RE-REVIEW: KISS – Destroyer (1976)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 7:  

scan_20170301kiss-logoDestroyer (1976 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remastered edition)

Kiss had “made it”.  Alive! put them where they wanted to be:  on the charts and headlining concert stages coast to coast.  The financial pressure was off and they didn’t have to simply crank out new albums to keep the band afloat.  They could now take their time and make something that was more thought out; a statement.

The first issue to deal with was Kiss’ past sonic inadequacy in the studio.  Prior albums produced by Kenny Kerner & Richie Wise, and Neil Bogart did not capture the full-on Kiss thunder.  They failed to shred the speakers.  They needed somebody “big time”, to give them the punch they desperately needed.  That somebody was Canadian producer extraordinaire Bob Ezrin.  Ezrin had been an instrumental guiding force for Alice Cooper.  Now it was Kiss’ turn to receive the platinum Ezrin magic touch.

Ezrin agreed to work with Kiss, reportedly influenced by a neighbor kid who liked to discuss music.  “The kids from school love Kiss,” the boy told Ezrin.  “The problem is, their records sound so shitty.  But the band is so good we buy the records anyway.”  Working with Kiss wasn’t much different from working with Cooper.  These were not schooled musicians.  Ezrin had to take them to boot camp.  Keeping the drums in time was a challenge.  Peter Criss had difficulty maintaining a steady tempo, so Ezrin would beat a briefcase to keep him in time.  He wore a conductor’s coat and tails, and pushed the rest of the band like a drill sergeant.  Even the mighty demon Gene Simmons was chastised, for finishing a take before the producer instructed him to stop.  And when Ace Frehley didn’t show up because he had a card game?  Shenanigans were not tolerated.  When Ace wasn’t available when he should have been, Ezrin’s buddy Dick Wagner (Alice Cooper) was there.  For the first time, a Kiss member was replaced on album by an outside uncredited musician.

kiss-and-ezrin-in-tails

One innovative technique that Ezrin brought in to thicken up Kiss’ sound was using a grand piano to back up the big guitars.  The end result doesn’t sound like piano and guitars, but one solid wall of rock, like Phil Spector channelled through Bob Ezrin.  Where Kiss used to rely on rag-tag recordings they now had a big glossy sound to play with.  Ezrin was also fond of sound effects and orchestration, and he brought both to Kiss.

The opening track “Detroit Rock City” was a slam-dunk intro to the new Kiss sound.  After an extended start with the sound of a fan driving to a Kiss concert, the band thundered into focus.  That trademark riff chainsaws through, before Paul Stanley’s powerful pipes take command.  What a song.  The new Kiss had arrived, shiny and sleek, souped up and fueled, as if they were a brand new band.

detroit_rock_city“Detroit” faded out into “King of the Night Time World”, an outside song brought in for completion by Ezrin and Paul Stanley.  They turned it into something that worked for a Kiss album, albeit very different from their past.  As for Paul, he contributed a fast hard rocker called “God of Thunder”.  Though reports sometime differ in the details, ultimately the song fit Gene Simmons’ demon persona better and the song was given to him to sing.  It was slowed to a monster plod, and a few lines were changed to suit.  (“Make love ’til we bleed” was changed to “Hear my words and take heed”.)  And those little demonic voices?  Bob Ezrin’s kids, playing with walkie-talkies.

“Great Expectations” (based on Beethoven) has to be the most bizarre song on the album and one of the weirdest that Kiss have attempted.  A lush ballad with strings and choirs and Gene Simmons in crooner mode, it is definitely different.  Even one of the rockers, “Flaming Youth” written by Frehley/Stanley/Simmons/Ezrin, is different for Kiss.  It’s a rock song…with calliope.  (Picture circus music.)  Gene’s “Sweet Pain” had female backing vocals like an old Motown single.  These are all interesting experiments, but none of those three songs have become live concert classics.

Bob Ezrin tricked the band into writing “Shout it Out Loud”.  He realized they needed one more song, so he told the band that they had lost the masters to “Great Expectations” and needed a replacement.  Gene and Paul hurriedly wrote “Shout it Out Loud” with the producer and had another instant classic.  Like “Rock and Roll all Nite” before it, “Shout” was an anthemic rallying cry that a concert audience could get behind.

