, “The truth is that the ‘Psycho Circus’ tour went where no band had gone before, by being the first 3-D tour and people got their own glasses. It opened up all kinds of possibilities. Technology is here and we really wanted to step up” (RS.COM). Unfortunately, KISS were not the first band to appear in 3-D even though some other bands are rather two dimensional. What the tour concept did prove was that like 1979 cool effects are expensive and the 3-D camera was quickly reduced to limited use due to cost and technical issues. The stage would include what was, at the time, the biggest video screen ever made, measuring some 22x40’, a totally massive scale. The proper tour would not open until November 12 when the “1998-1999 Psycho Circus World Tour” officially kicked off at the Fleet Center in Boston, MA.
While the set didn’t vary too much from the Los Angeles show, “Makin’ Love” is performed while “She” and “Nothin’ To Lose” are dropped. Even at this early stage it is clear that the tour does not have the same level of interest that the “reunion” tour had with only 19,720 of a possible 25,000 tickets being sold for the two night stand in Boston. Yet expectations surely outweighed the logical possibilities of the tour. What then followed in the KISS fan world is a great deal of arguing about the success of the tour and the definition of success. While it is clear that no KISS tour could ever equal the “reunion,” expectations were so high from some quarters that even a very good tour was considered a failure. For whatever reasons the tour sold around 75% of available tickets during its very short 33 date run in the United States.
Initially the tour was to have run through January 29, 1999 when the first leg would conclude at the National Car Rental Center in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. However, this show was postponed while the band get the stage shipped to Europe and the tour ended at Nashville Arena, Nashville, TN, on January 2. During the January break KISS appeared as presenters at the American Music Awards on January 11th. Following a brief mention during a commercial interlude, the band stomped onstage in grand fashion and received an absolutely fantastic reception (compared with some other presenters). Many present gave the band a standing ovation while the band members all seemed to be in great spirits. The category they presented was Best Pop/Rock album of the year contested by Celine Dion, Will Smith, and Shania Twain - all fantastic artists. Will won, and ran over to high-five Gene, and with typical Will Smith humor checked out his cod-piece!
The following day the “Second Coming” video attains both Gold and Platinum status for long-form video sales of 100,000 copies. This proved that KISS videos were still strong sellers even if current albums didn’t have the same pull to the consumer. On January 16 Gene Simmons appeared at the New York Fangoria Convention. A horror convention, he presents an advance clip of the band’s film that was under production at the time. He was joined onstage by the film’s director, Adam Rifkin, associate producer, Tim Sullivan, and one of the film’s stars, Sam Huntington, for a half-hour Q&A session.
On January 26 KISS are featured at the NATPE session in New Orleans where they are promoting the “Detroit Rock City” film to TV executives. They pose with Martha Stewart!! In one of the greatest possible deals ever made on January 31 KISS appeared on the Super Bowl pre-game show, lip-synching to “Rock And Roll All Nite” which had been recorded during the sound-check of their Meadowlands show in December. The amount of pyro effects result in the stadium looking like it’s being nuked! It is amusing that Gene Simmons’ ex-girlfriend Cher sang the national anthem for the event.
Still on a break from the tour KISS do the photo shoot for the Got Milk? advertising campaign in Los Angeles... Both regular and chocolate milk are used during the February 22 photo sessions though eventually it is decided to use the chocolate version. Distribution of the KISS campaign is not as wide as some earlier artist ads. With the band ready to head over to Europe for the second leg of the “Psycho Circus” tour a special tour reissue of the “Psycho Circus” CD was released on February 23. The album package included a bonus EP of live material recorded during the US leg of the tour.
With US fans complaining that the EP is a cynical marketing ploy designed to get them to buy yet another copy of the album (with the Japanese version having a bonus track), import copies rapidly become the standard copies for many retailers. The songs on the Live EP are “Psycho Circus,” “Let Me Go Rock ‘N Roll,” “Into The Void” (with Ace’s guitar solo), “Within” (with Peter’s drum solo), “100000 Years,” and “Black Diamond.” The tracks were recorded at the ISA Hulman Center in Terre Haute, Indiana, on December 12, 1998 and at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana on December 13, 1998.
On February 24, following the band’s first ever Grammy award nomination, KISS loose out to fellow veterans Page/Plant. Much better than losing to Marilyn Manson who had also been nominated for the award! Meanwhile, the European leg of the “Psycho Circus” tour kicks of on February 26 at Hartwell Area in Helsinki, Finland. The tour comprised of 22 dates and concluded on March 28 at Ostseehalle in Kiel, Germany. While the tour was mostly stable, there were a few interesting events: At the March 12 show in Bremen, fire marshals at the venue forbade the band’s use of pyrotechnical devices. In typical KISS fashion the band complied... Until the end of “Black Diamond” when the band’s crew ignited a whole shows worth of pyro in one shot nearly incinerating the venue! Take that!
