If Dynasty felt like the beginning of the end to many KISS fans, then Music from the Elder was the proverbial nail in the KISS coffin.
By 1981 the KISS Army probably thought they had seen it all, especially those fans who had been there from the beginning, witnessing the band grow from hungry, humble beginnings releasing three straight ahead hard rocking studio albums to little or no fanfare; save for the most devout fan, before the band’s first live album catapulted them into the stratosphere and solidified them as the unquestioned “Hottest Band in the World”.
Three more classic albums, another live record and the unprecedented release of four solo albums from each member of these “heavy metal Beatles” as Gene once dubbed the group, KISS could seemingly do no wrong. But, as the seventies drew to a close and a new decade was looming on the horizon, things got…weird.
On the surface everything looked fine, but internally the group was falling apart as odd and uncharacteristic choices; to the fans at least, were being made. From a bizarre and disappointing made for TV movie (I still want my two dollars back, dammit!), to jumping on the disco craze with Dynasty to close out the 70’s.
Peter Criss was quick to leave, with the Space Ace not far behind. The KISS Army were looking for another no frills hard rock record after two disappointing efforts from the group. KISS however took a gamble by releasing of all things, a concept album. A soundtrack for a strange medieval fantasy adventure film that didn’t exist yet, and never would see the (dark) light of day.
To say this concept album was less than well received was an understatement. To this day though there are fans who praise it for being different and others who loathe it. I may be just a boy, but today on PopLurker I’m taking the oath and taking a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of Music from the Elder.
Speaking of taking The Oath, here we have the lone shining star of the album. There are other songs on the Elder that have parts that are good. An interesting riff here, a solid Paul vocal there, but The Oath is the only song that truly rocks and has a galloping, magical energy to it.
If the entire album had given us the same energy, fire and thunder that The Oath exudes through the speakers, The Elder certainly would have been much better received, especially after the disco heavy Dynasty and pop syrup styling of Unmasked. Sure, the song I is a bouncy, energetic number in its own right, but doesn’t have the swagger of The Oath. Speaking of swagger, Ace rips off his last great blistering solo with the band, when the group performed this live on the short-lived comedy show Friday’s, before he quickly departed KISS and began recruiting his own Rock Soldiers.
The rest of the album.
Welp, that about sums it up, no more analysis necessary. Good night, everyone!
Alright, there’s a lot more to say, trust me. The bad about the Elder can be summed up for me with one name. Bob Ezrin. KISS have had two producers that can be credited with the band’s success in the seventies, Eddie Kramer and Bob Ezrin.
Comparing the two, Kramer produced Rock and Roll Over, Love Gun, Alive and Alive II as well as Ace’s solo record. That’s a hell of a resume, then there’s Ezrin with Destroyer, Revenge and the Elder. Bob Ezrin’s productions were pivotal in the band’s career sure, Destroyer was riding the wave from the success of Alive, Revenge was a heavier return to form after KISS came down from the excess of the 80’s, and then there’s the Elder. Of all three records, Destroyer is the best, while Revenge may be the most balanced, but for my sensibilities, all three of Ezrin’s collaborations with the band haven’t aged as well as Kramer’s.
My biggest issue with Ezrin is his insistence to be experimental. Too experimental. I’m all for taking chances and trying something different, but for every Detroit Rock City, King of the Night Time World or Do You Love Me, there’s something equally jarring, like Great Expectations. It’s been almost 30 years and I still don’t know what to make of that song. Ezrin has a tendency to layer songs in effects to try and, I don’t know, push new boundaries I guess or take a band to a higher level which is fine and all but, and this is just me talking, it comes off a little pretentious and like someone wanking off, but they milked it for just a little too long and ended up with a disappointing and uninspired finish, rather than hitting that sweet, sweet release.
You can just about always count on the Spaceman to come through in the clutch and prop up even the most mediocre of records; 2,000 Man and Torpedo Girl salvaging Dynasty and Unmasked, respectively. But then, there’s examples like this album. Even the Five Card Stud gets a bad draw from the deck from time to time. Dark Light has an okay riff going on throughout the track, but for as hit or miss as some of Ace’s solo efforts this last decade may have been, and for as much as I can’t stand “The Joker”, I’ll take Ace’s cover and the Steve Miller original back to back over the majority of the Elder.
Alright, maybe I’m reaching, let’s not get crazy, but the Elder is a meandering, slow motion pile of blah. The majority of the blame for me falls on Ezrin though and his odd production choices, but it also sits on the band’s shoulders for trying to cater to and please the critics for what was the first and only time, by veering completely off course from that classic hard rock sound we KISS fans had become accustomed to. KISS had always given a defiant fire breathing, exploding rocket middle finger to their critics, and now they’re putting out this weird concept album in an unnecessary attempt to prove they can do no wrong, when they had done no wrong in the eyes of the KISS Army for the better part of the seventies.
Just a Boy, Under the Rose, A World Without Heroes, sound like the band just decided to goof around on a day off and record some songs just for the laughs, with no intention of releasing it for the masses to shell out their money for, except that’s exactly what they did. We want Gene breathing fire, and Paul dripping with sexual bravado, and Ace melting our faces with that signature guitar sound.
For a record that clocks in at only 42 minutes, it feels like watching paint dry. In the dark. With sunglasses on. But there is no paint, and you’re not wearing sunglasses, but you are sitting in the dark, wondering where those 42 minutes went, and how you’d love to have them back after listening to an album that; if ranked from 0 to 10, Gene once quipped was a 2…if it were a bad Genesis album, but a zero with the KISS name attached to it.
The ugly is a rather ugly and uninspired end to the Hottest Band in the World. The next year KISS would release the undoubtedly superior Creatures of the Night; the album the KISS Army should have got after Unmasked, but by then it was too little, too late. Peter was already long gone, and despite being on the cover and in some music videos, Ace was launching his own solo career shortly after. The mighty KISS was no longer the same, they’d have flashes of fluorescent colored spandex brilliance throughout the eighties, but the magic by and large was gone.
Music from the Elder is not a particularly good album, but it was an important album in the history of KISS, and it was an interesting look into a band that was on top of the world just a few years prior. The KISS Army were asked to take this odyssey, but many of us were attempting to escape from the island, pulling the needle off the record, hitting the eject button on our CD players, and remembering when KISS truly were hotter than hell.