Gene Simmons: ‘Asshole’
Released on June 8, 2004 (Sanctuary Records)
For those who have been kind enough to at least quickly gloss over any of my previous retro reviews involving KISS, you may have noticed the occasional jabs I like to take at Gene Simmons‘ 2004 solo release Asshole. Typically, I tag this album when making comparisons to other lame KISS-related moments and yes, at times, I have even knocked Gene‘s overused lyrical nods to his sexual conquests. That being said, I grew up loving KISS, never stopped loving KISS, and while not my fave band on the planet these days, I still choose to buy any related releases without first previewing them online, which may explain how I have enjoyed albums like Sonic Boom after clunkers like Carnival of Souls. So yeah, along the way I picked up Asshole and while it didn’t knock my socks off, I guess it left enough of a mark that when Olivier (Sleaze Roxx‘s high priest of sleazy noise) sent out the list of possible June review assignments, it was the only one that even peaked out at me. Although I may wrap my brain around Alice Cooper‘s weird ’69 debut Pretties For You but we’ll see…
Now, even the biggest KISS fans have to admit that there have been a few missteps along the KISS journey. Missteps that make the critically panned Music From The Elder look like the next coming of Destroyer. Hey, I love The Elder so don’t wave dirty fan fingers at me! But, for the most part, it’s non-group albums that have taken the crap cake. Sure those 1978 solo records, with those iconic covers, are all a great part of KISS rock and roll lore but aside from most of Ace Frehley‘s Comet and solo stuff and a few tunes from Peter Criss‘ first couple post-KISS releases, the output of non-band KISS-related music has been mostly uninspiring. Even member aided homage releases like Kiss My Ass and Ace tribute Spacewalk are only really listen worthy if stuck with nothing else other than maybe Peter‘s Cat #1 album to pop in but even that is debatable. So after pondering all of that, as well as my so-so reaction to Paul Stanley‘s own solo release a couple years later (Live To Win), I figured it only fair to give Asshole (the album, not Gene) another listen. After all, just like those other “meh” releases, there were snippets I kind of dug the first time around.
Originally, my thought was to sample through and write my review but a funny thing happened from the ear on the way to the Asshole — I started to get into this quirky mix of odd tunes recalling the bits and pieces I actually liked about this CD when it came out in 2004. Sure, once again, Gene‘s got a ton of celebrity guests and a mix of dirty Demon lyrics and early era Disney fantasy feel good vibes but Simmons‘ second solo offering has to be considered much more out of the box than that 1978 one. Yeah, he covered “When You Wish Upon A Star” that first time but on Asshole, Mr. Simmons takes on songs previously released by an English electronic band and a little known Americana power pop band from Austin, Texas. After reading over the massive liner notes while sampling the first half of Asshole, I was intrigued enough to just go back and listen from top to bottom, or in this case from top to asshole. Heck I figured if need be, that forward button would be there to save my ears if I got stuck in Demon hell along the way.
Now, not sure if Gene was trying to fool fans by starting off Asshole with three straight rockers but despite one being a cover of a tune by UK electronic band The Prodigy, things kick off very much with what fans would expect from a Gene led KISS tune from the mid-’80s and on. Of course, with two of those songs written solely by Simmons and featuring back up by KISS Army members Bruce Kulick on guitar and Eric Singer on drums, it’s hard to imagine opener “Sweet & Dirty Love” and “Weapons of Mass Destruction” not sounding KISS-like. Matter of fact, considering the parties involved, KISS fans might have actually revolted had they sounded like anything other than Demon KISS tunes. Yeah, might be poking a bear or two here but it’s no secret that most KISS fans don’t much like their KISS and KISS-related music tampered with.
Stay inside the box and the KISS Army marches strong. Step outside the path an inch and all hell’s breakin‘ loose. Don’t yell at me. The proof is in Gene‘s flavor of the week pudding. I get it. Lots of KISS fans love those poster boys for simplicity and singularity. AC/DC as well, me included. My ears have just begged for variety so flexing a bit is not a big deal to me. Well, except for Metallica, what a load… anyway. Swerve or no, I dig the opening of Gene‘s Asshole (pun intended again) even his raucous version of The Prodigy‘s “Firestarter.” So the video was a bit weird and I might have picked a different tune to push the album but yeah, it rocks and is not too much outside of Demon territory while still allowing Gene to breath a bit. I actually find his not typical cover choices to be refreshing. Anyone can go the expected route but correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t the idea of a solo album NOT to stay within the confines of your band? If Simmons wanted to put out something totally KISS sounding he could have just put out another KISS album instead of waiting another five years for Sonic Boom. But hey, if KISS fans didn’t dig “Firestarter”, they more than likely took a massive dump once the first three songs on Asshole blew out of the cracks.
