KISS’s Destroyer is a concept album about rock ‘n’ roll gods looking for love in the underworld!
After many years of listening to KISS’s 1976 opus, Destroyer, I’m convinced it’s a concept album with a strong narrative running throughout. This isn’t surprising since it was produced by Bob Ezrin: The same man who produced Alice Cooper’s many concept albums, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and KISS’s notorious 1981 album Music from “The Elder”.
I break it all down below…
The Destroyer synopsis: A young female KISS fan (late teens) gets killed on her way to a KISS show and then gets transported to a fantasy underworld, Alice in Wonderland style, in which KISS woo her and sing to her about the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and hope she’ll love them.
The album begins with what sounds like someone working a kitchen job (we hear water running, plates and silverware being stacked). I’m guessing our heroine is a waitress and she’s helping the dishwasher clean up so she can get the fuck out of there and to this rock show tonight.
They’ve got the radio on and we hear the foreboding news story…
“In Detroit, the body of a Michigan youth was reported dead at the scene of a head-on collision on Grand Ave…”
This is foreshadowing, an omen, etc.
Our young waitress finishes work and we then hear the sound of her getting into her car and driving off. This working-class Michigan girl, not unlike the young man who was found dead that morning, switches on the radio and we hear an Ace Frehley guitar solo and “Rock And Roll All Nite”. She’s rocking out to some KISS as she makes her way to the show.
“Detroit Rock City” begins.
Paul Stanley sings from the POV of the young woman driving, on a Saturday night, who can’t wait to let loose at the “midnight show”. She’s been drinking and getting high. She starts speeding down the highway, cranking up the KISS louder and louder. She’s pumped!
But then, oh oh…!!
“There’s a truck ahead, lights starin’ at my eyes. Oh my God, no time to turn. I got to laugh ‘cause I know I’m gonna die.”
We hear the FATAL CAR CRASH and we segue into “King of the Night Time World”.
The STARCHILD appears and transports our dead Michigan girl from the living world to the underworld.
He sings about himself and how he can relate to her.
He declares “I’m the King of the Night Time World and you’re my headlight queen.”
The Night Time World is the underworld, a sort of rock ‘n’ roll purgatory, and our recently deceased Michigan girl is the “headlight queen” because it’s those headlights, from the head-on collision, that brought her to the Starchild (a.k.a. The King of the Night Time World).
He promises her she can live her “secret dream” with him in this realm.
But like any good fantasy world or fairytale, there’s a dark side…
The DEMON appears!
He snatches the Headlight Queen away from the King and brings her down to his neck of the woods!
Like the Starchild, the Demon is also taken by the Headlight Queen. He thinks she’s “the Daughter of Aphrodite”. But in Demon (and very typically Gene Simmons) fashion, he uses a starkly different approach: He puts a spell on her and boasts about how awesome and powerful he is: He’s “the God of Thunder”; “Lord of the wastelands”; etc. Whereas the Starchild was all camaraderie and heart, the Demon is all ego and dominance. He commands the Headlight Queen to “kneel” as he plans to slowly rob her of her “virgin soul”.
Still under the Demon’s spell, she’s transported to a rock concert in this underworld. The Demon (again in typically Gene fashion) serenades the Headlight Queen about how much of a rock ‘n’ roll sex god he is (“Great Expectations”). Again, he talks about wanting her “soul”.
It looks like she’s caving in and ready to give into the Demon…
But then the Starchild returns!
With “Flaming Youth”, the Starchild again makes a more heartfelt declaration to the Headlight Queen. His parents don’t understand him either. They’re alike. Together, they can be “flaming youth” and “set the world on fire”. The Demon is the cynic. The Starchild is the idealist.
But the Demon ain’t having this!
He’s going to teach the Headlight Queen “love in a different way”. He’s all kinkiness and “Sweet Pain”.
Understandably, the Headlight Queen is starting to get overwhelmed by these two rock ‘n’ roll gods fighting over her and she tries to break free from both of them, away from this rapey underworld.
Seeing that they’ve both struck out with the Headlight Queen, the Starchild and Demon join forces and “Shout It Out Loud”. Fittingly, it’s a more streamlined declaration, representing both of the Starchild and Demon’s sensibilities: They try to convince the Headlight Queen how good it’d feel to just let loose and party. As they keep chanting their mantra the Headlight Queen sneaks off. She’s still not ready to succumb to their rock ‘n’ roll paradise.
It’s in this retreat she goes backstage and discovers The CATMAN.
No loud guitars.
No divine boasting.
This scrappy everyman drummer is singing a ballad about his girl, “Beth”, and how much he misses her. He opens up in a way the others hadn’t. The song plays on the Headlight Queen’s heartstrings. If The Catman is really a sensitive guy, maybe so are the other guys…
She finally relents and surrenders to rock ‘n’ roll paradise.
We FLASH FORWARD and the Headlight Queen is now living in Paradise with the Starchild.
The Starchild sings about all the things the Headlight Queen likes about living this awesome lifestyle.
“Your backstage pass and black sunglasses make you look just like a queen.”
But deep down, this rock ‘n’ roll god, is insecure.
He wonders if his queen really loves him.
“Do You Love Me?”
He sings it again and again.
The Starchild, or is it finally Paul Stanley, drops his mask and is asking the groupies, his fans, the hangers-on… He’s asking if they really love him or is it just the whole KISS phenomenon.
The album ends with a callback to the beginning and we hear a ghost radio station playing a snippet of the audience and Paul’s stage banter from Alive! The KISS phenomenon is in full effect.
They’ve destroyed their competition and all the naysayers.
Happy birthday to my number one leading source of inspiration. Can’t believe she is already 37. Time flies! She is such a remarkable, amazing, beautiful, inspirational human being. Happy birthday Alison Mosshart!