ABC TV, Ace Frehley, Bill Aucoin, Bob Ezrin, Carnival of Souls, Casablanca Records, Destroyer, Dynasty, Eric Carr, Fridays, Gene Simmons, KISS, Lou Reed, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss, Robben Ford, Tony Powers, Underdog Records, Unmasked
This wasn’t included in my “The Haul” from yesterday because it was delivered after I had posted that. This album was not purchased from Underdog Records, but Amazon. The distributors are back ordered and Amazon had five of them left, so I grabbed one. What is this, already, you ask? It’s my favorite KISS album: Music from “The Elder” (1981).
Now, I know a lot of my friends cringe when I say that, especially true KISSheads. Deeper than that, a lot of my friends cringe when I say I’m a KISS fan, period. I have always and will always be a fan of the band and in turn, this album. It’s a major dividing line not only in KISStory itself but in much of the KISS Army. Most people I’ve talked to that have any clue what this album is are in the love camp or hate camp. There isn’t that much in-between.
KISS fans had already started to wane in loyalty over the perceived debacles that the two previous albums, the disco-laden Dynasty (1979) and the power-pop heavy Unmasked (1980). They didn’t like that their favorite band was bowing to trends and seemingly abandoning their roots, and arguably, their fans. There was a lot of turmoil and trouble in the KISS camp that the general public didn’t know about until several years post. The public never knew the fact that Peter was essentially out of the picture for just about everything KISS at this point and that Ace was very unhappy, as well. Part of that was that he wanted to get back to rocking and another part was the fact that, without Peter, he was constantly being outvoted by Gene and Paul and their clique. So for Dynasty and Unmasked Peter wasn’t even on the albums other than one song. They needed something to kickstart the interest again. KISS touted a new album that returned to the rocking style that got them “world domination” status.
Instead, Gene and Paul were persuaded by bad advice and “those who know” suggestions to do something to get critics on board with how KISS really are great musicians. Here’s the thing, though… KISS aren’t great musicians. KISS are good musicians and great entertainers that did what they did (entertain) really, really well.
There was Rock on the album, no doubt. In fact, most of the songs were rock, but this wasn’t the Cock Rock that KISS was known for. Instead of an album full of sex and debauchery, the fans were given art rock concept album that followed a disjointed storyline that was like Excalibur meets Homer’s Odyssey or something equally as weird. In fact, “Odyssey” was a song on the album, written by songwriter Tony Powers that was released a few years prior but never got anywhere. The critics, instead of jumping on the bandwagon, jumped into a ditch to steer clear of it. It wasn’t very good in their eyes. Pretty much, it wasn’t that good. It’s the only KISS album up until Carnival of Souls (1997) that didn’t at least make Gold status in sales. The official tally is around 375k sold. It was also the first record that didn’t have a tour to go with it.
To make matters worse, here in the States, Casablanca decided to rearrange the songs in order to turn the focus onto two songs: “The Oath” and “A World Without Heroes.” So, the concept album that was already confusing enough totally went into the weeds and the songs weren’t strong enough to keep the listeners interested. No one cared. KISS had essentially lied and not put out a kick-arse rock album. KISS put out sub-par tunes that were not even on a decent band’s throw away list. KISS messed up.
I could have been there was a new drummer, one that replaced the departed Peter Criss. Eric Carr is my favorite KISS drummer. He breathed new life into a crumbling phase of KISStory. It was a new, youthful (even though he was only a few years younger than Peter) approach and while the tunes didn’t rattle the windows, his drumming was spot on. Also, Ace was all but checked out. The only real promotion KISS did for this album was on the ABC version of Saturday Night Live called Fridays Ace didn’t care to be there, you could tell if you watched it. He could have phoned in the performance. End-of-caring bare bones costumes, songs that were limp, band members who were either embarrassed or imbibing on substance and it made for a bad time. There was also a “video” performance of “A World Without Heroes” on TV’s Solid Gold.
Most of Ace’s parts were redone in the studio and you had Paul doing several solos and guitarist Robben Ford doing the solo for “Just a Boy.” Ace couldn’t even be bothered to show up for the recording sessions. He had his own studio, “Ace in the Hole,” in a bunker behind his house and he had the tapes sent to him where he’d record his parts and send them back to Toronto or New York, wherever they were recording at the time. It was a long, drawn-out process, to say the least.
Even bringing in legendary producer Bob Ezrin, who co-wrote some of the tunes and who was instrumental in making Destroyer (1976) the beast and success it was, couldn’t save this project. I believe it was a bit of his doing that it was made this way. I also think he was strung out on cocaine. Oddly enough, a few songs were co-written by the late, great Lou Reed. It just made for strange bedfellows, I think. It was a bad time for KISS. It was a bad time for many KISS fans. But, it wasn’t for me; not at the time.
I was still in my “KISS-Can-Do-No-Wrong” phase and truthfully, other than knowing it sounded a little different, I was so blinded that I couldn’t really tell there was a musical change. Not at almost 11 years old (the album was released 10 days before my 11th). It was KISS and I liked the songs. I liked some more than others. I loved “The Oath,” “A World Without Heroes,” “I” and “Mr. Blackwell” (mostly because they said “go to hell”). I listened a little to the others but it wasn’t until much later that I realized what was going on and fell in love with the whole album. I listened and formulated the nonexistent film in my head through the songs. When the “remastered” version came out in the correct track order (the Japanese version was always in the right order), it made a world of more sense to me. It made it a better album to me, although I already dug it. But, it really wasn’t great. I was just too blinded to notice.
So, why then do I say it’s my favorite KISS album if I’ve spent the entire post explaining why it sucked? Okay, it’s only my favorite album in theory. I can’t really place that tag on any one album. I can point to the ones I don’t like as much, easily, though. I think because it was when I was hitting that certain age and still loving KISS in every way and getting to see them on Fridays, that was a big time for me. The next album, they came to their senses and busted arse, but it was a tad too late, sort of… I think Music From “The Elder” is a fine album. Weird but fine. I think it took a lot of balls, the same balls the overall vibe was missing, to put it out and own it. Gene and Paul recognize it for what it is, whatever you want to call it. I love it and will tout it as my favorite, still.
Listen to Music From “The Elder” and give it a fair shake. Understand what it is and try to understand the whys and hows. It’s not typical KISS and it’s not that great but for this former 11-year old, it was it! It was the first KISS album I had on CD (original release listing) and I made sure to get it quick on LP before they discontinued it. Thanks for reading this long-winded post, Dear Reader.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“Morpheus, you have been summoned here to offer your judgment of The Boy. Do you still deem him worthy of The Fellowship?” – Order of the Rose