KISS: ‘Asylum’

KISS
ASYLUM
Released on September 16, 1985 (Mercury Records)

Review by Tyson Briden:
It is hard to imagine that a band like KISS would become what they are on Asylum. By 1985, the band was a few years removed from the trademark black and white make-up, evolving into what laid before the record buyer on this album. Here was KISS, using an array of pastel colored and fluorescently annoying outfits to convey who they were in 1985. How can Gene Simmons be dressed in such abstract attire? It was believable for Paul Stanley — let’s be honest, he was a very charismatic and flamboyant character who to the ladies had major sex appeal. Stanley was up there with the likes of Vince Neil and Jon Bon Jovi in terms of sexual charisma. But to put Simmons in such a compromising position was puzzling. Of course, we all know of Simmons‘ sex-capades and this was not the compromising position he was used to being in. This is the Gene Simmons who was the fire breathing, angst filled and down right scary character known as ‘The Demon‘. Here he was on Asylum with Aqua Net hair spray to the roof and rouge on his cheeks wearing what can only be termed as KISS‘ worst image choice ever. The second image being the Body Glove attire on Crazy Nights.

Now, it may seem funny to talk about the band’s image. Possibly not — was that not what sold KISS in the first place? For me, this is what hurt this album immediately. It was kind of a joke. Were the songs there? Maybe, but when I first saw the video for “Tears Are Falling”, I was immediately turned off. Was the song good? Yeah, I guess. It wasn’t “Detroit Rock City” or “Cold Gin”. It was this Bon Jovi like mid-tempo love song. KISS had gone from Lick It Up and Animalize to this? I really felt that their credibility was once again intact until Asylum. All that hard work KISS had put in re-establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with was immediately thrown out the window with this particular album.

Of course, when you see the album cover, you immediately think of Poison or Cinderella, and not KISS. I know it was 1985, but this is still KISS. This was the dangerous band in the early ’70s that your parents didn’t want you to listen to because it was far too over the top for any parent. I believe Jeremiah‘s mother in the Detroit Rock City movie is a perfect of example of the type of parents that KISS were up against in the ’70s. Now, the band looks like a bunch of middle aged rockers who have thrown away the black and white make-up, trading it in for a major Maybelline endorsement. I am sure when my Dad saw KISS in 1985, he would have had a smart ass comment. He wasn’t a fan to begin with, but this would have put him over the edge in terms of his never ending sarcasm. This is a man who worshipped the likes of country artists Merle Haggard and Conway Twitty. Very contemporary and members of the good old boys club. If he wasn’t a fan of ’70s KISS, this image would have pushed the man completely to the next level. I imagine he would been scratching his head to the fact of wondering what was wrong with his son and why I was attracted to such strangeness!

What saved this album? Nothing? Possibly the fact that all the other bands kind of looked the same? That may be the only saving grace. KISS were innovators in the ’70s, not followers. There were a few okay moments on Asylum of course. “Kind of The Mountain” really opened the album up nicely, but from there it kind of went downhill. With Gene Simmons clearly out of the picture and contributing tracks like “Any Way You Slice It”, “Secretly Cruel” and “Trial By Fire”, it became apparent that this was Paul Stanley’s solo project. Simmons was doing just enough so that people believed he was still an integral part of the band but we all know Simmons was busy in Hollywood becoming an actor. Who remembers “Trick Or Treat” or “Runaway”? As well, Simmons was off producing great albums for bands like Keel and Black N’ Blue.

As for the Stanley compositions, “Who Wants To Be Lonely”? If it means I never have to hear this track again, I will sit in a room by myself being lonely! Oh goodness, put me out of my misery! “Uh! All Night”? Well, another one that just leaves me scratching my head. Ironically enough, both these tracks were co-written by Stanley, Jean Beauvoir and Desmond Child. Luckily, for Child, some of his best songs would come a year later on Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet album. I think what really ruins it for me on these two tracks, is not the music itself, it’s Stanley‘s vocal execution. It is something to be desired. Definitely not his best work. I will make note that I absolutely love the guitar work. The chugging guitar riffing allows the vocal to breathe, but unfortunately that vocal is not easy on my ears and that breathing becomes very suffocating to the listener. As for the remainder of the material, the tracks are so unmemorable that they aren’t even worth talking about.

