"Asshole" Review

Without any doubt the expectation for Gene Simmons' second solo album was that it was going to demonstrate his diversity much as his first had in 1978. Now, 26 years on the album does exactly that, perhaps being rather too eclectic to be a unified product. The album is very representative of the publicly crafted image of Gene Simmons: Over the top, over-blown, and perhaps even pretentious. For the diehard fan of Gene who is very much aware of the sort of material he has written throughout his career the album contains few surprises. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the over reliance on material from other sources, especially when the diehard is aware of the quality material Gene has not recycled. Three of the album's tracks are covers of material previously released by other bands, four if one counts the recycling of Frank Zappa's "Black Napkins" riff used in "Black Tongue." Three of the album's tracks are direct recycles of Gene's material considered for use on KISS recordings as recent as their last studio album, "Psycho Circus," in 1998. Four of the songs are a result of demo submissions to Gene's reborn record label. What does any of that mean? In the bigger picture of things, nothing. It's just a sad statement that more of Gene's solo album isn't by Gene Simmons. All in all it is impossible to judge this collection of tracks as an album. It's too disjointed in terms of production, style, and execution. It is far better to simply try and take each track as a Gene recording, not necessarily as a track from "Asshole."

Gene is famed for his recycling and the core of this song dates back to 1975/6 and a demo Gene recorded titled "Jelly Roll." This song, in it's current form, was considered for use on KISS' 1998 album "Psycho Circus" and might well have made that album less mediocre, regardless of who ended up playing on the recording. Recorded with Eric Singer and Bruce Kulick the song is a KISS-outcast which rocks from beginning to end with all of the sorts of Simmons' clichés one would expect lyrically, "if I'm built for speed, you're built for love." Kulick's screaming guitars and Singer's throbbing rhythm provide perfect backing to Gene's rough vocals. Production is sadly very poor and lets down what could be a classic song.

Originally a hit for the band Prodigy, one must wonder why Gene bothered to record the song once he had dropped the "alter-ego" concept for his solo album which for a time used this title. The genre-hopping is an interesting possibility Gene sadly does nothing to reinterpret the song or add anything to it. It's almost a karaoke of the original, though Dave Navarro's guitar work is exemplary. If you liked the original recording of this song, there's no reason to not like this version. It's good, just not different, and seems rather pointless.

Another track which was considered for use on "Psycho Circus." This is another track on which Bruce Kulick, who provides some absolutely scorching guitar work, and Eric Singer play. This is possibly the most brutal track ever released by Gene, though musically and lyrically it is very basic. Again, it suffers from terribly production, though admittedly it is one track I find myself playing over and over again, particularly for the interesting bass and vocal effort by Gene. Interestingly, the lyrics contain part of a song which was written prior to Wicked Lester, but later performed live by them. Regardless, it feels incomplete and unrealized.

This Simmons collaboration is possibly the most anticipated recording on the album, and since Gene has spoken about that effort since 1992 it's been a long wait - a wait more than worthwhile for this exquisite piece which was once known as "Laughing When I Want To Cry." With an almost Vegas house band feel the song would be right at home in a James Bond movie. It's subtle with an excellent vocal delivery from Gene. The arrangement is very nice while the piece remains sublime.

A song about trans-sexual angst. This song was originally released by the band Kitty Gordon on their debut EP and album as "Somebody Beautiful." As a ballad it is a nice piece of work showcasing Gene's vocals with very tongue in cheek "Lola" and "Sweet Jane" subject matter. One must wonder whether this was another song submitted to Simmons Records...

Another track which was the result of a submission to Simmons Records. Gene's version doesn't approach the style of the original by the Norwegian band Shirley's Temple. Gene's work on the track was basic and it is perhaps strange that he left the "bucket full of pee" lyric in. Musically the track is a strong rocker, but Gene's vocals, especially on the chorus, are pretty poor and the production is lacking. At least the song has an amusing "sheep" effect integrated, perhaps in honor of the online KISS sheep...

This recycled song shows Gene in full John Lennon mode. A more mellow and Beatlesque track this song has some wonderful time changes, though the kids doing the backing vocals are rather too high in the mix. This, for me, is the sort of stuff I love from Gene.

Another track which was the result of a submission to Simmons Records, this track does very little for me, though the gang vocals and Gene's lead have panache.

Written by Bag and Gene, Bag, not surprisingly within the context of this album, also happens to be signed to Simmons Records. If this is the sort of material which Bag makes, then I'll be getting his album when released. This piece is a humorous drums 'n bass piece with some scorching guitar parts. Lyrically, it's excellent and suits the way Gene sings very much in the style of "Bad Bad Lovin'" (the later version) or "Reputation."

If one track for Gene's album is highly anticipated then this posthumous collaboration with Frank Zappa would be it. Frank is represented through the use of an unreleased live recording of him performing "Black Napkins" with several pieces of stage banter being incorporated into the piece. Gene has taken the riff which comprised Frank's instrumental and built a song around it. This interesting mix of ingredients results in what is a very listenable and humorous with an excellent lyric: "If everyone says you're much too old, you're out of style... Just tell them you're doing their sister and mommy every once in a while."

Another recycle, dating to the early 1990's this song was also considered for use on KISS' last studio album. Dark, brooding, angry, and disjointed. Structurally interesting the song is also surprisingly listenable, though it is clear why the track wasn't used on either of KISS' previous two studio albums. This is something of an audio enema, and guitarist Ritchie Kotzen provides an excellent if somewhat rather Vai guitar solo.

Another of the collaborations with Bag this song features the lyric "I said, look a me with my makeup messed. I feel so ugly I've never been kissed." This makes the piece some somewhat (or attempt to be) poignant, though the resulting piece is generally mellow with a relaxed vibe. Stylistically, the song begins and ends with a Gene vocal effort which reminds me of Johnny Cash's delivery on "Hurt." I love the chorus on this song: "He said, if I had a gun, I'd have me some fun. I'd shoot everyone who pisses me off today. So don't piss me off today."

With Disney-like orchestration this piece did not meet the preconceptions I had about it. With slide-guitar, Gene's somewhat emotional vocals, and sappy lyrics I found myself thinking more of the sort of material Neil Bogart recorded as an artist. Go figure. If there's any track on the album I wouldn't miss, this is it, as it simply plods along.

So the overall verdict? In keeping with the title of the album remember, opinions are like... well, "Assholes," and everyone has one. The diversity of the music is exactly what I would expect from Gene. The execution is in most cases adequate, but with drum machines and several cases of songs which sound poorly produced, the album seems to be a disjointed and rushed creation. There's enough humor, innuendo, and clichés on the album to entertain most, and I can't think of a single song that jumped out and shouted "crap" at me. Japanese fans will be lucky to receive two additional songs on their release. While both are early 1990s demos the production on them is superior to several songs on this album. Overall, I dig it.