The album closer was a track called “Do You Love Me”, another tune brought in by outsiders (Kim Fowley) to be finished by Kiss.  Though on the surface “Do You Love Me” is a bit repetitive and dull, it was later covered by Nirvana.  There must be something to it that struck a chord.

There was still one more song on the album, a throwaway.  It was used as a B-side to “Detroit Rock City”, as the band didn’t have much faith in it.  Peter Criss had brought forward a love song called “Beck”, named for a girl named Becky, written by Stan Penridge for their old band Chelsea.  The song needed work, including a new title.  Ezrin revamped it completely, and the result was one of Kiss’ all time biggest hits:  “Beth”.  Tender and accessible, the only Kiss member on “Beth” was Peter Criss himself.  Dick Wagner played acoustic and Bob Ezrin played piano.  The orchestra finished it off.  Eventually, radio stations started flipping the “Detroit” single and playing “Beth”.  This led to Casablanca reissuing “Beth” as a single A-side, Kiss’ highest charting ever.


With the help of “Beth”, Destroyer maintained Kiss’ stardom and opened up the doors for any future musical experiments they could fathom.  Its cover showed Kiss in an apocalyptic landscape, in full super hero mode for the first time.  Artist Ken Kelly created something that helped define Kiss as larger than life…and larger than life they did become.

That wasn’t the end of the story for Destroyer.  For years it became the benchmark that Kiss albums were measured against.  In 2012, Bob Ezrin revisited the backing tapes and produced an alternate mix called Destroyer: Resurrected.  This featured some previously unheard music such as an alternate Ace Frehley guitar solo for “Sweet Pain” (Dick Wagner played the original solo).

Destroyer is far from the definitive Kiss album.  In fact, it is more like a one-off, an experiment that was never fully revisited.  Some of its songs are less than classic.  Others are so classic that you can’t imagine the world without them.  The bottom line for Kiss was that Destroyer propelled them further towards their goal of becoming the hottest band in the world.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

4/5 steaks 

Meat’s Slice:  The general consensus of casual Kiss fans is that this is their greatest studio album.  Let’s examine this.  I’ll start with the iconic.

“SHOUT  IT OUT LOUD” – On May 22, 1976, this song went number one in Canada, the band’s first ever number one song.  40 years later and “Shout it Out Loud” might be the Kiss song with the longest shelf life.  One of two perfect “live concert” songs on Destroyer.  The other?

“DETROIT ROCK CITY” –  Thin Lizzy-esque two-guitar rock fest.   Sitting on the same shelf as “Shout it Out Loud”.  Iconic indeed.   Unperishable.   Even has a movie named after it. I have never seen  it.   Maybe it’s finally time to do so.

“BETH” – If any other member sang “Beth” it wouldn’t have been the same song, or had the same success.  Peter Criss has a special rasp in his voice that can both rock and schmaltz it up.  Like Rod Stewart, or that goof that sings for Slaughter.   I personally wish “Beth” would “fly to the angels” up in the sky, but this song did do one good thing for me.  My grandmother refused to get me anything Kiss related until I pointed out to her that “Beth”, on the radio in the car at the time, was actually Kiss.  So thanks for that at least.

“DO YOU LOVE ME” –  Perhaps this song is more iconic in my own mind specifically, since it is in my Top Five Kiss songs.  Classic Paul Stanley stuff here.

“GOD OF THUNDER” – Unique in every way for the time.  A lot of Ezrin tricks in this track including backwards drumming.  I still have not heard the great cover of this song I always thought I would from some Metal band.  There’s still time….

