Marc Ferrari

REVIEW: Keel – The Right to Rock (1985)

IMG_20150613_084127KEEL – The Right to Rock (1985 A&M)

From the Gene Simmons Song Factory, heeeeere’s Keel!

Like many Gene Simmons productions, Keel’s The Right to Rock bears his name on a few writing credits.  The rest of the songs are basically reworkings of tracks from Keel’s first album Lay Down the Law.  That album, like Ron Keel’s debut with Steeler (featuring one Yngwie J. Malmsteen) were on Shrapnel.  For the A&M Records debut, they pulled out the big guns.  They got Gene Simmons in all his wig-ness, and put out a very corny but tremendously fun music video.

It is “America 1989”, and rock and roll is outlawed. “Those who are apprehended suffer severe consequences.”  Can our young teenage Keel lookalike get away from the rock police?  Quiet Riot did something similar with their “The Wild and the Young” video a year later. It’s corny fun.

The song too is corny fun. I guess it’s a classic now. It has that stock heavy metal riff that you need: something Motley Crue or the Scorpions would be comfortable with. It has that rebellious rock theme that was so prominent in the 80’s. It has a shoutalong chorus. “You got it! The Right to Rock!” Hey, I grew up in a Catholic school. I know what this is about. “Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life!” I had a teacher call me out on the first day of school for wearing a Judas Priest T-shirt. I could relate to this song in a big way when I was 13.

It should be noted that Gene Simmons, as a producer, is not known for his sonics. The Right to Rock sounds pretty good for the period, but the drums ring shallow and weak. There’s not much presence for the bass guitar, and the backing vocals are the typical rock mush. That’s what you get with Gene behind the console.

“Back to the City” has a good Priest-like chug to it. I think Keel were going for something middle of the road with their music, like Priest-meets-Scorps-meets-Crue-meets-Kiss. If so, this hit the mark. Ron’s vocals are overwrought but that’s his style. If you don’t like that kind of vocal, you won’t like Keel.

Kinda stinky is “Let’s Spend the Night Together”. You know, I still gotta give the guys credit. They have made this into a pretty fine pop metal song. If you didn’t know the song, you’d assume it’s an original, in the pop metal genre. So from that perspective, I think it’s kinda cool. Stinky and cool — like good gorgonzola.

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“Easier Said Than Done” was written by Simmons/Weissman, the same team responsible for much of the Animalize album. The lyrics even reference “Russian Roulette”, a song title Gene had been toying with for years. (A song called “Russian Roulette” was finally release on Sonic Boom.) So, guess who “Easier Said Than Done” sounds like? That’s right — it is a dead ringer for Simmons-style Kiss. And it’s actually a pretty good song. The problem is Ron’s Gene impression. I can’t help but chuckle at his dead-on Gene vocals. I dare you to refrain from a giggle yourself. Same deal with “So Many Girls, So Little Time”. Kiss fans will recognize that’s a line recycled from the Kiss song “Burn Bitch Burn”.

Onto side two, “Electric Love” is a Keel original, but you immediately notice that the song isn’t as immediate as the two previous Simmons tunes. “Speed Demon”, another original, sounds exactly as the title implies. Quality-wise, it’s only at “Priest outtake” level (Defenders of the Faith era). Then it’s back to Simmons outtakes, with “Get Down”, the weakest of the Simmons songs by a long shot. “You’re the Victim (I’m the Crime)” is a Gene-like title, but this too is a Keel tune. It’s in the same vein as “Speed Demon”, and the same level of quality.

It’s fun to revisit The Right To Rock periodically…but sparingly.

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