Chris Wyse

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Origins Vol. 1 (2016)


Interview by Mitch Lafon

NEW RELEASE

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ACE FREHLEY – Origins Vol. 1 (2016 e One)

FACT #1:  Covers albums rarely have enough fuel in the tank to get an engine running.

FACT #2:  Ace Frehley has never done a covers album before.

The main thing is that Ace Frehley is still alive and making music.  He’s never been the most prolific writer in Kiss, hence this diverse assortment of covers.  In the pot are songs from bands that influenced Ace, a few Kiss covers (including one that Ace never played on originally), and a guest shot by Paul Stanley (among others).  Sometimes it’s hard to feign interest in a covers album, but these factors make Ace’s enticing.  Not to mention, it’s a clean and sober Ace playing these songs.

Ace and drummer Scot Coogan play everything on Cream’s “White Room”, with Coogan singing the bridges.  This guitar-heavy version takes what Clapton did, and “Aces” it up.  It’s guitar solo nirvana, though the Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” takes a few minutes to get to that same point.  Ace has always done well with Stones covers, and it seems he can identify with songs like “Street Fighting Man” due to his rough past.  It’s a fun excursion but the solos are the draw.  Imagine the Stones but with the bright fun Gibson stylings of Ace Frehley.  Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic” is a natural choice since Ace’s speak-sing style always seemed influenced by Jimi.  Purists may scoff, but Ace’s take on “Spanish Castle Magic” is pretty enjoyable and guitar-heavy (John 5 on guest guitars).

The online hype focused on Paul Stanley’s return to Ace’s orbit.  While Ace plays all the guitars, Paul ably takes all the vocals on Free’s “Fire and Water”.  As Kiss fans are well aware, Paul has suffered from some serious vocal issues in the last few years.  Live, Paul can be a bit of a mess.  In the studio, he makes it work.  Paul lacks the power he had back in the Kiss days, but his singing here is great considering.  It’s over far too quickly.  Paul singing Rodgers is quite a moment.

Ace is well suited to Thin Lizzy, a band you don’t think of as influential to Kiss since they were contemporaries more or less.  “Emerald” has gone down in history of one of Lizzy’s heaviest favourites.  Predictably, the highlight of “Emerald” is the solo section.  Lizzy were a two-guitar band, so Ace got Slash to come in and solo back and forth, answering each other like Gorham and Robertson.  The two go toe-to-toe in a blur of Gibson Les Pauls.

Led Zeppelin had a serious impact on young Kiss, and Ace’s covering of “Bring it on Home” is inspired and transformational.  Lord knows what guitar effects Ace has up his sleeve, but he nails this Zep classic without any missteps.  Ace sings the bluesy intro, but drummer Scot Coogan ably handles the higher main vocal.

Scan_20160424 (3)One of the most notorious and difficult songs to cover without sounding like an asshole is “Wild Thing”, 51 years old and still inspiring cover versions.  Lita Ford makes a surprise appearance on both lead guitar and vocals, and she sounds amazing on both counts.  There is just no good reason to cover “Wild Thing”, because the Troggs did that definitively in 1966 and that’s that.  More significant is Frehley’s update to his own “Parasite”, a song originally from 1974’s Hotter Than Hell.  Gene Simmons sang it originally, though Ace wrote it.   Speaking of “definitive”, it’s very tempting to think of this as Ace’s conclusive statement on “Parasite”.  After all, Hotter Than Hell was sonically pretty disappointing.  Plus Ace had 40+ years to grow as a guitarist since then, and believe it — Ace blows the doors off “Parasite”.  This is a song worth buying the CD for.

Unfortunately “Parasite” is book-ended by two songs that didn’t need remakes, the first being “Wild Thing” and the second “Magic Carpet Ride”.  Ace does inject it with his trademark fun style, but it’s all very unnecessary.  Brilliant playing though.

A second Kiss update is “Cold Gin”, featuring Mike McCready of Pearl Jam.  Like “Parasite”, Gene Simmons sang the original, but “Cold Gin” was one of the first stone cold classic Ace-written Kiss tunes.  Ace has every right to try and reclaim it as his, a difficult task since the Kiss Alive! version is the only one you will ever truly need.  Now with Ace doing the vocals and more soloing added, this version can perhaps be considered the second most important take — the one with Ace singing.

