Released: 2004, Sanctuary
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
While the KISS juggernaut soldiers on with its eternal farewell tour, founding bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons took some time out to put together his first solo album in twenty-six years, ASSHOLE. As was the case on his 1978 release, he has gone for flash and style over substance (much like the man himself). To paraphrase Simmons’ own words, “It’s all about what tastes good rather than good taste.” Guest stars are all over this record including Richie Kotzen, Dave Navarro, Frank Zappa and his family, Simmons’ own girlfriend and children, former KISS-mates Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer and—rumor has it—fellow KISS founder Paul Stanley. Simmons’ writing collaborations include Zappa as well as the legendary Bob Dylan. The music itself is all over the map with influences coming from R&B, techno, hard rock, country, psychedelia-era Beatles and good old fashioned pop. Yes, this is a departure from Simmons’ work in KISS…and that is what a solo album SHOULD be. However the most obvious fault with ASSHOLE (besides the silly title used for shock value) lies in the fact that the songs are all over the map and lack any cohesiveness whatsoever. We’re forced to wonder what exactly is Simmons trying to achieve here? It’s almost as if he went through the dictionary of musical genres and made sure he touched on every one of them. To some this may signal an artist tweaking his eclectic side, but this is Gene Simmons, so…come on. David Bowie and Neil Young can experiment from album to album, but Simmons is not even in the same class. He is an admitted ego-maniac and, like it or not, ASSHOLE is nothing more than a powerful man’s snub at anyone who isn’t on board the Simmons “machine.”
Things start off very brightly with the southern boogie riffs of “Sweet & Dirty Love,” originally written in 1977 and the best cut on the CD. Simmons’ bass, Kulick’s slide guitar and Singer’s tight drumming further prove that while KISS was out of favor with its fans with that lineup, they were never stronger musically. It is rumored that Paul Stanley sings backup vocals on this track, as well, but is never mentioned anywhere. The first misstep follows as Simmons’ tackles The Prodigy’s 1996 club hit, “Firestarter.” While the music essentially remains unchanged and may as well be Simmons in a karaoke bar, Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers) drops a mean guitar lick over it. “Weapons of Mass Destruction” is a return to the near-KISS lineup and while the verses are as heavy as anything off of 1992’s REVENGE, the chorus is absolutely dreadful. “Waiting for the Morning Light” sees Simmons turn into a crooner as his teaming with Dylan creates a surprisingly beautiful piano ballad. The lyrics of “Beautiful” are also surprisingly well done. The song is reminiscent of The Beatles circa 1967 (less the transvestite-themed lyrics, of course) with its trippy guitar and lush melodies. What follows is perhaps the biggest crime ever committed in the history of lyric writing. The title track actually contains the line, “you’ve got a personality like a bucketful of pee” (in Simmons’ defense, he didn’t write the lyrics himself, but he did pay someone who did). The song is catchy as hell and Simmons’ legendary tongue is obviously planted firmly in cheek, but I doubt radio DJs will be spinning a track called “Asshole” during the morning drive. To combat the silliness, Simmons brings out a personal song about his own absent father called “Now That You’re Gone.” Co-written by long-time KISS collaborator, Bob Kulick (brother of Bruce), Simmons’ daughter sings back-up vocals on a light-hearted but rather sad song. Besides “Firestarter,” the biggest abomination on the CD is “Whatever Turns You On,” a 70s R&B-infused track that wouldn’t be out of place on a Macy Gray CD. The loose background vocals provided by the mother of Simmons’ children (don’t call her his wife), Shannon Tweed and her mother, are embarrassingly bad. “Dog” is another low-point and the weight of this CD begins to be felt. “Black Tongue” briefly provides a bit of glimmer of hope, as Simmons’ works over a song that Frank Zappa began years before his death. The entire Zappa family appears on the track, but it is son Dweezil whose guitar really makes this song come alive. Things continue their downward spiral again on “Carnival of Souls,” a leftover from KISS’ ill-fated 1997 album of the same name, and it is clear to see why it was a leftover. The last two tracks—“If I Had a Gun” and “1,000 Dreams”—don’t get any better. The former’s humorous lyrics are not enough to redeem their wretched spoken-word delivery and the latter’s reliance on a country twang end the CD with a resounding thud.
There will be two groups of people who will buy this CD: die-hard KISS fans like myself who will buy it out of curiosity and those who will hear it just so they can rip it to shreds. Regardless of which camp you belong to, I doubt anyone outside of Simmons’ immediate family or group of sycophants will actually claim that this is a “good” CD. I doubt (I HOPE) that Simmons was not expecting to debut at number one and go on to sell a bazillion copies of ASSHOLE. It is a whimsical, light-hearted romp from an aging rock star trying to show there is more to his personality than The Demon who spits blood and wears seven-inch heels. Different, yes…experimental, yes, however ASSHOLE smacks of delusion and the fact that Simmons doesn’t realize that people are laughing AT him, not WITH him. You won’t find a bigger KISS fan anywhere, so it pains me to write this, but I do not recommend ASSHOLE to anyone except the very patient or very loyal.
KILLER KUTS: “Sweet & Dirty Love,” “Waiting For the Morning Light,” “Asshole,” “Black Tongue”