anton fig

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Spaceman (2018)

ACE FREHLEY – Spaceman (2018 eOne)

Ace is back and he told you so!…with a new band.  It’s true.  One of the of the players on Ace’s new disc Spaceman (Scot Coogan) was in his band…until last week.  And that’s all we’re gonna say about that.  Anton Fig and Matt Starr of Mr. Big also handle drum chores.  Ace steps up with new songs, stacks of guitars, and bass too!

Perhaps the showcase moment of the new album is the first Simmons/Frehley co-write in forever, a stomper called “Without You I’m Nothing”.  Almost immediately, without even knowing the details, there is something “Simmons sounding” about it.  Probably because he’s also on bass.  There is something primitively unique about a Gene Simmons bass line.  Ace’s guitar solo, the first of the album, is pure wicked electricity, though he struggles a bit vocally.  It’s a solid opening though, followed by the old-styled “Rockin’ With the Boys”.  It sounds like something written for 1987’s Frehley’s Comet.  It’s all about the chorus.  Then Simmons is back with another co-write (no bass though) on “Your Wish is My Command”.  Ace’s guitars have a crunchy chime, and the focus is catchy melody.

Spaceman was preceded by an excellent EP, Bronx Boy with a brilliant title track.  “Bronx Boy” is back.  That’s Scot Coogan on drums and backing vocals…no wonder he’s pissed about being fired!  Make way for the crunchy stomp “Pursuit of Rock-N-Roll”!  You don’t have to read the credits to know that it’s Anton Fig playing that tricky rhythm.  His unique playing plus Ace’s crunch make this another album highlight (and a song that Ace wrote solo).  That’s followed by a song he didn’t write:  Eddie Money’s “I Wanna Go Back”!  When Ace covers a song, he tends to go for poppier things than you’re used to hearing from him.  Think “Do Ya” from Trouble Walkin’.  This one has the potential to be as fondly regarded.

“Mission to Mars” rocks.  It’s a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am rocket ride to the red planet.  Another potential album highlight.  “Off My Back” (Anton Fig on drums) is really strong as well.

Finally (technically) the next in the instrumental “Fractured” series:  “Quantum Flux”.  Technically, because the word “Fractured” isn’t in the title, but it could be considered a spinoff of “Fractured Quantum” from Anomaly.  It’s heavier than the usual, so “Fractured” doesn’t quite suit it.  The acoustic guitars are only a small part of this wide-ranging instrumental.  Songs like “Quantum Flux” are levels above the rest musically.  It’s a tour-de-force.  Ace Frehley is an instrumental genius.  Yeah, we said it!

For Ace Frehley in 2018, Spaceman is a delight.  It is a true fact that the human voice changes as we age, and Ace’s is lower and less dynamic.  Instrumentally he’s never been better, and as a songwriter, he’s done well.

4.25/5 stars

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Midnite Dynamite (1985)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 3 in his KIX series

KIX – Midnite Dynamite (1985 Atlantic)

In 1985, Kix returned after two commercially unsuccessful albums, with what they consider to be their magnum opus, Midnight Dynamite. This is where the new wave styles of the first two records take a backseat to the hard rock influences. Later on, they’d completely shun their new wave influences by kicking them out of the car, and making new wave watch hard rock shag its girlfriend. For now, the blend was still somewhat apparent, but with the mix changed.

Produced by Lebrain’s favorite producer of all time (Beau Hill), Midnight Dynamite definitely sounds like its era, much more so than the debut or Cool Kids. For the first time we get some electronic percussion thrown into the mix and it is the first album by Kix to feature synthesizers in a prominent role. This could have been disastrous, but luckily Kix utilizes them to color the sound and they don’t diminish the hard edge of the guitars one iota. This is a hard rock record first and foremost, and with Ronnie “10/10” Younkins back in the mix, the guitar duo of the first album is reestablished. Pressured once again to work with outside writers, the primary guy for the job is Bob Halligan Jr. If the name sounds familiar, it could be because he wrote two songs for Judas Priest (“Take These Chains” & “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”), and co-wrote with Icon on their second album Night of the Crime. Boasting some impressive credentials, the songwriting takes a step up this time around. Nearly all the songs are collaborations between bassist Donnie Purnell and Halligan.

The album is jump started by the title track. A slow and heavy number, it was a bold choice to open an album with.  Fortunately for Kix, it completely works. The intensity of the verses builds up tension for the ridiculously catchy harmonies in pre-chorus, where we finally get the big payoff during the chorus. This is melodic hard rock done right, without the frills that are usually associated with AOR or other bands of the time period. Kix made sure that the material had balls, something that many other bands of the time period eschewed for chart success. The intensity of the title track is followed by the erotic “Red Hot (Black & Blue)” with a sleazy stuttering riff. The production on this song is a little heavy handed with the reverse reverb in the verses, but it’s nothing that ruins the impact. Another song with dynamics, the verses stutter along with spunk, until the chorus where that Kix fire is unleashed. Some pretty cheesy lyrics, but if you weren’t prepared for that then why would you be reading a Kix review?

One of Beau’s buddies Kip Winger earns himself a writing credit on track number 3, “Bang Bang (Balls of Fire)”. As you can tell by the title, it’s one of the more generic rock songs on the album. It’s one of the least substantial, but it’s still an enjoyable tune. “Layin’ Rubber” is much better, as all the elements that make up the Kix sound are blended masterfully. Obviously more hard rock orientated than material of the past, the track features bubblegum pop chants before launching into a hard rock riff, while the intensity of the music elevates as the song goes on. Each section of the song’s structure is composed to perfectly transition into the next. One of the best tracks on the album, it manages to be damn brutal, and also catchy as shit.

