Megaforce Worldwide

REVIEW: King’s X – King’s X (1992)

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Complete studio albums (and more!), part 6


Scan_20151104KING’S X – King’s X (1992 Atlantic)

The end of an era: the self-titled album.  When you self-title a record, it’s usually meant to be a statement.  Who knows if King’s X knew that theirs would be the end of the classic era of the band?  Tensions with producer/manager Sam Taylor were increasing and this would be their last collaboration.

King’s X, the album, seems to hone in on songwriting.  There are no long bombers, just short and taut King’s X songs.  “The World Around Me” exemplifies this.  The main ingredients are intact: Doug’s soulful but pained lead vocals mixed with the lush backing of the other two, the heavy but uniquely constructed riffs, and the diverse assortment of influences.  This song, and the next (“Prisoner”) get in and get out quick, delivering the necessary hooks with integrity.  They don’t spend time noodling or meandering.  The songs are more direct this time, without selling out.  You still can’t mistake what band this is.  There is only one band that sounds like King’s X, and that’s due to a unique vocal blend, and playing that sounds like no one else.

“The Big Picture”, the first ballad, doesn’t sound all too different from the Faith Hope Love material.  Good song, but a retread.  Then we’re “Lost In Germany”, with Doug and Ty Tabor sharing vocals, but this is one song that annoys more than it entertains.  Something about that chorus.  “Germany, lost in Germany!”  Maybe it’s the fact that my old boss at the Record Store used to make fun of this song, or maybe it’s just corny.  It has a tricky little Steve Vai-esque guitar lick, but I don’t want to be “Lost in Germany” any more.  Having found the autobahn, we get off next at the “Chariot Song”.  Accelerating breakneck, this song kicks ass.  Time signatures and keys change left right and center, but it’s a cohesively awesome song.  All I dislike are the self referencing lyrics: “Out of the planet comes Gretchen with faith, hope and love.” You’ll love the psychedelic Beatles section in the middle. Fave tune “Ooh Song” blows out the speakers. The stuttery riff and dark melodies hint at where King’s X were headed. “Ooh Song” and “Chariot Song” are a whopper of a one-two punch, 100% King’s X, no selling out.

“Not Just for the Dead” is uplifting, with hints of piano and sitar. It has a proud, anthemic quality before it too ventures into psychedelia. An album highlight for sure. Then, “What I Know About Love” (the closest thing to a long bomber on this album) has a long Ty Tabor solo section; very cool. “Black Flag” was the lead single but never a favourite of mine. Like “Lost in Germany”, something about the chorus just isn’t happening. Seeing Doug flying around in his underoos, in the music video, is entertaining however. There are also some King’s X puppets — somebody made actual puppets of the guys for props in this video. I sure hope somebody hung onto those!

Winding down the album, Ty’s mellow “Dream in my Life” just kind of sits there. It doesn’t have the drama I crave in King’s X. Fortunately, the closer “Silent Wind” kicks ass completely. The verses and chorus are equally excellent. This is a powerhouse of a song, and though a closer, could have made a much better single than the two they picked!

King’s X created another solid album, but for the first time it felt like they had not progressed. King’s X feels like an amalgam of previous King’s X albums, and maybe that was the point. Still one of the greatest rock bands of all time, they spun their tires a little here. But change was afoot.

4/5 stars

DOGMAN FRONTThe only King’s X album I reviewed prior to this series was Dogman (1994), and that review is the next chapter in this series. You can read it by clicking here now!

As stated above, Kings’s X, the album, was the end of an era. Dogman would be dramatically different. There were no lead vocals by Ty Tabor, and they had gotten much, much heavier. Putting the emphasis more on the groove, and installing Brendan O’Brien at the console, King’s X delivered a punishing sledge of an album. Dogman rates 4.9999~/5 stars, just shy of a full 5/5. Check out the full review for that.  Also previously published is a mini-review for a promotional CD single for the track “Pillow” from Dogman, complete with two then-unreleased live bonus tracks.   Click ’em both.

 

KING’S X review series:

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994)

REVIEW: King’s X – Faith Hope Love (1990)

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Complete studio albums (and more!), part 4


KING’S X – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990 Atlantic)

This is where I hopped on board the King’s X train.  It was the quirky video for the irresistible pop rocker “It’s Love”.  It wasn’t the first accessible King’s X single, but it was the first I ever had the chance to hear.  And it was instant.  It was an immediate, “Ah!  So this is King’s X!  I have to get this.”  And I did.  Before then, I had only read about them in magazines.  Their cool cover art, striking album titles, and brilliant reviews had them on my radar.

