Part 17 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!
KISS – Music From The Elder (1981, 1997 remaster)
Exit Peter Criss. Enter Eric Carr.
Music From The Elder has grown on me a lot since I first heard it back in 1986. It will grow on you if you let it. Its reputation is that this is the worst album Kiss have ever made, but I disagree. It’s very flawed, but it does grow on you and it does have many redeeming values.
Here’s a brief version of the story behind The Elder: Kiss intended to make a rock album, after the way-too-pop Unmasked. The material they were coming up with (including “Nowhere To Run”, released on the next album Kiss Killers) was deemed to be too much like what Kiss had done before. Producer Bob Ezrin (Destroyer) was brought back into the picture, and he encouraged them to do a concept album (he had recently finished The Wall). Gene dug up a short story he wrote about a group of god-like beings called The Elder, who seek a hero in every time to fight evil. This hero, The Boy, is the protagonist of the story. Got that?
If you have the original LP, cassette, or CD editions of Music From The Elder, the songs are in the wrong order. Y’see, the record label (Casablanca) wasn’t too confident in Kiss’ new music, so they decided to change the track order so that the album started with a rocker (“The Oath”). This makes the story completely jumbled and unintelligible. The 1997 remaster with the restored track order also has some Gregorian chanting at the end of “fanfare”, that was previously cut.
I won’t get into the story except that there’s a boy (“Just A Boy”) who is recruited by The Elder (“Under The Rose”) to fight the evil (“Mr. Blackwell”). There’s an escape (“Escape From The Island”) and some self-affirmation (“I”) and that’s about it. All the epic battles were to happen in Music From The Elder 2: War of the Gods. Ahh, but that’s another story.
Here’s a song breakdown.
“fanfare”: An orchestral bit by Ezrin based on Paul’s “Just A Boy” melody.
“Just A Boy”: Fantastic Paul ballad featuring his falsetto. Acoustic and powerful with epic verses and choruses. Great guitar solo too.
“Odyssey”: Paul sings this orchestral song as well. When I was a kid, I loved any rock songs with orchestras.
“Only You”: Gene’s first song, and the first tune that resembles a rocker. Starts off slow, then goes into a groove. Not a bad song, although not a standout. At the end it goes straight into Paul’s “Just A Boy” melody again, which recurs on the album. This has been covered by Doro, on a Gene Simmons produced solo album.
“Under The Rose”: Eric Carr’s very first songwriting contribution to Kiss. Gene sings this slow song, which has a very gothic chorus sung by what sounds like a men’s choir. Very odd, but I quite like it.
“Dark Light”: Formerly “Don’t Run”, this is Ace’s first song and only vocal on the album. It’s not as great as any of Ace’s songs on previous albums. Still, it sounds like basic stripped-down Kiss, and it’s Ace, and it is one of the few songs on the album that has noticeable Ace guitar.
“A World Without Heroes”: Formerly, “With Every Little Bit Of My Heart”. Paul’s excellent demo apparently impressed Gene, who rewrote the lyrics with Lou Reed. One of Kiss’ softest songs, it has since been covered by Cher.
“The Oath”: Finally, a real rocker of a song that showed off Eric Carr’s drumming for real. Possibly the best song on the album, “The Oath” was just epic. Kiss could play it live today if they chose. The riff is the main focus of this song. Paul sings in falsetto again on the chorus.
“Mr. Blackwell”: A Gene song, probably my least favourite.
“Escape From The Island”: A Frehley instrumental, and a firecracker of a song. Ace makes some interesting sounds on his Les Paul and the song just rocks along at a furious pace. Eric Carr had a hand in composing this one as well. This song didn’t make the Japanese release for some reason.
“I”: “I don’t need to get wasted, it only holds me down”. Obviously this is Gene’s baby, it is his philosophy on life. It is also a great song and a great single. A fast rocker, Carr doesn’t actually play drums on it. Allan Schwartzberg (of Gene’s solo album) does. I didn’t know that at the time. Ends with a spoken word coda.
