Oct. 18, 2009 -- Those grease-painted glam lords of campy metal are at back at it. Thirty-five years after their first album , Kiss has just put out "Sonic Boom," a new studio disc that's being sold exclusively next to the Cheerios and Windex at Walmart stores nationwide.
It has been 11 years since their last album, and despite their age -- singer and bassist Gene Simmons is 60 years old, while singer/guitarist Paul Stanley is 57 -- they are strapping on platform heels, smearing on the makeup and hitting big arenas nationwide for a 47-city tour.
"If the audience really wants you, they keep calling you back," says band co-founder Simmons. "I mean, look at us. I couldn't be in any other band, I'm a misfit. I'm an outsider. I can't be in the [Rolling] Stones or U2. Those little people would get in my way."
Outspoken singer Simmons may capture the spotlight as the fire-breathing face of Kiss, but "Sonic Boom" was the brainchild of Stanley. The two original members are joined by guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer, replacing Ace Frehley and Peter Criss.
"I could never imagine that we would be doing this this long, 35 to 40 years later and to be selling out," says Stanley. "I mean I could certainly see some of the guys in the band being in a padded cell thinking they were playing for a big crowd still. But here we are doing this, and it's amazing!"
Legions of fans, also known as the "Kiss Army," are still attending the shows, but this time many of them are towing along what might be called the "little" Kiss Army: their kids. Many face-painted children of the original fans are flocking to arenas with mom and dad, proving what Stanley refers to as a family-friendly show.
"You see parents bringing their children and holding them up, you know, to be, to be blessed, just like the Lion King. You know, it's like 'hakuna matata,' it's like the circle of life," says Stanley, referring to the catchphrase from the Disney movie meaning "no worries."
Despite the loyal fans and a couple of timeless Kiss anthems such "Rock-n-Roll All Night" and "Detroit Rock City," critics have long cast a shadow over Kiss with famously bad reviews.
About Critics Kiss Says: 'We Need Them as Mulch'
Dave Marsh, longtime writer for Rolling Stone magazine and a nominating committee member for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, once said, "Kiss is not a great band. Kiss was never a great band. Kiss never will be a great band, and I have done my share to keep them off the ballot."
"Critics are good. We bury them in the backyard. We need them as mulch," says Simmons. "They couldn't walk in my shoes if they tried. We listen to our fans. Those are our critics."
And according to the band's Web site, those fans have purchased 100 million records worldwide. This hasn't stopped the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame from repeatedly snubbing the band from consideration even though it has been eligible since 1999. Now, for the first time, they have been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and they're currently among the potential inductees for the 2010 ceremony.
Whatever critics may say, there is no disputing the merchandising machine that fuels Kiss. Since its inception, the band has placed top priority in selling logo-covered loot. Some say the mantra is "sex, dough, and rock and roll." Now, the band is taking it to a new level, cutting an exclusive deal with Walmart, which includes "Kiss Korners," stocked with everything from M&Ms and lampshades, to Mr. Potato Heads and fleece blankets.
The long-tongued Simmons has never been shy about being an opportunistic champion of marketing the band to the fullest extent.
"There's so much in the works," he says. "This is the beginning. You ain't seen nuthin' yet. We're gonna take over this planet and call it Planet Kiss."
And according to Stanley, as long as the fans keep asking for it, there's no telling when Kiss will stop making music and touring.
"Kiss has become iconic," says Stanley. "What we stand for is timeless. What we are singing about is freedom, believing in yourself, achieving against the odds, hooking up. There is a tradition about Kiss and we believe in what we stand for."