The rest of the album proceeds in this manner, blistering hard rock tunes with undeniably catchy melodies that are never too sugary enough to make you sick to your stomach. There is only one ballad “Walkin’ Away”, which is built on synthesizers, but has enough of a kick to be enjoyable. “Cold Shower” was the other single, which features some rap like vocals in the verses and singer Steve Whiteman hitting some glass shattering notes before the chorus. It’s one of the most eccentric tunes on the album, and I’m surprised it was picked as a single.

Surprising songs or not, this album is one of the most underrated of the era. It’s a mystery as to why it didn’t sell better than it did. Label indifference? If you’re a fan of the rock music, you owe it to yourself to pick up this album and the even better follow up Blow My Fuse.

4.75/5 stars

A note for Kiss fans, Anton Fig plays drums on the last two tracks because Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfant had broken his arm.

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Unmasked (1980)

bThe KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 18:  It’s a KISS three-fer!  LeBrain and Uncle Meat discuss KISS Unmasked below.  Meanwhile Deke at Stick it in Your Ear has an accompanying piece called Peter Criss:  Tossed and Turning!

  Unmasked (1980 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remaster)

“I think Unmasked is a pretty crappy album.  It’s wimpy” – Paul Stanley, KISS Behind the Mask

Here we are at Unmasked, the very album that inspired the Kiss Re-Review series in the first place.  It’s a polarizing platter.  The band often trash it and shun it in concert.  Meanwhile, some fans have grown to appreciate it, particularly in Europe and Australia.  There is even a tribute CD on a German label with covers of the entire album.  Indeed, Unmasked is not without strengths.  Ace Frehley contributed another three songs of his own, continuing the growth he demonstrated on his solo album and Dynasty.

On the other side of the ledger, there were factors that fans see as a diluting of the Kiss sound.  Co-writers were now the norm.  Returning producer Vini Poncia had eight co-writes.  They used a track by songwriter Gerard McMahon.  Even ghost guitarist Bob Kulick had a co-write on Gene’s “Naked City”.  Most importantly, but publicly unknown at the time, was that Kiss had effectively become a trio.  Peter Criss’ substance issues had come to a head and he was not involved with the album at all.  He was on the cover, and in the credits, but all Peter did was mime some drums for the “Shandi” music video.  When that shoot was done, Peter was gone.  Anton Fig (Dynasty, Ace Frehley) returned again to fill the gap behind the scenes.

The album demonstrated a slick turn towards pop rock.  Not disco so much, although the compression on the drums and guitars gives it a disco sound.  The keyboards and slick production sweetened the album to the point that the thunder of Alive! or Love Gun was completely absent.  Kiss were becoming caricatures in pursuit of megahits.

The Gerard McMahon song “Is That You?” was selected to open Unmasked.  This sexy grind is one of the best tracks, with Paul in peak voice showing off what he can do.  The slow and dirty pop rock number gets the job done, with minimal loss of integrity.  That’s Paul on lead guitar too, one of several songs on which he solos, though it is hard to tell.  In fact Unmasked is one of those Kiss albums on which you can’t be sure who played what.

Only one Kiss member appears on the big single, “Shandi”, and that’s Paul Stanley.  On bass was Tom Harper, and Holly Knight on keyboards.  There is little doubt that “Shandi” is a fantastic song, and it worked particularly well live in the acoustic setting.  While Unmasked blurred the lines between rock and pop, “Shandi” is pure pop joy — almost adult contemporary!

Frehley’s first track was a favourite called “Talk to Me”, a song many Kiss fans easily embraced.  These first three songs were performed on the Unmasked tour, which demonstrates their worth.  “Talk to Me” has a cool guitar riff and one of Ace’s most infectious choruses – an instant classic.  Ace had really grown as a singer by this point.

The waters get murkier after the first three tracks.  Gene’s “Naked City” is a grower.  It possesses hooks and great verses, but the main guitar riff doesn’t hit the spot.  Gene’s falsetto voice is employed to great effect.  It takes a few spins, but “Naked City” has a cool darkness to it and a strange kind of class.  That is followed by the very pop “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”, a keyboard-heavy Paul Stanley tune.  It sounds very little like Kiss, but Paul’s performance (guitar solo included) is stellar.  Falsetto must have been very popular at the time.  Bee Gees, anyone?

Paul’s side two opener “Tomorrow” is just as pop as “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”.  These would be great songs for somebody else’s album.  Perhaps Rick Astley.  Fortunately the side is quickly redeemed by Ace’s excellent “Two Sides of the Coin”.  Notably, this song inspired the title of Michael Brandvold’s Kiss podcast, “Three Sides of the Coin“.  Ace’s track is a fan favourite, upbeat and melodic with just enough guitar bite.  If the production was meatier, as on Ace’s solo album, it would be an absolute killer.

Gene continues chasing the ladies on “She’s So European”, a filler track with familiar themes.  “She makes love on a brass bed, because her parents are still awake.”  Not Gene’s finest moment.  “Easy As It Seems” is a Paul track, and also not one of his finest, but the bouncy bass (by Paul) is quite great.  But is that a bloody keyboard solo that I detect?

One of the most interesting tracks, and most instrumentally impressive, is Ace’s surf rock classic “Torpedo Girl”.  This is just a fun summertime track with infectious ooh-ahh vocal hooks.  His role within Kiss resulted in some of their more unique songs, and “Torpedo Girl” is unorthodox.  Ace’s picking is enviable, and the lyrics are just pure fun.  “Come on, get your feet wet.”

Album closer “You’re All That I Want” is one of Gene’s tunes, but Paul’s vocals on the outro sell it.  It’s a little on the light side, as is much of Unmasked, but it remains a good song.

On a personal note, I have one very strong memory of Unmasked.  I first heard it by taping it off a friend, my late neighbor George.  George dropped the needle on the record, hit record on my tape, and then got out his bass and played bass along to every song.  Unbeknownst to him, his bass playing bled onto the tape.  From that point until I finally got a store-bought cassette copy, I always heard George’s bass on the fade-outs of every song.  I can still hear it in my head.  I suppose that’s one way that George is still alive, in my memory.

