December 22, 2021

Kiss were now in the stratosphere, and although they arguably never managed to top this album in the studio, they never really looked back. If there is ever a lecture delivered about how to consolidate a winning situation, this album should be the virtual textbook.

Another year, another anniversary reissue, right? Well, of course – as the time goes on these milestones are popping up for celebration with sometimes depressing regularity, depending on the vintage of the listener as well as the album! Some, however, deserve the deluxe commemorative treatment more than others, both because of their quality and also sometimes because they are just so damned significant. To anyone just aware of Kiss as the make-up and costume wearing ‘cartoon’ band they are often portrayed as, or the odd big hits and their general ‘party rock’ image, 1976’s Destroyer might simply elicit a shrug of the shoulders and a dismissive ‘oh, an old Kiss album, huh?’. That, however, would be to massively miss the point of an album which was in its own way as crucial to the career of Kiss as Machine Head was to Deep Purple, Aqualung to Jethro Tull or Wish You Were Here was to Pink Floyd. How come? Well, let’s take a trip back to when the ’70s were around their midpoint, hair was long, flares were wide and punk was just a glint in the Mohican hairstylist’s eye. And when, as it happens, this writer was a mid-teenager full of angst, adrenaline and acne…

After three studio albums which had failed to capture the excitement of their live performances, Kiss were beginning to flounder a little. Although their studio releases all contained great material, much of which would go on to become genuine live classics, the sterile sound and performances served only to neuter them in a way which would move a vet to a round of applause. The third, Dressed To Kill, was particularly guilty on this count, the production of which made it appear as if the recording had all been done in a room lined with pink cotton wool. I don’t know why ‘pink’ in particular, either – but the feebly polite nature of the album made it an inescapable image. The record label, Casablanca, decided on a throw of the dice with that reliable old warhorse, the double live album, and the result was astonishing both in sound and popularity terms. Where the first three records had tapped on the window and enquired whether you wouldn’t mind awfully listening to them if you had a moment, Alive! swung in through the glass like Tarzan on a vine, hurled the vinyl onto the turntable and perched on top of the wardrobe, demanding you either listened immediately or you had your throat ripped out. So raw and piledriving was the sound that you pretty well ended up with both. Where Deuce had opened the debut album as a pop-rock stomp like a middling glam-rock band with a hangover, it opened the live album as if it was being played on your head with a set of large hammers. The world agreed, or at least America did, and with the cover image of the band onstage in full regalia, accompanied by flashbomb insanity going off, capturing teenage imaginations the length and breadth of the land, the band hadn’t just gone up a rung, they’d gone onto an entirely new ladder. Of course, that’s only half the job done, as a breakthrough such as that has to be consolidated – Peter Frampton’s even more meteoric rise with his Frampton Comes Alive monster was immediately dealt a killing blow when followed up with the ill-advised and often toe-curling tweeness of the follow-up I’m In You, complete with cover shot of him lying in full male model pose looking coyly at the camera. The damage was done. Kiss, however, knew that they had to produce a follow up worthy of the big break in the same way that Pink Floyd had done with Wish You Were Here after Dark Side Of The Moon, or The Who had with Who’s Next following Tommy. The stakes were as high as they got. Enter Destroyer

Enlisting the redoubtable Bob Ezrin as producer, there was little chance of this album ending up as a dry, sterile affair, and so it proved. Even the cover painting, showing the band appearing triumphantly with the burning remains of a city behind them, indicated that here were a band who meant business – and business was very, very good, with ten songs without a weak entry in the bunch. Those with only a vague working familiarity with Kiss might just nod and say ‘Ah yes, that’s the one with Detroit Rock City on it, and that nice hit single Beth’ – and they would be right, but there’s so much more than that to be found here. Of course, it is undeniable that the anthem Detroit Rock City is to say the least an ear-grabbing and effective opener. Opening with a radio dial being tuned, alighting briefly on a station playing a clip of Rock And Roll All Nite in a nice touch, the insistent guitar riff builds up from the sonic miasma before a startling drum entry pushes the volume needle straight into the red. Paul Stanley begins the tale of a doomed biker going out with a bang, head first into a truck, with the opening line ‘It’s getting late, I just can’t wait…’, and you’re sucked into his mission to make ‘the midnight show’. The changing times are illustrated by the line ‘first I drink, then I smoke’ before he fires up the bike, which would surely cause outrage and appeals to ‘please think of the children’ today – but hey, it’s a cautionary tale in the end, isn’t it? The final verse ends with the classic and inevitable denouement of ‘Twelve o’clock, I gotta rock / There’s a truck ahead, lights staring at my eyes / Oh my God! No time to turn! I’ve got to laugh, ‘cos I know I’m gonna die – WHY?’ – it’s hard to argue with an opening five minutes quite like that.