“It’s Love”, written and vocalized by Ty Tabor, emphasizes the melodic aspects of the band.  They always utilized Beatles-like harmonies over chunky guitars.  This mixture was perfected for the charts on “It’s Love”, and it did make a minor dent.

Although “It’s Love” might be the most instantaneous song on the album Faith Hope Love (the band’s third), it’s not the most impressive.  Not even close.  And that’s saying something!

With Faith Hope Love, there was a downshift in intensity but not in quality.  The album is overall a little less edged, but just as challenging.  Indeed, the title track is almost 10 minutes of swirling rock, with dual lead vocalists and startling instrumental integrity.  There is also a song called “We Were Born to Be Loved” with smoking playing, false endings, and enough technical chops to satisfy the most ardent fan.

King’s X have never taken the easy road, lyrically or musically.  “Legal Kill” is abstract but can be interpreted to be about a few sensitive issues in today’s society.  It’s not preachy:  “I only know what I believe, the rest is so absurd to me.”  It’s a beautiful song, a peaceful acoustic ballad.  A song like this could have been a hit for anyone, except King’s X it seems.

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Other accessible rock songs include the love song “I’ll Never Get Tired of You”, a beautiful sentiment.  The “Fine Art of Friendship” combines the vocals of Doug Pinnick and Ty Tabor in that patented blend, always so tasty.  Then there is the slow, dark ballad “Everywhere I Go” by Doug.   There aren’t any weak songs on Faith Hope Love, although I find the softies “Mr. Wilson” and “Six Broken Soldiers” (vocal debut of drummer Jerry Gaskill) to be not quite as amazing as the rest of this stunning album.

The centerpiece is “Moanjam”.  By the opening rumble of Doug’s bass and the intense tempo, you might think it’s a Motorhead song.  Proving their diversity, “Moanjam” combines smoking metal riffing, lush harmonies, and Doug’s unmistakable soul singing.  You could put “Moanjam” on an album 10 times and it would still be a hell of an album!  With subtle Christian lyrics (“I sing this song because of You, You’re the glory”), you can headbang to it without thinking too much about the words.   In fact, doing so is quite an enjoyable experience.  It’s also a blast to air-drum to Jerry’s speedy parts; just be sure to catch your breath!

Although Faith Hope Love was their most accessible album yet, in many ways it really wasn’t.  It was over an hour long, containing two long-bombers.   The arrangements are still challenging, and still uniquely King’s X.  There is nobody out there who plays guitar like Ty Tabor does, and nobody who can sing like Doug Pinnick.  Faith Hope Love is a completely unafraid album.  Unfortunately it might also have been their last chance to grab the brass ring.   With grunge around the corner, bands like King’s X were hastily pushed aside.  What a shame.  This record could have been their Revolver.

5/5 stars


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KING’S X review series:

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)

REVIEW: King’s X – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)

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Complete studio albums, part 2


Scan_20151018KING’S X – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989 Atlantic)

Only a year — one measly year! — after debuting with one of the most dearly beloved first albums in memory, King’s X summoned the muse for a second time.  They went back into the studio with Sam Taylor to repeat the magic.  Repeat it they did, with their original blend of influences and talents, but without backing off one inch in compromise. They did make a couple corny but cool music videos, although the rarity of their airplay must have frustrated everyone involved.

“Over My Head” surely made the band look and sound cool. Their souls-meets-metal-meets whatever they want vibe is concisely summed up in under five minutes. “Grandma used to sing, grandma used to sing, every night when she was prayin'” says Doug, opening up old wounds that he would still be singing about for years. But it’s not dark; instead, the music is as uplifting as a church choir. But only if the church band featured Jimi Hendrix and the Isley Brothers.

