KISS - (Music From) The Elder (1981) Dec 21, 2009 16:43:47 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Dec 21, 2009 16:43:47 GMT -5
Despite large scale international success in 1980, KISS was imploding. Original drummer Peter Criss was shown the door and replaced by drummer Eric Carr. While this change did serve to re-energize the band, it was also symptomatic of the dysfunction within the band.
Their status in the U.S. was sliding, and everyone involved knew that something big was needed to re-establish the band. What that something should be was the subject of debate within the band once producer Bob Ezrin was brought back on board to steer the good ship KISS. He had brought them to new audiences with their hit album, Destroyer, and it was hoped that the same outcome would be achieved by bringing him back.
Originally, the 1981 album was going to be a back to basics Hard Rock album. This was the direction that lead guitarist Ace Frehley and new drummer Eric Carr preferred, and initially both Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons agreed. But when Ezrin came on board after working with Pink Floyd on their concept album, The Wall, he suggested that KISS do the same thing - a concept album. Gene Simmons quickly agreed as he had the bare bones of a story idea already in place. Paul Stanley was a tougher sell, but he warmed up to the idea enough to lend his vote to Gene's side. Unfortunately for Ace Frehley, Eric Carr had no vote as an employee of the band rather than a full voting member.
In hindsight both Gene and Paul wish that they had gone with Ace's gut instinct.
Lush with orchestral parts, keyboards, and layered vocals, The Elder is a radical departure from the traditional KISS sound. Even moreso than the previous album, the Pop flavored Unmasked. PolyGram executives and A&R people didn't know what to make of the album when it was played for them, and they never put their full effort into promoting it. The original track listing was altered to try to make it more palatable to long time KISS fans, but that move didn't help. The album bombed.
So is it any good, or is it as bad as many have said over the years?
There are some great songs on the album, songs with great depth and musical maturity. There is also one of the biggest misfires of the band's entire career on there, too. The rest of the songs fall somewhere in between.
The album was originally intended to open with the soft orchestral piece, "fanfare," which was the lead in to Paul Stanley's, "Just A Boy." "fanfare," is a great orchestral intro, but it likely would not have gone over well as the opening of the album, so Casablanca/PolyGram moved the hard rocking, "The Oath," to the #1 slot on the album.
"The Oath," is a great song, regardless of what band wrote and recorded it. It shows a band moving forward and listening to where the Hard Rock world was moving. The combination of 1981 style Heavy Metal and medieval imagery worked very well in the context of the album. Lyrically and vocally, however, the song is completely tied in to the concept of The Elder, so it doesn't work as well as a stand alone track. Still, it is a very, very good song.
"Just A Boy," is moodier and more dynamic. Still very much tied in to the medieval thing, "Just A Boy," shows that depth and maturity that KISS had rarely shown previously. Paul Stanley's falsetto vocals are both appropriate for the song and slightly off-putting from a Rock perspective. It has a strong theatrical quality, and works well to introduce the main character of the story, the boy.
The original song listing had a song written by Tony Powers next. "Odyssey," sounds nothing like KISS, and Paul Stanley's melodramatic vocal does nothing to help the song fit in on the album. A more understated vocal would have served the song better and made it less embarrassing. Paul is just so earnest with his vocal that it goes over the top, attempting to sound like a Broadway singer when a more Rock oriented vocal would have been the better choice (although the song almost sounds like a moody Phantom of the Opera style showtune). This is the biggest clunker on the album, and had it been the #3 song on the album would have been a huge mistake. The record company was right to bury the song at #10 when the album first came out.
Gene Simmons' first contribution to the album was, "Only You," another moody, mid-tempo track that featured a very cool middle part that featured a vocal by Paul Stanley. "Only You," is another strong song that shows that the concept could have worked with just a little musical tweaking.
Eric Carr contributed some good music on the album. "Under the Rose," is based around an off-time riff that Eric wrote, and Gene's vocal parts are excellent. Again, this one is moody and dynamic, only this time slow and even more medieval sounding.
Ace Frehley's only contribution to the album was, "Dark Light," a song with a great extended solo section that showcased how much he had grown as a guitar player. The song itself is fair, but nothing to write home about. It is one of the two songs on the album that sound sort of like KISS.
The album's lead single, "A World Without Heroes," is brilliant. A ballad in an Adult Contemporary Rock sense, it is a flawless song with perfect audio production and spot-on performances, including a great vocal from Gene and a fantastic, melodic solo from Paul. This is a song that KISS can hang their collective hat on when talking about The Elder, and is without question the best song on the album.
Gene's next song, however, is something completely different. I've always called this song AC/DC on acid. The chorus does have an AC/DC-ish riff and vocal melody, but in a twisted, weird sense. The verse is almost proto-industrial in style, and the bridge does just that - bridges the two different styles. The song is more interesting than good, but it's not bad at all - just different. And fairly weird. (Which, I suppose it was supposed to be since it was about the villain of the story.)
Ace, Eric, and Bob Ezrin jammed together an instrumental piece that they couldn't work up a proper vocal part to, so it was left as an instrumental. "Escape From The Island," is just the three of them jamming on a song that isn't all that far removed from Rush in some parts and Pink Floyd (with sound effects) in others. It's a burst of energy on an album that desperately needed one by that point, and it's just a good song overall.
The album closes out with, "I," the other song on the album that sounds like KISS. Actually, it almost sounds like something that KISS might have written for Elvis Presley in 1976 as the vocal part clearly channels, "The King." It's catchy as hell, and has a strong chorus - and it just flat out rocks, something that the album doesn't do in large part.
The audio production on the album was lacking as the guitar tones are a little muddy and the drums have almost no snap to them whatsoever. The snare sound is soft and lacks the crispness to really cut through with any power. That sound works brilliantly on the softer songs, but on the more Rock oriented songs it hurts the overall sound.
Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons have both said that The Elder is a good album, just not a good KISS album, and this time they are absolutely right in their assessment.
(Music From) The Elder is ambitious, it's bold, and it often achieves their stated goal, but it does have one clunker and one near clunker, and in the end it just doesn't sound like KISS.