A pretty standard Kinks cover (“Til the End of the Day”) works fine.  You can trust Ace to know how to treat the Kinks.  The final and possibly biggest surprise is the final Kiss cover.  The odd thing about it is that Ace never played on the original version of “Rock and Roll Hell”.  This tune came from the batch that Kiss wrote with Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance in the early 80’s.  It was recorded for 1982’s Creatures of the Night, the album that Ace didn’t participate in, before leaving the band.  He appeared on the cover, he appeared in the videos, and fans didn’t know any differently, but Ace didn’t play or write anything on Creatures.  In fact Ace never heard “Rock and Roll Hell” until recently.  When coming up for ideas of songs to cover for Origins Vol. 1, Ace’s label rep Ken Gulick burned Ace a CD of tracks to listen to for consideration.  (The CD contained two Who songs, two Cheap Trick songs, and mind-blowingly, two by Rush.)*  Because Gulick felt that Ace had some unfinished business with Creatures of the Night, he also included two songs from Creatures on the CD.  The ballad “I Still Love You” was the other track.  Frehley apparently went bonkers for the Simmons-sung “Rock and Roll Hell”, and now we finally get to hear what might have been if Ace hadn’t left Kiss when he did.  Perhaps if Ace was in good enough shape, Simmons could have given him “Rock and Roll Hell” to sing, and it would have sounded something like this.  Matt Starr’s drums are given a similar echoey treatment to replicate Eric Carr’s sound from the original LP.

Does this close the book for Ace making amends with his Kiss past?  I sure hope note.  Vol. 1 implies a Vol. 2.  If Ace were to continue covering Kiss tunes he never had the chance to sing in the studio, that leaves “Strange Ways”, “Comin’ Home” and possibly more that he could consider updating with his stamp.  Although Origins has some “blah” moments as most covers albums do, among the highlights are undoubtedly the Kiss tracks.  They push the album out from being a mere curiosity, to a must-have for any Kiss fan.**

4/5 stars

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* Source – Ultimate Classic Rock

** Made a double must-have by the low low price.  I paid $12.88 at Wally World (plus I scored a “holy shit, jackpot” load of rare Star Wars figures).  HMV were charging $15.99, and had him filed under “Ace Freshley“.  HMV – the music store – has Ace’s name spelled wrong.  Yet one more strike against the once-mighty HMV chain!  See below for the evidence.

For Jon Wilmenius’ excellent review of this album, click here.  

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Under Cover (2005 Japanese import)

Purchased this year at the Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale.

OZZY OSBOURNE – Under Cover (2005 Japanese CD/DVD set)

I want to know who thought this album was a good idea to release.  Sure, we know Ozzy will do pretty much anything.  He even appeared on a tribute album to Black Sabbath (Nativity In Black Vol. 2).  So why not have Ozzy cover a bunch of songs that, by and large, the world didn’t need him to cover?

“SHARON!”

I’ve never thought much of this album, and I think you can gather why on the first track “Rocky Mountain Way” (Joe Walsh).  Why did this song need to be redone, metalized, and howled upon by Ozzy Osbourne?  It’s awful.  The female backing vocals are totally out of place, the changes made to song are unnecessary, and the vocal is stale.  The only positive thing I will say is that Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains) plays on Under Cover, and he’s the only thing redeeming it.  His slide and talk box solos on “Rocky Mountain Way” are swampy and great.

Whether Ozzy covers the Beatles (a pukey echo-drenched “In My Life) or Cream (“Sunshine of Your Love”) or the Stones (“Sympathy for the Devil”), nothing of value is added to the song.  It’s assembly line rock.  There are no innovations or interesting slants.  “Sunshine of Your Love” is altered to resemble Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” which doesn’t help matters at all.  Ozzy even does two solo John Lennon songs (“Woman” and “Working Class Hero”).  I get that Ozzy has a connection to the lyrics to “Working Class Hero” and is a huge fan of Lennon.  That doesn’t mean he should try doing his own version.  Most songs don’t benefit from being metalized.  I’ve even heard a good metalized cover of “21st Century Schizoid Man” better than Ozzy’s.

Best tune (only good tune):  “Fire” originally by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

OZZY UNDER COVER_0003Special guests: Leslie West plays some smokin’ axe on the cover of his own “Mississippi Queen”.  Ian Hunter joins Ozzy on “All the Young Dudes” but doesn’t do much other than shout along.  Others such as Gregg Bissonnette (David Lee Roth) and Joe Bonamassa are credited on the album, with no indication of what they did on which tracks.  Maybe Bissonnette was hired solely to play cowbell.  Who knows?

The final rip off to fans is that almost all of Under Cover was previously released on Ozzy’s Prince of Darkness box set earlier that year!  Many Ozzy fans such as myself picked that one up for its numerous long-sought rarities.    When Under Cover was released as its own album, four new recordings were added to make you buy it again: “Rocky Mountain Way”, “Sunshine of Your Love”, “Woman”, and “Go Now”. If you have Prince of Darkness, then you already own over 75% of Under Cover.