No wonder the casual Kiss fan believes this is the best of all of the Kiss studio albums.  It is a great collection of songs that are still loved today.  But everything else on Destroyer not listed above is average at best,  or much worse than that.  Maybe it’s because Kiss was too busy getting music lessons from Bob Ezrin while in the studio.  Maybe it’s simply that Kiss was tired of being looked at as a “joke” and wanted to get more serious, hence getting some more respect from the mainstream press.  Now again, this is my opinion and I’m sure that some might vehemently disagree with me about some of the deeper Destroyer tracks.  The best of which I think is “Flaming Youth”.   “King of the Night Time World” is pretty good, but borrowed from another song.  “Great Expectations” is blah stuff except for the melody stolen from Beethoven.  “Sweet Pain” sucks.  And “Rock and Roll Party” is just unnecessary filler, very much like “Inside”, the ending track on 5150.  Might as well take the needle off the record as soon as the song starts and put on something else immediately.

Let’s use this analogy

A couple raises 10 children.   Three of their children become world leaders.  Two others become successful doctors.  But half of their kids are in jail, some for unspeakable crimes against humanity.  Can you call them the best family overall because half of them are special?   Destroyer is definitely not the greatest Kiss album. 

Agreed?  Discuss….


 

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/06

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35 comments

  1. Interesting review, Mike! Did Criss really need that much help with tempo? I wouldn’t have guessed a grand piano anywhere but the results are great. Lots of experimentation can be the way to go and it seems they lucked out with Ezrin. Beth is still a work of art. :)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Danica, it’s true about Peter and that was a problem continuing into the 1996 reunion. Peter required a lot of coaching and teaching to get him back into shape and tempo was still a problem.

      In Paul Stanley’s book, he says they would get into fights on the reunion tours. They’d complain he was playing too slow or fast. And he’d respond “So, you were too!” And they’d argue back, “But you’re the DRUMMER, you set the tempo and we follow!” I don’t think you will ever see Peter Criss play with Kiss again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. but do you love me? This one brings back many memories. Wonder how many spins this one have gotten so far. I bet none of my today’s favorites have a chance of ever getting as many. I recall this one and Rock n Roll over being my favorites. As well as Paul’s and Gene’s solo albums. Had the solo albums taped on cassette one on side 1 and the other on side 2. Those were the days.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hah, a buddy of mine had the solo albums taped same as you. One per side on a 90 minute tape! It will be interesting when I get to those. Paul’s solo album is absolutely one of favourite albums of all time, period. Gene’s I like too, but not all the songs. There is an incredible book out there about the solo albums, and I have a whole new appreciation for Gene’s now. So much work went into that one. He was really creative at that time.

      Like

  3. Another great review. I do love this album. I think it is because the songs that a great are So Great!!!! Plus, this was the first I really listened to when I was a kid. I would borrow my brothers copy. I was 8 at the time so didn’t have my own copies yet. That did change.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Really enjoyed reading both takes. I Think I’d probably rate it a bit higher. But then I really love Flaming Youth and Sweet Pain. Two of my favorite KISS deep cuts right there! I don’t get on very well with Great Expectations or Beth though. Not bad songs but once you’ve lived with them they get boring pretty fast. I’d give this 4.5 overall though.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you HMO. Uncle Meat may not respond to many comments but he does read and appreciate them.

      As for Flaming Youth and Sweet Pain? File those under “Animalize” for me. ;)

      How would you rate Destroyer Resurrected compared to this? I played it again last night. I think it’s one of the better remix albums out there.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m loving this series, Mike, even though I haven’t had the time to comment on each post. I agree with your assessment of Destroyer. It might seem like the greatest Kiss album because of several stone-cold classics and that iconic cover art, but song-for-song it doesn’t hold up to a number of their other albums. That’s a bit of a shame because the production is so good (not a surprise there with Ezrin at the helm). Thanks for sharing “Beck” by Chelsea. Never heard it before and now I’ve filled a small gap (one of many) in my musical knowledge.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much Rich. Like you, I wish I could comment more. But rest assured even when I don’t I’ve read it. I get all my WordPress subscriptions by email and I enjoy reading them on my lunch break. It’s just very hard to comment properly by BlackBerry. Very frustrating too! The autocorrect feature is more trouble than it’s worth, for all the times it completely changed my meaning!

