Kiss – ‘Music From The Elder’ (1981) – Album Review (The Kiss Review Series)

Kiss came off a very successful Australian Tour thanks to Unmasked and the song “Shandi” being huge hits in that country, but in the States, Kiss had floundered significantly. They were now basically a joke. Peter Criss was no longer in the band, their music was no longer rock and things looked pretty dire for them. Kiss started recording for a new album and this album was going to get back to the hard rock roots of the band, however, things started to change. The thought of hard rock album wasn’t enough. The band had to do something drastic, something big, something artistic. In comes producer Bob Ezrin.

Bob had come off the success of doing a concept album with a band you might know name Pink Floyd. The album was ‘The Wall”. In January 81, the band had started recording at Ace in the Hole studio at Ace’s house and they were doing much harder, rock recordings. But when Bob came on board around March, talk started to change to maybe doing a concept album and Gene was immediately on board, Paul was somewhat, Eric was not thrilled about the direction, but he was thrilled about finally recording his first Kiss album. And Ace, well Ace wasn’t happy at all. Things with Ace would start to deteriorate even more. So much so while the album was being recorded in Toronto and New York, Ace stayed at this house in Connecticut and did his parts in his studio and mailed them out when he was done.

I could go on and on about what went on behind the scenes, in fact, you could write a book about it. And someone actually did so I will review that book later, but here we are going to get the condensed version. The band chugged along and recorded the album from around March to September with Bob and it took so long as they struggles with the concept album and plus Bob was doing double duty producing another album at the time for another band. They brought in the American Symphony Orchestra and St. Robert’s Choir to record parts, they brought in actors to record voice-overs, they tried everything and experimented with so many styles and sounds. This was a concept album, remember, so the actors were brought in to speak dialogue that would link the story together, but was nixed and only used for the very last song. Nothing was going right. Eric wasn’t happy and Ace was miserable. Hell, Ace barely showed up at all. He had no say in the matter of the album as he would always lose the vote 2-1…Gene & Paul vs Ace. Since no more Peter, his power was none.

When the album was done and the song order was complete, the record company heard the album and probably shit a brick. There wasn’t much they could do at this point, but they did make a major change. The record company changed the order of the songs. Here is the real order the album was to be played in…

  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 Other
  9. Mr. Blackwell
  10. Escape from the Island
  11. I

Why this order?  This is the order of the story.  Oh yeah, the story…what is the story of this concept album?  I would have hard time telling you this in my own words so I will use the synopsis from Wikipedia. It is succinct enough to follow…The basic plot of “The Elder” involves the recruitment and training of a young hero (The Boy) by the Council of Elders who belong to the Order of the Rose, a mysterious group dedicated to combating evil. The Boy is guided by an elderly caretaker named Morpheus. The album’s lyrics describe the boy’s feelings during his journey and training, as he overcomes his early doubts to become confident and self-assured.

When the record company heard the album, they didn’t like it and had to change the order of the album to give it a better flow and more listening appeal (at least that is what they thought). It is that order change, that we will discuss because the album I have has the original track listing issued which was arranged by the label. By doing it this way, you completely lose sight of the concept album as now it is just an album with no storyline in proper order to follow (not that you could follow it anyway). Before we get to that, let’s talk packaging.

The album cover is just a medieval looking door with a young hand reaching to know on the door. The album was a gatefold and inside was another medieval looking table and chairs with a candle in the middle. And the back cover was the rest of the door. The band was missing. They were no where to be found. This was the first album the band wasn’t featured in any of the packaging. Crazy. If that wasn’t crazy, look at the band’s costumes for this album…

I’m not sure what to say to this for Gene and Paul. Scary. At least Ace and Eric looked great. There were no inserts in this album that I am aware. The only thing was the album sleeve was actually a clear plastic sleeve with the Kiss information on it as seen in my copy below.

This album saw the band sink even lower. They didn’t even tour the U.S. with this album. They made a handful of appearances to promote, but that was it. This album is also significant as it would be the last album Ace Frehley would appear on…musically until the MTV Unplugged album. His face would appear on the next two albums although he wouldn’t actually play any of those new songs. Things were crumbling and the Kiss train was about to come to the end of its tracks…or was it.

Enough chatter, let us get to the music and the reason we are here.

SIDE A:

The album opens with “The Oath” which is a more metal song and actually had Paul singing in a falsetto which is not his strong part. It is actually a decent opening track as it does rock out and is quite heavy. This was supposed to be the 8th track so completely throws out the storyline by placing it first. Any thought of understanding the concept is completely lost. The lead guitar on this is great and is actually Paul and not Ace.