Production is improved on Gretchen, and diversity has expanded once again. “Out of the Silent Planet” (the title track for the last album!) opens with sitar, but before too long a very Rush-like riff is enveloped by the lush psychedelic harmony vocals that Doug, Ty and Jerry create so naturally. Clearly the band did not take summer holidays that year because the growth is audible. Layers of guitars, sitars and unknown sounds create a swirl of purple haze. And listen to Doug’s chiming bass on the outro. What’s that you hear? Yeah, it sounds like the bass outro to “Jeremy” to me, too. Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam once said that “King’s X invented grunge”. I don’t think that’s true although it probably indicates that some smart guys in Seattle had good taste in music. I think Doug Pinnick invented the way that he and Ament play bass. If you hear Pearl Jam occasionally in King’s X, I think that’s the part that was tapped by Jeff Ament via Doug Pinnick.

Gretchen may be challenging like Silent Planet was, but King’s X try to make it easy for you to climb aboard the train. The light melodic picking in “Summerland” sound enticing so just come on in. Doug’s soulful wailing brings the clouds but Ty’s harmonies blow ’em back away. “Summerland” is a rock triumph, possessing drama with melody and integrity in a flawless mix. Back to church again on “Everybody Knows a Little Bit of Something” — but only briefly as we are now on funky ground. Accelerated for action, “Everybody Knows a Little Bit of Something” is a pulse-pounder not to be missed. King’s X can do no wrong, especially when combining disparate elements in new ways. Another side of King’s X is the acoustic one often visited by Ty Tabor, and that’s “The Difference”. The setting feels like a chilly fall day but King’s X paint pictures that allow you to see your own images. That’s the beauty of the music.

“I’ll Never be the Same” is more familiar King’s X territory. Never keeping it simple, never making it inaccessible must have been the motto. Their pool of influences seems to come out slightly different each time. Church organ (by Sam Taylor) makes its debut on “Mission”, an appropriate place for it, but that’s a bluff. “Mission” is actually a metallic assault on televangelists. “What is the mission of the preacher man?” asks Doug in an impassioned wail. “Some are true, Some do lie,” he warns. “Fall on Me” will then take your head off with some of the rockingest King’s X on the album. If a record label was looking for an accessible single, here it is. I guess this band really was just too smart for radio, like with the cosmic “Pleiades”.

Far off in the field I see a castle,
Today the people gather at the pole,
He tried to tell us all the world was spherical,
They burned his body but not his soul.

Keep in mind this is a band that is often lumped in with Christian rock!  But what about the riff?  Imagine the love child of Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page.  They had a baby and named it “Pleiades”.

Pinnick brings the soul back on “Don’t Believe It (Easier Said than Done)”.  “This is not the end of the road,” he sings and he’s right — even though it is track 10, it’s not the end.  King’s X beefed up Gretchen with 12 tracks, a rare bounty in 1989.  But this was not a normal band.  These was an inspired trio with thoughts and feelings to get off their collective chests.  “Send a Message” keeps the pace upbeat but not straight; there have to be some twists and turns.  Ty then takes the final track with “The Burning Down” and a mellow ballad.  Floyd meets Rush meets King’s X, and it’s over.

The first two King’s X albums boasted rich and impressive album art.  Gretchen is the best of the pair.  Now that’s an album cover; the LP at least anyway.  On CD it’s much harder to appreciate.  No matter since it’s the music that counts.  It’s rare for a band to grow from an incredible album like Silent Planet to something even bigger like Gretchen.  That’s exactly what King’s X did, even though they did it in obscurity.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: King’s X – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)

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SERIES DEBUT

Join us for a serious look at every King’s X studio album!…and more.

Scan_20151018KING’X – Out of the Silent Planet (1988 Atlantic)

The Texas Trio, the soul-bringers of progressive rock…call ’em what you want (I just did, I made those two titles up), King’s X are too important for you to ignore any longer.  If you have been aboard the King’s X train already, then you know what I am about to tell you.  If not, then realize that this band has been tragically ignored for aeons.  Since 1983 in fact, as Sneak Preview, a glammy rock band who released one record before changing direction and name to King’s X.  Even though Sneak Preview were certainly not hinting that there was more beneath the surface than just some good sounding rock and roll, it was obvious that they had the ability to write and to play.  They made a few music videos, and “Linda” depicts them delivering hooks more typical of Bon Jovi or Van Hagar.

Supposedly, the band were not happy with the way the Sneak Preview album turned out. Of 1000 copies made, half were reportedly destroyed on purpose. Today copies sell for over $200.

