In Defense of … Kiss’ ‘Music From the Elder’
Is Kiss‘ ‘Music From the Elder’ the ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ of rock albums? If you listen to it strictly for its unintentional comedic value, it sure sounds that way. But it’s also a fascinating listen if you want to hear what a band falling apart sounds like — the same trick Metallica pulled years later on ‘St. Anger.’
As the ’70s turned into the ’80s, music was going through some major changes, and a lot of top-selling artists couldn’t figure out which direction things were turning. Kiss had pretty much reached their peak in 1977, and it was all gradually downhill from there. By the time of their 1980 album ‘Unmasked,’ they didn’t even tour the U.S., and played only one show in their native New York to introduce new drummer Eric Carr.
For 1981’s ‘The Elder,’ the band hooked up with producer Bob Ezrin, who worked magic on the band’s classic ‘Destroyer’ album in 1976. Ezrin helped guide one of the greatest concept albums of all time, Pink Floyd‘s ‘The Wall,’ but that same recipe didn’t work out too well for Kiss.
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‘The Elder’ was designed as a multimedia project, complete with a movie that told a Tolkienesque tale of a young warrior fighting the forces of evil. (Sword-and-sorcery movies were having a bit of a comeback at the time with ‘Conan the Barbarian’ and ‘Excalibur.’) ‘Music From the Elder’ was supposed to be the film’s soundtrack, but the movie never got made, which makes the songs’ stories confusing to say the least. (You know you’re in trouble when Ace Frehley is the sole voice of reason.)
From the start, guitarist Ace Frehley sensed the band was making a huge mistake and wanted nothing to do with the album. He even pleaded with his bandmates to shelve the recordings, but no one listened. Later, Ezrin would say that Frehley was “dead right” about the doomed project.
‘The Elder’ came close to completely derailing Kiss’ career in 1981. When they followed it up a year later with one of their heaviest albums ever, ‘Creatures of the Night,’ it was nearly too late. Still, ‘The Elder’ is a fascinating album to listen to today. It documents a band — one of the ’70s’ biggest — struggling with growing pains at the start of a new decade and era.
The songs on ‘The Elder’ aren’t great, but they’re not painful to listen to either — in fact, they’re almost fun in a Spinal Tap kind of way. Was ‘Music From the Elder’ a cry for help? Or was it merely the sound of a lost band looking for direction? Either way, it’s one of the most entertaining bad albums you’ll ever hear.