Psycho Circus is the eighteenth studio album by American rock band Kiss. The album features the original four members back together and in full make-up. Some pressings featured a lenticular cover that alternates between a black Kiss logo and the album title with pictures of a clown and the band members, while the Japan initial first pressing featured a pop-up cover which had three foam spring-loaded panels of a clown face and two others with band members faces that popped out when the doors were opened. "You Wanted the Best" is the only Kiss song in which lead vocals are shared by the entire lineup.
Following the highly successful 1996–97 reunion tour, Psycho Circus was marketed as the first new studio album by the band's original lineup since 1979's Dynasty (as Peter Criss did not participate on 1980s Unmasked, although Criss' drum work is limited to only one of the nine songs on Dynasty). As with Dynasty and Unmasked, however, many of the songs were recorded by uncredited players. Ace Frehley and Criss were used sparingly, with Criss playing drums only on "Into the Void". Frehley played on two songs from the album (not including vocals). In 2011, in Frehley's book No Regrets, he says that he wrote a lot of songs for the album, one of those songs being titled "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Rock 'n' Roll". He mentions that the title and song were deemed very similar to the song "I Pledge Allegiance to the State of Rock 'n' Roll". Frehley would record the song under the title "Pursuit of Rock and Roll" for his 2018 solo album Spaceman. "Into the Void" was originally titled "Shakin' Sharp Shooter", but Simmons and Stanley were unhappy with the lyrics and title, so Frehley went up to a separate room and rewrote it. The song "Within" was originally written and demoed for Kiss's previous album Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions and contains the original backwards guitar intro from the demo by previous Kiss member Bruce Kulick.
In a radio interview with Eddie Trunk following his departure, Criss stated that only "Into the Void" featured instrumental contributions from all four members. Regarding the lack of cohesion in the group at the time of recording, Paul Stanley stated, "We tried to do a Kiss album, and it was an ill-fated attempt because there was no real band," and continued by adding, "For a band to make a great album, it has to share a common purpose...and we didn't have it." In 2014, Stanley later revealed that Criss and Frehley were trying to renegotiate deals and get to compose more songs when he and Simmons thought that "Why would they be equal partners? The band had existed [for many years without them]." Although the subsequent Kiss Farewell Tour was meant to "put Kiss out of its misery", Stanley eventually decided to continue playing because "I don't want Psycho Circus to be our last album. It's not a good memory."
Bruce Fairbairn was brought to produce the album, and stated that he wanted to stay away from gimmicks and trends such as guest appearances, just "tried to stay true to what Kiss does best and people remember them for". The album was mostly recorded at Los Angeles's A&M Studios and One on One Recording Studios, with the performances being first recorded with analogue equipment, and then digitized for mixing and overdubs. Afterwards it was mixed by Mick Guzauski in his New York studio, and mastered by Fairbarn and Kiss' longtime partner George Marino at Sterling Sound, New York. Fairbairn complimented the band for being collaborative, declaring that "it had the potential to be a nightmare because they're all disparate and strong characters, musically and as people."
It is sometimes assumed that Psycho Circus is based on the comic-book series Kiss: Psycho Circus, which debuted the year before the album was released; however, while it is true that the album had not been conceived at the time the comic book was first published, Simmons claims that the Psycho Circus concept was originally created as a Kiss tour theme.
Psycho Circus debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200, selling 110,000 copies in its first week of release, and was certified gold by the RIAA on October 22, 1998.
Rolling Stone said, "Psycho Circus is an album of platform-stomping rhythms, roller-coaster guitar riffs and sing-along choruses – is far more respectable than any of the awkward flops from the no-makeup years."Entertainment Weekly (9/25/98, p. 106) said, "This is rock with a capital R, captured in all its cheesy glory... This new effort proves that in the circus of hard-rock dinosaurs, Kiss remains its Barnum & Bailey." "Well up to the band's usual standards of corny hoopla," wrote Clark Collis in The Daily Telegraph. "Typical of the beast is 'I Pledge Allegiance to the State of Rock & Roll' – three and a half minutes of hilariously bombastic pomp-rock that simply crushes thoughts of all post-glam musical developments beneath a silver-painted stack-heel boot."
The song "Dreamin'" bears a resemblance to Alice Cooper's "I'm Eighteen" (1970): a month after the release of Psycho Circus Cooper's publisher filed a plagiarism suit, settled out of court in Cooper's favor.