Starting with “Waiting For The Morning Light” (a tune co-written by *gasp* Bob Dylan), Gene starts to really swerve throwing out everything from pop punk to weird experimental rock to touching ballads such as this one. But as much as I dig the groove on it, and as much as it sounds like a Gene ballad, the dumbed-down lyrics leave little to grab onto. Only the title track has more third grade level lyrics than this tune. Luckily, Gene follows that up with a much better ballad. Holy crap Gene! Two freaking ballads in a row?
In “Beautiful”, a tune written and originally released as “Somebody Beautiful” by Austin pop band Kitty Gordon in 1999. Not sure why Simmons chose to cover a tune by an obscure Austin, Texas band and the only real connection, I can make is that Kitty Gordon and Gene Simmons both share names with classic singers / actresses. One thing I am certain of though is Simmons does a pretty solid take on this song filled with unique lyrics (maybe too unique for the advantage KISS fan but who knows) and while I could have lived without the keys on “Beautiful”, I find it interesting that original co-writer (and singer) Nina Singh performs most of the backing music including backing vocals. But even with Singh so involved, the rendition found on Asshole is its own thing leaving both versions to serve fans of different types of music. Reading comparisons online, it looks like oddly many fans agree with half digging both, some digging only Gene‘s, and a small few totally hating both. So most KISS fans would probably prefer the usual tried and true Demon sexual innuendo fare but at the end the day, a good tune is a good tune and Gene does a pretty decent job covering it.
Now not to be an asshole but the title track, while catchy musically in a poppy modern wannabe punk kinda way, totally sucks ass lyrically. Seriously, not just the asshole but the entire poop chute.”That you’ve got a personality like a bucket full of pee?” Did no one bother to mention that there’s such a thing as a rhyming dictionary? Yeah, I know it’s rock and roll and not thinking man’s Rush music but holy dookie dude, give your fans at least a little brain credit. The “Baby Shark” song took as much thought as this. It’s a shame ’cause like I said, the music is catchy but the lyrics? Yawn.
Recently featured on massive box set The Vault in four-track form, “Since You’ve Been Gone” reportedly goes back to a 1977 writing session with guitarist Bob Kulick and is supposedly based on David Bowie-penned Mott The Hoople hit “All The Young Dudes.” This could be true as there is a similarity to be found in the chorus melody but what I find more intriguing is the possibility that the tune is a very personal piece based on Gene‘s thoughts after his absentee father passed away. Daughter Sophie sings backup on this one giving it an even more personal touch. Typical Simmons? Not even close but, a very well written tune that catches the Demon outside of the box. Maybe not a fave of KISS fans. I don’t know but try listening to this one after reading the first quarter of Gene‘s bio without tearing up at least a little.
Now one of my favorite fun tunes to come out of Asshole is the quasi-funky “Whatever Turns You On” featuring some fun off-key backing vocals from Louise and Shannon Tweed and a few other fun folks. This track just flat out sounds like a bunch of people having a blast in the studio. OK, once again not rocket science but great groove and melody, and simple yet cleverly palatable lyrics plus hooks for miles. This is head bopping, steering wheel tapping, sing-along driving material.
So at this point, things get a bit odd and disjointed. I have no clue who co-writer Bag is but Gene referring to a roll in the hay in doggie terms sprayed over the top of a slow sloppy backing track is a on the bad side of too weird. Maybe it’s picturing a couple dogs going at it or Gene‘s old helmet-headed self actually pitching this crap to Shannon, I’m not sure but whatever it is, he should just bag it, toss it, and forget it. The only thing “Dog” has going for it is that as bad as it may be, it is still way better than Gene‘s attempt to get some artsy fartsy cred by digging into the Frank Zappa vaults. So yeah, I said I dig Gene thinking outside the box but even the addition of Zappa‘s guitar and voice and some additional vocal and musical input by family members Ahmet, Dweezil, Moon, and Gail Zappa couldn’t help this actually be a song. So Gene tries his best to growl and rap this into a Gene tune but I’ve seen cooler turds spit out a dog’s ass on a hot day. Once again, bag this shit and toss it. Maybe not bad enough to make me pull over and swap out the CD but definitely forward button worthy.
So here is where Gene brings it back for KISS fans before finishing off the beaten path. “Carnival of Souls” might share a title with a sort of KISS album but for me, this tune serves up KISS rock and roll way better than that KISS album of the same name. Not wholly sure what the entire deal here is but the nods to ’80s Demon KISS stuff and smoking lead by guitarist Richie Kotzen definitely sets a rock mood for me. Until he formed The Winery Dogs, the last time Kotzen smoked liked this was when he was banging some KISS-inspired band member’s chick. The combo here works obviously making for a better pairing than Richie and that former Poison playground he played in for a minute.
