"***hole" (Sanctuary; 2004)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

First and foremost, let's make it clear that the three asterisks in the CD title above are the censorship of Sanctuary and Simmons Records and not Rough Edge. Obviously, the title of this CD is really "Asshole," but try and sell that at your local Wal-Mart; not gonna happen. But that's how it's printed on the CD and that's how we're listing it here.

Disclaimers out of the way, a lot has happened in the life of Gene Simmons since his last solo album was released over 25 years ago so you'd imagine that his new CD, the aforementioned "***hole," would show a new maturity and growth in a music career that has spanned more years than many rock musicians stay alive.

Yeah, right.

"***hole" is thirteen tracks of Gene Simmons doing what Gene Simmons does best: exercise that mammoth ego of his. This CD features raging rock tunes, easy flowing ballads, and bizarre rock ditties that defy categorization. It's as if Mr. Simmons translated his id into music and recorded it for the world to enjoy. And that's his prerogative - Gene has certainly earned his position in the rock world.

Surprisingly, it's not a horrible record. A little strange, maybe, but not bad.

"***hole" begins with a trio of rockers that range from standard rock radio fare ("Sweet & Dirty Love") to the modern (Simmons' cover of Prodigy's "Firestarter" sounds a little like Devo on steroids) to the grunge-y ("Weapons of Mass Destruction."). These are the songs you'd expect from the KISS bass player. They're raw, sometimes they're a little murky, but they get the job done.

Track #4 will throw you for a loop. "Waiting for the Morning Light" is a smooth crooner that is the kind of song that Bobby Darin would record if he were still alive today. It's got a pop sentimentality that will have metal fans rolling their eyes in puzzlement. For what it's worth, "Waiting for the Morning Light" is the much ballyhooed tune co-written by Simmons and Bob Dylan. 

Simmons' Beatles influence makes an appearance on the next track, "Beautiful," which sounds like it came from a collection of Beatles ballads. More eye-rolling for fans of harder rock.

Next up is the irresistible title track, "Asshole" (or "***hole" as it is listed on the CD case). Despite having some of the silliest lyrics in recent memory - ("You got a personality just like a bucket full of pee" and "One day you'll finally shut your trap because you're really the cream of the crap." I mean, Jesus H. Christ!) - "Asshole" has got razor sharp hooks and a pleasant rhythm that you really can't dislike.

Longtime KISS co-conspirator Bob Kulick co-wrote the next song, "Now That You're Gone" and, despite the fact that Kulick is responsible for some of the greatest and roughest guitar riffs in rock'n'roll history, "Now That You're Gone" is a sappy ballad that does one thing well: bores the listener to tears.

"Whatever Turns You On" is next and finds Simmons leaning into Randy Newman territory. A jaunty, jazzy tune that the late Sam Kinison would have appreciated, "Whatever Turns You On" is another great track. Next up is "Dog," a sly, sleazy, simmering bluesy number.

Frank Zappa gets co-writing credit for "Black Tongue," a bouncy little anthem with the rebellious lyrics and attitude that Gene Simmons excels at. "Carnival of Souls" is a throwaway rocker that "***hole" would have been sleeker without. "If I had a Gun" is a sad song about some type of angst and the final track, "1,000 Dreams," starts out like a Disney classic and then rolls into something that sounds a little like a mild calypso.

Does the word "eclectic" ring a bell here? Maybe "inconsistent"  or "uneven" are better words.

Once again, it seems that Gene Simmons is trying to prove to the world that he can do "serious" music as well as the stuff he does in KISS. Gene, we really don't care. "***hole" rates three chainsaws because most of it is ballsy, well produced (surprisingly, the non-KISS sounding stuff is afforded the best production), and - with a few of the aforementioned eye rolling moments - entertaining. It's not the kind of record you'll want to spin every day but fans, especially KISS fans, will like most of what they hear. 

Of course, what they really want is a new KISS record.

Like his 1978 solo album, Simmons has plenty of guests helping him out on "***hole."  Assisting in some way or another are Bag, Cheese, Bruce Kulick, Eric Singer, Ritchie Kotzen, Frank Tolstrup, Shirleys Temple, Shannon Tweed, Louse Tweed, Michelle Casio, Nira Weiss, Nick Tweed Simmons, Steve Parrish, Chris Parrish, Sophie Tweed Simmons, Zachary Grant, Kylie O'Brien, Dweezil Zappa, Ahmet Zappa, Moon Zappa, Gayle Zappa, Frank Zappa (obviously, via tape), Dave Williams, Michael Landau, Dan Cuprier, Holland McRae, Brian Lebarton, Mark Addison, Nina Singh.

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"Gene Simmons" (Casablanca; 1978)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Back in 1978, KISS did something that no other band had done at the time: the four members of the band released simultaneous solo albums.

Three of the four albums really offered no surprises: Paul Stanley's was the purest rock record, loaded with the hard but accessible songs that Paul does so well. Ace Frehley's was the heaviest and the simplest; Ace obviously set out to do just one thing: kick ass. Peter Criss's album was a bouncy blend of nostalgic rock and ballads.

Then, there was Gene Simmons.

Although he had often spoken of his Beatles influences even back then, no one could have expected that Simmons' solo album would be so different than the usual KISS album. Sure, there were the hard rock hits: "Radioactive," "Burning up With Fever," "Tunnel of Love," and a blistering cover of KISS's own "See You in Your Dreams," but there were also falsetto ballads ("Mr. Make Believe," "See You Tonight"), would-be radio hits ("Man of 1000 Faces," True Confessions") and a stunning rendition of the classic Disney tune "When You Wish Upon a Star" (yes, the Demon of rock covers Jiminy Cricket).

I remember one review from that era that said it best (and my apologies for not remembering this particular reviewer's name). "With his solo album," the reviewer said (and I am paraphrasing here), "Gene Simmons attempts to show us that he can play serious music as well as the stuff he plays with KISS."

Although that review pissed me off at the time, even then I realized the guy was right. Gene used his solo album to try and show us that he was more than the blood-spitting, fire-breathing kabuki demon that KISS fans knew and loved. Sad thing was, the best songs on the CD were still the ones that sounded most like KISS songs. Sure, we tolerated the songs where Gene tried to stretch a little, but we were in it for the rockers, not the Disney memories.

Today, over 25 years later, Gene's 1978 solo album still plays surprisingly well and it will come as no shock to those who have heard the CD that it's still the more KISS-like songs that play the best. Maybe Gene proved to the world that he could play more than KISS music, but it was the KISS-like music that had the longest legs. Who woulda thunk it?

Performing on Gene Simmons's solo album are (take a deep breath, it's quite a list): Allan Schwartzberg - drums; Neil Jason - bass; Elliot Randall - guitar; Gene Simmons - electric and acoustic guitars; Sean Delaney - percussion; Gordon Grody, Dave Gray, Kate Sagal (yes, the same Katy Sagal from "Married with Children" and "8 Rules for Dating My Daughter"), Franny Eisenberg, Carolyn Ray, Sean Delaney; Eric Troyer - piano, vocals; Steve Lacey - guitar; John Shane Howell - classical guitar; Richard Gerstein - piano; Bob Seger; Joe Perry; Helen Reddy; Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter; Donna Summer; Janis Ian; Rick Neilson; Cher; Mitch Weissmann and Joe Pecorino; Michael Des Barres; Ritchie Ranno; The Azusa Citrus College Choir.

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Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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Copyright 2004 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 11 Sep 2022 13:46:19 -0400.