Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Real Champion

As mentioned in a previous post, I'm fascinated by those albums where a successful band loses the plot. The dogs of the back catalogue. Those Heavy Metal Titus Andronicuses that muck up the discography of your favourite bands and single-handedely shrink the size of the sporting arenas they play during their tours. And as wrong passes go, it's pretty damn difficult to beat Music From The Elder by Kiss.
We've done a lot of "Fuck Me Suck Me" songs and we thought we'd like to go a slightly different route - Paul Stanley, 1982
Kiss were in trouble in 1981. Sales had been falling dramatically over the last couple of years. For some reason, fans didn't really take to them doing things like releasing 4 solo albums on the same day. Or making low-budget sci-fi movies. Or going disco. Something had to be be done. So when you're a band who'd made their name with catchy pop-rock anthems, the answer was obvious: make a concept album about a boy selected by an ancient order of elders to be trained to combat the forces of evil.

The album kicks off promisingly. The Oath has a strong riff and rattles along impressively, until we get to the lyrics at which point Kiss fans hearing this for the first time must have been wondering why Paul Stanley was singing about forged tempered-steel blades and ancient doors lost in the midst instead of banging groupies. The the fun begins. I have this theory that the second track on any album will give you a measure as to what's in store and whether it's going to be a classic or a clunker. The second track here is Fanfare, which gives you a couple of minutes of baroque noodling on some trumpets. On a Kiss album. In reality, Fanfare is doing exactly what a fanfare should do - it's making an announcement. And that announcement is: Here comes trouble. Because the next 30 minutes or so are hilariously awful, sounding like a cross between This is Spinal Tap and those mid seventies Alice Cooper albums that people remember fondly but never listen to anymore. The final track I, is a decent piece of glam metal but it comes too little, too late.

Still, the low sales and poor reception to Music From The Elder had one positive outcome: it scared the life out of Kiss and spurred them into making the straightforward Creatures of the Night, their last really good album. After that it was all downhill: they took off the make-up and made duller and duller records, till they ended up looking (and sounding) like Cinderella's elder brothers.

A (surprisingly good) live version of The Oath from US TV around the time of the album's release is below.


  1. Music From the Elder was featured in my prog rock magazine the other month in their "It's prog but not as we know it" feature. What that usually features is stinking concept albums like this.
    I like it when you see a band giving it loads of showbiz onstage and then you catch sight of a jeans-n-t-shirt-wearing, hairy-arsed roadis peeping out from behind some dummy Marshall stacks.
    Have you noticed how Stanley has already started toning his make-up down in that clip? And I love the oldish guy in the audience at the end with his legs crossed in a tweed sports jacket. What's his reason for being there, do you think? My guess is that he's the head of the record company, like the Sir Denis Eton-Hogg character in This is Spinal Tap.

  2. Yeah, the toned down make-up and costumes was another defining feature of The Elder. I think Simmons in particular looks ridiculous, all lanky and awkward without his plastic armour. In the Kissology video Stanley describes them as ending up looking like New Romatics, which probably wasn't the intended effect.
    I'm sure the old fellow is from the record company, wondering how to salvage this one. Apparently their management company refused to allow their name on the record when it came out. The album was doomed from the beginning. It sold so badly they didn't even bother to tour.

  3. Don't DISS the KISS! "Music From The Elder" is awesomely awesome and 'World Without Heroes' is probably their best ballad ever. I also love 'Mr Blackwell', even though I have no idea what it's about. It's also the record where Lou Reed gets writing credits on a KISS album, something that amuses me endlessly, and probably pains him endlessly. Here comes the boring bit. The second US pressing made the sensible decision to put 'Fanfare' first, as befits an, um, fanfare. Over in Japan they dumped 'Escape From The Island', saving it up for the Japanese version of "Killers". They also didn't like the cover to "Elder..." and designed a cover showing the band in their costumes and makeup that slid over the original cover. It wasn't even called "Music From The Elder". They give it the amazing title of "Great Decisive Battle of The Underworld"! Which is awesomely awesome. It's on my LP wants list, but I don't want to have to sell a kidney to buy it.

  4. No it isn't, it's rubbish! Songs like "Odyssey" and "Just a Boy" are painful to listen to and sound like outakes from "Alice Cooper goes to Hell" And even the songs that made "Alice Cooper Goes to Hell" are rubbish!

    Thing is, if they'd taken the two decent songs on the album ("The Oath" and "I"), given them proper lyrics and then added the four new songs on Killers they'd have been on their way to a decent album. Instead they released this tripe, and then followed it up with a pointless compilation album. I'm amazed they've lasted as long as they have to be honest.

  5. Didn't Geoff Barton give this album Five Stars in his Sounds review?
    Come to think of it Mr Barton gave all Kiss albums five stars!
    Another thing to blame him for

  6. I was working in a small record shop at the time and was awaiting this album with bated breath. I was very dissapointed, although I have to say I liked about 4 songs on it, havent listened to it for years. The BIG mistake a lot of "metal" bands made at the time was trying to become more commercial and "pop", when all the smart money was on Thrash!!!

  7. Jimmy,
    Are you suggesting that Geoff Barton may not have applied the requisite critical rigour when reviewing Kiss albums? Maybe he was trying to curry favour, so that he the next time he interviewed them, Gene Simmons would lend him his "Atlas of the Female Body" book he made with his polaroids, the mucky brute.

    I can't really imagine Kiss going thrash! But it's a good point, it's an album that sounds like something from 1975 or 76. Not a good idea in 1981.

  8. Barton was just a loyal Kiss fan who would not admit they were anything less than brilliant. I was the same myself for many years, but now I dont really care for the band at all... though Kiss Alive will always be a CLASSIC!!!

    The other thing I hated about the elder was that the "story" was bog standard fantasy drivel and had no real imagination at all. I was a big sword and sorcery fan at the time but was embarrased by The Elder! In fact I probably put a couple of tracks from it on "mix-tapes" to Jimmy and Rob!

  9. I still like Kiss. I know a few folk who liked them when they were young but don't like them now, but I still like the stuff they did in the 70s: simple, catchy songs about being young and partying. Plus I have a soft spot for lyrics like "she's a dancer, a romancer / I'm a capricorn and she's a cancer".

  10. Anyone remember Girl's cover of "Do You Love Me"? It was pretty good and Girl's 1st album was excellent!!!