May 9, 2016 by NowhereButPop
For a band that has a literal army of followers, it’s kind of amazing that KISS has never had a #1 hit record in the U.S. We all know someone who’s emphatically told us “You haven’t lived till you’ve been to a KISS concert!”, people collect KISS memorabilia as fervently as stamp collectors, and they’ve singlehandedly managed to discredit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without doing a damn thing. Besides being a brand unto themselves, KISS is easily the most visually recognizable band that’s ever existed. But does the music justify all the merchandise, hype, and sycophantic devotion that the band warrants?
Judging solely by their 1976 opus, Destroyer, the answer is a shockingly disappointing, but firm, “No”. On their fourth album, fresh off the heels of the wildly successful live album KISS ALIVE, the band enlisted the help of producer Bob Ezrin to smooth out their rough sound. Ezrin’s penchant for infusing operatic elements, choirs, and cutting guitar power chords into the mix are in full effect here, and while these moves worked wonders for Pink Floyd on The Wall, on Destroyer, they serve as half-hearted attempts to distract listeners from an otherwise dull sounding album. The biggest issue plaguing the album is that it never really comes alive in a way that would convey the purported majesty of KISS. Besides the two stand out tracks of “Detroit Rock City” and “Shout it Out Loud”, the other seven tracks on Destroyer all fail to move the needle.
On tracks like “Great Expectations”, and “God of Thunder”, Ezrin had to include choirs and children’s voices as backing vocals to mask the lackluster drumming and basic song structure. Even “Do You Love Me”, which starts off promisingly enough, proves to be another rudimentary and formulaic song on an album rife with unimpressive rock tunes. As if that weren’t enough, “Sweet Pain” borrows seemingly identical riffs from “Rock and Roll All Night”. Destroyer sounds like KISS is so bored that they have to resort to plagiarizing themselves.
Overlooking the lackluster drumming, Paul Stanley is just not a good singer. The majority of the songs that he sings, it really just sounds like he’s talking, not even talking rhythmically, just talking. The vocals on “King of the Night Time World” and “Flaming Youth” in particular sound so uninspired and lazy, that Marlon Brando sounded more enthusiastic in The Island of Dr. Moreau. Bassist and occasional singer, Gene Simmons, has a much gruffer voice, one more suited for the band’s image; however his vocals and style of singing fundamentally clashes with the finely produced nature of Destroyer. “God of Thunder” in particular had the chance to be a heavy metal classic, but it’s just too prettily produced that Simmons’ guttural growling seems out of place. Although Simmons is responsible for about 75% of the attitude and power behind KISS live, the studio doesn’t properly convey that heavy metal attitude.
Coming off the heels of the career catapulting KISS ALIVE, it’s hard to say what the band hoped to accomplish with Destroyer. One thing that is clear though, is that they enlisted the help of the wrong producer. Much like Metallica employing Bob Rock to produce Metallica, KISS brought in a producer who was going to lighten the sound and over produce their album. Bob Ezrin is a great producer, just listen to Peter Gabriel’s first album or The Wall; he’s just the wrong person to produce a KISS album.
It doesn’t bode well for a band, any band, if they are more famous for the way that they look than for the music that they make. Yet, if Destroyer is any indication, it’s hard to understand just how KISS was able to muster an army of fans based solely off of their music. As far as rock and roll goes, it’s way poppier than Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin, or even The Who for that matter. The songs on Destroyer are simple, derivative, and at times unsure of themselves. At times, the songs sound like they want to be heavier than they’re allowed to be, no doubt at the behest of Bob Ezrin. Based on Destroyer alone, it doesn’t really make any sense that KISS would be a band people would be willing to go to war.