Scot Coogan

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Spaceman (2018)

ACE FREHLEY – Spaceman (2018 eOne)

Ace is back and he told you so!…with a new band.  It’s true.  One of the of the players on Ace’s new disc Spaceman (Scot Coogan) was in his band…until last week.  And that’s all we’re gonna say about that.  Anton Fig and Matt Starr of Mr. Big also handle drum chores.  Ace steps up with new songs, stacks of guitars, and bass too!

Perhaps the showcase moment of the new album is the first Simmons/Frehley co-write in forever, a stomper called “Without You I’m Nothing”.  Almost immediately, without even knowing the details, there is something “Simmons sounding” about it.  Probably because he’s also on bass.  There is something primitively unique about a Gene Simmons bass line.  Ace’s guitar solo, the first of the album, is pure wicked electricity, though he struggles a bit vocally.  It’s a solid opening though, followed by the old-styled “Rockin’ With the Boys”.  It sounds like something written for 1987’s Frehley’s Comet.  It’s all about the chorus.  Then Simmons is back with another co-write (no bass though) on “Your Wish is My Command”.  Ace’s guitars have a crunchy chime, and the focus is catchy melody.

Spaceman was preceded by an excellent EP, Bronx Boy with a brilliant title track.  “Bronx Boy” is back.  That’s Scot Coogan on drums and backing vocals…no wonder he’s pissed about being fired!  Make way for the crunchy stomp “Pursuit of Rock-N-Roll”!  You don’t have to read the credits to know that it’s Anton Fig playing that tricky rhythm.  His unique playing plus Ace’s crunch make this another album highlight (and a song that Ace wrote solo).  That’s followed by a song he didn’t write:  Eddie Money’s “I Wanna Go Back”!  When Ace covers a song, he tends to go for poppier things than you’re used to hearing from him.  Think “Do Ya” from Trouble Walkin’.  This one has the potential to be as fondly regarded.

“Mission to Mars” rocks.  It’s a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am rocket ride to the red planet.  Another potential album highlight.  “Off My Back” (Anton Fig on drums) is really strong as well.

Finally (technically) the next in the instrumental “Fractured” series:  “Quantum Flux”.  Technically, because the word “Fractured” isn’t in the title, but it could be considered a spinoff of “Fractured Quantum” from Anomaly.  It’s heavier than the usual, so “Fractured” doesn’t quite suit it.  The acoustic guitars are only a small part of this wide-ranging instrumental.  Songs like “Quantum Flux” are levels above the rest musically.  It’s a tour-de-force.  Ace Frehley is an instrumental genius.  Yeah, we said it!

For Ace Frehley in 2018, Spaceman is a delight.  It is a true fact that the human voice changes as we age, and Ace’s is lower and less dynamic.  Instrumentally he’s never been better, and as a songwriter, he’s done well.

4.25/5 stars

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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: Ace Frehley – Anomaly (2009)

Finally, the end!  Part 9 of my 9 part series on Ace Frehley!  Via this series, we took a comprehensive look at every significant Frehley solo release that I had access to.  Here’s a directory to the whole thing in case you missed a part!

ACE FREHLEY – Anomaly (2009 Bronx Born)

Ace had a pretty good backing band on this, only his fifth solo album!  Anton Fig on drums, Anthony Esposito (ex-Lynch Mob) on bass, and a few guests here and there such as Brian Tichy.  The overall sound is much heavier than anything Ace has done before.  There are lot of chunky guitars, and a ton of riffs.

“Foxy & Free” is fine as an opener, but melodically a little awkward.  It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what I don’t like about it, but it’s not one of the better songs.  Much better is “Outer Space”, Ace’s re-imagining of a song by a band called Shredmill.  While that band originally conceived the song as a Danzig-esque prowl, Ace cranks it up.  Pedal to the floor, this is the best song on Anomaly.  Too bad it’s a cover because this is the kind of original that Ace needs.  Unfortunately “Outer Space” is followed by “Pain in the Neck”, another one I find melodically annoying.

