Kiss, "Sonic Boom"

Kiss is such a merciless merchandising machine that each new album can seem like just another product to sell. But as the band's first studio album since 1998's "Psycho Circus,'' "Sonic Boom" -- part of a Wal-Mart-exclusive, budget-priced set that includes a greatest-hits CD and live DVD -- aims to be a bit more substantial than the pretext for yet another lucrative tour. Of course, the lyrics don't stray much from Kiss standbys such as partying, sex and rock 'n' roll. The results are appropriately direct and unambiguous: on "Hot and Cold,'' Gene Simmons appropriates the old chestnut "If it's too loud, you're too old'' before demanding "Baby, feel my tower of power.'' Musically, the songs hark back not to Kiss' 1970s heyday but to 1980s metal; despite its "Rock and Roll All Nite''-style hook, "Never Enough'' (about not just wanting it all, but taking it all) sounds almost exactly like Poison's "Nothin' But a Good Time,'' which is like two snakes eating each other's tails. The band sounds energized, and the Kiss Army faithful, who get the cobbled-together loyalty anthem "Stand,'' should be thrilled by "Sonic Boom.'' Everyone else can wait for the concert. Kiss plays Target Center Nov. 7.

MARC HIRSH, BOSTON GLOBE

David Gray, "Draw the Line" (Mercer Street)

With his homemade classic "White Ladder," British crooner Gray unwittingly paved the way for James Blunt and company's simpering love ballads. On his eighth studio album, he reclaims and reinvigorates his territory with this polished yet ragged collection of complex love and exasperation melodies. Weepy sentimentalists, back off. Gray hurls his voice, makes demands and sets boundaries, sometimes against the album's most gently etched landscapes. Emotional catharsis can sound downright burly in Gray's world. And everyone knows it's bad news to rile a crooner. Think about Frank Sinatra. Though the music flows through comfortable but sophisticated channels of folk-pop, it also takes some turns into rougher terrain. "Stella the Artist," with its lyrics about stinging rebuke and swimming through a sea of "psychotic puke," matches the terse but victorious mood with snapping drums and a flashing piano line. In "Full Steam," the album's final bow, he and Annie Lennox twine their voices, ticking off a list of life's inequities. It's the right person for him to duet with -- another artist who can make "bullied, suckered, pimped and patronized" sound like gospel for the disillusioned. Gray plays the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis Oct. 30.

MARGARET WAPPLER, LOS ANGELES TIMES