Then comes “Fanfare” which actually should’ve led the album. Think a 20th Century Fox movie opening theme and you have an idea of what this sounds like. It is full of orchestration and much…welll…fanfare.

Next up is “Just a Boy” which opens as an acoustic track and Paul on vocals. The song gets a little heavier and Paul sings in more falsetto and is all completely strange. This is not a Kiss sounding song at all and not sure how I would describe it. With the tempo changes in it, it is well composed but can’t really understand everything being said and the artistry that was meant is lost on me.

Then we get the one Ace song, “Dark Light”. Now this is more like it. It sounds like Kiss. It has Ace’s guitar sound prominently on it. This is song four, but was supposed to be song #6 so again, all plot is lost. This is your last Kiss Ace song until ‘Psycho Circus’ so you better enjoy it and enjoy it I do. As far as the story goes, it sounds like Ace is warning the Boy of the darkness that was to come. It is not his best song, but one of the better songs on the album for me at least. Ace’s playing is awesome as expected and a much needed lift for the album. “Dark Light” was actually based off a guitar riff written by Anton Fig and the demo was called “Don’t Run”. They turned it in to this song to fit the story. Who is they? Gene Simmons and actually Lou Reed…yes, that Lou Reed.

Finally we get a Gene song called “Only You” which is a perfect sounding Gene song. It is dark and a little eerie. There are some cool vocal effects on it and it is another really great rock track on the album. There is a nice bass groove on it and Paul shares some vocals in it for a verse to tie in the storylines. Gene actually plays bass and rhythm guitar on it and does a great job. There is a short reprise of “Just a Boy” which is actually a nice touch. This is one of the better tracks.

The song goes straight into “Under the Rose” which is another Gene song and is actually done the same way if you sequenced the album in the original format. The tempo changes from slow to fast to slow to fast throughout. The chorus has a choir thrown in for good measure. It doesn’t sound like Ace is on lead, but he does play bass actually. On the acoustic guitar is Eric Carr (and drums). The song on its own is okay, but if listened to it in context of the story, I like this track as it is another menacing sounding Gene song.

SIDE B:

The second side kicks of with the only U.S. single, “A World Without Heroes”. The song was written by Paul Stanley and his demo was called “Every Little Bit of Your Heart”. When they re-worked it for the album, Lou Reed and Gene stepped in and changed up some of the lyrics and helped get it to its final version. This is a ballad, plain and simple. Actually sung by Gene and a song the band has been known to play in their acoustic sets. Sadly, no Ace on this song as lead guitar is done by Paul. The song is very dark and a little morose while at the same time quite beautiful. Another song that really sounds nothing like a Kiss song. It did go to #57 on the Billboard charts.

Then comes the bass heavy, dark and actually awful song “Mr. Blackwell”. It isn’t much musically, mostly bass and mostly lyrics. Apparently Mr. Blackwell is feeling well and honestly, if you are listening to this version of the track sequence, you have no idea who Mr. Blackwell is anyway. As an individual track, not good at all.

The song goes straight in to “Escape from the Island” which is an instrumental track written by Ace, Eric Carr and Bob Ezrin. It is a high energy track that rocks out and is the big chance for Eric to shine and be front and center. There was a movie script supposedly being done for this story concept and if it would’ve been done this would probably have been an action sequence with the boy escaping an island. It has that type of excitement attached to it. But I love it being Ace and Eric having fun playing together.

Then we come to song #3, wait wrong sequence. This is song #10 and it is called “Odyssey”. I’m not sure what I can say about this track other than it is sung by Paul, has Allan Schwartzberg on drums and Tony powers on keyboards and is trying to be something it is really not. They are trying to go and do this overblown, look how artistic we can be crap that fails on every level. It feels all Broadway and over-the-top and if that was what they were going for then they succeeded.

The last track is truly the last track on both versions called “I”. What I like about this song is actually two things. 1) It has both Paul and Gene singing and 2) It sounds like Kiss. It has that rock anthem feel and it rocks out. It almost sounds live or at least should be played live. Although the album was a little all over the place, it was went out with a bang. At the end of the song, we get the only speaking parts from the actors. It is awful. A fun fact, there was actually a music video recorded for this song but never saw the light of the day. When they recorded the video for “A World Without Heroes”, the went ahead and did another one. Since the album did so poorly, the never released it and currently no one knows who has that video.

Track Listing:

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

The Track Score is 7 out of 11 for a Score of 64% which is actually better than I would’ve expected from what I remember with this album. I did the review of the original format I had when I was a kid so you could understand what the public got back in the day. There was no way to determine the concept of this album with the songs being in the order they were in. It was such a mish-mash of songs and most didn’t sound anything like Kiss. It was a total trainwreck.

