Tuesday, March 15, 2016
DESTROYER AT 40
Beware the Ides of March, for it was on this date in 1976 that KISS, grease-painted purveyors of loud rock'n'roll and anonymity, released their fourth studio disc to very receptive record buyers. Breaking through to a wider audience in the previous year with Alive!, the band was now poised to become even bigger. This required producing an album that was the sonic equivalent of the grandiose spectacle which they consistently brought to the stage.
Enter Bob Ezrin
Known at the time for his work with Alice Cooper, Ezrin is a world class producer who also brought skills as a writer, arranger and musician to the table. He has a writing credit on all but two of the tracks on Destroyer, pushed all group members to the limit during the sessions and helped to shape a tightly edited program of songs. In addition to the usual two guitar, bass and drum attack, orchestration, a full choir and sound effects now took their place in the mix. Opening with mundane clatter around the breakfast table, morning news patter in the background and the subsequent shift of the action to the car (with their own "Rock and Roll All Night" providing the radio soundtrack) a lone guitar hammers the now iconic two notes of "Detroit Rock City". With a shotgun snare roll, we're off to the races.
Unfortunately, there's a truck ahead, lights staring at my eyes...
That never ends well.
One of their most exciting slabs of rock, with twin lead, unforgettable guitar figure and Paul Stanley executing his most over the top (yet controlled) vocal, they now had a killer opener for their set. It remains part of their act to this day. Ending with a horrific accident, the screeching tires and twisted wreckage give way to the wailing sustained note that announces "King of the Night Time World". Ratcheting up the energy, this one showcases Peter Criss, who hits just about every thing in sight as he pushes the tempo. "God of Thunder" completes the trifecta of flame-thrower riffs, adding another live staple to the KISS experience. Gene Simmons plays up the demon persona to the hilt, though side one blows a tire with the closer. Combining egocentric lyrics, an orchestra and outright melodic theft (from Beethoven), the composition aspires to be something more than it actually delivers.
In the contemporary world of classic rock radio format, flipping your vinyl copy of this platter to the underbelly reveals three selections ("Shout It Out Loud", "Do You Love Me" and "Beth") that still see regular airing outside of their era, one of which created an unlikely pop hit single. From the moment Peter Criss crushed out a Pall Mall to step up to the mic and complete his vocal take on "Beth", the concept of KISS changed. Could you imagine John Bonham pushing Robert Plant aside in the middle of a Led Zeppelin gig to sing "Feelings"?
Go ahead, I'll wait right here
At any rate, this ballad helped carve a path that led from being "the hottest band in the land" to "the hottest band in the world". The anthemic punch of "Shout It Out Loud" and the closer, "Do You Love Me" keep electricity present in the project preventing it from sliding into easy listening territory. KISS would never record anything like Destroyer again, stripping back to basics for "Rock and Roll Over" and "Love Gun". Life would soon imitate art for the quartet as they expanded the ranks of the Kiss Army overseas, selling as many copies of this release as their first three combined. The group never claimed to be striving for high art, though they did benefit from the lessons learned in working with one of the masters in the studio. Definitely their most ambitious production.