There are other big-hitters and obvious standouts on the album, such as the aforementioned and rather lovely ballad Beth (an actual US hit single, crooned superbly by drummer Peter Criss), and the eternal Gene Simmons showcase God Of Thunder, which would go on to be a theatrical tour de force in concert for decades, but there’s strong material everywhere you look here. King Of The Night Time World manages to be both dark and celebratory at the same time, while the first single released from the album, Shout It Out Loud, is as anthemic a song as you could possibly wish to hear. Everywhere you turn on the album there are big choruses, perfect for getting that teenage party started, even if it was just in your head: ‘Flaming Youth, I’ll set the world on fire’, ‘Sweet Pain, my love will drive you insane’ – this was stuff that bored teenagers would mainline like aural heroin. But there was variety here as well. Great Expectations, another ballad, but this time with a huge, overblown coda tagged on, Simmons revelling in the attention of the creepily besotted admirer in the crowd in a way which shouldn’t work but somehow absolutely does, while the album closer Do You Love Me is a genuine Kiss classic. Ruminating on the shallow nature of fame and the attendant groupie lifestyle, it contains one of Paul Stanley’s most deliciously lascivious lines with the sneering ‘You like my seven-inch leather heels, and going to all of the shows, but…. / Do You Love Me?’ I think we all know the answer to that one Paul, and to be fair you sound as if you simply couldn’t care less! With its big chorus repeated more and more powerfully to a big finish, it’s a perfect way to sign off an album which not only does everything that the band wanted it to, but also does exactly what it HAD to. Kiss were now in the stratosphere, and although they arguably never managed to top this album in the studio, they never really looked back. If there is ever a lecture delivered about how to consolidate a winning situation, this album should be the virtual textbook. Destroyer had been a test, but one which they had passed with flying, black and silver, colours.

So that’s the reason why this album is one fully worthy of the deluxe celebratory treatment. And once that has been decided, you can be pretty sure that Kiss will not take to the task in a half-hearted manner! And so it proves here, with different formats ranging from the digital download and CD editions right up to the daddy of them all – the ultra deluxe box set which takes four CDs and a blu-ray crammed with demos and unreleased tracks as well as twelve songs recorded in Paris on the Destroyer tour, and adds an insane range of bonus items including a complete replica Kiss Army membership kit from 1976, along with stickers, transfers, trading cards, flyers, several posters and a 68-page hardback book. The live tracks are admittedly pretty lo-fi, and very much bootleg quality rather than professionally recorded, but the excitement and energy is palpable nonetheless. Similarly the alternate versions range from the fascinating (an all-acoustic version of Beth is superb) to the disposable (single mixes and instrumental versions are generally single-play items), but there is some real buried treasure within the demos from Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, some of which (Simmons’ track Star for example) could easily have been developed into the Kiss repertoire. There’s an early version of Man Of A Thousand Faces, which later made its way onto Gene’s solo album as well. Most eye-opening of all is an early Stanley demo of God Of Thunder (at this point titled God Of Thunder And Rock And Roll), which ironically became the undoubted signature song of Simmons. It’s a bizarre listening experience, with the menace toned down and the tempo sped up, with incongruous backing singers on the chorus, and something of a shock to remember that it was actually written by Stanley alone and not Simmons, which people often naturally assume. There’s also a Stanley demo of Detroit Rock City, complete with different words and a radically different arrangement. It’s safe to say that neither of these are likely to replace the final album versions in your affections, but to the Kiss die-hard they are somewhat akin to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The version I have is the double vinyl edition, which may not have the eye-watering range of gifts that the ultimate box showers you with, but it is nonetheless an absolutely beautiful package, and for the vinyl aficionado it’s absolutely essential. Remember the disappointment when the original album came out, as the lack of a gatefold sleeve meant that the striking Ken Kelly painting could not be seen as one entity? Well, no more, as that gatefold treatment is afforded handsomely here, allowing it to be seen as it always should have been, along with an inner spread with the lyrics to King Of The Night Time World accompanying a cracking shot of the band on motorbikes. The first disc contains the remastered album while the second contains highlights of the demos and alternate versions (including those two Stanley demos already alluded to). The inner sleeve of the first disc reproduces the original, while the second has a host of newly seen photos. The discs are both coloured vinyl (yellow and red respectively), at least in the limited edition, and are hefty and beautifully pressed. Finally there is a 20-page 12-inch-square booklet which absolutely makes the package, telling the whole story of the album in the words of the band and others such as Bob Ezrin, while also containing some exceptionally good photos. It’s a wonderfully tactile package which calls to you from the shelf via its wide and vivid spine, begging you to pull it down and take in that glorious gatefold spread again. This is how vinyl releases should be done.

How does that old stage intro go again – ‘You wanted the best and you got it… the hottest band in the land…’. Well, if you wanted the best designed reissue in the land, then you got that here. This is an example of where the physical product is absolutely king (of the night time world). You won’t want to get this as a download, as the audio extras are only a small part of the appeal here. Go for the sumptuous coloured vinyl version or, if your purse strings allow it, the massively opulent box. Either option will be a fine addition to your – ahem – Kiss Kollection. Shout it out loud!