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Kiss - 1981 The Elder

ALBUM: The Elder
LABEL: Casablanca
YEAR: 1981
CD REISSUE: 1997, Casablanca, 532 390-2(18)


LINEUP: Paul Stanley - vocals, guitars * Gene Simmons - vocals, bass * Ace Frehley - vocals, guitars * Eric Carr - drums

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


Never frightened to prostitute themselves to the latest fashion, whether that was the disco infused of 'I Was Made For Lovin You' from 1979's 'Dynasty', or the acoustic therapy of 'Unplugged' in 1996 that began the reunion revival of 'Psycho Circus' following 2 years later, nothing seems out of bounds for exploitation. In 1981 Kiss took the step of producing, well what shall we call it, a concept album? A movie soundtrack to a film that was never was? I wonder even if they got as far as commissioning a screenplay before the next fashion took hold. Whatever it was, at the time of the release, many thought that they were reaching one step too far, it may had been the concept that they choose which meant they faced a lot of distractors, because looking back it can't be the songs, but maybe they weren't taken seriously or understood at the time. My personal view may been clouded with youthful memories, because this was my first Kiss album I purchased, again going pretty cheap which probably said a lot about its purchasing power. However I feel confident that this album rightly deserves the praise I am going to heap upon.

The Songs
Really this album had to be made for Kiss to continue, it was a stepping stone from the excellent AOR of 'Unmasked' to the hard rocking of 'Creatures Of The Night', not ignoring the 4 new tracks that were part of yet another compilation, known as 'Killers', just to prove a point that they hadn't lost it. Take a listen to the chugga chugga of the opening, 'The Oath', there really isn't a lot difference to what appears on the aforementioned 'Creatures...' This was quite inspirational at the time; bear in mind it was another year before Iron Maiden released 'Number Of The Beast', which was seen then as the best thing since sliced bread.

I can afford your chuckles at the Elizabethan fanfare opening, but the likes of the excellent Rhapsody and Kamelot had made a good living out of it. As usual I seem to mention Kansas and Styx in the same breath, but the likeness of 'Just A Boy' is quite uncanny, even if Paul Stanley has seemed to be hauled into a pair of very tight trousers or has become a eunuch overnight (of course he would do another thing for his art). Seriously it is a great tune, full of attraction and pomp, just imagine Paul and the boys, adding and adjusting the musical notes written out in front of them on a stave, like a pair of composers from the 18th century. For this to be truly appealing they need a full orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall. Kiss with an orchestra, that is a thought, hang on, 'Alive IV Symphony 2003', yep seen it done it, what was I mentioning in my opening line?

Probably the most basic Kiss (typing Kiss out without the double SS style font logo, just doesn't seem right!) tune is next and comes from the back pocket of Ace. Now you see, I have never been a fully-fledged spaceman I have always favoured the Starchild, come to mention it I was always a Todd Howarth man if we are talking about Frehley's Comet ('It's Over Now', from 1988 'Second Sighting' is always an AOR classic). However 'Dark Light' is probably one the best songs he recorded, which didn't appear on his quarter of the solo albums released during the 70's, It has a cracking chorus, typical Ace number, spoken vocals, cutting riffs and when he attempts to sing during that chorus he sounds really good, tops it off with a fiery guitar solo.

Even Gene has a go at singing, yes singing, and sounds pretty good with 'Only You', this is not his typical stomper but a fine precise melodic tune, with the part 'Tell My Secret' has a 'Mr Roboto' chant feel, before Paul Stanley takes over. It is excellent when these guys interact and share the verses before retracing their steps to 'Just A Boy' before a thundering finish.

The progressive edge is plain to see on 'Under The Rose', with full Marillion, 'Forgotten Sons', style drumming, plus the choral effect of the vocals placed over the acoustic strumming before bringing it all together in a crescendo or possibly to the end of the chapter (will side A at least). Yes it's a beautiful track.

As I reached the half way stage, time to ponder, you see if you listen to the likes of Blind Guardian and periods of Helloween, then I do find the Kiss influence from this album shining through of bands of this ilk?, maybe I am little wide of the mark, but it's worth considering?

OK, next up is for my money a better ballad then even 'Beth', I can hear the sharp intake of breath, is he serious? Well if you place 'A World Without Heroes' in the setting of a film soundtrack (a proper one, not like this claims to be), then Kiss could have duplicated the likes of Aerosmith with 'I Don't Want To Miss A Thing', and then be forever punished by contestants from endless talent contests, having a bash at it, so maybe we should be thankful for small mercies. It's a crushing ballad, superb; the spiralling guitar solo with the orchestral background just works for me on all levels.

The submarine pounding of 'Mr Blackwell' is one of the most memorable songs on the album, but all for the wrong reasons. Yes it may be typical Simmons, the stop-starting, which I never find comfortable, well the pre chorus is more noteworthy, but alas it is a poor display and furthermore never seems to get out of my head and body. It becomes a musical tapeworm and you can imagine how unpleasant that could be, it just drags.

A siren signals the end of hell, as sanctuary is found with 'Escape From The Island', a comic book action figure instrumental, and yes at this point, you are probably losing track and thinking what the earth is going on story wise! Don't try to analysis it, others have and ultimately failed, so just enjoy the music.

