SHOCK reviews shock rocker Ace Frehley’s new album.
After releasing one of the best albums of his career, Space Invader, Ace Frehley headed back into the studio to record an album of covers as a follow-up. This is probably not what a lot of fans might expect.
Frehley, now light years beyond his days in KISS, has moved on. Even if the press won’t let him. There is always a story floating around on some blog or website about past and present members of KISS feuding. Every time I’ve talked to Frehley, he has spoken very fondly of his former band mates and has said time and time again that the bad blood is much worse when the press spins it. Many fans think it’s a constant hate fest between the founding members of KISS. Apparently, that’s not the case. On Frehley’s new album, Origins, Vol. 1, Paul Stanley provides vocals on the Free classic cut, Fire and Water. Frehley simply called him up and Paul was all for it. No drama.
The new album, due out April 15 on eOne Music, is possibly one of the most fun albums I’ve heard in years from any artist. The song selections aren’t some weird obscure archaeological musical dig; these are all tracks we know and love. The thing is, they have all been Aced. Like many songs he’s covered in the past, such as New York Groove and Do Ya, Frehley knows how to take a song and make it his own. This album simply serves to reaffirm that fact.
Let’s dig into the tracks.
The first cut, the Cream classic, White Room, takes on a thick melodic ambiance that was never this overt in the original. No matter the song, Frehley still sounds like Frehley. His guitar phrasing is as easy to pick out as the most well-known painting.
With Street Fighting Man, Frehley dips into the Rolling Stone’s back catalog again. Like the Dynasty classic cover, 2000 Man, Frehley grabs hold of a Stones classic and gives it his own flare. And again, just like on 2000 Man, it works perfectly. This version is immensely heavier and grittier but it never feels like he is recreating the wheel.
Next up is the Spanish Castle Magic from the classic Jimi Hendrix record, Bold As Love. This cover leans more toward the spirit of the heavier, live version of the song we have heard before on recordings like Live At Woodstock. John 5 makes his first appearance on the album on this track, lending his signature style to the mix. If we weren’t all familiar with the original, I think this one could almost pass as something Frehley might write on his own, the way he bends it so well to his style.
KISS fans rejoice! Only four tracks in, you get some reunion magic. The track with Stanley, mentioned earlier, takes on a life all its own. The rich, soulful vocal is not your typical Starchild fare. It is, for many KISS fans, going to be the biggest, brightest diamond on this album of gems. This is a chance to imagine a reunited KISS that has shuffled off the self-imposed musical requirements of its own legacy and just let loose. This one is worth the price of admission, kids.
The Thin Lizzy cut, Emerald, becomes something very technical and powerful while remaining very true to the original version. With Slash helping out on guitar, the dual guitar work is over the top. Frehley’s vocals fall right in line with Phil Lynott’s original style. Scott Coogan’s thunderous drum style is apparent and perfectly utilized in this track.
With Led Zepplin’s Bring It On Home, Frehley does something magical. He channels Plant and Page in a way I’d never have thought him capable of. This song is a thing of sonic beauty. Frehley sings lead vocals on the intro and then turns the lead duty over to drummer Scott Coogan, who absolutely knocks it out of the park. The guitar work is spot-on. Frehley keeps the spirit of Pages’s soulful licks intact and carries it in his own style. This song really showcases his blues ability like nothing we’ve heard before.
Lita Ford joins the Space Man for the Troggs sing-along classic, Wild Thing. Unlike the myriad of covers this song has endured over the years, this one seems less like a drunken afterthought sing-along and more like a true spirited tribute to the classic that it is. Frehley’s blistering solo fits perfectly and he keeps it short and sweet without killing the momentum of the song. Ford’s vocals are a nice surprise on the track. This one is a big ball of fun.
The aggression level goes to 11 with the next track, Parasite. The KISS classic, and Frehley live staple, is retooled as a heavy metal monster with teeth. It’s glorious. John 5 returns for another turn and the duo delivers one of the best versions of this song ever. Frehley’s vocals are as intense as he’s ever recorded and the slightly updated but mostly unchanged solo is perfect. This is the version this song has deserved for years.
Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride, one of the most fun, riff-heavy rock anthems to come out of the 60’s, fits perfectly into the mix on this album. This is a fun track and Frehley could easily have a new signature cover with this one. The blistering, chaotic guitar solo is reminiscent of his work on the KISS track, Almost Human. Oddly against the grain of the melody and yet a perfect fit.
With Cold Gin, the classic KISS track Frehley originally penned, we finally get a studio version of the song we’ve heard him perform many times live. Mike McReady helps to build a huge wall of sound on this one. This is song has always been Frehley the writer, at his absolute best. Simple, straight forward songwriting that has stood the test of time. Even with Frehley out of the band, this track was a KISS set list mainstay. The solo is true to the spirit of the way it has always been played, with slight variations that never sound odd or out of place, but invigorate this classic cut.
The Kinks tune, Till The End Of The Day, like the Stones’ cover Street Fighting Man, is quite a bit heavier than the original. This song seems more like a cover than some of the other songs that seem to melt into Frehley’s own established style and, to my ears, is superior to the original. The guitar solo on this one is is Frehley being true to his own sound, but making it fit the song in spite of that. This one shakes the tone of the album up a bit as we get closer to the end. That is not a bad thing.
Closing the album is something quite unpredictable. Yes, another KISS cover, but this time a track Frehley had nothing to do with originally. Rock and Roll Hell is a Simmons-sung track from the Creatures Of The Night album. Although credited and even featured on the original album art, Frehley didn’t play on a single track. This song is the real anomaly on the album (There is a pun in there for the Frehley fans). The guitar work is superb. It’s a really cool opportunity to hear what might have been if he’d been involved with the recording of the album. It’s a great closer to a great album.
All in all, this album will be enjoyed by Ace fans, KISS fans and fans of classic rock in general. It’s a perfect collection of tracks given a fresh coat of paint and a new slant.
Did you see our exclusive gallery of Ace photos live from Dallas? Have a look below!