–KISS: Music From The Elder (1981)

Music From the Elder cover

–KISS: Music From The Elder (1981)
One of my primary goals here on Kollnot Rock’n’Metal Reviews is to champion the unsung heroes of the hard rock and metal world. Of course, I enjoy writing effusive features on all my favorite albums, whether they be one year old or 40, popular or obscure. There are times, too, when I may review a new release, if that release happens to come from a favorite band of mine or possesses extraordinary merit. Generally, though, there are plenty of other places in cyberspace for fans to read about and hear all the new releases out there. Sometimes, I want to highlight the underdogs, the notorious, the anti-heroic, the downright infamous. Few albums fit those adjectives more than KISS’ 1981 release, Music From The Elder.

Now, I refuse to regurgitate ad nauseum on Elder’s dismal 32 years of history. Nearly universally maligned as “pretentious” and “misguided,” and coupled with a half-hearted marketing campaign and pathetic sales figures tallying less than 500,000, Elder is widely considered KISS’ worst and most forgettable record. One can read more about this travesty elsewhere, including on wikipedia and in the liner notes to the 1997 Mercury CD remaster. Yes, it is a, gasp, concept album from KISS, of all bands, a “pompous” attempt at making high album art from the kings of rock and roll fantasy circus. Sure, Bob Ezrin’s production is lush, and the music is diverse and entirely disparate from any other KISS record. But you know what? Who cares? Music From The Elder is a fantastic album on all fronts, and one of my most cherished records – no, not just in the KISS catalog, but of all-time.

Okay, one may argue that I’m crazy or just relish being contrary, but please hear me out. Viewed purely from a musical perspective, Elder is a dynamic, powerful and emotive beast. Ezrin’s production work is pristine without being overbearing, recalling some of his previous triumphs with KISS (Destroyer), Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Alice Cooper. Each track flows smoothly into the next, and each song musically complements its neighbors in the track listing. The Elder, much like more heralded and successful rock concept albums such as Tommy and The Wall, displays a remarkable balance among moods and tempos. That’s a promising start.

Then there’s the individual songs themselves, which are the shining jewels of this proverbial musical gold mine. Stately, triumphant horns open the proceedings with the majestic “fanfare,” while clean guitar arpeggios  and melodic lead work highlight the Queen-esque, minstrel-like intro, “Just A Boy.” KISS is just getting warmed up, however, for what follows is my favorite song on the album despite it being one of the lightest. “Odyssey” lives up to its adventurous title, taking the listener on a rolling, mid-tempo journey amid deliberate piano chords and dense orchestration, not unlike a 1970s film soundtrack. The Paul Stanley-sung vocal lines sound grandiose in the verses, but the choruses are so soothingly melodic and beautiful I dare one to listen to this song fewer than five times consecutively. And lyrically, “Odyssey” touches on so many intriguing motifs, from basic sci-fi fantasy imagery to true romantic love that transcends the bonds of mortality.

“On a mountain high somewhere
Where only heroes dare
Stand the stallion and the mare
We have been and we shall be each other’s destiny
One another’s odyssey

Once upon not yet, long ago someday
Countless times we’ve met, met along the way”

While listening to this gorgeous and poignant song, over, and over, and over again, I can’t help comparing its ageless themes to the recent Tom Hanks film Cloud Atlas, with its allusions to humanity’s spiritual inter-connectivity among past and future generations.

The rest of the album, of course, is no slouch either. KISS unleashes some trademark mid-tempo hard rock on the Gene Simmons-sung “Only You,” while “Under the Rose” features a grandiose male choir performance and co-writing credits from new drummer Eric Carr. “Dark Light” is the disgruntled and disillusioned Ace Frehley’s lone vocal contribution to the album, and it is a metallic highlight. The crushing, propulsive main riff and infectiously bright chorus are signature Ace, and it wouldn’t sound out of place on his 1978 solo album. Completely shifting gears again, Gene Simmons sings the soothing and delicate ballad, “A World Without Heroes.” It is a song as moving lyrically as it is musically:

“A world without heroes/is like a world without sun/you can’t look up to anyone/without heroes/and a world without heroes/is like a never-ending race/is like a time without a place/a pointless thing devoid of grace”

It would not be a true KISS album without some sheer muscular might, and that is provided in spades on the metallic, galloping monster anthem, “The Oath.” This has to be the heaviest, and one of the best, songs in KISS’ vast catalog. Likewise, album closer “I” offers a heavy main riff and infectious vocal melodies that champion self-confidence and the individual’s triumph over all adversity. Amen to that, my brothers.

When it comes to ambitious concept albums about heroes and villains, wise elders and nascent warriors of good, wrapped within the cloak of esoteric sci-fi imagery and diverse, phenomenal music, one can do much worse than Music From The Elder. Please, do me a favor and help this album to finally reach Gold status. “I think you’re going to like this one; he has the light in his eyes. And the look of a champion, a real champion.”–Jonathan Kollnot

–Tracklisting: 1.) fanfare 2.) Just A Boy 3.) Odyssey 4.) Only You 5.) Under the Rose 6.) Dark Light 7.) A World Without Heroes 8.) The Oath 9.) Mr. Blackwell 10.) Escape from the Island 11.) I

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~ by jonnyboyrocker on April 8, 2013.

2 Responses to “–KISS: Music From The Elder (1981)”

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