Jamie Oldaker

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.

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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: Frehley’s Comet – Second Sighting (1988)

Part three in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Live + 1?  Click here!

FREHLEY’S COMET – Second Sighting (1988 Megaforce Worldwide, 1998 reissue)

Ace was rushed on Second Sighting.  I think that might be why it seems a little Tod (Howarth) heavy, song-wise.  I recall in an old Hit Parader interview circa 1989, Ace complained that he had to follow a “stupid schedule” on Second Sighting, and the album suffered for it.

Having said that, I like Second Sighting better than Frehley’s Comet.  I wondered what the hell Ace was high on when he made that comment about Second Sighting.  Indeed, this is my favourite (post-Kiss) Ace CD.  Let’s not forget how important context is.  It was summer 1988.  It was the summer of Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Van Halen…and Ace Frehley!  I was a kid in love with the rock.

The lead single was a choice Ace may regret today.  Instead of coming out with a rocker, they went with “It’s Over Now”, a ballad sung by Tod!  I always thought to myself:  “If I was a kid and I didn’t know who Ace Frehley was, would I assume he’s the blond guy singing?”  Tod’s singing, playing the keyboards (a huge friggin’ keyboard), and then he breaks into a guitar solo on one of those little Steinberger’s with no head…odd choice for lead video, no?  Check out the close up on his two-handed tapping technique.  The perfect Howarth hair.  The video even seems to be vaguely about him and some chick.  I still have to admit that my teenage self loved the song, it might be a ballad but it was a quality ballad with some soloing.

Thankfully, the album itself was lead off with a better track, “Insane”.  It’s an Ace helmed good time party rocker.  New drummer Jamie Oldaker (Eric Clapton) isn’t as fancy as the unavailable Anton Fig, but he throws in some pretty cool fills.   Of course Ace lands the perfect solo, always complimenting the song.

The second track is a melancholy Dokken-esque rock ballad from Tod, “Time Ain’t Runnin’ Out”.  It has a pretty significant keyboard part, which some may find obtrusive.  Fortunately the guitar parts are great, and Tod’s powerful voice is easy on the ears.  It also has a pretty solid chorus.

I don’t know the story behind “Dancin’ With Danger”, but it sure boasts an odd batch of co-writers, including Spencer Proffer, Streetheart, Ace, and Dana Strum from rival band Vinnie Vincent Invasion.  The good news:  it smokes.  It has a ZZ Top-like sequencer part, adding a robotic pulse, but not taking anything else away.  The riff is pretty heavy, Ace takes the lead vocal and an absolutely scorching solo.

The first side of the album ended with “Loser in a Fight” which is kind of…meh…eh…  It’s OK, it’s heavy at least, but what I like about it is that is a co-lead vocal with both Ace and Tod.  It’s that old Kiss trick that I used to like.

SECOND SIGHTING_0001Ace enters on side two with some pretty cool guitar effects, leading into “Juvenile Delinquent”.  Ace sings to a 16 year old girl and tells her to follow her dreams.  It’s a little creepy when Ace sings “You’re looking good these days, believe it girl, I’m not blind.”  I tend to just block that part out when I hear it.  I think it’s a catchy song with a rock solid guitar base, and other than a couple lines in the song, I dig it.

“Fallen Angel” (not the Poison song that was a hit around the same time) is another Tod ballad.  Like “It’s Over Now”, it’s a totally solid song, but this one has some more balls to it.  It’s a little pissed-off sounding and the chorus is blazing hot.  It is followed by “Separate” which to me sounds like vintage Ace.  It’s sparse, the lyrics are basically spoken, and it has an extended guitar solo as the centerpiece.  It kind of reminds me of “Don’t Run”, an Ace demo that eventually became “Dark Light” on The Elder.

“New Kind of Lover” is a wicked cool hard rocker about Tod Howarth gettin’ it on with a ghost.  Once again, the solo is obviously Tod.  Some may find it offensive that Ace didn’t play every single guitar solo on his album, but Frehley’s comet was a band, and Tod’s no slouch.  His soloing style is opposite to Ace Frehley, which is one reason to allow him a couple solos.  It also lent the album a modern edge.

As is the Ace tradition, the album closes with an “instrumental” (technically).  Unlike past albums, it is not a nice pleasant “Fractured”.  Instead, this is a blitz of riffage and solos called “The Acorn in Spinning”, which does in fact have words.  The lyrics entirely spoken, Ace tells the tale of “this new fighter Bronx,” and a few other seedy characters.  As it happens, that summer I was introduced to the Sierra PC game, Championship Boxing.  Obsessed as I was with “The Acorn is Spinning”, I named my boxer Acorn and created a whole persona and cast of enemy boxers for him to challenge.

That’s the note I want this review to go out on, a note of personal anecdote, because for me this album is personal.  Summer 1988.  Ace may have been dissatisfied, but LeBrain 1988 was eager to hear the next one.  Little did I know that Frehley’s Comet had to endure some serious lineup changes.  But that’s next time.  See you then!

4.5/5 stars