"A generation which ignores history has no past and no future." Robert Heinlein
By Sam Graham
Nowadays, everybody knows who Kiss are, but back in the early seventies, the band seemed to be struggling to break through. While signed to Casablanca Records they recorded and released two albums that were financial failures. Their third, Dressed to Kill, became somewhat of a breakthrough for them, but it wasn’t until March 1976 when their fourth album, Destroyer, was launched, that their fame reached a new level. While it may have quickly dropped out of the album charts at the time, the piano-led ballad Beth solely brought it back to popularity. At that point, Kiss’ career was changed forever and they had, as they say, made it.
Destroyer opens with that popular favourite, Detroit Rock City. Well, at least you think it’s going to. What this album actually opens with is nearly a minute and a half of noise: voices on a television, pots being washed, police car alarms, and car radios. The whole thing is a cluttered mess and I would love to know what possessed them to start the album like this. There probably is a good reason, but maybe you had to be there…
After the initial weirdness passes, the belter that is Detroit Rock City comes in. This song was the best choice to start this album, because of its energy, its catchiness and its energy (yes, it’s got that much energy). It’s so hard to not sing the opening line ‘I feel uptight on a saturday night’ along with it. The chorus too, is a good sing-along and when the solo comes, it’s nothing short of brilliant. It makes great use of both guitarists Ace Frehley and Paul Stanley and the solo/harmony adds a great deal off coolness to this song, which is what this song is all about. Just when you think it’s finished it comes back in for one last kick in the teeth before heading out with a car crash.
Kiss continue the cool aspect of this album with King of the Night Time World. It doesn’t have the same energy that Detroit Rock City had, but it is catchy and unserious enough to be able to get into. Like most vintage rock bands, this song is about wanting someone to have sex with. It doesn’t explicitly say it, so I may be taking some liberties, but it seems like it’s about someone who misses being in the big city with his floozy. Lyrical ambiguity aside, this song is catchy, but not as much as its predecessor.
Thirdly, Destroyer slows down, develops a lurch in the similar vein to Black Sabbath’s Iron Man. God of Thunder, a song drilled into me by the fact a friend of mine and resident Kisstorian for this review is always, and I mean always, playing it, can almost be classed as metal as opposed to the rock & roll music Kiss are most known for, because of its pounding beat and heavy-as-f**k riff. There’s no allegory to this song; it’s about Zeus talking about how awesome he is. Underneath the whole song are the voices of children and that makes it sound somewhat chilling. It enhances the element of terror that Zeus instils in people and makes that main riff all the more prominent. While the solo to this song is fairly forgettable and the lyrics may not be theologically accurate, the main focus of this song is the pounding rhythm (played by both Peter Criss on the drums and Gene Simmons on the bass) and it’s that that sticks out above everything else.
Destroyer features two ballad-y type songs and the first one is next: Great Expectations. It’s a brilliantly crafted song that suffers from terrible, self-fellating lyrics. To put it bluntly, it’s about a groupie that wants to bone Paul Stanley and for that, he thinks she has good taste. It’s not exactly Romeo and Juliet, but then again Kiss aren’t exactly Bill Shakespeare. The music is good; some of the best Kiss have ever produced and should be up there with their cover of God Gave Rock & Roll To You(Argent, 1973) as one of their most epic tunes. The emotiveness in it comes out of nowhere and gives the song a faux romance that (I’m hoping) the band was going for, but in short, it’s about a randy groupie and a vain singer, nothing else.
Kiss go back to doing what they do best in Flaming Youth. It’s another rocker and in a similar vein to their more popular classics like Strutter and Rock and Roll All Night. This song was one of the four singles off this album and reached number 72 in the US charts. It’s definitely up there as one of the best off this album too. As Destroyer was the album that cemented them, it’s easy to see that the format of Flaming Youth was carried over into their later works. It features some of the best lead guitar work on the album with some raunchy bends here and there, before leading the solo out into a break that builds back up in what is now, classic Kiss style. It’s interesting to note that Ace Frehley didn’t play the solo on this song. It was performed by Dick Wagner, most famous for his work onOnly Women Bleed (1975) by Alice Cooper. Ace was apparently too busy being ace to notice it wasn’t him until the final mix.
Like Detroit Rock City and Flaming Youth, Shout it out Loud is another one of Kiss’ classics. It has the catchiest chorus on the album and has become one of their frequently played songs. It was also the band’s first ever number one record. Even from the opening few notes, you can tell this song’s going to be a belter. Paul Stanley’s vocals carry this song, not just in the chorus, but all the way through. This song is definitely one for the pub jukebox.
Nearing the end of Destroyer comes the second and arguably the most serious ballad, Beth, sung by the drummer at the time, Peter Criss. It’s a timeless love song and still stands out as one of the greatest ballads ever written today, even after Michael Bolton took the ballad to new heights of awesome with his entire musical career. Beth is short, but sweet, and doesn’t feel like it needs a guitar solo to make it better. There’s a lesson to be learned in that, I think, and ballads like In This River (2005) by Black Label Society could have done well to heed its message.
There has always been speculation about just who Beth was. Apparently it was nobody, just a name, but it still makes for a heartstring-pulling song.
The last actual song on Destroyer (the final track is some more strange sound-effects) is the sing-along Do You Love Me. The opening lyrics sound like Stanley was pretty drunk when he recorded it and to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was true. The only real stand out part of this song is the chorus, in which the title cycles a few times. If this album had any filler, this song would be it. It’s not their best work, but that in no way means it’s a bad thing.
Has this album stood the test of time? Well it features many songs that are still performed by Kiss today and are still considered their classics. Shout it out Loud is performed at almost every gig they do and always goes down a treat. As their cementing album, Destroyer will always be remembered as the highest point of Kiss’ extensive catalogue.
Today, when Gene Simmons isn’t off somewhere putting his name on everything, Kiss are still rocking all over the world, still making new music and are busy putting their name on everything else. You want to get buried in a Kiss Casket or have your ashes kept in a Kiss urn? They can arrange it. They (and later you when you’re buried in style) have this album to thank for that.
Devil-Horn rating (Out of Five): \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/