The Japanese bonus track was daughter Kelly Osbourne’s cover of Black Sabbath’s ballad “Changes”, with dear old dad singing with her, and lyrics adapted to suit.  If you were one of those (I hope not) who bought Kelly’s 2002 album Shut Up, then you already have this.  But like most Ozzy fans, I already have this song on the Prince of Darkness set.  This version also comes with a bonus  region 2 DVD: the music video for “In My Life” (whoop-de-do) and a long (about 45 minutes I think) feature called “Dinner with Ozzy and Friends”.  You might recognize a couple of these friends.  Road stories are shared, the funniest ones involving Ozzy being mistaken for Meat Loaf, and Lemmy for Willie Nelson.  And there’s the infamous story of Zakk Wylde and a cork.  Finally, the two sided DVD also has the entire album in “enhanced stereo”.

1/5 stars

REVIEW: The Cult – Beyond Good and Evil (Australian bonus track)

Second of a CULT double shot!  Click here for 1994’s The Cult.

THE CULT – Beyond Good and Evil (2001 Atlantic)

When The Cult finally reunited, the rock world rejoiced.  It felt like a long time, in that post-grunge wasteland, since the world had been blessed with any new Cult music.  Not only had they reunited (with their former drummer Matt Sorum, also formerly of Guns N’ Roses) but they had also reunited with producer Bob Rock, for the third time.   Much like his last outing with the band (1994’s The Cult), this Cult album sounds like none before it.  This time, The Cult have gone full-bore ground-shaking heavy metal.  The template was a song the old band were working on before they split “In the Clouds”, from 1996’s High Octane Cult.  The resemblance is uncanny.

BEYOND THE CULT_0003“War (The Process)” invites you to the stage.  Its weight is astounding; Duffy’s guitars crushing while Sorum attacks his kit as he always has.  Duffy’s guitars have acquired a much heavier metallic tone.  Bob Rock applies them in layers, which has always worked well for The Cult.  When “The Saint” enters, your head could be blown from your shoulders.  This is The Cult at their heaviest, but Billy’s melodic sensibilities are intact, and his guitars always sound like Billy Duffy.  Ian, of course, sounds like Ian, howling at the ghosts.

The single from this album was “Rise”, which is no less brutal than the first two tracks.  Its stuttering de-tuned riff recalls Kyuss or Queens of the Stone Age. Song after song, the album crushes.  “Take the Power” is a rallying crying over a noisy Duffy arrangement.  This time, the layers of guitars form this wall of awesome that threatens to fall on you at any moment.  Astbury is delivering a lot more melody with his lead vocals than he did on The Cult.

BEYOND THE CULT_0005“Breathe” offers a respite, but it’s only brief.  It soon turns into a mid-tempo groove rocker, but a forgettable one.  “Nico” is a highlight, an “Edie”-esque beauty.  It would have been my choice for a single.  Somebody should really start asking me.

No sooner have you had a chance to relax before “American Gothic” smashes through the wall.  This is one of the heaviest Cult songs to date.  Cult bassist Chris Wyse (back in the band today) has a solid groove but is overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the Duffy guitar layers.  “Ashes and Ghosts” too is groove laden and heavy as plutonium.  “Shape the Sky” has a little bit of the old Cult’s prowl, but it’s still pretty heavy like spent nuclear fuel.  Ian has a knack for a cool chorus, and this is one of them.  “Speed of Light” has a bit of that robotic pulse from 1993’s “The Witch” before it descends into a detuned metal riff and chorus.  Then, “True Believers” gives you some breathing room again, although still slammed by electric guitars.  This slow tune is a bit more about the melody than the headache.

BEYOND THE CULT_0004The final song on most editions of Beyond Good and Evil is “My Bridges Burn”.  The Cult bow out on a scorching rocker, blowing the speakers out for those who dare to follow them.   Australia received an additional song, “Libertine”, on which to close.  This song feels like a coda and is powered by an Anthrax-esque stomp.  Top that with a soaring Astbury howl and those patented Duffy guitar melodies and you have a good summation of The Cult 2001.

I think many old-school Cult fans, the kind who think they made a wrong turn on Sonic Temple, would dislike Beyond Good and Evil.  For those of us who don’t mind the Cult when they just fucking rock, I think it’s a brilliant album.  The songs are not designed to be instantly catchy.   They are designed to create a sledgehammer of an album that relentlessly powers its way into your soul.  For me, it worked.  You could listen to it once and say, “Sure, it’s heavy, but there are only a couple memorable songs.”  Keep listening.  Let Beyond Good and Evil pummel you with body blows until all you can do is let it sink in.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: The Cult – Weapon of Choice (2012)

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“My wild Indian heart was pounding, I was runnin’ so fast” — Ian Astbury

The Cult Weapon

THE CULT – Weapon of Choice (2012 limited edition iTunes exclusive)

Yeah, I haven’t even gotten around to reviewing The Cult’s excellent Choice of Weapon album yet.  (Nutshell review:  I love it.)   I did review the EP Capsule 1, glowingly so for the music, so you know where I stand as far as The Cult goes!

