It’s been five years since Ace Frehley’s previous studio album Anomaly was released. Prior to that, it had been twenty years since Ace had released any solo material, as Trouble Walkin’ had been released in 1989. It’s fair to say that Frehley is taking his solo career a little more seriously these days as far as creating new material for his fans, especially since he, and his fans, aren’t getting any younger.
Now, Frehley is gearing up for the release of Space Invader, an album of twelve new tracks (standard version) which promise to ride tandem with the likes of his 1978 Solo Album recorded while still in his former band KISS.
The problem is, hype seems to have come at a higher value than substance. Months back, the album cover was revealed, and the announcement of famed artist Ken Kelly designing the album artwork, excited many die hard KISS fans. Kelly, as many know, designed KISS‘ most well-known album covers, Destroyer and Love Gun. That sort of nod to the past is nice, but what we’re really interested in is how an album sounds, not looks.
As far as how the album sounds? Here’s the negative aspects:
The opening track, Space Invader isn’t the strongest track to open an album. It’s not a bad song, but it’s certainly not a powerful opener. The chorus suspiciously sounds similar to the chorus in KISS’ Young and Wasted from 1983s Lick it Up…an album Frehley had no involvement in making. Nonetheless, it sounds very similar. And this is just me, but I have a pet peeve about leading your album off with the title track. It basically says, here’s the most important song and the rest are there for your enjoyment.
I Wanna Hold You, Toys and What Every Girl Wants sounds an awful lot like Frehley’s Comet outtakes from the 80s, and reworked for this album. They sound irrelevant and don’t fit properly within the confines of this album.
The biggest negative is the inclusion of The Joker, a cover of The Steve Miller Band‘s classic tune. Frehley, whose no stranger to recording cover songs (sometimes multiple times on one album such as Trouble Walkin’) has without a doubt recorded a dog for this album. To be fair, his version is no better or worse than the original. But why on earth would one of the most influential guitar players of our time record a version of one of the most overplayed (and somewhat annoying) songs? Do you know what the beauty of Frehley’s version of New York Groove from his 1978 Solo Album was? The fact that it was an obscure song from an obscure band. I’m guessing some of you reading this had no idea that New York Groove was a cover song (originally recorded by a band called HELLO.) Regardless, that’s what makes cover songs great. The fact that many people don’t know of it in the first place and you’re talented enough to put your own spin on the song. Frehley’s version of The Joker sounds like someone’s drunk uncle got up on stage and sang a bad karaoke version of it.
The Positives, and there are positives to this:
The lead single Gimme a Feelin’ is a classic Ace rocker with plenty of loose swagger. Immortal Pleasures and Inside The Vortex shy slightly away from the usual Ace offerings and that’s what makes them great. I’ve never seen much point in serving up the same songs over and over again until they are liquified completely. Past the Milky Way is another great example (musically, but not so much lyrically) and an enjoyable listen. Straying away from his usual “Fractured” instrumental, Frehley ends the album with the stand-alone instrumental Starship. It’s a higher tempo than his usual instrumental offerings, which is probably why it doesn’t bare the title Fractured Five.
Ace’s vocals are good. He’s no Robert Plant or Freddy Mercury, nor has he ever claimed to be. Ace is a unique vocalist with his own style and delivery. On a few occasions, I found the vocals to be muddy on this album. Not as clear on previous efforts. His guitar playing is stellar. Great solos, hooks and change ups. Lyrically, it suffers slightly as there are way too many outer space references. We get it—you are the original Space Ace. None of us have forgotten. Also, I feel the subject matter of Ace’s darker days of drugs, alcohol and car accidents have now been beaten to death. I was hoping for an Ace Frehley reboot—offering us something new in light of his more recent experiences, triumphs and outlook on life. Finally, the overall production could be improved upon. I’m wondering why Eddie Kramer was never called upon. Kramer has a history with Ace and his production work on the 1978 solo album, as well as 1989s Trouble Walkin’ are home runs. I sincerely feel that he could have made this album that much better had he produced it.
All in all, I have to say this album is a 6 on a scale of 10. Rather low and disappointing for an album that took five years to make. Well, more than likely not 5 years. This doesn’t sound like the album die-hard Ace fans have been waiting anxiously for. Perhaps in the not-so-distant future, Frehley should dig into the archives and remix or even re-record some of his early Frehley’s Comet demos such as Catch Me When I Fall, The Hurts On and The Girl Can’t Dance. Fans have been craving professional recordings of these tracks for decades. Perhaps even an all covers album, seeing as Frehley is hell-bent on recording other peoples songs. Just don’t try to make a hodgepodge out of a new studio album because sometimes it just doesn’t work.
Rob Watts is a blogger at Ocean View Press and an author of suspenseful fiction. His latest book Left-Hand Path is on sale now.