In the music world there are those “infamous” albums, the album by the famous and popular group that is widely panned by even their most die-hard fans, often viewed as being some kind of “phase” the band or artist went through. Lots of bands of have experienced this. In the case of KISS, that album was 1981s Music from “The Elder”.
In general I don’t get the rock opera thing. That’s not to say there aren’t rock operas out there that I enjoy – Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime being two notable examples. But in general the concept of an album with a storyline (as opposed to a more general theme) doesn’t generally resonate with me, though I suppose I can see the appeal from the musician’s standpoint in that it gives them to the chance to tell a more in depth story in a way you just can’t do in one song. It’s probably in part because I’m one of those guys who doesn’t always listen to the words that closely, at least not the first few times I hear something.
I’d been interested in hearing Music from “The Elder” for some time. After all, KISS is a seminal band know for playing some pretty damn good rock ‘n’ roll, so what is it about this album that people hate so much? It’s been re-released on vinyl, though I wasn’t about to drop $30 on it. But I kept my eyes open and the other day found a used original pressing in nice shape for under $10 and figured it was time to check it out.
Basically Music from “The Elder” is the soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist. Inside the gatefold we’re told of a group known as the Elders who watch over the earth, and when the planet is faced with an evil that wants to destroy it they look for a warrior to train who will save mankind. A being named Morpheus is the caretaker and tells the Elders when the warrior is ready to do his duty. And that’s pretty much it. So with that in mind…
Side A is decent, and I’d go so far as to say “The Oath” is a solid rocker. The most notable weakness is when Stanley tries to hit the high notes, which come off as pretty weak. Musically it’s decent, though I’ll admit that other than “The Oath” there isn’t anything super catchy here, at least not the first time through.
On the flip side “A World Without Heroes” is interesting – like a prog rock KISS song. While “Mr. Blackwell” continues the slower pace when compared to KISS standards, it’s actually a solid song. I dig the bass line and the way the vocals sound – the music is basic and a bit heavy, then the chorus kicks in and the sound fills out. This might be the bust song on the record. Now “Odyssey”… well, OK. Now I see where some of the criticism of this album comes from. Lots of piano here and a vocal style that is not Stanley’s wheelhouse. But it ends in a pretty satisfactory way with “I”, another decent rocker.
Well, Music from “The Elder” is certainly not the prototypical KISS record, that’s for sure. But it isn’t nearly as bad as people make it out to be. There are some good tunes here, and admittedly a few clunkers, but all in all it’s OK. There’s a guy out there named Seb Hunter who wrote a screenplay to go with the soundtrack and actually went so far as to produce a trailer of sorts to the movie he wants to make around Music from “The Elder”. Not sure if it’ll ever happen, but I’ll certainly check it out if he gets the financing and approvals together.