LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Paul Stanley surveys his home high in the hills overlooking Los Angeles and proudly dubs it "the house that bad reviews built."
But the KISS frontman is a mere visitor, relegated with his young family to a rental down the hill while contractors complete a renovation that's miraculously on-budget and on-time.
His own band has undergone quite a few make-overs since the costumed, face-painting quartet formed in New York 37 years ago, not all as smoothly executed.
Stanley, 57, and fellow bandleader Gene Simmons, 60, are the only two constants in KISS, touring relentlessly with a revolving cast of guitarists and drummers. Their last studio album, 1998's "Psycho Circus," was cobbled together with the help of outside songwriters and session musicians.
The duo, both sons of Jewish refugees who instilled them with vigorous work ethics, have formed one of the more enduring -- and lucrative -- bonds in rock 'n' roll. They even live about two minutes' drive from each other, although Stanley says he's been to Simmons' house perhaps four times in the past decade.
"We're very close as family," he said. "You can love your brother and not want to see him all the time."
As the rock-star manse speeds toward completion, KISS also seems to be on a roll. A new studio album, "Sonic Boom," debuted at No. 2 on the U.S. pop chart on Wednesday, the band's highest ranking ever. Some 108,000 copies were sold in the first week.
Fans needed just $12 to buy the Walmart-only release, which consists of one disc with 11 new songs, another disc with re-recorded hits and a DVD.
KISS is also on the road at a U.S. venue near you, and it is even being considered for entry in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year.
Not bad for a band that launched a yearlong farewell tour in 2000 to cap a career that placed aggressive marketing of merchandise to its loyal fans in the "KISS Army" ahead of musical acumen.
Its current tour is designed as an homage to its 1975 live breakthrough "Alive!" Only one new song is thrown in, the first single "Modern Day Delilah."
"Nobody wants to hear new songs that they don't know," Stanley says. "It just doesn't make any sense."
His dismissive attitude is surprising given that he produced the new album himself for the first time, and wrote or co-wrote nine of the tracks.
Many of the songs -- celebrations of what Stanley calls "freedom, love of life, the value of friendship" -- are fist-pumping anthems that would seem natural contenders for big stadium or arena shows. He tantalizingly acknowledges as much.
"We played those songs during sound checks. They sound every bit as good as anything else. They have the soul," he said.
The new song "Stand," which Simmons and Stanley wrote together, is a tribute to their friendship, sure to bring tears to the eyes of emotional fans.
"The idea that we shouldn't revel in the idea of camaraderie or teamwork or what people can accomplish together is silly," Stanley said. "What we hope for in life is companionship, people we care about. It's timeless."
Another of their odes to teamwork, "All For The Glory," is sung by 51-year-old drummer Eric Singer, who adopts the stage persona originated by his ousted predecessor Peter Criss.
Many fans long for the return of the original lineup, which featured Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley, who was replaced by long-time KISS sidekick Tommy Thayer, 48. Not going to happen, says Stanley, who says they were not team players.
Frehley, 58, left the band for a second time in 2002, and just celebrated three years' sobriety. He released a solo album last month. Criss, 63, who had three stints in the band, was terminated in 2004. Stanley has not spoken to him since.
"It's so great to have a band of guys who all love the band, and all want to do what's best for the band, as opposed to further themselves at the band's expense," Stanley said.
"Anybody who would kid themselves into believing that 'Sonic Boom' could have been made by any four other members is out of their mind."
(Editing by Jill Serjeant)
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