But…years later after reading a book on the album and living with it for 40 years, it isn’t half bad. I definitely like it better in the in the correct, storyline sequence and I think they need to do a deluxe edition that includes all the spoken work parts that were meant to tie the story together. That would be cool. There were more songs I like then I remembered and I don’t think it is as bad as everyone says or thinks. I give this an overall score of 3.0 out of 5.0 Stars. I give them kudos for trying to do something different as I think all bands need to shake it up a bit. If you haven’t heard it in awhile, check it out and spend some time with it and I think you might change your mind. It isn’t their worst album.

Next Up: Kiss – Killers (1982)

Check out the rest of the series if you have time!!

The Kiss Review Series:

  1. Wicked Lester and the Progeny Demo Sessions (Bootleg)
  2. Kiss – Kiss (1974)
  3. Kiss – Hotter Than Hell (1974)
  4. Kiss – Dressed to Kill (1975)
  5. Kiss – Alive! (1975)
  6. Kiss – Destroyer (1976)
  7. Kiss – “Flaming Youth” 45 Promo Single – Bonus Edition (1976)
  8. Kiss – Special Kiss Album For Their Summer Tour (1976)
  9. Kiss – The Originals (1976)
  10. Kiss – Rock & Roll Over (1976)
  11. Kiss – Love Gun (1977)
  12. Kiss – Alive II (1977)
  13. Kiss – Double Platinum (1978)
  14. Kiss – Paul Stanley (1978)
  15. Kiss – Gene Simmons (1978)
  16. Kiss – Peter Criss (1978)
  17. Kiss – Ace Frehley (1978)
  18. Kiss – Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park Movie (1978)
  19. Kiss – Dynasty (1979)
  20. Kiss – “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” (1979) – 12″ & 7″ Singles (Bonus Edition)
  21. Kiss – Unmasked (1980)
  22. Peter Criss – Out of Control (1980)
  23. Kiss – Music From The Elder (1981)

The Bootleg Series:

  1. Kiss – ‘Accept No Imitations’ (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (ASYLUM TOUR)
  2. Kiss – Look Wot You Dun to Me (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (CRAZY NIGHTS TOUR)
  3. Kiss – The Summer of Satan: The Devils Ride Out! (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (DESTROYER TOUR)
  4. Kiss – Return to Capital Center (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (DYNASTY TOUR)
  5. Kiss – With Fire & Thunder (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (HOTTER THAN HELL TOUR)
  6. Kiss – Northhampton PA March 19th, 1975 (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (DRESSED TO KILL TOUR)
  7. Kiss – The Hottest Show On Earth (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (THE HOTTEST SHOW ON EARTH TOUR 2010)
  8. Kiss – All the Way to the Ball Room (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (Australian Tour 1995)
  9. Kiss – Kiss of Thunder (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (The Rising Sun Tour 2006)
  10. Kiss – Agora Ballroom 1974: The Cleveland Broadcast plus Bonus Cuts (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (THE KISS TOUR)
  11. Kiss – Hotter Than Hell: Radio Broadcast 1976 (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (ROCK & ROLL OVER TOUR)
  12. Kiss – The Tickler (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (LICK IT UP TOUR 1983)
  13. Kiss – Barbarize (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (ANIMALIZE WORLD TOUR 1984 – North American Tour)
  14. Kiss – They Only Come Out At Night (Bootleg Series) – Album Review (ANIMALIZE WORLD TOUR 1984 – EUROPEAN TOUR)
  15. Wicked Lester and the Progeny Demo Sessions (Bootleg)

Kiss – The Box Set:

Gene Simmons – The Vault:

18 thoughts on “Kiss – ‘Music From The Elder’ (1981) – Album Review (The Kiss Review Series)

  1. Well done John.
    Great stuff at digging out the KISS facts and incorporating them into this post. Fair score and as you point out that over 40 years maybe The Elder isn’t all that bad when you really think of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. OK, time to get caught up!

    First of all, this line made me laugh out loud and I’m still smiling: “Apparently Mr. Blackwell is feeling well.” Yep that’s about as much as I get out of some of these lyrics too, especially when played in that incorrect running order. I remember reading in a Dale Sherman book about that, and suddenly it all made sense. “Oh…Fanfare is supposed to be first…”

    A fair review John. I like the album more than you do, but you made good points. Nobody but me likes Odyssey!! Why????

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am not sure why on Odyssey. Maybe you have taste and everyone else doesn’t. That is all I can come up with (Ha!!). I do like this album more than I have in the past because I get it now. I understand more of their mindset, but still just an average, okay album.

      Like

  3. I didn’t see it mentioned (might have missed it) but the remastered CD release has it in the story order. The original cd release matches the original album song order.

    Liked by 1 person

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