Unmasked was released on May 20, 1980, with a bright cartoony cover including Peter Criss.  Meanwhile the band were already preparing for their first of many lineup changes, something that was kept quiet until the right moment.

In July, Kiss were ready to unveil the new member.  Paul Caravello, from Brooklyn, impressed Kiss with his audition and humble personality.  The story that everybody remembers is that Caravello asked the guys for their autographs in case he never saw them again.  No worries there; the job was destined to be his.  But Kiss couldn’t have another guy named Paul, and his last name was too “ethnic” (obviously Italian), so his name was changed to Eric Carr.  (Fortunately, Gene’s suggestion of “Rusty Blades” was discarded.)  The newly dubbed Eric was an energetic mighty-mite of rock, and the band quickly grew to love him.  Everything was new to him.

“The Hawk”

A new makeup design was required.  This was a big deal — a new challenge.  A hawk concept was tried, but in the costume Carr looked more like Big Bird than a rock star.  He drew up an inspired fox design which immediately clicked.  The new character was born!

Carr’s first appearance with the band was at their only US date on this tour: New York on July 25 1980.  The rest of the tour took place in Europe and Australia where “Shandi” became a hit.  There were only 41 shows in total.  Despite their best efforts, Kiss’ fortunes were shifting.  Opening acts on the tour included Iron Maiden, which must have been quite the mismatch.  Given Maiden’s reputation for blowing away headliners (much like Kiss when they started out), you must wonder how this went down.  Girl, featuring future Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen and future L.A. Guns singer Phil Lewis, also opened a handful of gigs.

Unfortunately for fans, especially in North America, this was the last tour for a long time.  It was also the only tour featuring this lineup.  While Kiss had endured their first lineup change, that was only just the beginning of the problems to solve.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

4.5/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  Unmasked was released in May of 1980. A couple of months later I had heard that Kiss was going to introduce their new drummer on a show called Kids Are People Too. Seeing Kiss in the Phantom movie on TV was one thing. But knowing they were being interviewed, and introducing their newest member…Eric “The Fox” Carr. I watch it today on YouTube, and it’s so…umm…not what I remember. But it was monumental at the time for me. At this point, I had heard Unmasked once at a friend’s place and was underwhelmed. But I loved the album cover and still think it is probably their best. My take on Unmasked is much different now, and was how LeBrain’s Re-Reviews started in the first place. First of all I will address this. Mike referred in the beginning of this series to the two “Disco” era Kiss albums of Dynasty and Unmasked. Dynasty has one Disco song. Unmasked does not have anything close to a Disco song. Some would say “Shandi”, but that is Kiss capitalizing on the Soft Rock success of the day. Unmasked may not be a typical Kiss album, but thanks to Vini Poncia it’s a great album of Rock tunes and one of my favorite Kiss albums.

The drumming on this album is a major high point. Anton Fig shines all over this disc. Ace also continues his consistent roll with great rock songs like “Talk To Me”. He has such a great Rock and Roll voice. The background vocals are great too. “Two Sides of the Coin” is another song with incredible drumming, and a single writing credit. Both this song and “Talk To Me” are the only two songs on the album that don’t have an outside writing credit. Subsequently these songs sound more like classic Kiss than the rest of the album. However “Torpedo Girl” is another story. This might be the shining moment of Ace’s career in Meat’s opinion. Unbelievable guitar riff and funky drum beat. I have had it in my head for days now.

It seems that the addition of Vini Poncia to the Kiss machine inspired Gene Simmons as well. Unlike Dynasty where his songs were mostly forgettable, a couple of his songs on this album shine here. “She’s So European” is “completely ridiculous” but a “great fucking tune” (according to my longtime Kiss-mate Scott) . That about says it all. “Naked City” sees the falsetto of Gene Simmons on display here in another catchy song. There are great hooks within this song, which is indicative of the whole album really. However the album closer, “You’re All That I Want” might be the weakest track on the album. I do though love the ending, which you hear Stanley screaming in his typical live-show style.

Paul Stanley’s contributions on this album are good as well, with a few curveballs thrown in. “Shandi” was a massive Australian hit, and even though the song is about as limp as it can be, I still love the song. Reminds me of the Little River Band and Ambrosia songs of the Soft Rock era that I still dig. “What Makes the World Go ‘Round” is a solid song, with some of the greatest solo guitar playing Paul Stanley has put to record. “Tomorrow” sounds a lot like .38 Special to me and is just OK. “Easy As it Seems” is a solid song that incorporates keyboards in an interesting way, and might be the best Stanley song on Unmasked.

Overall Unmasked is a misunderstood, understated classic. I am curious to see if time has changed LeBrain’s take on this album. All I can say is…this may be Kiss’s last truly great album. From here on in, the “Meat’s Slice” section will start to get a lot shorter, with a couple exceptions.

Favorite Tracks: “Torpedo Girl”, “Shandi”, “Is That You”, “Talk To Me”, “She’s so European”

Forgettable Tracks: “You’re All That I Want”, “Tomorrow” (both borderline)


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/25

 

 

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Dynasty (1979)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 17:  

 

  Dynasty (1979 Casablanca, 1997 Polygram Japan remaster)

“The Return of Kiss”.  It sounds quaint today, that after a two year absence they called it “The Return of Kiss”.  Two years today means nothing.  But for Kiss, who were doing two releases a year, it did actually mean something.  Their last project was their series of four solo albums, one for each member, and unified by cover art.  This project only reinforced the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The truth is, the original Kiss were already over.  Peter Criss returned from his solo album and a car accident as a changed man, and not in a good way.  Upon walking in the door he insisted upon seeing sheet music for the new tunes.  That was a first.  It was quickly apparent that Peter was not in a condition to perform.  The band had even hired his solo album producer, Vini Poncia, to helm the new Kiss.  Poncia deemed Criss’ current abilities inadequate and he was replaced for the album by Anton Fig.  Anton was Ace’s solo drummer, and more than capable of filling in.  Previously, when Bob Kulick was hired to replace Ace on side four of Alive II, he was instructed to “play like Ace”.  Anton Fig was given no such instruction and was free to drum as he pleased.  Some Kiss fans were able to pick up on that.  Ultimately Peter Criss played drums on only one song, his own called “Dirty Livin’”.  And that would be Peter’s final appearance on a Kiss studio album until 1998’s Psycho-Circus, on which he also played drums on only one track.  Kiss was indeed broken, but few on the outside knew it.  Peter would never play on a whole Kiss album again.