In closing, it has been said that KISS‘ worst album could possibly be Music From The Elder. That may be true, but I think this one is a very close second. It is such a confusing time for KISS. I can see why Gene Simmons was off doing other things. Imagine being this huge, comic book like character for so many years, then one day that whole persona is gone. You are now like a fish out of water trying to take your last breath. Of course for Stanley, this was a much easier transition. For me as a fan, I was instantly turned off and the part that bothers me most about this is that I am such a big KISS fan. Having to lambaste this album like a Thanksgiving turkey is not easy for me, but every band has a few stinkers in their catalog.

Now, as for the other two members, Eric Carr and Bruce Kulick — they were paid employees, so more or less they did as they were told. In terms of the KISS catalog, Asylum does not bode well to the band’s legacy. In some ways, it tarnishes it. Luckily, in a few years, KISS would reinvent themselves with the release of Revenge. Gene Simmons would become bad-ass again, which then would eventually lead to the full blown reunion that the fans wanted anyways. If you have just discovered KISS, please do not make Asylum your first choice of the album to buy. Stick to Rock And Roll Over, Creatures of The Night or Revenge. Asylum may lead you to be turned off of the band forever!

Review by Lance Lumley:
Having to deal with another guitar change in the band  in the last three albums since Ace Frehley, KISS were not only trying to get official member Bruce Kulick into the fold, but they also had to deal with bassist Gene Simmons‘ outside influences in movies and managing other bands during the “Asylum” recordings. Sometimes, a new guitar player starts off rough in the debut. Were KISS fans ready for the age of Kulick?

The opening track “King of The Mountain” starts off with drummer Eric Carr‘s thunderous sounds. Many KISS fans know his great introduction on the song “Creatures of The Night,” but here Carr shines just as much, if not better, before Paul Stanley joins with solid and strong vocals, along with Kulick‘s great solo. Even though lyrically the song is somewhat goofy — which is odd from a Desmond Child co-written track, who usually puts out solid lyrics when working with the band — the musicianship of Carr and Kulick makes up for it. This is a wonderful opening track for the album, which gives the listener a happy vibe wondering if they would continue the path from the previous album Animalize.

“Any Way You Slice It” has a driving groove with Simmons taking the lead vocals. Even though the lyrics have the typical 1980s KISS format of girls and relationships, this has a nice catchy chorus, along with the bluesy ending to the song. This is a nice, rocking Gene song that gets overlooked in the overall catalog. I remember the “Who Wants To Be Lonely” video, where the band is in front of a swimming pool with stunning girls in the shower area and around the band. Another thing I remember is the bright colorful outfits the band wore during it. These outfits today are considered outrageous and somewhat cheesy to today’s music fans, but it was the 1980s, where everything was bigger and wilder. Paul was wearing a robe that looked like he borrowed from wrestler Ric Flair in the video and gloves like he just cleaned the house with, but flashy was the style.  The song itself lacks Gene on bass as songwriter Jean Beauvoir plays on the track. The chorus is simple, but works here, along with a crunching guitar groove.

“Trial By Fire” provides one the staples in the themes of the band lyrically, with living by your own rules, and overcoming the doubters. KISS were never a critic’s band, and many laughed at their stage shows, thinking they were just a gimmick, but here they were, still around in the music world with die-hard fans still buying their work. I like the vocals on this song by Gene, where he sings and not just grovels or yells. Sometimes, his songs demand the scary Demon (the character basically disappeared in the 1980s) but this song fits nicely with his voice. One of the faster songs on the album is “I’m Alive.” The best thing is Carr‘s drumming throughout. I can not name a bad Eric Carr song that he played on — I am a little bit biased due to him being my all time favorite drummer — but he shines on this track. The song besides that is pretty much a clustered train wreck. “Love’s A Deadly Weapon” keeps the faster style going, which has a heaviness to it. Throughout this record, the drumming of Carr and Kulick‘s 1980s style of playing guitar, where he tries to fit in many notes into the solos (ala Eddie Van Halen or Steve Vai), was a popular style for the time.

