As the 1980s began, Kiss found itself at a crossroads. Original drummer Peter Criss had left after the band’s last album, Unmasked, tanked and Kiss was finding more success touring abroad than in America. It briefly considered recording a straight-ahead hard rock album as a return to form before deciding instead to hire Bob Ezrin—co-producer of Pink Floyd’s The Wall—to assist in recording (in secret) a concept album, Music From “The Elder,” which tells the story of a young boy’s transformation into a hero in a poorly defined fantasy world.
It’s impossible to overstate how hated the results were. When Kiss’ management and record company finally heard it they were shocked (their business manager refused to allow his company’s name to appear on the jacket). Lead guitarist Ace Frehley quit the band in frustration—he later described his departure as Kiss’ “musical vasectomy.”
Ezrin attributed his work on the album to the effects of his addiction to cocaine. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons eventually admitted Elder was a mistake. Not surprisingly, it sold so poorly that Kiss didn’t even tour behind it and have rarely performed any of its material live.
But Music From “The Elder” is actually pretty good. In attempting what it considered serious material, Kiss sounds fresher than they ever could have on another batch of party anthems, and the inclusion of orchestration, searching instrumental passages, and dialogue gives the album an epic scope.
Coked-up or not, Ezrin’s prior resume shows. This sounds like four idiots from New York City attempting a Floyd album. It’s too bad Ace hated the album so much, as he turns in some stellar work, particularly the blistering solo on his only song here, “Dark Light.”