Newly christened as King’s X, the band and producer/manager Sam Taylor went into the studio for Megaforce, a division of Atlantic, the label that launched Led Zeppelin. They emerged with one of the most startling and important debut albums of the 1980’s, Out of the Silent Planet.  Starkly original and different, King’s X took the critics by storm.  If only the record buying masses followed their lead.

According to esteemed scholar and Sausagefester Scottie Geffros, “From Out of the Silent Planet right up to Tape Head (1998), there is so much good stuff that the world in general should be embarrassed that ‘music fans’ never caught on to the greatness that is King’s X.” Adds fellow ‘Fester Johnny Cheddar, “I remember the first time listening to Out of the Silent Planet with Dr. Dave…we had been on a music buying mission, and he found an elusive vinyl copy; going cheap if I recall. It was a hard album to come by in those days. I was amazed to hear such a heavy riffy metal sound, but without the sinister vibe that goes with it.”

Starting with a dramatic space rock intro, “In the New Age” soon introduces the core King’s X sound:  The soul, the dual vocal talents of Doug Pinnick and Ty Tabor, and their unique cross of influences.  Ty and Doug have voices on opposite sides of the rock spectrum.  Ty sings high and clean with a hint of Lennon, and Doug goes deep to the howling limits of his soul.  Their trio format, with Jerry Gaskill (another talented singer in his own right) on the drums still allowed them to create expansive rock.  They were not writing anything simple or pandering anymore; “In the New Age” boasts daring changes and a progressive bent that major labels weren’t usually hawking.

The central song might be the ballad “Goldilox”.  On this track, the band have married a knack for a good pop song without compromising their integrity.  “Golidlox” is a spring-like, bright song of hope.  Doug Pinnick has a voice to be envied by anyone, with power and the ability to evoke the classic soul singers of an era gone by.  The other two back him to form a lush curtain of slightly psychedelic harmonies.

“Power of Love” has a pop rock chorus, but punched up by the hard hitting band.  Vocally, this is a soul anthem.  Musically, it’s anthemic rock and roll, good for head-banging or banana-dancing.  It’s up to you — and that’s the “Power of Love”!   Although hard rock songs not unlike this were getting played on the radio, King’s X were probably too smart for radio.  “Power of Love” melds seamlessly into “Wonder”, a song about divisions between us.  “There’s a wall between us, a partition of sorts.”  Yup, too smart for radio.  Chunky like good peanut butter, and still fresh today, “Wonder” is indeed still a wonder.  “This is church, this is state, rock and roll, Amazing Grace.”  Then, “Should I go to the front, should I go to the back?  Should I just pray or should I attack?”  Considering it’s Doug singing (Doug is black), I wonder if some folks of limited intelligence might have found those lyrics just a little scary?  This is some powerful shit.

Doug sounds wracked with pain on “Sometimes”, again tormented by the world he sees around him.  As King’s X progressed, so too would Doug’s subject matter and way of approaching it.  In 1988 he was deeply religious. “I stand here waiting for new Jerusalem, I know it’s greater than the world outside.”  The pain subsides on “King”, which is an incredible high water mark of songwriting…and it’s on a debut album.  Consider that for just a moment.  Again Doug is using Biblical imagery in his words, but King’s X did not seem to preach.  Even if some were starting to suspect that the titular “King” was Jesus Christ himself, hey look an awesome guitar solo!

The rumblin’ bass of Pinnick shakes your teeth on “What is This?”  Heavy and melancholy until the chorus kicks in, “What is This?” nails it again.  “Far, Far Away” ceases the slamming temporarily, for some 60’s textures and dreamy Van Halen-esque chops.  “Shot of Love” has a slight but noticeable jangle to its marching riffage.  Out of the Silent Planet boasted numerous styles of rock on one album but also usually within a single song too.  “Shot of Love” recalls gospel, marches, Queen, Judas Priest and Supertramp.  Finally, “Visions” is heavy on riffage, combined with heavenly choirs of vocals.  Sabbathy riff changes, Motorhead tempos, Eddie Van-shred, and Beach Boys harmonies.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

1988 came and went, with King’s X winding up on many critics’ top 10 lists.  As luck or perhaps just taste would have it, that did not translate into sales.  But in 1988 that didn’t mean the end.  That just meant you go back into the studio and make another album.  A better album.