Music From The Elder was thus named because it was supposed to be the first part of a series, perhaps a series of soundtracks to a movie. Thus, Music From something. It was so poorly received that all plans were cancelled, and the band never toured for it. The shame of it is, when they played on “Fridays” with Ace Frehley, these songs sounded great. Frehley complained that Ezrin cut out half of his guitar work, and live there were ample extra solos. It makes you wish for what could have been.
Frehley left the band, sick of being sidelined by Gene and Paul and The Elder was his last straw. The fans hated it because, frankly, it doesn’t sound like Kiss. I don’t know what it sounds like. It doesn’t sound like progressive rock because it’s a little too clumsy, a little too blocky. It is Kiss after all, not Genesis. They get an “A” for effort, and the truth is the songs are pretty good. Production could have been better and there could have been more guitar. It is what it is.
Incidentally there are some great demos and outtakes from this album that are worth checking out, and one track was later used by Ace Frehley on his first solo album as “Breakout”. The very same track was used by Kiss on Revenge as “Carr Jam 1981”. I have a CD (seen in the gallery below) called Demos 1981-1983. It features intrumental Elder outtakes such as: “Heaven”, “The Council of the Elder”, and “The Unknown Force”.
An underrated album, no doubt and it’s not Kiss’ worst effort at all. Both Animalize and Hot In The Shade are are far worse. The running order on the vinyl is confusing to say the least. How can you change the running order on a concept album?
I did not know that a The Elder II was planned, however I know that the band had planned to name the follow to Unmasked War Of The Gods, before they decided on a concept album.
Also, Only You was covered by Doro Pesch on her self titled Gene Simmons produced album.
When it comes to Dark Light, I think it’s a great track and the solo must be one of Ace’s best ever. The guy is really on fire there.
This is one of those albums that really grew on me over the years. I can put it on now at almost any time and enjoy it for what it is. I’m still not 100% clear on the actual story concept. I don’t think that’s really the point of listening to a Kiss album though!
Man how did I miss this review????….
Good read and well written Mike,kinda gives me a new outlook on it after I just deemed it a dud 2 hrs ago!!!
Jon has a point with HITS….that does have a lot of filler…..remember back than there was the issue with the Two versions of Hide Your Heart???
Man these guys can always find drama with each other….
I think there were something like versions of Hide Your Heart coming out at once. Molly Hatchet…Ace…Robin Beck…Bonnie Tyler maybe?
I will never forget buying this album. I was 11 or 12 at the time. At first I was so disappointed. This was not the KISS I had been into. But then I listened to it again and again and it made a huge impression. Honestly I listened because I blew several weeks allowance on it. It was the only new album I was going to have for awhile. But stuff like Under The Rose was huge. Captivating and a new thing for me. I ended up listening to that album for the year almost daily. I still love it today. Its a terrible KISS album. But its a great album on its own. Gene really was writing good stuff then. What happened to him? because after that it all became “east meets west, hot knife thru butter” tripe.
Hah, good question Jimmy! I think in some ways Kiss became afraid of their own shadows after The Elder. Like, “We can’t do anything even remotely serious like that again!”
Whatever happened to the movie this was supposed to come from? Obviously, it was never released. I wonder if it was ever made. Three cast members are listed on the back cover of the original album.
I still remember seeing the magazine ad for this in 1981 and their goofy haircuts and the words “orchestra” and “choir” as being part of the album, since I already was feeling let down by “Unmasked” and the public opinion on KISS in my neighborhood had taken a turn for the worse and I had a new fascination that year (AC/DC) I did not get “The Elder” in its day. I ignored it. I was 11 and thought why is KISS playing with a choir and an orchestra???
I did see the songs “i” and “World W/Out Heroes” on the show SOLID GOLD (?) and I remember liking the rocker and not the ballad. I finally heard THE ELDER when I bought it in a used section around 1989 maybe. I do like the album a lot and I am glad it exists.
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It has grown a lot on me over the years. Its flaws are pretty obvious. Try making out the works without a lyric sheet! But its strengths are less obvious. Some great guitar work here too.