Kiss’ fussy and overwrought Destroyer tried to out think itself

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The promise, both fulfilled and completely missed, on Kiss’ Destroyer can be heard inside the Gene Simmons vehicle “God of Thunder.” Simmons sounds like a gaping maw, so dangerous and primordial, with a creaking groove to match — as if he’s transformed into something rising up in the night.

But here, as elsewhere on Destroyer, first-time Kiss producer Bob Ezrin is doing all this superfluous experimental garbage — sound effects, children’s voices, orchestras, whatever. “God of Thunder” ends up as a muscular but simultaneously muddy mess. The longer I listen, every time, to this song … to this whole album … the more I just want to go and dig out Alive! — the up-against-the-wall double-live concert document from the year before that conveys all of the force, and humor of Kiss in a way this often overwrought studio effort just never did.

Ezrin, and therefore Destroyer, just keeps screwing around. When it’s good, there’s fun to be had … and, especially on tough groovers like “God of Thunder,” it almost gets there. When it’s not, though, the project is weirdly disconnected, like it’s trying to sound interesting, but instead just sounds silly.

Destroyer (released on March 15, 1976) begins, for instance, with these found-object news-report snippets, straight out of Pink Floyd — with whom Bob Ezrin arguably did his best subsequent work. But this ain’t Pink Floyd. Kiss is (or it should be) too visceral for that, something Ezrin apparently had figured out by the time he returned for 1992’s Revenge.

He does OK with “Detroit Rock City” and “King of the Night Time World,” both of which are presented in a straight-forward enough way, considering their polyester-era vintage — and that Kiss was always a better live act anyway. Still, as the record continues it keeps gets more muddled. “Sweet Pain,” a vaguely troubling S&M thing, is quickly blanketed in echo. And “Beth” is the same skating-rink downer — all maudlin strings and reedy Peter Criss vocals, wrapped up with a bow of bullshit wife-beater excuses about how he just couldn’t make it home at the appointed time because of “practice.” Sure.

That said, “Flaming Youth,” with a clear assist from the dearly departed Ace Frehley, is one of the better examples of the way Kiss combined metal and classic 1970s power pop. “Shout It Out Loud” sets a party-rock template for every hair band of the subsequent decade. And “Do You Love Me,” simultaneously cocksure and needy, finds Paul Stanley aspiring to — and nearly matching — the lecherous vulnerability trademarked by Mick Jagger.

In the end though, Destroyer is sunk by its inability to let loose, maybe the weirdest charge ever leveled against Kiss. Bob Ezrin would move on to more celebrated work with Pink Floyd (The Wall, A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell), while Kiss turned to Eddie Kramer and then Vini Poncia to regain its footing.

Just as well. You think about Pink Floyd. You jam to Kiss.

Sadly, ‘Destroyer’ is not even the worst thing Bob Ezrin ever did with Kiss. That would be 1981’s “concept” album ‘The Elder.’ Another story entirely.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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