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”.