A lot had changed.  Kiss’ massive marketing campaigns paid off, but was that a good thing?  Little kids were now coming to Kiss concerts.  Paul Stanley was actively seeking hits.  Together with new songwriting friend Desmond Child, Paul wanted to write a dance single.  Inspired by the clubs of New York, the pair produced “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”, the song that gave Kiss the “disco” tag.  The single sold a million copies.  Needless to say, it was not the last Kiss single written with Desmond Child.

The album went platinum and became the hit it was designed to be.  Inside the sleeve, the music was streamlined and more commercial than before.  “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” led the way, demolishing the walls between dance and rock.  Frehley had a hot solo in the mix, and the bouncy bass was performed by Paul Stanley.  The song had all the right ingredients and though thin sounding by today’s standards, it’s still a great little dance rock number.

The real revelation about Dynasty wasn’t the turn towards slicker, highly compressed recordings.  It was Ace Frehley coming out of his shell.  Newly confident after his hit solo experience, Frehley had three songs to sing on Dynasty.  Ace covered the Stones on “2000 Man”, a version that may be more beloved than the original.  It certainly sounds at home.  Ace rocks it up significantly.  Ace also had lead vocals on “Hard Times”, a track about growing up as an aimless youth in New York.  “We’d go to school, then we’d cut out, go to the park, and space our heads out.”  “Hard Times” is not an exceptional song, but it’s interesting since it’s so autobiographical.  Ace’s last song was the more aggressive “Save Your Love”.  This track closes Dynasty with the kind of rock that people often forget is on the album.  Ace’s tracks are the only ones that can be classified purely as “rock”.  He has more guitar riffage on “Save Your Love” than the other songs combined.  Without the Space Ace, Dynasty would have been a much weaker album.

The increase in Ace’s participation was balanced by a decrease in that of Gene Simmons.  Gene only had two songs on the album, neither of which were singles.  “X-Ray Eyes” and “Charisma” inhabit the same kind of compressed audio landscape as the rest.  “Charisma” is the best, due to its unusual echoey vocals, fitting for the demon persona.  Gene’s prime interest was still the opposite sex, and both songs have the demon’s stamp.  The main hooks on both are delivered by the backing vocals during the choruses.

The dominant force on Dynasty — and as it turns out, for the coming decade – was Paul Stanley.  Not only was “I Was Made for Loving You” a massive hit, but the second single “Sure Know Something” was also one of his.  Paul wrote this dancey ballad with producer Vini Poncia.  It’s not all simply dance floor moves though, as the chorus has the power chords and lung power that Kiss fans expected.  Stanley also wrote “Magic Touch”, a lesser known album classic.  “Magic Touch” burns slow, but hot.  Paul’s falsetto was a sign of the times, but the power chords explode on the chorus.

And that leaves poor Peter.  “Dirty Livin’” was written with Stan Penridge and Vini Poncia, and it was written as something more R&B in direction.  It was Kiss-afied and included on the album as Peter’s only appearance.  You can hear that it’s not the same drummer and that it’s a very different vibe.

For all outside appearances, Kiss maintained an image of solidarity.  There was no mention of a session drummer, and Peter was there on tour for all 82 shows.  However there were some cracks visible.  Several shows had to be cancelled for poor ticket sales, in areas such as New York City and Pontiac Michigan.  With the toys, comics and merchandise, Kiss were beginning to be seen as a kids’ band.  Dynasty was the hit it needed to be, but the situation was not sustainable.

Today’s rating:

4/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

4/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  The first of the two supposed “Disco Era” Kiss records LeBrain referred to in the introduction of this series, Dynasty really just is a pretty solid rock and roll record other than the mega-hit, “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”.  There really is not another song on the record that could be classified as Disco.  But more on that when I talk about Unmasked.

This album sees the beginning of a couple new eras in Kisstory. The first being the band’s writing collaboration with Desmond Child.  “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” was the first hit of many for Desmond Child.  He has “songwriter” credits (and yes I am using that term loosely) on such deplorable pap as “Livin’ La Vida Loca”, “She Bangs”, and upcoming Kiss dung like “Let’s Put the X in Sex” and “Uh! All Night”.  Basically when a band gets shittier, they go to Desmond Child.  When Ratt got shittier, in came Desmond.  When the Scorpions got shittier, he pops up again.  When Aerosmith started becoming a glossy joke, here comes Desmond Child and “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)”. Yes, as good as this album is, Kiss was starting to get shittier.

As George Costanza would say, worlds collide for me on this album.  For years I had no idea Peter Criss only played drums on his own song on Dynasty.  His phantom replacement turned out to be Mr. Anton Fig, who played drums in one of my favorite bands ever, Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band.  Even Anton’s dry humor on the show was a high point in Late Night with David Letterman for me.  I am a true Letterman head and always will be.  Anton Fig went on to be Ace’s drummer in Frehley’s Comet, so maybe Fig’s presence somehow inspired the Space man, since he is a high point of Dynasty.  The Rolling Stones cover “2000 Man” is a fucking great tune.  “Hard Times” is just as good and a personal favorite of many Kiss fans.

