That’s right, you get two music posts today. This one is about what I call my “favorite KISS album.” Is it really my favorite? Maybe. Maybe not. Why I say it is is because it was an important, pivotal moment in KISStory that mostly goes unnoticed. Today is the 36th anniversary of the release of Music from “The Elder” (1981). This is historically the lowest-selling, most ridiculed and most controversial release in the entire KISS Katalog.
Why is that? Well, KISS listened to some bad advice. Gene, Paul, and Ace were recently joined by a brand new drummer, Eric Carr. Gene and Paul decided that going along with some bogus counsel, they needed the approval of critics. The power duo overrode Ace’s vote (Eric had no say as he was just a “hired hand”) and went a little more artistic instead of trying to dig out of the disco-laden hell they were putting most of their fans through. I say “most” because I loved Dynasty (1979) and Unmasked (1980). I didn’t really notice the difference in the musical styles until much later. The voting override is partially why Ace left after this album.
KISS brought back producer Bob Ezrin who was at the helm during their then best-selling album, Destroyer, in hopes that he would help renew that same magic. New drummer, new chance to shine. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Ezrin was entangled in a bad cocaine addiction at the time and his magic was basically in the mirror’s lines. Ace was resentful of the direction and what he felt like was Gene’s and Paul’s dominance of the decisions. He refused to do much of the recording with the others, instead relying on courier service to deliver tapes to his home where he would record his parts and solos and then return them to Ezrin. Ezrin didn’t much care for this and some of Ace’s solos were redone.
Now, it is true that the band went back to a harder rock motif, but that was accented by orchestras and choirs. You may recall that Destroyer did that, too, but this was not the same heavy layers that Destroyer was. The songs were not as strong as previous KISS albums. The songs came off as pretentious and grandiose. To put it plainly, KISS was trying way too hard. All they had to do was do an album of hard rock goodness. I believe their fans would have stayed on board, at least most of them, sales would have been better and the band wouldn’t have to have dug themselves out of a “cred” hole.
That is how it was. Of course, I was blinded by the KISSness of it all and thought it was just awesome, only something different. I had first heard the three “focus” songs, “The Oath,” “I,” and “A World Without Heroes,” on the ABC TV show Fridays. I thought it was cool to see them live. It was really the first time I ever had. The costumes were different, too. They were a little more post-apocalyptic than previously and all but Eric had changed their signature hairstyles. When I got the gatefold album a little later, I was in awe of the image of a hand reaching for a big door knocker on an oak door that adorned the cover.
The US release of the album added to the confusion as to what the deal was with the album. You see, I forgot to mention that this was supposed to be a concept album based on a story that Gene had written and it was supposed to be made into a movie. The original track listing was altered for the US release because Casablanca and Neil Bogart wanted to highlight the songs I mentioned above. This made the already loose story completely unravel. So, we were aware that there were a theme and story but it really made little sense because the songs were scattered about the album. The Japanese releases were in the correct order and it wasn’t until the US remasters that came out in the 1990s that we were able to get the proper track order without spending a lot of money for bootlegs or imports.
The story goes loosely like this: a group of elders called the Order of the Rose send Morpheus to train “The Boy” to do their bidding and combat evil. The Boy is scared and full of self-doubt. He eventually evolves and becomes more and more self-confident. Morpheus reports to the Order that The Boy is ready to expound evil. It’s kind of hard to follow and I’ve spent the last 36 years trying. I thought I had it figured out before but I was mistaken. It’s not really any easier when you do know the story.
The artsy aspect of the record turned many off but I loved it. When there were heavy riffs and beats, the lyrics were taken as storytellerish and contrived. Paul played more solos on this album than he ever had on a KISS album, being the solos on “The Oath,” “A World Without Heroes” and “Just a Boy.” Ace was credited with two songs, “Dark Light” (co-written by Gene, Anton Fig and Lou Reed (yes, that Lou Reed)), and “Escape from the Island,” an instrumental co-written by Eric Carr and Ezrin. Speaking of Lou Reed, he co-wrote three tunes on the album. And Tony Powers brought his “Odyssey” to the KISS table making this basically a cover tune, even playing piano on the song. There’s not a song on here, other than the “Escape from the Island” that I don’t like and it’s not that I don’t still listen to it, it’s just I’m too lazy to skip it usually when it tags onto the end of “Mr. Blackwell.”
The debate as to my “favorite” album is that I love the difference of it. The chance they took. The risk that didn’t really pay off in the long run, but they did take that chance. I love the songs, and I know I’m squarely in the minority in that field, but I’m okay with that, I usually am. Happy 36th anniversary to Music from “The Elder,” and I may have to pull that out and listen to it this weekend, just because. What are your thoughts on this album, if you’re familiar? If you’re not and you have Spotify or Napster or whatever, then give it a listen. Make sure your version starts with “fanfare,” though, as that’s the one that matters. If it starts with “The Oath,” it’s the modified version.
Thanks for listening to the rant.
Until tomorrow, again, same blog channel…
“A world without heroes is like a bird without wings. Or a bell that never rings. Just a sad and useless thing. Where you don’t know what you’re after or if something’s after you. And you don’t know why you don’t know in a world without heroes.” – “A World Without Heroes” (Stanley, Simmons, Ezrin, Reed)