Review Summary: Probably the worst thing KISS have ever done.10 of 12 thought this review was well written
Before I began writing this review, several summaries were swimming around in my head. There were the jokey ones (“And you thought Gene Simmons
was overblown…”), the serious, analytical ones (“KISS go heavy metal and rock opera all at once with disastrous results”) and the critical ones (“All the confusion of KISS’s early 80’s career made into music”). However, at the end of the day, I realised there was only one statement that could adeptly summarize Music From: The Elder
: “probably the worst thing KISS have ever done”.
Now, for the average record or band, this would be a heavily hyperbolic claim. But for KISS, a band known for taking mis-step after mis-step, it acquires even more worrisome proportions. If this is the worst moment for a band with so many bad moments on their resume, it has to be absolutely abysmal, right? And trust me, it is.
Now, the existence of this piece of musical offal is easily explained by three factors. First and foremost, Music From: The Elder
is a result of the shambles that was KISS’s early-80’s career. Guitarist Ace Frehley was progressively drifting away, and drummer Peter Criss had left in early 1980. After trying to mask the latter fact, even releasing a record with Criss on the cover, the band finally gave in and opened auditions in 1981. Surprisingly, the slot didn’t immediately go to trusty, long-time session dog Anton Fig, but rather ended up with one Paul Caravello, AKA Eric Carr, who earned it after an impressive audition. After a new make-up design and a world tour to break the newbie in, KISS MKII was well and truly under way.
This leads us to the second factor: bandwagon jumping. KISS have never been known to back away from any popular tendency, and previous efforts had seen them jumping onto both the disco and the radio-pop gravy trains. By 1981, a new tendency was quickly gaining momentum: a small but thriving scene known as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, for short the NWOBHM. Bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Def Leppard and Saxon were growing in popularity with each passing day, and some of them were even threatening KISS’s reign. Therefore, the presence of clearly heavy metal elements on The Elder
is anything but surprising.
However, as much as they loved jumping on bandwagons, Gene and Paul still retained their original influences. One of those influences was The Who, whom the group admired both from a musical point of view and as crowd entertainers. So, again, it’s not surprising that Stanley and Simmons should try to emulate the band’s biggest success, Tommy
The conjunction of these factors brings us to The Elder
, which is, in short, a heavy metal rock opera. That’s right, a rock opera. Performed by musicians for whom the word “limited” seems to have been coined. It just spells box-office success, doesn’t it?
The end result is every bit as bad as you may have expected. The album combines the bloated pomposity of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the choir vocals typical of The Who and Queen and some heavier guitar riffs which bring to mind the then-budding heavy metal scenes. The problem is that KISS are neither The Who nor ELP, and they’re definitely not Queen. What The Elder
amounts to is basically an even cheesier, much worse version of Styx.
The parade of awfulness is unstoppable, and succeeds in hitting every single mark. There are Tolkienesque concepts, woeful 80’s ballads, ridiculously overblown choirs, plodding, chorusless pseudo-rock tracks and keyboards. Lots and lots
of keyboards. The result of this jumble of bad clichés is, more often than not, laughable, and the album often comes pretty close to being unlistenable. Motives of interest are few and far between: Dark Light
is a decent song, in context, even though it is unworthy of KISS canon; Mr. Blackwell
’s chorus is a drop of fun in an ocean of boredom, and the absurdly tecchy Escape From The Island
is one of the few attention-grabbing moments in the entire affair. The other is the solo on one of the songs (I won’t look it up), which makes you feel sorry that it’s being laid to waste on such a dreadful album. Along with Eric Carr’s dynamic debut performance, I’ve just listed all
the points of interest on Music From: The Elder
Still, don’t let those few highlights fool you: this album is dreadful
. It is little wonder that it tanked epically in the box office, and the only surprise is that Lou Reed – the
Lou Reed – was conned into getting involved in this mess. This album denigrates the name of everyone involved in it, more substantially Reed and producer Bob Ezrin, which applies another of his overblown productions to a KISS album, and plays bass on all the decent tracks. As for the band members themselves, they didn’t have much of a reputation to lose, but The Elder
still drags it a little further down.
Bottom line, stray well clear from this album, and go listen to any of my recommendations instead. They may not all be stellar affairs, but at least they’re good albums, which is more than you can say for this tripe. And you thought Gene Simmons
Escape From The Island