There are a few weaker-ish songs on the album but nothing egregious here.  Very good rock album with ONE disco song.  Thank you Desmond Child for injecting Kiss with your “Bad Medicine”.  (Yes, he wrote that too.  As well as writing songs for such wonderful artists like Hanson, The Jonas Brothers, Lindsay Lohan and Clay Aiken.)  Hey Desmond…in the words of Ricky…you are truly a FuckGoof.

Favorite Tracks:  “Sure Know Something”, “Hard Times”, “2000 Man”, “Save Your Love”, “Magic Touch”

Forgettable Tracks:  “Dirty Livin'”


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/24

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Ace Frehley (1978 solo album)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 14:  

 Ace Frehley (1978 Casablanca solo album, 1997 Mercury remaster)

Of the four members of Kiss, Ace Frehley felt he had the most to prove on his solo album.  He’d only had two lead vocals with Kiss, and usually only contributed a couple songs to each album.  Could he write and sing an entire solo album?  Some in the Kiss camp had their doubts.

Ace regrouped with his favourite Kiss producer, Eddie Kramer, and crucially got a newcomer named Anton Fig to play drums.  Anton, from South Africa, has a long and fruitful career but a huge chunk of it was with Ace, and it started right here.  Ace Frehley played almost everything else himself.  Will Lee (Anton’s future bandmate on the Late Night with David Letterman show) played bass on three tracks.  Ace also wrote the majority of the songs by himself, proving he wasn’t reliant on Gene and Paul.

“Rip It Out” is one of the great Ace album openers.  He used it to open his Frehley’s Comet shows in the 1980s, and on album, it really sets the right scene.  Ace was singing great, but more importantly, he had a chance to really let his guitars shine.   Listen to the main riff — you can clearly hear an acoustic guitar mixed in with the electrics.  In Kiss, Ace’s job was to solo and complement the rhythm guitars.  Now Ace could play with multi-layered guitars and effects.  “Rip It Out” really sounds like a statement of intent.  Listen very carefully to the number of guitar parts happening in the mix, from slides and squeals to solos.

Ace has a knack for a pop melody, and “Speeding Back to My Baby” has that side to it.  It’s pop rock complete with female backing vocals, but with serious crunch.  Frehley is the master of guitar crunch, so even when we call a song “pop”, it really rocks.  Check out Frehley’s partly backwards stoppy-starty guitar solo too.

The heavy side of Ace is explored on “Snow Blind”, a mean rocker with a nasty riff.  The solo section is to die for.  “Ozone” too is heavy, and possibly better known as a cover by the Foo Fighters.  There weren’t any questions about the subject matter:  “I’m the kind of guy who likes feelin’ high,” sings Ace in the opening line.  Gene would not have approved, but note the combined use of electrics and acoustics once again.

Ace ended the first side with another triumphant pop rocker:  “What’s On Your Mind”.  It is tracks like this that helped Ace’s solo album become a clear fan favourite.  The guitar riff has punch, but when doubled with acoustics, it rings like a bell.  From brilliant guitar licks to the unforgettable melody, Ace nailed it with “What’s On Your Mind”. It also bookends the first side very well with “Rip It Out”.

The big hit, still getting radio play today, was the Russ Ballard cover “New York Groove”.  Ballard originally gave his demo to the band Hello, but it was Ace that made it an important song.  Ace took the words (written by an Englishman!) and adapted his persona to them.  His lovable rough and tumble New York personality fit the song to a “T”.  It’s a bit cheesy, but Ace can take cheesy and make it cool.  The stompy beat was created using studio experimentation, Eddie Kramer the mad genius who would record anything and everything to get just the right sound.

A pair of rock tracks, “I’m In Need of Love” and “Wiped Out”, fill the middle of side two.  Ace’s echoey guitar slides on “I’m In Need of Love” deliver the prime hooks.  It’s an excellent example of what Ace can do with an electric guitar.  Meanwhile, “Wiped Out” is like a sequel to the surf rock classic “Wipe Out”, and not Ace’s last foray into surf rock either.  His intricate picking here would cause a lesser player’s fingers to fall off.  Check out that wacka-ja-wacka stuff too, funky and cool.

Ace saved the most impressive track for the last, and the first in his so-called Fractured Quadrilogy:  “Fractured Mirror”.  This instrumental features shimmering six and twelve strings working in tandem.  Ace and producer Eddie Kramer went to great lengths to get the guitar sounds on this song.  One technique included playing the figure on a doubleneck guitar, but only using the pickups on the open-tuned second neck.  The pickups to the neck that Ace was actually playing on were turned off.  Once overdubbed, this gave the guitars a bell-like chime, and fans spent years trying to figure out just how Ace did it.  Now you know.

This album was a turning point for Ace.  It gave him confidence.  It ushered in a slew of Ace Frehley lead vocals in Kiss.  And eventually, it set him up for his departure, as nothing he did in Kiss was as artistically freeing as his first solo album.

Today’s rating:

5/5 stars

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/19

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Anomaly (2009)

Finally, the end!  Part 9 of my 9 part series on Ace Frehley!  Via this series, we took a comprehensive look at every significant Frehley solo release that I had access to.  Here’s a directory to the whole thing in case you missed a part!

ACE FREHLEY – Anomaly (2009 Bronx Born)

Ace had a pretty good backing band on this, only his fifth solo album!  Anton Fig on drums, Anthony Esposito (ex-Lynch Mob) on bass, and a few guests here and there such as Brian Tichy.  The overall sound is much heavier than anything Ace has done before.  There are lot of chunky guitars, and a ton of riffs.

“Foxy & Free” is fine as an opener, but melodically a little awkward.  It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what I don’t like about it, but it’s not one of the better songs.  Much better is “Outer Space”, Ace’s re-imagining of a song by a band called Shredmill.  While that band originally conceived the song as a Danzig-esque prowl, Ace cranks it up.  Pedal to the floor, this is the best song on Anomaly.  Too bad it’s a cover because this is the kind of original that Ace needs.  Unfortunately “Outer Space” is followed by “Pain in the Neck”, another one I find melodically annoying.