“If I Had A Gun” is one of those songs that kind of puts me on both sides of the fence. On one side, I kinda of dig the tune although I’d probably like it better had Tom Petty done it. On the other side, I kind of get creeped out by the lyrics and the fact that Asshole came out around ten years after Kurt Cobain killed himself. Not a “terrible” tune, and I realize that it’s more than likely very tongue in cheek, but released since mass school and workplace shootings have become common place in America, it just never sat well on my ears. So some reading this might tell me to take things a little less serious and OK, so it is only rock and roll, but I just feel like this one track is where Gene actually earns the right to name his album Asshole. Ironically enough, this is another “Bag” track. Take that comment as you wish.
So after singing about a guy wanting to shoot everyone, our big loveable Demon finishes things off much like he did on his 1978 solo album with a touch of Disney–esque style sweetness ala the very string-lush “1,000 Dreams.” Once again, this works because we all know where Gene comes from and some of us are even old enough to relate to classic era childhood things like comic books, Saturday morning cartoons, and of course the network channel Disney programming that was a huge part of American culture from the mid fifties until the nineties. It’s a feel good thing and listening, I’m prompted to wonder why Gene never thought about picking up a few extra bucks going the Elton John route and writing for Disney flicks. I mean, according to his now canceled TV show, Gene once looked into investing in horse cum so why not Disney soundtracks? Anyway, maybe odd to the average KISS fan but again, I say solo albums should be places where artists can stretch a bit and while Simmons may not be respected much as a songwriter, he has shown himself capable of writing just about anything when he applies himself.
While Gene Simmons‘ Asshole is filled with a mixed bag of stuff, only some of it is crap, and just a tad bit of waste, but also a healthy amount of usable fertilizer. His best work it’s not, but Gene has done worse than half the stuff on his second solo album. Yeah, compared to his first one, it’s definitely a load of crap, but on its own, Asshole has got some fun stuff and is at least worth pulling out every once in a while, especially if you can find a dirt-cheap used copy in a sale bin somewhere. I’d actually be interested is hearing what KISS fans think about this one which is funny because until this came up in this month’s review list, I hadn’t even thought about it. Not even once. Not even a half of once yet now for the first time, I’m curious about how those fans heard the sounds coming out of Gene‘s Asshole. Sure, some of it stinks pretty bad but listening again, I think at least a few chunks came out smelling like roses.
And if that opinion makes me an Asshole…
01. Sweet & Dirty Love
03. Weapons of Mass Destruction
04. Waiting For The Morning Light
07. Now That You’re Gone
08. Whatever Turns You On
10. Black Tongue
11. Carnival of Souls
12. If I Had a Gun
13. 1,000 Dreams
Japanese Edition Tracks:
14. Everybody Knows
15. You’re My Reason For Living
Gene Simmons – vocals, rhythm guitars and bass (3), bass (1, 7, 10, 11)
Mark Addison – drums, bass, keyboards, guitar, background vocals (5)
Michelle Casio – background vocals (8)
Dan Cuprier – drums (8)
Jeff Diehl – keyboards (7)
Zachary Grant – background vocals (7)
Richie Kotzen – guitars (10, 11)
Bruce Kulick – guitars (1, 3)
Brian LeBarton – piano (8)
Hollad McRae – lead guitar (8)
Dave Navarro – guitar (2)
Kylie O’Brien – background vocals (7)
Chris Parrish – background vocals (11)
Steve Parrish – background vocals (11)
Thomas Ruud – lead guitar, rhythm guitar (6)
Eric Singer – drums (1, 3)
Nina Singh – drums, guitar, percussion, background vocals (5)
Frank Albin Tostrup – drums, bass, rhythm guitars, percussion (6)
Louise Tweed – background vocals (8)
Shannon Tweed – background noise (8)
Nick Tweed Simmons – background vocals (11)
Sophie Tweed Simmons – background vocals (7)
Nira Weiss – background vocals (8)
Dave Williams – background vocals (8)
Ahmet Zappa – background vocals (10)
Dweezil Zappa – guitar solo, background vocals (10)
Frank Zappa – guitars, voice (10)
Moon Zappa – background vocals (10)
Gail Zappa – background vocals (10)
Produced by Gene Simmons
Reviewed by John Stoney Cannon for Sleaze Roxx, June 2019
Gene Simmons‘ “Firestarter” video:
Gene Simmons / Firestarter
Gene Simmons / Firestarter