20 Years Ago: Kiss’ Original Lineup Reunite for ‘Psycho Circus’
On Sept. 28, 1998, more than two years after their successful reunion tour began, the original lineup of Kiss released their first studio album together in about 20 years. Well ... sort of. You see, while Psycho Circus is a very good modern-day Kiss record -- largely underrated, in fact -- it also served as proof that a true studio reunion of the group's most famous lineup just wasn't ever gonna be in the cards.
Recently returned drummer Peter Criss and lead guitarist Ace Frehley play on just three tracks, with studio musicians -- including Frehley's future replacement Tommy Thayer -- handling most of the heavy lifting the rest of the way.
As engineer Mike Plotnikoff explains in the book Kiss: Behind the Mask, "The reason Ace and Peter didn't play much on the Psycho Circus album is because of a decision [producer] Bruce Fairbairn made. Even though Gene [Simmons] and Paul [Stanley] wanted it to be the original band on the record, when Bruce heard Ace and Peter play in pre-production, he thought to make the kind of record he wanted to make, Ace and Peter wouldn't cut it as players."
So Fairbairn recruited Kevin Valentine to play drums, and Thayer (who helped Ace re-learn his original guitar parts for the reunion tour) to handle lead guitar duties. Former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick also reportedly chipped in with guitar and bass work on two tracks.
Despite the seemingly chaotic and disjointed manner in which it was assembled, Psycho Circus actually holds together quite well, offering a nice revisiting of the various styles Kiss has successfully pulled off over the years. While lead track "Psycho Circus" falls just shy of its ambitious goals to stand alongside past epic concert openers like "Detroit Rock City," Stanley delivers a rousing throwback anthem with the outrageously titled "I Pledge Allegiance to the State of Rock & Roll," and revisits the best of the band's makeup-free era with "Dreamin."
Simmons delivers a diverse selection of quality songs as well -- from the moody, menacing "Within" to the surprisingly sweet, sunny (and in retrospect, somewhat ironic) statement of unity "We Are One" and the acoustic guitar, piano and string aided album closing "Journey of 1,000 Years."
The original lineup plays together just once, on the swaggering, Frehley-sung album highlight "Into the Void." Criss is naturally given a ballad to sing, "I Finally Found My Way," and all four trade lead vocals on "You Wanted the Best," an extremely catchy song that manages to serve as both a historical account of the reunion and a public group therapy / bitch session.
Watch Ace Frehley Talk About Kiss' 'Psycho Circus' Album
Criss was understandably hurt about being largely shut out of the proceedings. "Ace and I were both working on songs diligently. But then, once again, our hopes were shattered," he explains in his book Makeup to Breakup. "They were offering us $850,000 each not to play!"
Tensions between Criss and the group over money and other issues began to mount on the following tour, ultimately leading him to leave the group following an onstage meltdown on Oct. 7 in Charleston, S.C. "Paul thought the cheers were for him," he recalled, "until he turned around and saw a huge floor tom-tom coming down at him." Criss rejoined the band briefly in late 2002, but by then Frehley was gone for good, and Criss followed suit again in early 2004.
Eric Singer, who had performed with the group during the mid-'90s, and Thayer took over for Criss and Frehley, performing in the former members' iconic Cat and Spaceman face makeup. This Kiss lineup continues to tour, record and invent new kinds of merchandise together, most recently issuing the 2012 album Monster.