FREHLEY VINYLAnother cover, “Fox on the Run”, restores the album.  Much like “Do Ya”, I think Ace knocked it out of the park with this cover.  His modus operandi seems to be taking catchy pop songs and rocking them up.  He does it very well.  Another thing he does very well is instrumental tracks, and “Genghis Khan” is a fascinating one.  You don’t think of Ace as being influenced by Led Zeppelin so much, but this definitely sounds like Zeppelin for the most part!  This is thanks in part to Anton Fig’s perfect execution on drums.  But it’s not exactly an instrumental, as it does have a chorus!  “So, long, Genghis Khan!”  But that’s pretty much it in terms of lyrics!

Like a see-saw, the album swings back to melodically questionable territory.  “Too Many Faces” is not a stand out.  It’s heavy but lacks significant hooks.  “Change the World” is a another high.  Frehley’s an electric hippy praying for peace.  It’s not the first time, but it’s a worthy successor to songs of the past such as “Remember Me”.  Unlike many of the weaker songs, “Change the World” is catchy, singalong  quality, and fun!

A punishing and cool instrumental called “Space Bear” is actually overshadowed by another version of the song later on, so I’m going to skip it now.  “A Little Below the Angels” is a pretty good acoustic ballad.  I really dislike the middle section, with Ace talking to the girl…wish that had been excised.  It’s back again to heavy territory on “Sister”, one of the few really decent original Frehley heavy rockers on the album.  This one features Scot Coogan (Brides of Destruction) on drums, and he really throws caution to the wind and goes for it!  His drums are a highlight of a great Frehley rocker.

“It’s a Great Life” is certainly interesting.  It’s a funky 80’s sounding rocker, with Ace’s personality.  The chorus could have been stronger.  Imagine what a producer like Eddie Kramer could have done with the sound of this album!  Sonically, Anomaly is disappointing for the most part.  If Kramer had produced, I’m sure the closer “Fractured Quantum” would shimmer like the other three “Fractured” songs.  Don’t get me wrong, I love “Fractured Quantum”, I just think it lacks a certain sonic shine that the others have.  Like the other “Fractured” instrumentals, it consists of layers of acoustic guitars with some electrics here and there.  It is melodically simple and it works.

iTunes offered their exclusive bonus track, “Return of Space Bear”.  This song is either a) no longer available on iTunes, or b) not available on iTunes in Canada.  Needless to say I was forced to acquire it in the shady underbelly of the internets, but find it I did.  “Space Bear” is a reference to Ace’s hilarious drunken appearance on the Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder.  On October 30 1979, Kiss appeared on the show, and Ace was pre-lubricated. A visibly upset Gene Simmons attempts to divert attention away from Ace and his “first space bear ever in captivity”, a little teddy bear version of himself!  On this iTunes version, Ace’s dialogue is added, and this is the version I like best.  Ace re-enacts some of his funniest drunken lines over some cool rocking riffs.  To me, the tune sounds like early rocking Aerosmith, circa Rocks.

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photo: heavymetal107

I will say that I don’t like the packaging.  The cardboard case thing unfolds into a pyramid, but I’ve never tried.  As a device to hold a CD, it’s annoying to get the disc in and out, and mine is pretty scratched.  I did find a photo of the “pyramid” form at a cool blog called Heavy Metal 107 — click the thumb to see.

And that’s Anomaly, Ace’s first solo album in 20 years.  By coincidence, just like last time (Trouble Walkin‘), Ace’s new album came at almost exactly the same time as a new Kiss CD, Sonic Boom.   As before, fans compared and argued over who had made the better album.  I think these fans miss the point.  It doesn’t matter who made the better album, what matters is that both finally got back to making albums!

3.75/5 stars

When Ace returns for his next solo album, you can bet I will be here to tell you all about it.  Thanks for reading this series!  I hope you enjoyed.

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Loaded Deck (1998)

Part 8 of a 9 part series on Ace Frehley.  So close to the end now!   Did you miss any?

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ACE FREHLEY – Loaded Deck (1998 Megaforce Worldwide)

So then an other odds n’ sods disc from John Regan of Frehley’s Comet arrived.  Like 12 Picks, this one also came with an Ace guitar pick.  The most appealing songs in this collection are the unreleased tracks “One Plus One” and “Give It To Me Anyway”.  Both are complete Frehley’s Comet songs, produced by Eddie Kramer.  My respected reviewer friend Jon holds these songs above many that made it onto the actual albums.

“One Plus One” is an excellent commercial rocker with that Ace “quirk” to it.  This one might have been cut from 1987’s Frehley’s Comet album because it was considered too pop.  That’s a shame because it’s great.  Tod Howarth’s high backing vocal complements Ace’s lead for maximum hooks.  I love it.  This song is addictive.

“Give It To Me Anyway” is one of the oldest Comet songs, dating back to 1985, recorded for 1989’s Trouble Walkin’, and left unreleased.   This is a tough, funky rocker, musically ambitious.  Anton Fig’s avalanches of drum fills are always soothing, but Richie Scarlet’s raspy vocals are the real hook.  Not that the chorus is bad either!

After these two valuable now-classics, Regan throws on three Frehley also-rans that didn’t make it onto the prior 12 Picks compilation.  They are Ace’s excellent cover of The Move/ELO’s “Do Ya”, Tod Howarth’s ballad “It’s Over Now”, and “Shot Full Of Rock” from Trouble Walkin’.  I like all three songs, but I question the wisdom of including “It’s Over Now” on this compilation.  Ace didn’t write it, didn’t sing on it, didn’t play the guitar solo…

A smattering of live tracks makes up the next section of the CD.  Some of these are from the Live + 4 VHS release, others are from the same gig that the Live + 1 EP was recorded at.  “Stranger In A Strange Land” (from Frehley’s Comet) is from this show, and has Anton Fig on drums.  Not the greatest song but you can actually hear where it would fit into Live + 1 (right before “Something Moved”).  Up next is “Separate” which Ace introduced as “Separate the Men from the Boys”.  I’ve admitted to liking the song, but this is especially cool as this is the very first performance of it.  I dig the vocal and Ace’s chugging guitar and I think it actually works live, surprisingly.

