‘Music From The Elder’ is a truly unique piece within the diverse Kiss studio output.
Written by: Dave T
ALBUM: (Music From) The Elder
LABEL: Casablanca Records
SERIAL: NBLP 7261
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: Paul Stanley – vocals, guitar * Gene Simmons – vocals, bass * Ace Frehley – vocals, guitar * Eric Carr – drums
Additional musicians: Bob Ezrin – bass (09) * Allan Schwartzberg – drums (10, 11) * Tony Powers – keyboards (10) * The American Symphony Orchestra – orchestra * St. Robert’s Choir – chorus * Antony Parr, Christopher Makepeace, Robert Christie – narrator
TRACK LISTING: 01 The Oath * 02 Fanfare * 03 Just A Boy * 04 Dark Light * 05 Only You * 06 Under The Rose * 07 A World Without Heroes * 08 Mr. Blackwell * 09 Escape From The Island * 10 Odyssey * 11 I * 12 Finale
WEBLINK: Site Link
Controversial album, isn’t it? Kiss has always been synonymous with changes. Examples abound. From the muddy, dark and heavy ‘Hotter Than Hell’ to the rock ‘n’ roll fest of ‘Dressed To Kill’. From the rawness of ‘Alive!’ (studio trickery aside) to the polished ‘Destroyer’ and then to the live-in-the-studio vibe of ‘Rock And Roll Over’, all in just over one year.
From the 1970’s Metal, explosive power of ‘Alive II’ to the Disco leanings of ‘Dynasty’ and the Power Pop of the underrated, misunderstood ‘Unmasked’. And then? This 1981’s ‘(Music From) The Elder’.
Portions of their fanbase ask all the time for their meat and potatoes, basic rock and roll, same album over and over again a la AC/DC. Kiss’ history has proven them wrong. Variety is at the heart of their appeal, at least for this writer.
With their popularity at an all-time low in the USA, a new member in the form of Eric Carr and the poor album sales of ‘Unmasked’, the band, their management and their record label Casablanca seemed clueless as to what direction to take.
It was decided to call Destroyer’s producer Bob Ezrin to conduct a concept album based on a short story Gene Simmons had developed around the phrase: ‘When the earth was young, they were already old.’
The 1997 remaster altered the tracklist to match the flow of the story as it was originally conceived. While it sounds fair, I would argue that some of the firepower was lost like the start firing on all cylinders with the hard-hitting ‘The Oath’, Kiss as close to Power Metal as never before or after.
The short, medieval-laden orchestral piece ‘Fanfare’ teases the melody of the power ballad ‘Just A Boy’. While Stanley was criticized for having been insecure hence using falsetto for the high notes, he’s telling the story of an insecure young lad on his way to becoming a hero, so what would have been more suitable then?
‘Dark Light’ is unmistakably an Ace Frehley song with those dynamics and that electrifying feel that is the guitarist’s trademark style of pure unadulterated hard rock.
‘Only You’ is a poignant, dark downtempo. Born as a rewriting of an old song called ‘Eskimo Sun’, it has ‘Gene Simmons’ written all over, with a smart shift in pace during the bridge via a riff that was to be reused later on for various other songs by the Demon, like Wendy O. Williams‘ ‘I Love Sex (And Rock and Roll)’ or Black ‘N Blue‘s ‘Nasty Nasty’. The song was also covered by Doro in 1990.
‘Under The Rose’ is the perfect companion for the previous song, even darker with those prominent Gregorian (or monk)-like chants.
The Prog ballad ‘A World Without Heroes’, a reflective, simple yet attractively subtle song which evolved from a Stanley’s piece called ‘Every Little Bit Of Your Heart’; is one of Simmons’ best, silkiest vocal performances ever and features a marvelous clean-sounding solo from Paul Stanley, reminiscent of David Gilmour‘s style.
‘Mr. Blackwell’, an average Simmons’ song, meanders a bit with its stop-go rhythm, although the guitar solo displays Ace’s full fat tone. Yet once the last stop connects with the beginning of the instrumental ‘Escape From The Island’, that’s really something.
Omitted from the Japanese first LP pressing, it sounds like the soundtrack to an action movie. Ace deploys his enthralling vocabulary through torrid riffs, power chords and a classic solo, helped by Carr’s thundering drums and Bob Ezrin’s bass attack. Yes, you read that right. The song started as a power-trio jam demoed at Ezrin’s basement studio so it includes Bob’s basslines.
‘Odyssey’, composed by professional songwriter Tony Powers, might be excessively crooner-laden for a Kiss record, but it’s still an emotional delivery by Paul, although Gene had originally wanted to sing it.
The bombastic ending on both the original release and the remaster (as ‘Finale’ is only a short, mostly spoken-word instrumental piece that rounds out the album) is the proud early-1980’s-Metal anthem ‘I’, in which Gene and Paul share lead vocals.
The remastered CD liner notes describe ‘(Music From) The Elder’ as a masterpiece. Arguably not, but certainly, however, a good album with top musicianship and not so far from Kiss’ rock and roll tradition as you may think. This is not the band trying to be Pink Floyd or Genesis. It’s more Prog mode showing they can still deliver a good album their own way.
Let your ears and your taste decide what you feel, think by yourself and disregard all prejudices and critics’ opinions, even Simmons’ own view that ‘as a Kiss record, I would give it zero stars. As a Genesis one, two out of five’, at the moment of listening. Of course, start by disregarding this humble writer’s opinion, for whom this is a truly unique piece within their diverse studio output.
A World Without Heroes
Entire Album – Original 1981 Track Listing (Select Tracks)