In 1976 Kiss were in a tight spot. Their first three studio albums under performed sales wise putting their future (and recording contract) in jeopardy. A double live album Alive! was released in 1975 successfully capturing all the bombast and flash Kiss concerts were becoming known for, quickly going gold in the process.
For the next studio album they resisted returning to the meat and potatoes thud rock of the early records. The band recruited Canadian hot shot producer Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper) to bring a vibrant new experimental edge to the recording. Ezrin introduced outside songwriters and dramatic aural special effects to spice up the new material.
Opening track "Detroit Rock City" began with the sounds of a concert goer preparing for a night out then getting into his car and racing to the show. The song ends with the audio of a fatal car crash, this cinematic embellishment taking the song far beyond what fans had heard previously from the band.
Paul Stanley's love letter to himself "God Of Thunder" was slowed down considerably and partially re-written by Ezrin and bassist Gene Simmons as a lurching introduction to a character, now portrayed by Simmons, as the definition of pure evil. Ominous effects add to the shadowy sound scape creating a truly malevolent atmosphere.
"Great Expectations" on the other hand has a swelling orchestra, an angelic boys choir and even a steal from Beethoven's "Piano Sonata No 8 In C Minor".
The anthem (and first single) "Shout It Out Loud" was inspired by The Hollies' "I Wanna Shout" which Paul and Gene had covered (retitled as "We Want To Shout It Out Loud") for their pre-Kiss band Wicked Lester's 1972 unreleased debut album.
A real surprise on the album was the ballad "Beth" originally recorded by drummer Peter Criss' pre-Kiss band Lips in 1971. Lush orchestration contrasting with Criss' raspy lead vocals sent the song into the Top Ten chart and pushed album sales and concert attendance through the roof.
Bob Ezrin lived up to his reputation as a strict taskmaster in the studio, not only squealing into the coach's whistle worn around his neck when band members got distracted but actually replacing work lead guitarist Ace Frehley did with new parts courtesy of studio musician Dick Wagner, a longtime Ezrin secret weapon, without Frehely's knowledge.
A unique contribution from the drill Sergent was having a grand piano shadow some of the heavier guitar chords on "Detroit Rock City", "God Of Thunder" and "Shout It Out Loud" adding an extra layer of drama.
Perhaps the most telling example of how strongly Destroyer affected the band's career lies in the fact that six of the nine tunes are still regularly part of the band's live show. Of the remaining, "Flaming Youth" was played a few times on the Destroyer tour then dropped while "Sweet Pain" was attempted just once on July 3 1976.
The new Destroyer: Resurrected release has been remixed by original producer Bob Ezrin in an attempt to update the sonic palette of the album without sacrificing any of the raw power. The results while not revelatory, are pretty interesting. There's a lot more clarity between the individual instruments and many of the lead vocal takes are pushed to be more upfront. The dual guitar solo in "Detroit Rock City" is just a bit brighter enough to be notably different while the car crash at the end of the track has the sound effect of shattering glass added. Gene's spotlight track "God Of Thunder" benefits quite a bit from the new remix, the eerie sound effects are given more space and near the end of the song his demonic growling has been brought right up in the mix to add to the effectiveness of this signature piece.
The song "Sweet Pain" features an early guitar solo attempt from Ace Frehley which of course never made it to the final album, it's clearly a rushed job and in no way better than the one Dick Wagner would complete on the finished album but hearing it after all these years is a definite treat for fans. Speaking of Wagner, his acoustic guitar playing on both "Great Expectations" and "Beth" is much more noticeable on the remixed tracks. "Beth" also includes some extra wordless vocals from Peter Criss which was not on the original edition of the album at all. Along with "God Of Thunder", the song that benefits the most from the fresh remixing is "Do You Love Me". Paul Stanley's lead vocals are more pronounced, the backing vocals are higher in the mix, Ezrin's piano chords near the end are louder and the bells & gongs have more presence as well. The remix isn't going to change anyone's mind if they never liked Destroyer to begin with of course, but it's a nice little companion album for those who still love the original.