LOADED DECK_0004Tod Howarth…I’m sorry dude…you suck at introducing songs.  I wish you said nothing in front of “New York Groove”.  You’re no Paul Stanley, believe me.  I ain’t gonna “clap those hands”.  Thankfully the performance of the song is great, even if Jamie Oldaker butchers the drum part.  “Rock Soldiers” is once again back to the Anton Fig lineup, and this time Ace does the intro himself.  You can immediately tell it’s a different drummer, it’s like night and day.  “Remember Me” is the last of the live tracks, and though it’s presented live, it’s the same version that is on Trouble Walkin’.

The final two songs are parts 2 and 3 of the “Fractured” tetralogy (though in 1998 still a trilogy).  Part one, of course, was on Ace’s 1978 solo album, which is considered part of the Kiss catalog.  Therefore, John Regan wouldn’t have been able to use it on Loaded Deck.  It’s fine…a bit of a cop out way to end a compilation album I think.  To me, it feels like, “We’re all out of good songs so here’s two instrumentals.”  For the casual fan, it’s a “blah” ending.  For the die-hards, well, we already have these songs…part one included…and could make our own tapes with all of them, should we desire to experience them like that.  I’ve never had that compulsion.  They were all individual album closers, that felt right ending the albums in that context.  Together, it doesn’t work for me.

Sometimes a compilation leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  If it’s a disjointed listening experience, I’m less likely to return to that compilation.  Loaded Deck gets fewer plays in my collection than 12 Picks does.  Even though they are meant to complement each other, like two discs of a double anthology, I think 12 Picks is a better album experience.

What Regan should have done is make an album of just the unreleased studio and live songs, without the stuff we already had on the studio albums.  Megaforce figured that out, and in 2006 issued Greatest Hits Live, a compilation of these two compilations.  After we already bought said compilations.  Awesome.

2/5 stars for the album, just go ahead and get Greatest Hits Live instead.

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – 12 Picks (1997)

Part 7 in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last one, Return of the Comet?  Click here!

ACE FREHLEY – 12 Picks (1997 Megaforce Worldwide)

With Ace experiencing a second Golden Age back in Kiss, 1997 was the perfect time for various parties to cash in with compilations and re-releases.  It made sense for Megaforce to put out a collection of Ace’s better solo work along with unreleased live tracks.  With Frehley’s Comet bassist John Regan in the executive producer’s seat, at least 12 Picks has input from somebody on the inside.

This is a pretty logical collection.  Since it has “Into the Night”, “Rock Soldiers”, “Words Are Not Enough”, and even “Hide Your Heart”, you could easily make an argument that casual fans can start and stop here.  Sure, they’d miss great favourites like “Calling To You” and “Do Ya”…but leaving tracks off opens doors to sequels, no?

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If you imagine an album still having two sides, then the studio tracks make up side one.  Side two consists of live versions of Kiss favourites and others.  These are all from the Second Sighting tour with Jamie Oldaker on drums, unfortunately not Anton Fig for these versions.  They are however previously unreleased on any audio format.  These are some (but not all) of the songs from the Live + 4 VHS video cassette.  This video was never released in Canada, and I’ve never owned it.  Unfortunately, “Something Moved” from the VHS tape is not included.  To date it is still frustratingly unavailable.  From the same gig (Hammersmith Odeon) but unreleased until now is “Deuce”.  Other tracks from the concert would later trickle out elsewhere.

12PICKS_0005“Rip It Out” remains a stunning opener, although this version is hampered by the lack of Anton on drums.  Jamie Oldaker has a different feel, laying back behind the beat and I don’t think that’s the way these songs are best presented.  His fills are simpler than Anton’s, and things like the drums solos in “Rip It Out” and “Breakout” suffer for it.  The rest of the set is Kiss-heavy:  “Cold Gin”, “Shock Me”, “Rocket Ride” and the Simmons-penned “Deuce”.  Frehley performs “Cold Gin” with the right groove, which Kiss had trouble nailing without him.  I like the little touches, like the fact that the bassline doesn’t stray from the original much.  It lends these Ace versions a Kiss-like authenticity.  Tod Howarth backs up Ace’s lead vocals in a manner that recall’s Kiss’s multiple lead vocalists.

Although the setlist itself is pretty smokin’, the muddy drum sound and lack of Anton prevent the live portion from igniting.  Thankfully Ace has plenty of fuel when he solos, but this live side is noticeably inferior to the excellent Live + 1.  That’s too bad.

12 Picks came with a guitar pick in one of several (12?) colours.  I got black!

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Trouble Walkin’ (1989)

Part 4 in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Second Sighting?  Click here!

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ACE FREHLEY – Trouble Walkin’ (1989 Megaforce Worldwide)

Gone was the Frehley’s Comet moniker, and gone was multi-instrumentalist and talented singer Tod Howarth.  I believe he toured with Cheap Trick after the Comet, on backing instruments and vocals.  In his stead came Richie Scarlet, certainly no slouch, and an alumnus from an earlier version of the band.  Not only did Scarlet write some of Ace’s best stuff, but takes a lead vocal on the album Trouble Walkin’.  Also back was drummer Anton Fig!

On top of all that, producer Eddie Kramer was back working with Ace again, and they have great chemistry together.  Certainly all the elements were in place for a great solo album.  The critics and fans were pretty much unanimous in their praise of Ace’s latest.  Little did they know it would be his last solo album for 20 whole years!

