McPhate, Tim,& Gill, Julian
Odyssey (Book Review)
Released: 2016, Indie
Most bands, if they have a career is long enough, have that ‘dark horse’ in their catalogue, an album that does not quite fit. It doesn’t necessarily have to be bad or negative, but just that one that stands out as an offshoot, a perhaps failed experiment or an oddity in the bands musical evolution. These albums often generate more attention than regular albums because they are different. People, journalists and especially fans, discuss and debate the various merits (or lack there of) of these catalogue anomalies. The Metal world is littered with them from Judas Priest’s TURBO, to Celtic Frost’s COLD LAKE and people like to dissect and analyze these records to no end. That’s half the fun of being a true fan. The Kiss album MUSIC FROM THE ELDER stands as the bands dark horse and Tim McPhate (and his partner in crime Julian Gill) are true fans because collectively, they have written a 536 page book about…MUSIC FROM THE ELDER!
ODYSSEY is quite a large, oversized paperback. It part of the KISS FAQ website (Click it up!) and this is one labour of love! There are not a lot of photos but there are a few black and white ones scattered around the book. McPhate writes a brief essay and then we launch onto what is likely the most exhaustive investigation to any album ever written, in any genre!
Part one is what I consider the ‘meat’ of the book. It discusses all the technical detail of the album and goes for about 90 pages. It is detailed enough that if you are not a die-hard fan of Kiss or the album especially, you could read these first 90 pages and be very satisfied. Next up are the full transcripts of the interviews conducted for the research of the book, called ‘The Oath Interview Series’ this section runs almost 300 pages (!) and consists of 30 recent interviews, yes new interviews, conducted specifically for this book (not just stuff from the archives) with every person who was involved or connected in some way to the creation of that album. It makes you realize that it is not just seven guys that make a record (Manager, producer, engineer and say…four band members) it is an army, a Kiss army in this case, of people who had a hand in the creation of this unique record.
Up next are ‘Special Features’, yet more commentary and analysis about the record, Quotes, timelines, list of cover versions people have recorded, and more…11 in total to be precise. That runs about 100 pages and we are not done yet! Lastly come the Appendices; five of them, 60 pages worth of guest commentary, lists and miscellaneous stuff. ODYSSEY is exhaustive by any standard.
Needles to say anything and everything you wanted to know about MUSIC FROM THE ELDER is documented., almost to obsessive levels. The detail is phenomenal, even down to minor insignificant details, lost to time (until now) such as the when the band took a press trip to promote the record it lists what airline they flew on, and what the flight number was! For example, did you know on May 29th, 1981… “Gene Simmons, Eric Carr, Bill Aucoin, Laurie Greenan (wardrobe supervisor) and George Sewitt fly to Frankfurt, Germany via Lufthansa flight #401 arriving at 8:01am”? (p.78) I didn’t. This goes waaay beyond just a simple list of tour dates! That might one of my only negative comments…the detail is so extensive that it almost seems unnecessary and it can get dull. For the most part the information imparted is interesting and the pace moves along but I must admit I got bogged own at times. When I was reading 28 pages of interviews with the craftsman (Bill Finnegan) who built the fake door that the other guy (Dennis Woloch, Art Director) designed to be photographed by the other guy (David Spindel) for the front cover…and includes a picture of a copy of the original invoice/estimate from the advertising agency for the parts and labour for the creation of the door (p.120)…my mind started to wander. It’s a door... for a boring album cover for an album that came out over 35 years ago! Having said all that, I’d rather have access to that info that not!
Overall, the vast majority of the interviews with various people were very interesting; the person who built Ace Frehley’s home studio in Connecticut, the various producers and engineers from the various studios the album was recorded at and more, everyone had a unique insight and memory about that time. It was a long time ago, lots of people said, “I can’t remember, it was so long ago!” but most of them were tickled to briefly meet, even in passing, a member of Kiss, arguably the world’s biggest band at the time. An interview with Seb Hunter, the writer and director of an ill-fated movie about the Elder was especially interesting. It was interesting to note that virtually everyone had mostly positive experiences working on the project and similar observations about the band.
This book review could get pretty massive if I described even a small fraction of what was covered in the book. For the record, I like the album MUSIC FROM THE ELDER. In my opinion, is not as bad as many think, but I 'academically' understand why some fans say it is bad. I enjoyed listening to the album again a couple of times while reading ODYSSEY and I’d recommend this superbly detailed and fascinating book for any Kiss fan…. apparently there are quite a few out there! The ODYSSEY is amazingly, in-depth look at a sorely misunderstood (and under-rated!) album that caught the legendary band in turmoil in their own musical odyssey…only to emerge victorious a few years later.