Album of the Week 19-2016: Ace Frehley – Ace Frehley

When all original Kiss members released their solo debuts on the same day – September 18th 1978, to be exact – critics viewed it as a cash grab. Given Kiss’ commercial track record, it probably was, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the music isn’t good. In fact, Paul Stanley’s and Ace Frehley’s albums are excellent. In Frehley’s case, it’s good to hear the guitarist in total creative control without the rest of the band watering his ideas down. The result is heavier than Kiss, but also highly versatile. It wasn’t the most accessible, but definitely justified as the bestseller of the four solo records.

Sure, Frehley wasn’t the best singer in Kiss – Paul Stanley is – but he definitely makes the best of his limited range here, delivering what is easily his most confident vocal performance to date. Frehley also wasn’t the best songsmith in Kiss – again, Paul Stanley is – but the adventurous seventies Hardrock sound on display here accounts for a really engaging listen. The guitar sound is heavier and more abrasive than on any Kiss record, but that doesn’t mean this is monotonous noise. Or even a typical solo record for a guitarist. On the contrary: ‘Ace Frehley’ is filled with interestingly written material.

‘New York Groove’, a Russ Ballard composition originally recorded by British Glam band, was the big hit from this record, but its Bo Diddley-rhythm is hardly representative of the album. While it’s true that no two tracks sound the same, the album shoots right out of the gate with the high octane Hardrocker ‘Rip It Out’ that gives a much better impression of what you’re about to hear: loud guitars, catchy choruses and thunderous drums courtesy of Anton Fig. Those elements are common, but the feel differs from track to track; ‘Speedin’ Back To My Baby’ is swinging Rock ‘n’ Roll, while ‘Wiped Out’ is heavy and unpredictable.

Interesting are the two songs with fairly obvious drug-influenced titles. ‘Snow Blind’ is built upon a crushing riff with an almost inverted shuffle rhythm and has a very memorable chorus, before bursting into a more exuberant, Rock ‘n’ Roll solo section. ‘Ozone’ is more progressive in its layering of acoustic and electric guitars – also done very well in the remarkably Poppy ‘What’s On Your Mind?’ – and its understaded chorus that almost sounds like a Buddhist chant. One of the riffs even reminded me of Black Sabbath’s amazing ‘Megalomania’. The other highlight is the instrumental ‘Fractured Mirror’; upon a fundament of clean guitars, Frehley displays some of his most fragile and melodically strong playing thus far and as such, the track is the perfect closing statement.

A solo album ideally highlights a side of an artist that isn’t quite as apparent in his main band. Because Frehley was never a leader in Kiss, his first solo record sounds quite different from what was his main band at the time, but the change is very welcome. ‘Ace Frehley’ is an excellent record that I prefer over any Kiss studio album except for maybe their debut. The Spaceman proves here that he had an abundance of great ideas lying around and they deserve to be heard by anyone who loves a good guitar-driven record.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ozone’, ‘Fractured Mirror’, ‘Snow Blind’

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