The most glorified, over the topness (I doubt that would get past Dictionary Corner on TV Countdown as a proper word) is still to come, and here it is, 'Odyssey', and are they found to be all at sea? Well Kiss always put the effect in to make it work. Stanley enters with 'far off galaxies', but it does give you the impression, they are heading for home and the completion of the story, saga? concept? finally coming to a conclusion. Even with the break/nursery rhyme section, although this is stamped on before a full scale bombarding ending. It is stirring stuff, even a Crown Of Thorns feel to it in odd moments, a previous co-conspirator of Mr Stanley, being the one and only Jean Beauvoir.

Best kept to last? Quite possibly with 'I', this is a full Kiss onslaught, and back to what they do best. Really sits comfortably in the 'Lick It Up' era, this could be their own self publicised, motivation tool if they decide to move into Management Consultancy, or religion? Kiss with a full set of pyro's, flashlight, exploding confetti the works. Was it ever performed live? Or maybe just in Paul Stanley's small amount of solo shows? Well it is surprising how Kiss seem to milk everything in their career, when for some reason they never milked this tune, this is not semi skimmed but full fat milk, with cream on the top.

Finally, the most amusing bit, the cheesy narration at the end, sounds like a janitor (actually it's Morpheus, the caretaker) or better still Donald Trump or Alan Sugar talking about Gene Simmons chances in The Apprentice.

In Summary
One of the most amusing Kiss quotations I remember was written comes from the extreme metal magazine Terrorizer, one reader noted the following 'but everyone knows corpse paint is Kiss make up for people that can't stay inside the lines' What's that got to do with 'The Elder', absolutely nothing, but it did make me chuckle. If you notice this appears to be the only Kiss album cover those images of the group in one form or another (i.e. cartoon) don't actually appear on the sleeve. Only some chairs and table last seem gracing Antiques Roadshow, also one hell of a knocker (Kiss never that far from sexist comments!). Commercially and reputation wise, Kiss were hit hard, they regrouped and dished out another 4 songs on a ill advised compilation, being 'Killers', sounds like what Metallica did following their release of 'Lulu', being 4 leftovers from' Death Magnetic' that was released as 'Beyond Magnetic'. An experiment that at the time may have been frowned upon, but years later, it may been ahead of its time and maybe too experimental. Although I doubt that without this album, then you wouldn't have got 'Creatures..', 'Lick It Up' and a host of mainstream releases. With those albums they took the easy route, more commercial for sure, but with the removal of the makeup they started to fall into just another rock band, although it's easy to make that assumption now, but they did need a new impetus at the time. As mentioned before, still my favourite, and like 'Destroyer', it provides the listener with many different styles and anthems and doesn't some to have any weak links especially seeing this was the great Eric Carr's first appearance, although Ace Frehley's total attention may have not been applied to this album.

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#1 | Eric on May 29 2012 01:47:00
With the debut, my favorite KISS album. Nice review Chris.
#2 | AOR Lee on May 29 2012 06:38:21
A staggering album, one of my top 5 by my favourite band. The review as always a great read
#3 | reyno-roxx on May 29 2012 11:51:02
Interesting reading. I remember excitedly venturing up to Flyover Records in Hammersmith when I'd heard they had import copies before the UK release. It's nowhere near being the worst album of all-time as featured recently in 'Classic Rock'. I don't think it's even the worst Kiss album either (i think that vote goes to either 'Crazy Nights', 'Psycho Circus' or 'Unmasked'.
#4 | dangerzone on May 29 2012 14:53:49
I've been on the cusp of reviewing this for about 8 years now and it's good to see it here finally. I agree, this is a great album and remarkably well executed. However I think those 4 new tracks on 'Killers' are some of their best also, prime Kiss anthems. It showed they could turn their hands to almost anything they pleased, even if it was damage control like Chris writes. The live tracks of 'The Oath' and 'I' that exist from the t.v. show 'Friday's' show how ferocious and heavy these cuts were live.

As far as the worst Kiss album of all time is concerned, that's 'Hot in the Shade' without doubt, something I think I made clear in my review!
#5 | englandashes on May 29 2012 18:38:45
Noticed from the Guardian on line, an article from Jan 2012, that a Seb Hunter is looking to make this a film, finally, interesting article, and is looking for funding, I won't be reaching for a my wallet just yet, but it's great to see the album receiving some recognition. (sorry not sure how to link the article!)
#6 | sabace on May 29 2012 20:27:48
great review and a really enjoyable lp . The cd reissue has the correct track listing as the record company changed the track listing just before release . there is some sense to the madness!.I agree with dangerzone re the live tv show great stuff! and yes the four tracks on killers are excellent, particularly 'nowhere to run'
#7 | Eric on May 29 2012 22:08:20
'Fridays' was a terrific show when it came to music. I remember seeing Journey (clips on YouTube), King Crimson, Frankie and The Knockouts, Tommy Tutone and many others in its 2 (?) year run.
#8 | Explorer on July 17 2013 20:26:26
Vastly underrated of my favourites from the band.
#9 | RobLynott on December 02 2013 16:21:29
One of the Most underrated rock albums ever! It's really a great one and far far better than some of their later releases (Animalize, Hot in the shade)
#10 | englandashes on March 04 2017 00:31:29
Notice this is taking a hammering at, we'll for they know not what they do....

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