KISS — Interviews, concert reviews and commentaries
by Alan K. Stout
Frehley's Fabulous Return
(Album Review, September 2009)
The Times Leader
By Alan K. Stout
Former KISS guitarist Ace Frehley dropped his new CD this week, and in doing so, he solidifies his place as one of the coolest and most colorful characters rock music has ever seen. Titled "Anomaly," it is the legendary musician's first solo album of all-new material since 1989's "Trouble Walkin'." And though the Frehley faithful surely would have liked to have had this record 15 years ago, having Frehley back with KISS from 1996-2002 certainly helped take away some of the longing. Now, however, Ace is solo once again and is again reminding the hard-rock nation why he was - in a group full of stars - one of the most popular members of one of America's most popular bands.
Ace Frehley, in simplest terms, is an ass-kicker. He's an old-school guitar god. And his new sound is big. Very big. The guitars scream. The riffs are infectious. It's a little Clapton, a little Page and a little Hendrix, yet with a modern edge and explosive production.
And it sounds better loud.
The CD's opening track, "Foxy & Free," is also one of the album's best tracks. Here, Frehley glides and grinds through a gritty groove and immediately sets the tone for what is to come: a very powerful, balls-out rock 'n roll album. Again, the guitars are torrid, with a fine sense of both flash and flair, and Frehley - often cited as one of the most influential guitarists in rock history - shows why he's earned such adulation.
Whether Frehley's influence on other musicians comes from his playing or the enormous popularity of KISS - or if it's simply a combination of both - doesn't really matter. The fact is, he is often hailed as a hero by younger rock disciples, yet interestingly, whenever he has topped a readers' poll in some music magazine, or has placed in the Top 10 and is named one the rock's all-time best guitarists, he usually quips:
"If I'd have known I was going to be such an influence, I would have practiced more."
Self-deprecating? Yes. Funny? Sure. But also completely irrelevant.
Technique and innovation aren't why rock fans like Frehley's playing. It's his style. It's his touch. He's a natural. And on "Anomaly," the licks are both vintage and vibrant.
With the churning "Outer Space," Frehley embraces his "Spaceman" legacy from his time with KISS, but with a distinctly modern style. And "Pain In The Neck" comes with a ferocious musical breakdown midway through the song that again flexes the playing prowess of Frehley and his bandmates, who once again include the great Anton Fig, known best for his work on "The Late Show with David Letterman."
A terrific cover of Sweet's "Fox On The Run" is another highlight. The original song actually predates Frehley's fame yet sounds as if it was written with him in mind. Sometimes you hear a cover of a famous song, done by another famous artist, and it makes perfect sense. Such is the case of Ace Frehley singing and ripping away on "Fox On The Run."
With the pounding "Genghis Khan," Frehley treads some new musical waters. The song, unlike anything Frehley has recorded before, offers a trippy-Beatles-meets-gritty-Aerosmith vibe and is a welcomed departure for the spaceman. Of course, he also spices it with some tasty Hendrix-like guitars and some Led Zeppelin thump. In some ways, it's a complete combination of all of Frehley's own major influences, yet once again, done in a very 2009 style.
"Change The World" also offers a slight departure for Frehley, both lyrically and musically. Though describing the song as "political" might be going too far, it does offer a hopeful look at the world around us. And, musically, it comes with some clever time changes that again reveal Frehley's growth as a musician. "Space Bear," a scorching instrumental, again displays Frehley's fretboard wizardry, and KISS fans will get a kick out of its title, taken from a famous 1979 television interview with the late Tom Snyder in which an apparently intoxicated Frehley had both the host and the rest of the band on edge, and at times, in stitches.
With "Sister," Frehley again puts his guitars on display, and with "It's A Great Life," he leans more towards a pop sound that gives the CD a nice touch. The album closes, as is Frehley's tradition, with a moving instrumental, "Fractured Quantum."
The release date of "Anomaly" comes, fittingly, on the third anniversary of Frehley's sobriety, and the mostly acoustic "A Little Below The Angels" seems to celebrate his new place in life. The musician has been on and off the wagon for years, but this time, it looks like he's staying on. And perhaps that's the best news of all for fans of this iconic yet highly lovable legend. Frehley fans not only love his music, but they also root for him to stay straight. They understand that his sometimes erratic behavior drove Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons nuts, yet also know that KISS would often indulge him because of his incredible popularity with fans and what he can bring to the table as a guitarist and even as a vocalist.
With "Anomaly," all we get is the good stuff. The ass kicker. The old-school guitar god. Style. Touch. Flash and flair.
Ace Frehley at his very best.
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