At the Erfurt show the night before, Paul made the mistake of asking Ace if he spoke German. Naturally, Ace responded with the banned Nazi part of the old German national anthem, “Deutschland, Deutschland ueber alles” (which translates as “Germany, Germany stands over all”). Gene, naturally, with his mother’s experience in the concentration camps of the Second World War, was not amused. There seems to have been some confusion over the anthem, because even Paul had been guilty of singing those parts, yet many non-Germans will recognize those words and not necessarily remember their association with the past. However, Germans are seldom allowed to forget the past and are sensitive to such issues.
On March 31 the Entertainment Wire announced, “Legendary American rock group KISS for the first time ever will make a stop in Russia on April 1-4, 1999. Santa Monica-based Comspan Russia, the leading concert promotion company in eastern Europe, will organize and promote the three concerts that feature cutting edge 3-D and special effects.” Unfortunately, these shows had originally been announced at the beginning of the month and had already been cancelled due to rising anti-American sentiments in Russia following the US military action in Serbia.
A minor South American leg was added to the tour with dates starting on April 10 at River Plate Stadium, Buenos Aires, Argentina. The band would only play five concerts before the conclusion of the tour at Foro Sol in Mexico City on April 24. The first of these shows is filmed and broadcast on Argentine TV Channel Volver’s “Puerta V” show on May 1. The River Plate show was released as an unofficial DVD in 2005, though the quality is as one would expect from an unofficial product. Poor.
During April a second printing of “The Originals 1974-1979” Japanese box set was released in Japan. The only difference between it and the first pressing is the color of the box: The first issue came in a black container and the second issue in red. This box set has become highly collectible because of the small numbers of each version produced. Copies often sell for in excess of $500 (late-2005).
With a tour of just over 60 dates, KISS essentially played for the number of fans who actually bought the album in the US. While the tour was technically a success, taking into account the sales figures, which were respectable, it was a total failure for what it was hyped to have been. Gene places some of the blame firmly on Ace and Peter for the tour being tough: “Peter was suffering from insomnia, and Ace would doze off and start drooling in his sleep on the jet, in the middle of sentences. So the dirty laundry made it grueling. Many, many times we had to send warning letters to lawyers” (Classic Rock Magazine, 11/01). Yet, the internal problems from earlier in the year plus the album that the band were attempting to support illustrated the fact that the band’s license to print money had run out. And quickly.
The “reunion” was over, the marketability of the band had been a fleeting illusion of nostalgia. There was no way that KISS would be allowed to be a “current” entity as long as the make-up remained. Misguided business ideas and poorly conceived plans did little to protect the brand name and another KISS tour and album failed to capture any imagination. With the release of a studio album built on the reunion the biggest question concerned where had KISS gone in the 19 years since they recorded their last studio album together?
Off on a tangent some might reply. Others might state that the band had ceased to exist in 1980, or even earlier such as at the end of the Love Gun tour in 1978. One must really consider these theories to be rubbish. In general a gold selling album can be considered something of a failure, but not a big one for many artist would give their right arm for one (consider this tangent, Bob Dylan has 32 gold albums, but only 13 platinum albums, indicating that from sales figures he is a marginal seller), and right in line with what KISS albums had been selling since 1989. There is plenty of recycling on the album which makes the it interesting.
In terms of collectibility it is important to note that Psycho Circus picture discs are bootleg. The most interesting item is the Japanese 3-D pop-up CD package that was a limited edition. This CD also included the bonus track “In Your Face” which with the packaging makes it very desirable. There have been assorted reissues of the album in Japan with the most recent being planned for October 2006. Other items, such as the “Psycho Circus” Sterling Reference disc has caused more confusion than it is worth. That item was simply a radio promo single using a novelty design. The design misled many to believe that the CD single was rarer and something other than it actually was. The reference design was used in the US and UK, and possibly other countries. It certainly is not a real “reference” disc!
The second promo single from the album, “You Wanted The Best,” had a cool speckled screen-print design that makes it an interesting addition to anyone’s collection. In some European countries “I Finally Found My Way” was released as a promotional CD-single, the final release from the album. Most markets would also issue “We Are One,” except for the United States which stuck with “Psycho Circus” and “You Wanted The Best” as the only singles from the album, the latter being promotional only.
The making of “Psycho Circus” was clearly torture for Gene and Paul, and working with Bruce Fairbairn was clearly not easy. Even with his prodigious track record, it was clear that he was better producing commercial bands who were willing to be commercial. This was not something that KISS could ever be. Bruce hoped, “That ‘Psycho Circus’ has something special about it and that people will enjoy it for a lot of years. You know, when we did the record we always had the show in mind” (Gerri Miller). Unfortunately, the album will (and has been) be debated for years to come. The fragmentation of the band ensured that the album was yet another Gene and Paul solo project, and some of the songs that did include Peter and Ace would have to wait for release on the box set. While well hidden at the time, it was clear that the original lineup was not going to survive as an active unit for any longer than the contracts specified.