A Bernie Sparrow piece as originally published for Cool Album of the Day. Check them out.
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact point in time that KISS ceased being a band and morphed into the soul sucking, cross marketing, American Idol appearing, corporate sell-outs that they are today. After all, this is the band that released Alive!, a self proclaimed live album that was cleaned up in post-production with actual guitar licks layered in, and more after-the fact enhancements than an air brushed Playboy centerfold.
These were the guys who kicked Ace Frehley out of the band for partying too hard (who among us doesn’t pine for those Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John years), and deceptively tried to disguise Tommy Thayer in Ace’s Spaceman makeup and dressed Eric Singer in the Peter Criss Catman outfit thinking we would be to stupid or too stoned to notice.
At least we can take some Rock and Roll solace in the fact that we can wear a KISS T-shirt, change our babies KISS emblazoned diapers, and even travel to our final rewards in a KISS coffin. And let’s not forget the KISS miniature golf course in Las Vegas, or the Anaheim, Ca expansion Arena Football League franchise where Gene Simmons is part owner. Heck, we can even go on a KISS Kruise where Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons might even helicopter in for twenty minutes to grace you with their presence, leaving you to mingle with the the somewhat less famous band members in the musical meet and greet equivalent of being stuck in a hot tub at a Three Stooges convention with Shemp and Joe Besser.
And finally, in a ripped from the headlines example of the “screw the fan” hubris on the part of those that own the trademark, Gene and Paul are at this writing are refusing to perform with the original KISS band members at their upcoming Rock and Roll Hall of fame induction ceremony. This would be like John Lennon and Paul McCartney not sharing the stage with Ringo and George.
In the interests of full disclosure, the KISS pinball machine is actually pretty bad-ass. The original KISS themed Bally machine originally distributed in 1978 features all four of the original members prominently displayed with sound and visuals that are straight-up cool. I would own one, but I cant afford the additional $10.00 per strike up-charge that Gene Simmons gets every time the silver ball hits the bumper that contains his picture. Ironically, or perhaps not, there is no charge for hitting the the faces of the other members of the band.
But I digress………….
Destroyer, released in 1976, is one fine old school Rock and Roll record. With the sound glossed to more of an ear-pleasing sheen than their prior efforts courtesy of Alice Cooper Major Domo Bob Ezrin who gets writing credits on seven of the ten tracks on the album, this record pretty much set the stage for their future live performances, a template the band would hone to perfection in the years to follow.
The scorching, rubber burning first track Detroit Rock City, much like Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A., takes on a bit of a different meaning when the lyrics are contemplated, and you realize the song is about a concert goer’s untimely death meeting a truck head-on while speeding down the highway presumably on the way to a KISS show. Here, for one of the first times on vinyl for this band, a subject matter that does not include drugs, girls, or sex is presented to the listener. Now a concert opening staple that replaced “Deuce” from their self-titled second record as their walk-out selection, the song has taken on a life of it’s own generating a movie, an excellent book of the same name that covers the Detroit Rock and Roll scene of the 60’s and 70’s, along with countless cover versions.
The anthems are all here, loud and bombastic as you would expect, with “King of the Night Time World,” a Paul Stanley standout, and “God of Thunder” another Stanley tune that Gene Simmons absolutely owns, and with the possible exception of Rob Zombie, he is the only front man that could bring out all of the demonic qualities inherent in the song. Who else other than those two guys could “slowly rob you of your virgin soul.” “Shout it Loud,” almost gets lost in the shuffle here, but along with “Flaming Youth” is a real stand-up and shout, audience participation favorite.
The elephant in the Destroyer room of course is the Peter Criss ballad, Beth. Originally considered to be the Rock and Roll equivalent of a chick flick, the song was actually the B side of the “Detroit Rock City” single, and quickly became of of those disc jockey turns the 45 over one day by happenstance success stories, scoring the band a top ten hit. Showing an outrage the likes of which had not been seen on the music scene since Dylan Plugged in, the KISS Illuminati was definitely polarized in their disdain or acceptance of this mostly innocuous tune. I for one, was firmly in the pro-”Beth” camp. Finally, a KISS song your girlfriend would let you play while we were making out in the back seat of your Ford Pinto.
Pound for pound, “Great Expectations” is my favorite song on the album. A slower tune that has a distinct Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance, English quality. The Bob Ezrin knob twirling on this track complete with school child choruses and Alice Cooper From the Inside atmospheric spookiness really represented something completely different from the Kiss stable here.
Overall, this record has a bit of everything, and is deservedly on the top of many a Kiss Army members list of any era, favorite album, with any record post 1978 where each member released their own solo album on the same day, firmly ensconced in the non-listenable category.
Of course, everyone will have their own opinion on this record, this band, and their legacy.
And that is a VERY good thing.
–– Bernie Sparrow San Francisco, California USA