FREHLEY VINYLAnother cover, “Fox on the Run”, restores the album.  Much like “Do Ya”, I think Ace knocked it out of the park with this cover.  His modus operandi seems to be taking catchy pop songs and rocking them up.  He does it very well.  Another thing he does very well is instrumental tracks, and “Genghis Khan” is a fascinating one.  You don’t think of Ace as being influenced by Led Zeppelin so much, but this definitely sounds like Zeppelin for the most part!  This is thanks in part to Anton Fig’s perfect execution on drums.  But it’s not exactly an instrumental, as it does have a chorus!  “So, long, Genghis Khan!”  But that’s pretty much it in terms of lyrics!

Like a see-saw, the album swings back to melodically questionable territory.  “Too Many Faces” is not a stand out.  It’s heavy but lacks significant hooks.  “Change the World” is a another high.  Frehley’s an electric hippy praying for peace.  It’s not the first time, but it’s a worthy successor to songs of the past such as “Remember Me”.  Unlike many of the weaker songs, “Change the World” is catchy, singalong  quality, and fun!

A punishing and cool instrumental called “Space Bear” is actually overshadowed by another version of the song later on, so I’m going to skip it now.  “A Little Below the Angels” is a pretty good acoustic ballad.  I really dislike the middle section, with Ace talking to the girl…wish that had been excised.  It’s back again to heavy territory on “Sister”, one of the few really decent original Frehley heavy rockers on the album.  This one features Scot Coogan (Brides of Destruction) on drums, and he really throws caution to the wind and goes for it!  His drums are a highlight of a great Frehley rocker.

“It’s a Great Life” is certainly interesting.  It’s a funky 80’s sounding rocker, with Ace’s personality.  The chorus could have been stronger.  Imagine what a producer like Eddie Kramer could have done with the sound of this album!  Sonically, Anomaly is disappointing for the most part.  If Kramer had produced, I’m sure the closer “Fractured Quantum” would shimmer like the other three “Fractured” songs.  Don’t get me wrong, I love “Fractured Quantum”, I just think it lacks a certain sonic shine that the others have.  Like the other “Fractured” instrumentals, it consists of layers of acoustic guitars with some electrics here and there.  It is melodically simple and it works.

iTunes offered their exclusive bonus track, “Return of Space Bear”.  This song is either a) no longer available on iTunes, or b) not available on iTunes in Canada.  Needless to say I was forced to acquire it in the shady underbelly of the internets, but find it I did.  “Space Bear” is a reference to Ace’s hilarious drunken appearance on the Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder.  On October 30 1979, Kiss appeared on the show, and Ace was pre-lubricated. A visibly upset Gene Simmons attempts to divert attention away from Ace and his “first space bear ever in captivity”, a little teddy bear version of himself!  On this iTunes version, Ace’s dialogue is added, and this is the version I like best.  Ace re-enacts some of his funniest drunken lines over some cool rocking riffs.  To me, the tune sounds like early rocking Aerosmith, circa Rocks.

anomalypyramid

photo: heavymetal107

I will say that I don’t like the packaging.  The cardboard case thing unfolds into a pyramid, but I’ve never tried.  As a device to hold a CD, it’s annoying to get the disc in and out, and mine is pretty scratched.  I did find a photo of the “pyramid” form at a cool blog called Heavy Metal 107 — click the thumb to see.

And that’s Anomaly, Ace’s first solo album in 20 years.  By coincidence, just like last time (Trouble Walkin‘), Ace’s new album came at almost exactly the same time as a new Kiss CD, Sonic Boom.   As before, fans compared and argued over who had made the better album.  I think these fans miss the point.  It doesn’t matter who made the better album, what matters is that both finally got back to making albums!

3.75/5 stars

When Ace returns for his next solo album, you can bet I will be here to tell you all about it.  Thanks for reading this series!  I hope you enjoyed.