It’s Hallowe’en. Across Brixton, various young people are getting ready for spooky festivities. It probably means they’re off to the pub in their best Bride of Frankenstein and Corpse Bride finery before hitting the clubs later, but it seems fairly busy for a Tuesday night. There aren’t any skeletons or pumpkins adorning the Electric Brixton, but a cursory look at the merchandising stand still makes the occasion very clear. A massive poster advertising this show featuring power pop legends Redd Kross and sludgy art rock oddballs the Melvins very much resembles a promotional poster for an eighties slasher flick. As far as gig posters go, it’s incredibly smart, although no more of a spook-show concept should be looked for, especially as the night progresses.
1977 saw a change on the UK music front as punk made a fairly grand entrance. It wasn’t the giant new broom that revisionists will have you believe, as disco and pop still had a strong grip and the prog rock bands remained a fixture in the album charts.
Perhaps the greatest thing the punk movement brought was the idea that such energy could be used to create great three minute songs. In 1978, utilising the energies of punk and a firm grasp of radio friendly pop choruses, bands like Blondie and The Jam went from strength to strength.
The mention of 1976 for most people over a certain age in the UK will invariably invoke remembrances of one of the hottest summers on record. There’s more to the year than just drought, though. There’s disco, classic rock and pop.
It was also the year that punk broke into the mainstream. A whole new world of music was born.
It was the year we checked into ‘Hotel California’ for the first time…and with it becoming a radio staple, true as the song’s tale, we never really left. Queen followed their ambitious ‘Night At The Opera’ with the equally grand ‘A Day At The Races’ and Jeff Beck continued his voyage into fusion with ‘Wired’. As Real Gone’s Great 70s project reaches 1976, we take a dip into those classic albums and far more besides.
Throughout the late 70s, it seemed KISS could do little wrong. In the US, their albums sold by the truckload and fans filled large stadiums to witness their face-painted theatrics. In 1979, nodding towards then current musical trends, KISS added disco elements to their brand of hard rock. This seemed to be a good move, as ‘Dynasty’ became another top seller and its single ‘I Was Made For Loving You’ became one of KISS’s best selling singles outside the US. Attempts at re-creating a similar formula for 1980’s ‘Unmasked’ were less successful, despite a couple of stand-out tracks. Drummer Peter Criss quit the band mid way through the albums sessions and things were generally not as rosy.
It was time for a re-think. Very much in favour after his work on Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’, producer Bob Ezrin (who’d previously worked as producer on KISS’s 1976 fan favourite ‘Destroyer’) was bought on board to produce the next album – the overblown concept piece ‘Music From The Elder’.
‘Music From The Elder’ follows a half-baked story about a futuristic world and a battle between good and evil. It’s best to not concentrate too much on that and just take the songs at face value. The songs themselves, don’t always feel like traditional Kiss songs – Ezrin’s orchestral arrangements and slick production swamps the album, as if he is the fifth band member here; this is obvious right from the introductory fanfare. His influence becomes absolutely unavoidable as Paul Stanley croons his way through ‘Odyssey’, which is pure musical theatre and not in the usual fun KISS style. Ace Frehley is said to have become rather unhappy with the musical direction ‘The Elder’ was taking but despite that, his contribution ‘Dark Light’ is quite strong, while Paul’s ‘The Oath’ demonstrates a hard rock style KISS would further explore on their 80s albums. The only track here which comes anywhere near the band’s previous anthem style is closing number ‘I’.
Gene’s lament ‘A World Without Heroes’ (co-written with Paul Stanley and Bob Ezrin, with a contribution from Lou Reed) and the more aggressive ‘Mr Blackwell’ are the essential tracks (it’s not very often you’ll find me picking Gene’s songs as KISS album highlights).
Upon release, many fans felt indifferent towards the album; sales were down and it marked the first time KISS did not tour. Some reviews were positive, though: Rolling Stone called the album ‘better than anything the band has recorded in years’.
Time has been kind to ‘Music From The Elder’. Ezrin’s production still sounds superb and musically, KISS are in good shape. Eric Carr makes his debut and turns in a good performance, despite supposedly sharing Frehley’s uncertainties about the concept album. Granted, some of the songs aren’t as catchy as previous outings – the concept approach means that sing-along anthems aren’t so evident. That aside, it’s a decent album none the less and I’m never sure why it tops fans’ ‘worst album’ lists. Bloated and pompous it may be, but there’s nothing here anywhere near as embarrassing as ‘Burn Bitch Burn’ (Animalize, 1984), ‘Bang Bang You’ (Crazy Nights, 1988) or ‘Domino’ (Revenge, 1991), so surely it deserves to be treated just a little better?