Trouble Walkin’ was Ace’s heaviest solo album to date.  Take “Shot Full Of Rock”, the opener.  It is scorching from start to finish, but especially on the ripping guitar solo.  It has a great chorus to boot, and a fine lead vocal from the Ace.

Frehley has a knack for selecting great covers, and his take on The Move’s “Do Ya” is superior to the original in some respects.  As he has with other covers, Ace makes it his own.  I think Ace does very well when rocking up poppier, melodic material and “Do Ya” is no exception.  I always hoped it would be a bigger hit, but it wasn’t really.

“Five Card Stud” is co-written by Marc Ferrari of Keel.  It’s not an exceptional song, but it does boast a suitably heavy riff, and plenty of tasty Ace licks and solos.  It might not be the best song, but the guitar work makes it worthwhile.

This is followed by the weirdest song of all:  “Hide Your Heart”, a song written by Paul Stanley, Holly Knight and Desmond Child.  It had been demoed years before for Crazy Nights, but not used. Bonnie Tyler was first to record the song, then Robin Beck and then Molly Hatchet!   When Kiss recorded it for Hot In The Shade, they released it as a single mere weeks before Ace’s album came out.  By the time Kiss’ album came out (the week after Trouble Walkin’) the song had been released by no less than five different artists.  The common thread to some of those versions seems to be Desmond Child.  Obviously, Ace knew people would compare his version with Kiss’.  Gene Simmons spoke to him on the phone to warn him that Kiss were releasing it as their lead single.  Ace’s version, while harder, just is not as good.  That’s not to say it’s bad, because Kiss’ version is awesome.

TROUBLE WALKIN_0006“Lost In Limbo”, a Richie Scarlet co-write, closed side one on a pedestrian note.  Side two began with a better song, the title track.  This would be a good time to mention that Peter Criss sings backing vocals!  You can’t hear him, but he showed up.  That’s Richie Scarlet saying “Take it, Ace!” and singing the bridge.  This one’s a solid Ace rocker, guitar and cowbell heavy!

My favourite song is “2 Young 2 Die”.  It’s just so heavy!  I used to think Peter Criss was singing the lead vocal, because it’s so raspy.  It is in fact Richie Scarlet, though Peter is on backing vocals again.   This is an outstanding song, rhythmic and bass-driven.  Anton’s drums are tribal and dramatic.  The guitar solos are all over the place, but all of them are ear candy.

TROUBLE WALKIN_0003“Back To School” is a a fun song, and you can’t mistake who’s singing (screaming) with Ace on the chorus:  one of the biggest Frehley fans on the planet, Sebastian Bach himself!  He’s joined by Peter Criss, and Dave “Snake” Sabo and Rachel Bolan, also of Skid Row.  This one is more hard rock than anything else, but damn catchy.

I’m not sure if “Remember Me” is really live, but it’s mixed to sound that way.  A crowd is mixed in, and Ace says good evening to “Club Remulac, in France!”  It is important to remember that “Remulak” is home planet of the Saturday Night Live characters, the Coneheads.  Appropriate since this song is sung from the perspective of a space traveler, advising Earthlings to get some world peace happenin’.  Good song, though, kind of lazy and light.

The album closes with “Fractured III”, and much like its predecessors, it’s an instrumental.  The thing about the Fractured series is that they do sound all interconnected.  They all sound related at the hip, or the heart, and that’s cool.  I like all of them for different reasons.  “Fractured III” might be the hardest, most electric of them to this point.

After this, Ace seemed to lay dormant for a number of years.  In 1990 there was a rumour that Kiss were working on a reunion with Ace, Paul, Gene and Eric Carr which of course never happened.  A few years later Ace turned up on his Just 4 Fun tour, playing a Kiss-heavy set of classics.  Later came the Bad Boys of Kiss tour with Peter Criss, and finally the inevitable original Kiss reunion.  During the reunion, there were some interesting Ace Frehley releases, and we’ll be talking about those things next.

As for Trouble Walkin’?  Solid.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Frehley’s Comet – Live + 1 (1988)

Part 2 in my series of reviews on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Frehley’s Comet?  Click here!

FREHLEY’S COMET – Live + 1 (1988 Megaforce Worldwide)

I remember finding this EP in a department store’s music section, and having to choose between this and Brighton Rock.  It really wasn’t a difficult choice.  I couldn’t have both so I chose Ace Frehley.  After all, Ace was my favourite member of Kiss.

“Rip It Out”, printed as “Rip-It-Out” on this EP, opens the set, recorded in Chicago.  “You wanted ’em, here they are!  Frehley’s Comet!”  Hmm, that opening doesn’t sound at all familiar, does it?  Ace and the Comet tear through it, and let’s not forget that the drummer who played on the original, Anton Fig, plays on this one too — solo included.  I like the way that Tod Howarth sings, backing up Ace.  His higher voice lends to a nice harmony, thick and Kiss-like.  “Rip It Out” flows right into “Breakout”, another song with a drum solo, and this one extended!  “Anton rules, doesn’t he?” asks Ace during the fade out.

Those two songs took up the first side.  “Something Moved”, another recent song from Frehley’s Comet, is sung by Tod.  It’s an aggressive hard rock song, but Anton lays down a solid beat, while Ace throws out some wild bends.  Ace’s Alive II classic, “Rocket Ride”, is the final live song.  In this case, I don’t think it’s much compared to the Kiss original.  I prefer Kiss’ sloppy rock n’ roll take on it, Ace’s version is too tight for my liking.  The solo smokes though.

My favourite song is the new studio track, “Words Are Not Enough”.  It’s a slick, commercial hard rocker.  All the ingredients are included:  A keyboard riff, a killer chorus, and a knock-out extended solo.  Given the time period, I always felt this was the biggest “potential” hit Ace could have had.  It was bang-on for 1988 and I still like it in 2013.

I wholeheartedly recommend Live + 1 to any respectable Kiss fan, and to any hard rock fans wanting a first taste of the Ace.

4.5/5 stars