Article: Music from 'The Elder' - A Retrospective
With Kiss' "Music from The Elder" celebrating its 40th anniversary last year, I thought it would be the perfect time to dig out the very first article I ever wrote for publication on the internet; an article about the most maligned of Kiss' recording output. (Note: This article was first published on the 'Into the Void' blog and then republished in 2011 on the original TFTV website.)
With the recent release of Kiss' new album, 'Sonic Boom' I have decided to revisit their back catalogue and relive my teenage years. In one of the recent interviews with the band, Gene Simmons (Bass player, Singer and general band leader) said that it was 'the best album they had released in 30 years...'. While it is a good album and some of songs truly capture the essence of early Kiss, I really cannot agree with Mr Simmons. Without even really giving much thought it instantly did not feel as good as 'Crazy Nights', 'Revenge' or 'Creatures of the Night'. However, before you shout at me there is one slab of Kiss greatest that has been released in the last 30 years that I haven't mentioned, The Music from "The Elder".
I'll start by saying it’s fair to say that this album is by far the most maligned of Kiss' early output and was even voted the 44th worst album of all time by Q Magazine. However, I'm not sure why?!?! In my eyes this beaut along with its follow up, 'Creatures of the Night', are two of the strongest and most experimental albums they have ever released. These two slabs of Kiss greatness developed the hard rock Kiss sound of the 70's and paved the way for the global chart bothering cock rock Kiss of the 80's. Yet these 2 albums (especially 'Elder') don't fully fit into either camp. These two albums showed (to me anyway) that the band were able to write more mature songs yet maintain that distinctive Kiss vibe (not dissimilar to the brutally under-rated 'Carnival of Souls'... let’s leave that for another time).
...Elder contained some great songs which showed a completely different side to the band, a side that was willing to be brave and try something different as well as sing about things other than boobs, pussy and booze (don't get me wrong these things form the lyrical foundations of hard rock but everyone knows that variety is the spice of life. Let’s be honest without these 3 things my list of the 'Greatest AC/DC songs Ever' would be very short!).
Contained with the 45's sleeve was a concept album (don't let this put you off!) brimming with heart felt ballads without the schmaltzy lyrics (here's looking at you Beth!), orchestral flourishes, spoken word narrative pieces, epic falsetto singing, recurring musical themes and heart moving Ace solos that didn't for once feel like Jimmy Page re-hashes/left overs. What follows is a short break down of the songs contained on the UK/European version of the album (Please Note- The tracks are listed in the order they appear on the UK CD).
1. "The Oath" - A truly blasting opener with genuine hard rock/Heavy Metal riffage. This is accompanied by some epic singing from Stanley.
2. "Fanfare" - More of an orchestral intro to the next track really. It features some film score-esque strings.
3. "Just a Boy" - Great acoustic ballad that isn't dripping in brutally cheesy lovey-dovey lyrics.
4. "Dark Light" - A solid rocker from Mr Frehley.
5. "Only You" - A great fist pumping rocker which ticks all the right boxes.
6. "Under the Rose" - Epic, 'Crown and The Ring'-esque scene setter...Manowar eat your heart out!
7. "A World Without Heroes" - Another nice acoustic song fronted by Gene. Check out the Unplugged version... it’s great.
8. "Mr. Blackwell" - A classic Gene song in the vein of 'God of Thunder'.
9. "Escape from the Island" - Instrumental - Do I need to say anymore? Not as good as Love Theme From Kiss though.
10. "Odyssey" - Very, very cheesy 70's number from Mr Stanley. But you gotta love it. Who doesn't love a cheesy number hey?
11. "I" - Ah here is the genuine bona-fide lead single contender, the one true traditional Kiss sounding classic... Immense!
12. "Finale"- Sadly while this is an attempt to bring the story to a close with a Conan/LOTR film style sample/narrative, it unfortunately doesn't really work as in isolation it’s pretty redundant. But it is cool nonetheless!
Artwork and Story:
The cover has a mysterious fantasy film quality to it. It was certainly different as up to that point every LP sleeve had been adorned with either a picture or a painting of the band striking some sort of pose. It was also simple - An unknown person knocking on a door. But who was it and where did the door lead? I hoped some of these questions may have been answered during the course of the album or even in future releases (that continued the story). However, as all but one of the narrative passages were removed on the final release version along with the apparent random arrangement of the tracks the story was almost impossible to follow and therefore the answers were not forthcoming. Furthermore I have always found the title interesting too, Music from "The Elder". It seemed to imply that it could possibly be a soundtrack. But a soundtrack to what? Film, Cartoon, Book....again something that was never cleared up. Of course if could relate to something in the story....oh I don't know!
I feel one of the major contributing factors to its lack of success was the seeming lack of support for the new musical direction from the band itself. If you listen to some of the interviews Simmons and co have given since, with Simmons saying that the only decent track was 'World Without Heroes' (oh come on Gene have you heard any of your solo stuff recently? - it makes James Blunt sound like Lennon) plus the fact that Ace hated the direction the album was taking so much that he left once it was record, it’s quite apparent that the change in musical direction did not sit well with some of the guys. It’s also worth noting that the band have overlooked this album in pretty much every live show since.
One of the biggest complaints thrown its way by fans and critics was that it was too OTT and a tad ridiculous....SAY WHAT?!? Isn't that what Kiss is about?? Of course they are silly and 'larger than life' and that is precisely why I love 'um. Like a walking, talking, demented Japanese comic book. Therefore I think this album fits perfectly into the Kiss oeuvre and can feel comfortable and proud rubbing shoulders with the likes of Destroyer and Dressed to Kill. However you feel about it, it is undoubtedly an important LP/Chapter in 'Kisstory' as the mauling it took by the critics and fans (first Kiss Record not to go gold) was the catalyst for the unmasking of the band that happened 2 years later.
It’s a real shame that Kiss cancelled the tour for this album (due to previously mentioned 'poor' sales) as I reckon it would have been one hell of a rock show. I saw some pictures a few years back of some early stage costume prototypes that someone had taken at a Kiss convention and I must admit they looked cool! It had a Destroyer-era Kiss crossed with Conan feel and it had the potential to be awesome.
While it’s no 'The Wall' it certainly is/was a brave and interesting album. I just wished that in recent years Kiss showed a bit more confidence (like they did on Elder and Creatures..) in there songwriting and took a few more chances rather than just attempting to churn out Cold Gin 2. It’s been 17 years since Revenge, 13 years since they reformed and 9 years or so since their 'Farewell tour' and while Psycho Circus and Sonic Boom aren't bad albums they do have a feel of a band going through the motions and I feel the fans deserve an album equal in quality to that of their early output.
All that said they are a great band and one that really do come into their own on stage. Therefore do not waste anymore time...enlist, load up and roll out, The Kiss Army is waiting! See you at the front of the mosh at Birmingham next May.