      But onto Kiss. This review was actually the first time I heard “Beck”. I find the lyric, “I know you love complaining, oh Beck what can I do?” pretty funny! Can’t see “Beth” being as big as it became with that line in there. You can see that Ezrin kept most of the lyrics and melody, but wrote completely new music and orchestration for “Beth”.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Meat has a point but “Destroyer” was the album that really had me listening to KISS. Unfortunately, that would be short lived because I bought into all that Satanic crap, yeah, I know. “Detroit Rock City” was still kicking off live shows a decade later, a brilliant song! As for Beth, that was one many a teenage boy in the late 70s played to their girlfriend in the hopes of getting laid.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think Detroit has remained their opening track for most of their tours since! I know Creatures opened on the Revenge tour, and Psycho Circus is often in the opening slot too. But Detroit’s never been dropped from the set…ever…

      Liked by 2 people

        1. I remember seeing a picture of Gene in beard with the Sphinx behind him. I thought, “Wait…that’s the HITS stage but clearly that’s Gene from the Revenge tour.” I didn’t realize at that time, that you guys didn’t get the HITS stage so they brought it back special for you.

          Bootlegs from that era are very good.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Just found the setlist for the show… 3 songs from Revenge (Unholy, Take It Off And God Gave RnR…), 3 songs from the 80s and the rest was all 70s stuff. Not even Crazy Crazy Nights, which they usually do here since it was their biggest hit in the UK.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Great detailed write up by both you guys! Destroyer is Kiss wanting to grow up and for a very detailed look at Destroyer check out James Campion book on it. Such a great read and I did review it..so there ya be!
    Dig Meats comment of “Goof From Slaughter” hahaha…..and the Halen comment about Inside…You are correct sir about the Inside just being a filler piece but many a time when it was first released me and Tbone would howl at the part of someone yelling ‘Alimony/Alimony’ in the background…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thought i would check in here and say a few things. LeBrain is correct that i read the posts and appreciate the comments very much. Lord knows that Mike has tried to get me motivated on many other projects, but this series is kinda motivation in itself for me. I have immersed myself in so many musical things since my first true love … KISS ….that you forget how lucky you were to experience Kiss in my era. Just re listening has been as inspiring as writing this stuff… and yes it’s been quite the Rocket Ride so far. It’s double interesting for LeBrain and I since I am writing mine a couple days before these get posted and he has already wrote his review, which I have not read. So you guys are truly getting Two Sides of the Coin here… as are Mike and I.

    I am listening to the Solo albums now …. some of them for the first time in 30 plus years, a couple of them I have never listened to in full. i only ever owned Gene’s on vinyl, and i hardly played it.

    It always amazes me how deep the connection with Kiss is for people around my age.. I am 47, so you can do the math ;) ….

    Loving to hear how alot of you think similar things about these records. HMO’s comment about Reign in Blood in the Dressed to Kill review made my mind spin because of how close I was to making the EXACT same analogy almost word for word. But since I am always having to condense what I write, I often take things out so they aren’t as long. Most of you have probably wondered why I haven’t done that with this post .. which is obviously a hint that I need to stop this immediately before this post becomes some Unholy length.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Meat, thanks for everything you’ve written. Two sides of the coin indeed and will be going forward as well!

      For those who do not know: Meat and I are reviewing these “double blind”. He does not see what I wrote until it posts. I do not see what he wrote until the day before.

      I’m 45, I discovered Kiss in 1985, I was later than you, but it has the vast majority of my life now. I think about the kids in school who listened to Mr. Mr. Mister and made fun of me for liking Kiss. Do they still love Mr.Mister?

      I’m excited to see what have lined up next week. Rock and Roll Over.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Interesting to hear both yours & Meat’s take on this – it’s the only Kiss on the 1001, so theoretically the ‘definitive’ album, but from the perspective of a couple big fans, that doesn’t seem to be the case!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. This is my favourite Kiss album, but that’s mainly due to the fact it’s the first one I got into (admittedly I wouldn’t call myself a Kiss fan). Definitely some not so great songs, but it still sounds great to me as an album.

    I wasn’t aware of the remix album, so I’ll need to track that down.

    Like

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