KISS: ‘Music From The Elder’

Released on November 10, 1981 (Casablanca Records)

Has there been a more polarizing KISS album than Music From The Elder? Sure, fans have their favorite and non-favorite albums, and many love disputing the releases like Dynasty as the so-called “disco” album or the pop sounds of Unmasked. Even the great Destroyer had its critics when it came out. But The Elder may top the list as the one that some like and others loathe.

The alleged back story of the record was that Gene Simmons was passing around a script in Hollywood that he wrote — a short story about a young boy being picked from a counsel of “Elders” to help battle evil. Since the band owed their label another record contractually, producer Bob Ezrin liked Gene‘s story, and a concept album was born. However, throughout the years in the rare mentioning of the record, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons have stated it was the band trying to appease the rock critics who bashed the band’s musicianship for years. Historically, the album is the first with the amazing drummer Eric Carr, and the last one featuring founding member Ace Frehley. Peter Criss had left a while ago, and another drummer was on the Unmasked record, although the band still tried to keep the image that Criss was still in the band for that release. Ace was absent during many of the records before this, but The Elder became his last record officially until the reunion record Psycho Circus in 1998, and both Ace and Peter had limited roles there as well.

“The Oath” starts the album with Paul Stanley on lead vocals. As an opener to the album, it’s good. The guitar riffs, which later were used for songs on the albums Lick It Up and Animalize, give the record a hard feel with a chugging groove to it, and Carr‘s drumming is solid. It’s not bad for an introduction to the album. A medieval interlude called “Fanfare” is next to help with the story. “Just A Boy” is another song sung by Stanley, telling the story of the young boy doubting his abilities and that youth isn’t what makes heroes. The opening of the song reminded me of something I would hear from The Partridge Family or on AM radio before it kicks into a typical Broadway-style format. It has a Styx / Grand Funk Railroad style to it rock-wise, but as a KISS song, it still disappoints.

“Dark Light,” which Ezrin claims in interviews he played bass on the song, is a heavier song with Lou Reed helping with lyrics. The song has plenty of percussion on it. Frehley sings lead and is not as bad as a song that many think when songs come up about the album. The talking parts during the song do distract me, and the music going into the guitar solo sounds like it was pieced together, like a demo, losing the flow of the song. Considering Ace was rumored to have the tapes sent to him where he would play his parts, because he did not want to be a part of the recordings, may be a reason for this (at least according to several books on the band). This is still one of the stronger songs on the whole release. The drumming gives an added punch to the song.

“Only You” is a song that Gene could have put on his solo album and it would have fit. After coming off of the Ace tune, the album still has a rock feel to it, as opposed to a prog rock or Broadway creation. Carr‘s drumming is solid throughout the album, which is not surprising and is shown here. Many recognize Carr‘s drumming for the thunderous loud sounds on later records like Creatures of The Night, but some do not give just due for him being a solid, straightforward drummer. Carr gets one of two songwriting credits on the record, with the song “Under The Rose.” This has a Pink Floyd / Yes style to it. Being the debut of the new drummer, and getting two songs that he helped-co write on it, shows the skills Carr had (and the early faith in him from the band) for not just his drumming, but bringing his songwriting to the table. It is also rumored that Carr played guitar on the song. With that said, that’s the only thing I can say good about the song.

Another song with lyric help by Reed is “A World Without Heroes.” It was hard to find singles to release off of this album (or any concept album for that matter), but in the U.S., this was the single. Mostly known by newer fans from KISS‘ 1996 Unplugged album, this song sung by Gene shows that Simmons didn’t just sing in an evil, groveling style in his Demon character. This would have fit on many adult contemporary radio stations but didn’t get the traction it needed, but is still a solid song compared to the others here. Another song sung by Simmons is “Mr. Blackwell,” which (again) would have fit on a Gene solo album, especially his 1978 one. This song is underrated with its creepiness and the dark/scary tones, which would have fit on the early albums of the band when parents were freaked out by the sounds and sights of the group hearing them on the turntables of their teen children.

“Escape From The Island” is an instrumental which rumored to come about when Ace, Carr, and Ezrin were jamming around with one day which made the album. This was another co-writing credit for Carr and his playing shines here, as most of his work would be throughout the KISS era. This song rocks and would satisfy the harder fans of the band that may have left after Dynasty. With it being just under three minutes long, the listener doesn’t get bored with it, say if it was over five or more minutes long, like for a movie soundtrack. The piano opening of “Odyssey” keeps the Broadway concept going after having three KISS-style songs before it. Paul‘s singing is good on the track, written by Tony Powers. However, after the three better songs on the album before it, as a whole, it becomes a letdown.

The second single, “I,” is the song many remember from this era, from the promotional work the band did for the album. They appeared on U.S shows like Fridays and one of my favorite music shows of the time, Solid Gold, to promote the record. This is more of a traditional KISS track, with the lyrics of believing in oneself when others judge you or hold you down. The band not only went into an experimental mode with the album, but they also shocked many by cutting their long hair (at least Simmons and Stanley). Is the song more pop than rock? Yes, but they were doing that on the last two albums you could argue. If any track is mentioned the most from this album, it’s probably this one.

As mentioned before, KISS wasn’t new to going into a new musical direction — the orchestration of Destroyer, the “disco/pop” on Dynasty and Unmasked. Even though I still argue that Dynasty is not a disco record, but some fans and critics label it as one. Even the later Crazy Nights album was in a different direction for the group with a more synth/rock and polished production flavour, although many hard rock bands were doing that at that time. Music From The Elder has some good musical moments, but it has to be the most polarizing album of the band’s career. People love it or they hate it. Besides the brief Unplugged concert, to me, there’s a reason why Gene and Paul tried for years to avoid talking (or playing) tracks from Music From the Elder.  Is it an album with some musical parts to it that are listenable, or is it total trash? One can’t deny the musical talent on the album, but as a KISS album, it is still the least listened to in my collection.

Music From The Elder has more historical merit to it with the debut of Carr and the exiting Frehley than it does in being a classic album that shines with memorable songs. If this was released under a different name than KISS, maybe it would have gotten better airplay, but as something in the KISS foundation, it weakens it. Maybe the band needed to record this in order to get it out of Gene‘s system so the band could go back to the hard rock style that they did on the next album with Creatures of The Night. But that still doesn’t make it a good album expected on a KISS level.

Track List:
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

Band Members:
Paul Stanley – rhythm guitar, vocals, lead guitar (1, 3, 7)
Gene Simmons – bass, vocals, rhythm guitar (5)
Eric Carr – drums, percussion, backing vocals, acoustic guitar (6)
Ace Frehley – lead guitar, vocals, bass guitar (1, 4, 6), acoustic guitar (7), backing vocals

Additional Musicians:
Bob Ezrin – keyboards, bass (9)
Allan Schwartzberg – drums (10, 11), additional overdub
Tony Powers – keyboards (10)
The American Symphony Orchestra
St. Robert’s Choir

Produced by Bob Ezrin
Associate producer: Brian Christian
Recorded by Brian Christian, Rick Hart, Robert “Ringo” Hryeyna and David Brown
Additional engineering: Rob Freeman, Corky Stasiak and Kevin Doyle

Band Websites:
Official Website

Reviewed by Lance Lumley for Sleaze Roxx, November 2021

KISS‘ “A World Without Heroes” video:

KISS‘ “I” (unreleased) video: