And that’s exactly what happened when the ’70s rock heroes tried to pull out of an early ’80s commercial tailspin by abandoning just about everything that had made them popular in the first place.
Flirtations with disco and pop on 1979’s Dynasty and 1980’s Unmasked had alienated the band’s original hard-rock fans, so Kiss brought back Bob Ezrin, who had produced their beloved 1976 album Destroyer, in hopes of reconnecting with the sound that had brought them fame and fortune.
The problem was Ezrin was riding high off the critical and commercial success of Pink Floyd‘s extravagant concept album The Wall. Somewhere along the way, the plan changed from Kiss making a back-to-basics album to crafting a grand multimedia statement, fueled by a short story Gene Simmons had written, that would force fans and critics to acknowledge their creative genius.
We take a look at 10 Things That Went Wrong With Kiss’ Music From “The Elder” below.
1. Ace Frehley Reached His Boiling Point
Music From “The Elder” was the last Kiss album to feature original guitarist Ace Frehley for another 15 years, which arguably says more about his intuition than the band’s internal friction. Already frustrated by his role within the group, Frehley hated the album’s musical direction and sang on just one song, “Dark Light.” That feeling of frustration was exacerbated when many of his solos were edited out of the final cut. “I would have bet a million dollars that the album was going to fail,” Frehley said in 2018. “I did some great solos on it, and there’s some really good songs, but it wasn’t the right record for the time.”
2. Eric Carr Received a Less-Than-Awesome Introduction to Kiss
It should have been a drummer’s dream come true: the chance to sit behind the kit with an arena-packing, era-defining rock band. Instead, Eric Carr‘s tenure with Kiss got off to an inauspicious start with Music From “The Elder.” “I think Eric was caught between Ace’s grumbling and the other guys’ opinion and my craziness,” producer Ezrin recalled in Greg Prato’s The Eric Carr Story. Carr, who replaced original drummer Peter Criss, was just happy to be included, even if his first Kiss album would become one of the band’s most notorious. What’s worse, Ezrin tapped session musician Allan Schwartzberg to replace Carr’s drums on “Odyssey” and “I.” “I don’t remember why we did that, because Eric was perfectly capable [of] handling everything,” Ezrin admitted in Prato’s book.
3. Bob Ezrin Wasn’t in Top Form
Ezrin’s return should have spelled success for Kiss after a series of pop-leaning misfires. But the producer, who was riding high on the success of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, encouraged Kiss to bite off way more than they could chew. Ezrin was also battling his own demons as he and the band decamped to Frehley’s home studio in Wilton, Conn., to work on the album. “My marriage had broken up, and I was with someone new,” Ezrin confessed in The Eric Carr Story. “I was doing drugs and not in the best of shape — it was not a good experience.”
4. It Was a Misguided Attempt to Please Music Critics
After years of having even their best work lambasted by music critics, Kiss made a misguided attempt to win over their longtime adversaries. “We were starting to lose touch,” Simmons confessed in 2001’s Kiss: Behind the Music. “We actually did that one for the critics. You should never go for respect, because on the day that critics and your mom like the same music that you do, it’s over.” “We believed that Bob [Ezrin] could save us and get us back on track,” Stanley explained in the same book. “[Manager] Bill Aucoin also very much believed this was a way to take us to another level and that we would impress the people who’d never been into us. And we thought the same thing. Like I said, we were delusional.”
5. Paul Stanley Reached Too Far
Looking back, Paul Stanley wished he hadn’t pushed himself so far from his vocal comfort zone on Music From “The Elder.” “What came out was, I don’t particularly think, very good – at times, it’s hammy, most of my vocals on there,” he told Yahoo! “If you’ve ever seen The Little Rascals, [it’s like] how Alfalfa would sing in a pseudo-operatic voice or try to.” Stanley conceded that some of The Elder songs, such as “Odyssey,” worked better with other singers. “It was a good song when I heard Tony Powers, the guy who wrote it, sing it because it was unique,” Stanley said in Kiss: Behind the Mask. “Me singing it was just tragic.”
6. Trend Chasing Bit Kiss on the Ass Again
On more than one occasion, Kiss have been guilty of changing their sound too much to fit in better with the most popular music of the day. Music From “The Elder” was supposed to course-correct the group after two records dominated by disco and pop. Instead, they doubled down by gambling on a concept record — and lost. Although the band fought its way back into fans’ good graces in the mid-’80s, the lesson didn’t fully stick. In 1987 Kiss tried to emulate Bon Jovi‘s success with the keyboard-dominated Crazy Nights, and in the mid-’90s they released the grunge-influenced Carnival of Souls. “Was it as honest and authentic as our other stuff? No,” Simmons told UCR of the latter album. “It’s like going to another country. You love the way East Indians dance, and you go, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ Then you get up on the dance floor, and you try to do it. Can I dance as well as somebody who has been dancing East Indian dances all of their lives? No.”
7. Kiss’ Gold and Platinum Winning Streak Ended
Following the critical and commercial failure of 1980’s Unmasked, which barely went gold, Kiss needed a hooky, no-frills hard-rock LP to reestablish their supremacy. Music From “The Elder” wasn’t that LP. The album baffled fans, was lampooned by critics and tanked commercially, stalling at No. 75 on the Billboard 200 and becoming the band’s first album in years to not earn a gold certification from the RIAA. “It bombed,” Gene Simmons confessed to Classic Rock. “There’s just no other way to look at it.”
8. There Was No Elder Movie
According to Simmons, a movie version of Music From “The Elder” reached an early casting stage, with My Bodyguard star Chris Makepeace in the lead role. “I don’t remember if Patrick Stewart was involved as Morpheus, he might’ve been,” Simmons remembered. “But it started to get some legs. And we were going to do a motion picture, but, like most movies now, over 95 percent never get made, even though there are scripts and everything. So, we had a treatment based on — I mean, my treatment — but it stopped there, and we kind of gave up on it.” In 2012, director Seb Hunter announced his plans to adapt The Elder into his own independent movie, even going so far as to release a trailer, but the project has yet to be completed.
9. Kiss Had to Scrap Their Wild Tour Plans
No matter how their albums fared, Kiss could usually be counted on to win over live audiences with their characteristically epic rock shows. But Music From “The Elder” was such a dismal failure they couldn’t even tour in support of it. Shame, too, because unearthed sketches from Mark Ravitz (who created the first-ever Kiss stage logo and designed the Destroyer tour stage) show a mammoth, medieval stage design, with the band gathered around a glowing orb and performing in front of a lighthouse, Egyptian temple and wishing well.
10. Creatures of the Night Was Wrongly Ignored
At the very least, the utter failure of Music From “The Elder” woke up Kiss. Down to two original members and with its career very much on the line, the band made an unexpected and much-needed creative comeback with a follow-up record, 1982’s Creatures of the Night. Ironically, this was the album the now-departed Frehley wanted The Elder to be: an uncompromising collection of hook-filled hard-rock songs, made even better by new levels of songwriting and production sophistication. The problem was that nobody, not even the most loyal fans, were willing to give the band a shot anymore. Creatures of the Night and its supporting tour both sold terribly, with the band playing to nearly empty crowds in arenas it was able to sell out just a few years earlier. “Obviously, we had to pay penance for Unmasked and The Elder,” Paul Stanley explained in his 2014 memoir Face the Music. “It was going to take years to win back our fans and make new fans. We had betrayed them. We had betrayed ourselves, too, and we weren’t going to be easily forgiven.”
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