Part 6 in a series on Ace Frehley! Missed the last part, “Cherokee Boogie”? Click here!
A Tribute to Ace Frehley – Return of the Comet (1997 Shock Records)
Last time we talked about a tribute album with a new recording by Ace. This time, we’re talking about a tribute album with new recordings by the Comet! Return of the Comet even features some of the same artists that were on Spacewalk: Tracii Guns, Gilby Clarke and the brothers Abbott (Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul) are on both albums. And like Spacewalk, this one also comes with a guitar pick. This time it’s a Bruce Kulick pick, because the CD also features a cool bonus: Bruce’s debut solo track, “Liar”.
This is a pretty good tribute CD. Somebody called Bruiz does a faithful reproduction of the “Rock Bottom” intro, which seques directly into Brian Tichy’s “Rip It Out”. I was familiar with Tichy from Zakk Wylde’s Pride and Glory, but he sings and plays every instrument on this. Everybody knows today how talented he is, but this was a revelation to me in 1997. Do I need to say that he does an excellent job on it? He also nails Anton Fig’s drum solo.
L.A. Guns is next, but it’s not Phil Lewis. It’s Ralph Saenz. You might know him better as Michael Starr from Steel Panther. So how’s their “Cold Gin”? It’s perfect for this band and this singer. Eric Singer and Karl Cochran take a shot at “Strange Ways”, but I don’t like their take on it too much. Eric’s vocal doesn’t suit the song in my opinion, and this version is too chunk-chunk-chunk.
“Getaway” was always a bit of a throwaway Kiss track, but I like the lesser known songs. Seattle’s Tubetop speed it up a fair measure, but that’s not the problem. I always identify this song with Peter Criss’ gritty voice. Who doesn’t? The singer, Gavin Gus, takes a smooth approach to the song, but sometimes Kiss songs aren’t meant to be tampered with too much. It improves as it gets harder at the end.
Then we have the Presidents of the United States of America. OK band I guess, but their stripped back sound is totally wrong for “Shout It Out Loud”. Having said that, the brilliance of the song itself still shines through. The album is immediately redeemed by a remarkable performance from a remarkable guitarist: Dimebag. He and Vinnie Paul stomp through “Snowblind”, a sludgy Ace classic. Wisely, Dime changed nothing about the song, except adding some trademark Dime guitar shrieks on top. It’s a totally appropriate touch. Even though his singing voice is nothing like Ace’s (he’s more Zakk Wylde than Ace Frehley) he still lays down a lead vocal that fits. Then his guitar solo rips your head off, end of story. Mind blown, the album can end here thank you very much!
We’re not even half through yet. Tod Howarth (ex-Frehley’s Comet) turns up with his own solo version of “Dancing With Danger”. It’s a Streetheart cover that Frehley’s Comet also did on Second Sighting. Tod tries to update the song for the 1990’s but fails. His voice is also noticeably lower. Then, Karl Cochran and Eric Singer are up with “Love Her All I Can”, a song originally sung and written by…Paul Stanley? Why? According to the liner notes, Cochran used to sing this song when he was in Frehley’s solo band in the 90’s. Cochran and Singer perfectly nail this one, right down to the guitar solo and those Simmons/Stanley harmony vocals. A winner.
Filler is “Speedin’ Back to My Baby” by Lee and Dallas (?). As great as the original song is, I didn’t need to hear a jazzy country version of it. It’s old-school country, swinging and authentic, but no thanks. Thankfully Gilby Clarke comes to the rescue with the classic “Rocket Ride” from Alive II. I love it. I like it better than his version of “Shock Me” from Spacewalk, actually.
Richie Scarlet from Frehley’s Comet teams up with Beatlemania’s Mitch Weissman on Ace’s “Remember Me”. It’s great and much like the original. Then the Presidents are back for a second term, this time adding members of Tubetop and Kim Thayil of Soundgarden to the mix. They do a cool campfire version of “New York Groove” that sounds live. This is much better than “Shout It Out Loud”. Well done.
A Frehley’s Comet reunion is the climax of the album. Alumni Richie Scarlet, John Regan, Steve Werner and Arthur Stead are back to redo two unreleased Comet classics. These songs are Vinnie Vincent’s “Back On the Streets”, which is, in a word, awesome. It’s a dark ominous song with balls. Then they do “Animal” which was written by Regan and Stead (perhaps the reason it was never released before?). It has a funky little riff before it breaks into a cool anthemic chorus.
It’s best to think of the last two songs as bonus tracks, because they have little to do with Ace. From a forthcoming Howarth album named Cobalt Parlor is a lacklustre song called “California Burns”. I wanted to like this, really I did. It’s just a really nauseating attempt at being modern and heavy, and no sir I don’t like it. Sorry Tod. “The Liar” by Bruce Kulick is much better. I am a real fan of Kulick as a solo artist. He is an articulate, skilled player with a knack for melody. “The Liar” is a great instrumental, alternating between light and heavy, but always very lyrical. Just sing a lead vocal of your own over Bruce’s guitar, and you can imagine this as a “I Still Love You” rock ballad. This song was Bruce’s first ever post-Kiss solo release, and according to the liner notes, it serves two purposes. One: to end the album with an instrumental as Ace always did. Two: to tip the hat to the guy who succeeded in filling Ace’s shoes for over a decade.
I would recommend this tribute album to any serious Ace/Kiss fan, simply because it has some great cover versions of some obscure classics. That to me raises it above most cut-and-paste tribute albums that are out there on the market. There is a real sense of passion to this CD. John Regan put it together and you can tell by the attention to detail. Kudos, John.