Monday, July 28, 2014
Ace Frehley - Space Invader: Ace Hits A Home Run With Quintessential New York Arena Rock
Ace Frehley - a guy with a point to prove, and boy has he proved it. Space Invader is the fun rock record of the Summer of 2014. Endless riffs, stinging solos that say 'Ace,' and maybe the best sound I've heard on a hard rock mix this year. The album could have easily been called Kiss This. It's the best album out of the KISS camp since the seventies.
Before I get into this album, I gotta say that this makes my mouth drool for what could have been. If only KISS had been able to play in their original iteration at the RRHoF, the band could have called it a day that night, and been revered for the next hundred years. Sober for over seven years, Frehley is playing better than ever, and it sounds like he's having a fantastic time while he's at it. Whatever the reasons, they sure weren't about musical abilities. We'll always be the less for this tremendous missed opportunity.
Space Invader is a straight, no chaser jolt of rock 'n' roll. Frehley's written an album of classic rock gems - if these riffs were on a KISS album, it'd sell a billion, and if rock fans are at all on the ball, this one will do just great. I've always loved New York City hard rock - from the days when I first heard and saw such legends as KISS, the New York Dolls, and The Dictators, I could never get enough of that cocky, brash Marshall and Gibson fueled fun, and this is the best dose I've gotten of it since The Dictators 2005 masterpiece, D.F.F.D.
I'd be remiss is I didn't talk about how this record sounds. It jumps out of my ancient studio monitors, speakers that I've selected by judging how closely they emulated the sound of Marshall 4X12s when a rock guitar is coming through them, and this record makes them very happy. Recorded by Frehley and drummer Matt Starr (they're joined by The Cult's bassist, Chris Wyse, on several tracks), and mixed by ace producer Warren Huart, this is probably the most satisfying example of classic rock that I've heard this year.
Space Invader is the opener, and it's straight into the meat and potatoes of this album. Ace is singing better than he ever has - he's no Sinatra, but he's become damned good at delivering his message, and his voice is very damned charming in that NYC sense. The direct descendent of Lou Reed, David Johanson, and Adny Shernoff. The drums are huge, and Starr's playing is sublime - it's exactly what you want to hear, and the tone is set. When you hear the guitar solo, you're going to smile from ear to ear - this I can promise. Instant classic.
You may have already heard Gimme A Feeling - it's the album's first pre-release video and download, and it's probably the best classic KISS riff that I've heard in several decades. The solo is right off of KISS Alive - a pentatonic party of the best kind. A million kids bought Les Pauls because of this guy, and here is the reason why. The best straight ahead rock 'n' roll rhythm guitars money can buy. This is rock 'n' roll, and Rock Ain't Near Dead, not by a long shot. We're just getting started here....If this don't make you move, you might just be dead.
The drums that lead into I Wanna Hold You will put you back into a great time, and place - Matt Starr nailed this one. Rock like this is timeless. Relentless drums and guitars, Ace sings his ass off, and it sounds a lot like some guy named Stanley on the chorus backgrounds. Frehley's solos are clearly the signature of the guy we fell in love with in the seventies, but he's still pilling out new licks and tricks. He's forgotten about the influence of EVH, and the LA shred scene and he's back in a New York groove.
Change is a mid-tempo masterpiece - Simmons hasn't had anything this massive to sing over in ages, and while I hate to rub KISS's nose in it, I'm going to anyway. Frehley obviously worked his ass off on the writing of this album, and he's jumped to the head of the class - this is one of the best classic rock albums since the eighties. When contemporaries are relying on past glories, and pale copies of their glory days, Ace Frehley has made what I'll now call his best solo album ever by far. He's obviously followed this tune's advice. He picked himself up and changed.
Following the theme of fun rock, Toys celebrates having the wherewithal to have all the toys one wants to make one feel like a king - this one reminds me that Ace spent many days on the road with the band that was once Aerosmith with its swagger, and its stance.
Immortal Pleasures continues Ace's travelogue of hedonism, and the rock life. This one is off the beaten track a bit, featuring some jangling acoustic guitars, and an almost John Mellencamp vibe. Come solo time it's big rock again, then back into the radio ready side of the tune.
Ace is back into space with Into The Vortex - this one has an adventurous push/pull going on the evokes the memory of a swaying Frehley up on stage. If Hagar ever wants to come close to early Montrose, Ace is his guy. The riff on the refrain of this one sucks you in, and you don't want to get out. Again, Starr is a star, and he's on the money as Frehley follows his muse into a musical interlude that is pure ear candy. I sometime think that rock guitarists forget about the concept of glorious noise, but it's sure not lost on Ace. This is all the beauty of rock guitar that we all always loved from day one. This is the work of a great, great guitar player. Kudos on the production, arrangement, and mix - they are all exemplary.
Another classic KISS moment rings in the intro to What Every Girl Wants - these riffs take me back to being fifteen years old in the best possible way, when I emulated KISS licks with a Les Paul, an Electro-Harmonix LBP-1 pedal, and an old Fender amp. Straight East Coast tones, and Ace's playing is fiery and sharp throughout. His vocals are again better than ever, and he's become a fine purveyor of rock melody and lyrics. Bringing up KISS is only a point of reference, but these riffs are the best from any KISS related player since the seventies.
Past The Milky Way finds Frehley in a romantic frame of mind, and this is a great little tune. Kind of what I always wished Bon Jovi sounded like - maybe like a sincere Bon Jovi? Frehley fills this one with layer after layer of tasty lead fills that may not be technically difficult, but they sound like Ace Frehley, dig? You'd recognize this guy anywhere. He never found a song he couldn't make sound better with his pointed playing. His right hand is wicked on this one, and his bends are past the milky way, indeed.
Reckless is a bit of a throwaway, but it's still better than most of what I hear on most hard rock records these days. This one may suffer a bit from the absence of collaboration, and a strong producer, but if this is the worst the LP has to offer, we're still doing well, and damned lucky. Great soloing, and strong playing keep this one from being skipped over completely.
Steve Miller's The Joker sounds like a pretty blatant attempt at radio play, and to Frehley's credit, he gives it the Ace treatment instead of copping too much of Miller's hit. He lets Starr unleash upon the kit, his solo smokes rock, and it's an entertaining update.
An instrumental puts the album to bed, and Starship is an adventurous soundtrack with which to wrap things up - it avoids cliches, for sure, and brings to mind the best of indie pop-rock channeled through a concept album ala Townshend. Frehley has his composer shoes on here, and he makes the case that he'd fit well into a more ambitious rock project. Pastoral and cinematic, this is a good ride into the sunset. Well played, Ace.
Space Invader is the sleeper album of 2014. I never would have guessed it, but Ace Frehley has proven his point, and given us one of the best albums of 2014. Great rock records are always welcome, and this is a great rock record.