KISS: “Destroyer” 40 Years On

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There is an old expression, which paraphrased, might say: “If you are going to own only one KISS album, you’re not really much of a KISS fan”. And where that might be stated differently is with “Destroyer”, the group’s 4th studio LP and overall 5th release. It was unleashed on an unsuspecting public on March 15th, 1976.

KISS was formed in New York City in 1973 with founding members Gene Simmons (bass/ vocals), Paul Stanley (guitar/ vocals), Ace Frehley (lead guitar/vocals), and Peter Criss (drums/vocals). Having released 3 studio albums in 1974 and the first half of 1975, KISS responded to the demands of their fans for a record that represented the mania of their over the top stage show featuring outlandish theatrics, lavish pyrotechnics, Kabuki inspired make-up and stage costumes based on comic book super heroes with a taste for glam rock and S&M. The result was KISS “Alive”, a double LP and audio blitzkrieg.

With the live set having given them both a Top 40 Singles and LP chart success denied them with their prior releases, the order was very tall and they answered by going in the opposite direction with producer Bob Ezrin, noted for his work then with Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Dr. John and the Babys.

“Destroyer” was the result and it sees its 40th anniversary as a solid, hard rock 10 song musical masterpiece. Ezrin required a discipline and technique that was alien to the group and he even stopped recording sessions to tutor the quartet in music theory. For the most part, he introduced extensive songwriting collaborations for the first time with himself and all the band members as well as Kim Fowley and Marc Anthony.

The album starts with an “audio drama” of a breakfast being served to the background of a morning radio newscast. Gene Simmons plays the reporter. The sound collage takes the listener to a KISS concert and dives headlong into “Detroit Rock City” an unrelenting homage to a favored concert stop; the song itself inspired by a real life tragedy.

The disposition of a rock superstars and the complex psychological relationships they have with fans, friends, loved ones and groupies are examined in “King of the Night Time World”, and “Do You Love Me”. Teen anthems are represented by “Flaming Youth” and “Shout It Out Loud”, and production carte blanche is employed by Ezrin, adding the voices of his young sons kidding around on “God of Thunder”,  the Brooklyn Boys Choir to “Great Expectations” and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra on the classic Top 10 ballad “Beth”.

“Destroyer” was critically savaged by journalists upon its release, and hard core members of the KISS Army were split as to what exactly the band was doing and why. At the time, it became the best selling LP KISS had, going gold in only 5 weeks. Other LPs, other producers, and even different band members would appear on the horizon, but the original founding players in KISS delivered their most accomplished work with this LP.

     So if you are going to own only one KISS album, make it “Destroyer”.

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