One important aspect of the original Destroyer album that added greatly to it's appeal was the dramatic cover illustration that turned the band from the bizarre ghouls of the early sleeves to Marvel Comics styled superheroes overnight. Artist Ken Kelly's sensational rendering created an iconic image of the group that was quickly plastered on posters and t-shirts and has been used on even more merchandise over the years (baseball hats, coasters, jigsaw puzzles, pint glasses, model kits, shower curtains....)
The stylized image of the band leaping over the ruins of a decimated landscapes struck a nerve especially with young listeners hearing electrifying tracks like "Detroit Rock City" and "God Of Thunder" for the first time. The cover art fit the music perfectly. The new Destroyer: Resurrected release replaces this proven sleeve artwork with what we are being told is Kelly's original "banned" cover painting which was apparently too controversial at the time.
I call bullshit.
The actual original Destroyer artwork is a very rough colour sketch done in late 1975 and seen in the Kisstory hard cover coffee table book and in the 1994 Kiss My Ass home video, where Gene refers to it as "the very first attempt was with the old outfits and by the time the guy was ready to do it, and we said "no it's wrong" because we were wearing different outfits" (it also appears on some fan produced audio CDs). The new Resurrected artwork is a relatively new Ken Kelly painting featuring the band in their Alive! costumes (as they were in the sketch) and in similar poses as to what was used on the original Destroyer cover. The detail is simply too refined and polished to be from the mid-70's, it clearly shows Kelly's progression with technique. And Paul's right arm is still too short.
It's surprising and disappointing that an album as important to Kiss as Destroyer isn't being given at the very least the two CD Deluxe Edition treatment.
So, what's missing? Lots.
First of all, a 5.1 surround sound mix would be ideal for an album with such a detailed canvas as this. There are also unique radio edits for the singles "Shout It Out Loud", "Flaming Youth" and "Detroit Rock City" that have never appeared on CD so could be added as bonus tracks.
A second disc should have been included with the various demos and alternate takes that exist. First of all, Paul's original sped-up demo of "God Of Thunder" has already been officially released on the 2001 five CD Kiss boxed set. No reason why it can't also be heard here as this is where it belongs. There are also early takes of "Flaming Youth" and "Sweet Pain" while the demos for "Do You Love Me" and "Great Expectations" feature some significant lyrical differences. The initial "Great Expectations" contains lyrics mentioning each band member by name. This version was actually played just once in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on Feb 29 2003 a full 27 years after the release of the album it originally appeared on!
An outtake for the album is the Peter Criss sung rocker "None Of Your Business", a song Ezrin actually brought to the sessions but now doesn't remember. This track doesn't really fit thematically in what finally became Destroyer so its exclusion is the only one that's somewhat understandable.
But the circulating interesting instrumental takes of "Detroit Rock City", "King Of The Nighttime World" and "God Of Thunder" are definitely worth hearing. The primitive guitar solo in this version of "Detroit" is very different than what was finally released on the proper album.
If they didn't want to reveal too many of their unfinished studio work, then put together a live CD of select cuts from the various dates on the Destroyer tour. There's plenty out there.
Another option is for a three disc set with a bonus DVD which could include footage from numerous professionally filmed shows from the short 1976 tour. Jersey City (July 10), Houston (August 13) and Anaheim (Aug 20) all exist in excellent quality so their exclusion is simply baffling. I suggest taking the best of all performances and make a little Spirit Of 76 tour footage sampler.
There's even some really rare super 8mm footage from the Sep 6 '76 Toronto show that would have made a terrific Easter egg on such a DVD (the circulating soundboard tape from the Toronto concert could even be synced to the 8mm film) .
No Destroyer era live footage was included on the band's three volume multi-disc DVD series Kissology making this an overdue opportunity for fans to see the rare 1976 stage show.
Will major Kiss fans buy this release without extensive supplementary material on it? Sure, but they'd also pick up a two CD + DVD deluxe edition just as quickly regardless of a higher price point.
A couple of so called marketing geniuses like Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley should know that.