[22 August 2012]
If you were raised on a steady diet of rock and roll, the sounds of a motor revving up behind snippets of a news report of a car accident and “Rock and Roll All Nite” is something of an auditory icon. If you are one of these people, you will instantaneously recognize that these sounds are from the first minute or so of “Detroit Rock City” from KISS’s 1976 Destroyer. Although KISS had arguably been a force in rock music since 1975’s Alive! (the live record that popularized “Rock and Roll All Nite”), it wasn’t until Destroyer that the band reached a wide enough audience to be considered a commercially successful band. In many ways, Destroyer is KISS’s definitive album and there is a good case to be made for its re-release. However, this particular re-release includes so little bonus content that it is hard to justify its existence.
What made (and perhaps still makes) Destroyer such a definitive record can be chalked up to the production on the album. Bob Ezrin—whose curriculum vitae included previous work with Alice Cooper and Dr. John—was brought in to teach the “hottest band on Earth” how to play their instruments and police the recording sessions. But Ezrin also did much to expand the sound of the band. The inclusion of symphonic sounds are scattered throughout much of the album attest to their experimentation in this period. In hindsight, it is vexing to consider that KISS needed ballads like “Great Expectations” (complete with a choir and symphony) and “Beth” on Destroyer to make the band appealing to radio. It is almost as if face paint and other theatrics in the band’s live show weren’t ostentatious enough to get the band noticed in 1976.
Legend has it that the egos of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley got the best of the band even as early as Destroyer. According to the perennially disrespected Ace Frehley, Simmons and Stanley often ordered the parts of Frehley and drummer Peter Criss to be re-recorded by studio musicians. If the re-release includes previously unused recordings by Frehley and Criss on Destroyer, the differences are far too subtle to notice. To be sure, the songs on the re-release sound cleaner (the bass lines in “Shout It Out Loud” are noticeably more crisp), but there aren’t any outtakes included that warrant a repurchase of the record.
Given the expansion of the KISS franchise far beyond the music (for those of you who aren’t militant followers of the band, may I offer KISS KONDOMS as a product that represents the entrepreneurial spirit of the band?), it’s hard to interpret Destroyer: Resurrected as much more than a gimmick aimed at KISS loyalists. After all, the only real bonus material is an additional recording of “Sweet Pain” with Space Ace’s original guitar solo included (on the original release, Dick Wagner, Alice Cooper’s guitar player, was reportedly called in to lay down tracks in Frehley’s absence). The choice to include the original solo by Frehley, who has never quite received the credit he deserved (in KISS and as a solo artist), is a good move, but not one that will call young metal heads to become deeply devoted to his corpus.
Let’s get down to brass tax: What are listeners paying for when they purchase Destroyer: Resurrected? Not a whole lot. The re-release includes the “original” cover art for the album. At first glance, the re-release’s cover looks almost identical to the 1976 release. Upon close inspection, however, the metallic costumes of the band are replaced by darker, sleeker outfits on the new cover. Along with deleting the rubble that the band stood on, the dark sky in the background that graced the 1976 release is replaced by a red sky and burning buildings. Hardcore KISS fans will already know that the cover that accompanies Destroyer: Resurrected was initially rejected by their record label on the grounds that it was too violent. Producer Bob Ezrin, who single-handedly remixed the album for its re-release (a move that speaks volumes to how just how incompetent Simmons and Stanley are in some facets of the music production business), also offers some extensive liner notes, but all of this information can already be found in the tomes devoted to the early periods of KISS’s history.
Sure, the drum tracks are slightly augmented and the strings that made Destroyer so distinct are treated with a little more care by Ezrin, but unless you’re a KISS kompletest, your money is perhaps better spent elsewhere. KISS KASKETS, anyone?