So what is this Weapon of Choice thing then?  This is an early take on Choice of Weapon, produced by Chris Goss, before Bob Rock came on board to help them finish the record.  Think of it as a demo version, perhaps, or maybe a latter-day version of the Peace album.  The Cult themselves refer to this as a “prequel” album.

Weapon of Choice was available on iTunes only (no physical release) for a limited time only.  If you don’t have it now, you won’t be able to buy it anymore.  As usual, I wish there was a physical release.  Thankfully, the music itself is so strong that it helps compensate for the lack of packaging and credits.

These are early, unpolished versions of the same songs, with different (presumably working) titles.  Therefore, “Blackie” = “A Pale Horse”.  “Elemental” = “Elemental Light”, and so on and so forth.

The-Cult-2012 (1)If you’ve heard the Choice of Weapon album, then you already know these are good songs, and they were good songs at this stage too.  What Bob Rock did is add a layer of polish to them, some additional thump, and more hooks.  That’s what Bob is good it, love him or hate him.  If you haven’t heard Choice of Weapon, by all means, get out there and get it!  What’s cool about it, and this, is that The Cult have revisited their ability to write quintessential Cult riffs, while still pushing forward into new boundaries.  Plus I think Ian’s voice has aged remarkably well.  As he’s gotten older and more grizzled, his voice has acquired more character.

I do prefer the hookier Choice of Weapon versions of these songs, but this is an excellent companion piece.  A little rougher around the edges.  A little more live sounding.

Highlights for me:

  • The awesome “Supreme” (= an early version of “Honey From A Knife” without the gang vocals or piano)
  • “The Bones” (= “For the Animals”)
  • “Decado” (= “Lucifer”, ironically there is another song on Weapon of Choice called “Lucifer”)
  • “Gibraltar” (= “The Wolf” with a slightly altered riff)
  • “Militant” (= a slightly different arrangement of the driving “Amnesia”)

The Cult are back.  The Cult are cool.  Just wish there was a physical release!

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: The Cult – Capsule 1 (2010)

CAPSULE FRONT

THE CULT – Capsule 1 (EP, 2010)

And then the hype began.

…first of 3, possibly 4 capsules…

…we’re not releasing an e.p…We’re releasing ‘a capsule’…

…new songs…a film aspect…music videos that you can download …maybe a t-shirt…

Bullshit!  It’s an EP dammit!  Which is fine, except this one was so fucking hard to get!  Tried Amazon…nothing…tried eBay…nothing on CD…went to the official Cult site and paid over $30 for this thing.

And then, it didn’t even play in any but one of my CD players!  My oldest one, strangely enough.  See, Capsule 1 is one of them there fancypants “DualDiscs”.  A load of crap, I sez.  Half the time, they don’t work in CD players!  But the idea is, one side of the disc is a CD and the other is a DVD.

Before I get to the music, let’s talk about the DVD side.  Ian’s hyped “film aspect”.

What the fuck was that?  What the fuck did I just watch?  Prelude to Ruins is 4 minutes of abstract whateverthefuck that I’ll never get back.  And for this 4 minutes, I can’t get a regular CD that I can play in my car?

Thankfully, the music is fucking awesome! 

First track “Every Man and Woman is a Star” is a stuttering, triumphant return for the Cult.  I think this is the best Cult track in many years, since possibly “The Witch” which is kind of takes me back to.  Another new song, “Siberia”, follows.  This mournful masterpiece drives with the darkest of pulses.  Ian’s vocal is among some of the most powerful I’ve heard!  Fuck yeah!  This takes me back to why I loved the Cult in the first place!  Both songs show different sides to the band, but upon hearing them there is no way you could mistake them for anything but the Cult.

This “capsule” is rounded out by two live tracks:  the best version of “Rain” that I have ever heard in my life, and a dull “Brother Wolf, Sister Moon”.  Ian barks his way through “Rain”, deviating from melody, but trading melody for aggression.

No T-shirt, Ian!  For $30 you could have sent me a shirt.

I’ve heard that Capsule 2 has skipped the DualDisc concept, but I don’t know for sure because I’ve never been able to locate a copy.  At $10 per good song, I thought that Capsule 1 was a bit pricey.

Musically:  4/5 stars

Value:  1/5

Oh, and Ian, it’s still just an E.P!