5/5 stars

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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 – 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

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

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Frehley’s Comet (1987)

LOOK!  It’s Rock and Roll!  I’m gonna review all of Ace Frehley’s solo albums.  Welcome to the series!  For Ace’s 1978 solo album, click here!  This review goes out to MARKO FOX!  Thanks for inspiring this idea. And happy birthday to ANTON FIG!

 

“Rock Soldiers come, and Rock Soldiers go.  Some hear the drum, and some never know.  Hey, Rock Soliders, how do we know?  ACE is back and he told you so!”

ACE FREHLEY – Frehley’s Comet (1987 Megaforce Worldwide)

It’s very daunting for me to review this.  My sister bought this album for me, for my birthday, in July 1987.  I had been a Kiss fan for a few years, and immediately liked Ace best.  Yet he’d been quiet for so long.  I didn’t even know what he looked like.  Then, the powerful video for “Into the Night” premiered on Much, and I knew right away.  I absolutely needed the album.

Frehley’s Comet is the debut release by Ace Frehley’s new band.  He had quite a band, too.  Singer / guitarist / keyboardist Tod Howarth had a really powerful, commercial voice and added keyboards to the mix, which was an edge in the late 80’s.  Meanwhile, on drums, was Anton Fig.  Veteran of at least three Kiss releases (Ace’s 1978 solo album, Dynasty, and Unmasked), there’s a reason David Letterman refers to Anton as “Buddy Rich Jr.”  Having Anton in the band was a serious coup.  On bass was John Regan, who proved to be a the only member to stick around for all of the 80’s.

“Rock Soldiers” was a great opening track.  Ace is back and he told you so?  Yeah!  This stomping anthem is the tale of Ace’s own carnage.  “And the devil sat in the passenger’s side of DeLorean’s automobile.”  And later, “When I think of how my life was spared from that near-fatal wreck, if the Devil wants to play his card game now, he’s gonna play without an ACE in his deck!”  How could Me 1987 not have loved this song?  It had a killer singalong chorus and was released as a single.

“Breakout” is interesting because the riff was written by Eric Carr, Ace’s old Kiss bandmate.  “Breakout” is in fact “Carr Jam ’81”, the song written at the time of The Elder.  Kiss never used it, so Ace did.  Tod sings lead on this one, and Anton plays his own drum solo where Eric once did.  Ace then turns in a friggin’ classic Frehley solo.

“Into the Night” is a Russ Ballard song, which surprised me, as I always felt that the lyrics fit Ace’s New York background like a glove.  It’s a mid-tempo rocker, and as first single, it was the first song that I heard.  Today, it still sounds dramatic and cool.

“Something Moved” is another heavy rocker, written and sung by Tod.  It’s similar in vibe to “Breakout”, and I really like when it goes into what I call the “Stryper riff” at the 2 minute mark, right after Ace’s solo.  Side one ended with “We Got Your Rock”, a sleezy one about groupie with a backstage pass.  To be honest, this one disappointed me back then.  I still find the lyrics to be pretty bad.  Ace co-wrote this one, hopefully not the lyrics, because the music’s decent enough.  If it were a Kiss song, it would be one of those Gene Simmons monster tunes.

Thankfully, side two starts on a better note.  “Love Me Right” is an Ace song, with a hard, solid riff and beat.  Yet it’s Tod’s “Calling To You” that is the gem of the album.  It’s a nice hard rocking commercial song with a scorching lead vocal.  The chorus is killer, and I couldn’t understand why this wasn’t the biggest hit of 1987 back then.   Sounds like a dual guitar solo too, with Tod taking the first solo and Ace finishing ‘er off.

The weirdest song is, without a doubt, “Dolls”.  Ace wrote this one completely by himself, words and music, and I have no idea what the hell he’s singing about.  I don’t think I want to know.  Anyway, musically it’s a bright pop rock number, based on the keyboards.  “Stranger In A Strange Land” is back in riff rock territory.  The chorus sounds great, with Tod and Ace singing together.

The album closes with “Fractured Too”, an instrumental sequel to “Fractured Mirror” from Ace Frehley.  It’s not quite as good as the first “Fractured”, but it has stood the test of time.  It’s this kind of music that Ace doesn’t always get recognized for, but his layers of shimmering guitars are very cool.

I wish the lyrics on Frehley’s Comet were better.  At least the music smokes!

4/5 stars