The single “Tears Are Falling” is probably what most fans remember about this release. The video is also remembered for Paul swinging on a rope (or vine), like Tarzan, across the stage where the band is playing (along with again, the colorful outfits). One thing that Paul Stanley doesn’t get enough credit for is how he can write a good pop, radio friendly song. Carr‘s drumming on the song is solid, and has an extra flare to it during the chorus, where it is not overtly distracting, but has an added fill to the beat. Many remember Carr as the powerful, hard hitting drummer, but his straight beat playing is overlooked at times on the more radio friendly KISS songs. This is one of the best KISS tracks, which has it all — a catchy melody and chorus, along with a great guitar solo, and isn’t too light that rock fans can’t get behind, but not too heavy to offend pop fans.

Simmons sings lead again on “Secretly Cruel,” a song about a real life fan, according to interviews he has given in the past.  There are strong backing vocals on the track. The song fits well with the overall placing on the release. Another great, and not mentioned track among many KISS fans, but should be. This is a wonderful deep cut. Another hidden gem on Asylum has to be “Radar For Love.” This song is heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin, a band that both Stanley and Carr were admittedly big fans. The song’s beat stops and restarts throughout the track, along with a big drum sound to the song. Paul‘s lead vocals on this are solid, including his higher notes. Add Kulick‘s wonderful solo, and the band has a masterpiece of a song. Many people may doubt the musicianship of the band’s 1980s work (even Paul and Gene dismiss most of it as well), but this song should prove them wrong. This is a solid rock song, but still hard enough for the fans that like an edge to it. If the album ended on this song, it would be alright with me, due to it being such a solid piece of work. It is odd that I like the song so much, especially since I am not a major fan of Led Zeppelin, so with the similarities to them on this track that I like gives the musicianship of KISS more credit.

However, the album does not end with this, but with the song “Uh! All Night.” This is one of my favorite 1980s KISS songs. Although it has the normal sex referenced lyrics, but the song is just a fun listen. Songs do not always have to be deep in meaning or musicianship for it to be a great listen, and this is one for me, although sometimes simplicity can hurt an album as well. I see both sides of the argument. The video, again, had girls and colorful outfits by the band, with a fun to sing chorus, along with the nice guitar rhythm to it. This has more backing vocals throughout the song, and is a radio friendly style song, which is borderline pop. I’m not sure why this wasn’t pushed as a single, especially during this time of music, because it would’ve fit in well with other hard rock songs that were released.

Even though some may dismiss the 1980s KISS era, this is one of my favorite albums from the era (Crazy Nights is actually my all-time favorite from the time). I remember borrowing the vinyl album of Asylum from my local library in Columbiana, Ohio, which was one of the only hard rock albums the library actually had in their collection. Many KISS fans want to lump this album against Animalize in debating which of the two is a better release. My personal opinion is this one is overall a better listen. Bruce Kulick has a great official debut in both songwriting credits and playing throughout the record. Kulick‘s best work was yet to come, with his peak being the band’s Revenge album. While Gene was off making movies and producing other bands in Hollywood, putting the KISS company on the backburner, and letting Stanley do the heavy lifting, this is an album that brought many KISS fans to the fold in the 1980s, either leaving when the original line-up broke up, or us fans who were too young to remember the makeup era.

Many point to the production value being a mark against the record — not as strong heard bass playing, and at times over polished songs — but the band proves, with help from Carr‘s wonderful drumming, that Asylum is not a throwaway by any means, and Bruce Kulick more than holds his own being the new guy in the band.

Track List:
01. King of The Mountain
02. Any Way You Slice It
03. Who Wants To Be Lonely
04. Trial By Fire
05. I’m Alive
06. Love’s A Deadly Weapon
07. Tears Are Falling
08. Secretly Cruel
09. Radar For Love
10. Uh! All Night

Band Members:
Paul Stanley – vocals, guitar
Gene Simmons – vocals, bass
Bruce Kullick – guitar
Eric Carr – drums

Production:
Produced by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons

Band Websites:
Official Website
Facebook

Reviewed by Tyson Briden and Lance Lumley for Sleaze Roxx, September 2020

KISS‘ “Tears Are Falling” video:

KISS‘ “Who Wants To Be Lonely” video:

KISS‘ “Uh! All Night” video:

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