Released: 15 March 1976
Track List: Detroit Rock City; King of the Night Time World; God of Thunder; Great Expectations; Flaming Youth; Sweet Pain; Shout It Out Loud; Beth; Do You Love Me; Rock and Roll Party (hidden track)
Best song: “Detroit Rock City” or “Do You Love Me”. Flip a coin. (Do not flip Bill Aucoin.)
Worst song: “Beth”. Duh.
I looked at 5 different “Kiss albums ranked” blog posts and YouTube videos and they all say Destroyer is #1. I can just say “it’s great” and move on with life, right? … Okay fine.
With their previous album, 1975’s Alive!, Kiss had finally had their breakthrough and were starting to really live up to their self-adopted title of the “hottest band in the world”. So they wanted to do something really big. Thus, they got Bob Ezrin to produce it. He would become even more famous for a little album about a wall a few years later (and Destroyer is not the last we’ll hear of him in the Kiss saga, either). The band has definitely gone to another level in terms of being hard-and-heavy, and with all these new production gimmicks, you can see their continued evolution from a band to an act.
Things get going with an entirely unexpected “newscast” introduction, complete with Our Hero starting his car, listening to the radio, and hearing “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll” (from Hotter Than Hell) and “Rock ‘n’ Roll All Nite” (Dressed to Kill) before tuning to … here it comes … that driving riff … unmistakable … big pounding drum figure! … “Detroit Rock City.” The song proper starts 1:26 into the track on my CD release. A minute and a half of spoken-word and sound-effect intro? Has Kiss become the Moody Blues?
“I feel uptight on a Saturday night,” Paul tells us to start the proceedings, and that tense energy rarely leaves us for the next 40 minutes. (Except for “Beth”, which I’ll get to. Unfortunately.) Not only aren’t you a Kiss fan if you don’t like “Detroit Rock City”, you might not in fact have a pulse. The song is unrelenting and its upbeat music belies the tragedy unfolding in the lyrics. Yes, Kiss’s greatest opus commences with a warning against driving while intoxicated.
I wasn’t an adult or even a teenager in 1976, so I’m not sure how widely known it was at the time that Gene and Paul were very much against the recreational use of drugs and alcohol (not that Ace and Peter shared those principles, unfortunately). The song is perfectly fun until … “oh my god, no time to turn / I got to laugh ’cause I know I’m gonna die … why?” What? And then seconds later, the sound of a fatal car crash wraps it up. I wish I knew what it did to listeners at the time. I wonder if thinking about the song has saved even one life. I admit: as a superstition, I don’t listen to it in my car after noon on a Saturday until the sun comes up on Sunday.
From the crash we transition into “King of the Night Time World”, which is no more sophisticated lyrically or structurally than any number of Kiss’s “me Tarzan you Jane” type of hits, but Ezrin’s production values and the solid riffs make it a fine follow-up to “Detroit”. A friend of mine who’s more mystically-inclined than I am (and that’s saying something) has speculated that the “night time world” suggests the underworld/afterlife, and thus the “I” of the song is Our Late Hero from the previous song. I say he’s giving Kiss way too much credit (this isn’t The Elder), but it’s a fun thought.
A weird little voice comes next. Apparently these little voices which occur in the next song were Bob Ezrin’s children just saying things in the studio which no one really remembers, but I always heard this first bit as “Okay? Something sexy?” And “God of Thunder” is up, up, and away. (Hey, Gene/the narrator calls himself “a modern day man of steel” right there in the lyrics.)
“God of Thunder” is surely the most Spinal Tap-like piece in the Kiss catalogue; the most theatrical, the one which name-drops mythological figures, the one which (in concert) has Gene wire-flying above the stage and performing the final verse through a voice distorter so he goes from That Guy Your Father Warned You About to Actually Satan. And it’s awesome. Don’t think too hard about how his spell is going to slowly rob you of your virgin soul. There’s only one Kiss album on which you’re supposed to think that hard, and (I’ll say it again) this isn’t The Elder. That’s still years away. The song is just goofy awesome fun. Unless you have serious religious hangups (and if you do, why did you buy a Kiss album?), you must love it. It’s federal law, I believe.
“Great Expectations” is as goofy as “God of Thunder” but in a very different way. It’s theatrical, but it’s like it wants to be taken seriously, what with, you know, a boy’s choir and all the chimes and bells. It’s been said that Gene was going for the feel of the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with the choir bit, but … no. The lyrics are quintessentially Kiss: the musician smirking that the girl in the audience wants him obsessively. It’s not the sort of rocker the album is rightly known for (“Detroit”, “Thunder”, “Shout”, “Do You”), but I personally find it lots of fun. It may not be your thing. No applicable laws on this one.
On to Side Two. “Flaming Youth” and “Sweet Pain” generally strike me as acceptable but unremarkable filler. “Flaming Youth” was clearly trying to be an anthem (“flaming youth / our flag is flying higher and higher”), but … I dunno, it just doesn’t do much for me. Even the solo sounds kinda bored, like Ace wanted to get back to playing “Detroit”. “Sweet Pain” is only noteworthy for its soft S&M messages. The jangly guitar bits sound like Kiss Meets The Byrds: not a bad thing precisely but a bit of a head-scratcher.
Then the true rock anthem, “Shout It Out Loud”. To this day (2017) the song is still used as crowd-rousing music in sports venues. It’s clearly “Rock ‘n’ Roll All Nite” Part Two. It succeeds with its straightforwardness. The chorus is about as simple as it gets, and the lyrics are direct: “If you don’t feel good, there’s a way you could; don’t sit there brokenhearted.” (And yes, we’re then told to call our friends, not open a cold gin or something. Yay!) Ace’s solo is short, to the point, and typical of him with the repeated series of bends.
… Do I have to mention “Beth”? Honest to God, this song is so forgettable that the first time I typed the track list at the top of this review I forgot it. There’s a blasted hidden track that I remembered but I forgot “Beth.” Okay, let’s get it over with.
“Beth” is a serviceable enough ballad I guess. The whole “I really want to see you but my band is practicing” story? Okay, that’s different enough to be cute, sure. The piano is one thing. But oh god, the strings and the horns, really guys? I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the version in Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (the outrageously terrible made-for-TV sci-fi Kiss movie) is better, because it’s based on acoustic guitar, which is a lot more Kiss-like than this crap. It just completely doesn’t fit.
Fortunately the album ends on what I consider a very high note with “Do You Love Me”. Paul enumerates the luxuries of stardom while hoping that the girl is with him for love and not for the glitz. It’s catchy and fun. The beat just keeps on going through a key change or two as we transition to Paul’s spoken “I just gotta know if you really really really love me” stuff at the end, and damn it, somehow Paul actually sounds plaintive as he pleas for True Love instead of groupies. If Gene did this you’d be laughing yourself silly. But Paul’s the Starchild and he’s so dreamy and sincere and somehow it works!
The hidden track is “Rock and Roll Party”, which is some weirdly distorted recording (is it backwards? I can’t really tell) of Kiss and some crowd noise. It’s there for no apparent reason except probably for Ezrin to bill the band for another couple hours of mixing. You can safely ignore it. The album really ends with “Do You Love Me”.
Destroyer is a truly classic album. “Beth” is the big misfit here, though even it’s not without its virtues I guess. If you’re a Kiss fan, you probably already own it. If you’re not, this is probably the best original (non-compilation) album to start your journey. And if you don’t like it, your local used-CD store will probably take it off your hands, because someone else will.