First Posted: 9/16/2014
There should never be an argument over who was the true heart of KISS.
Original guitarist Ace Frehley never ceases to remind the international fanbase of rock ‘n’ roll’s most fruitful experiment in marketing and commercial excess that he, in fact, has been the man who, once you strip away the costumes, kabuki makeup and toy lines, inspired so many music lovers to appreciate their most famous songs at their core essence. Ace was the band’s Keith Richards, and one does not have to look any further than his work outside of the KISS universe to cognate why his legend is more respected and appreciated more than the singular works of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and Peter Criss combined.
His solo album of the four released in 1978 was the only one anyone gave a shit about, let’s be honest. And, while Frehley’s Comet did have its foibles, it stood tall right alongside the best of what the non-makeup version of KISS with guitarist Bruce Kulick and the late, great Eric Carr accomplished in the 1980s. Again, be real with yourself, what 1989 LP would you rather break out in 2014: Hot in the Shade or Trouble Walkin’? ‘Nuff said.
And though the 90s and beyond did not bring much in terms of new music for Ace (mainly due to his obligations with the then-reunited original lineup of KISS), he made up for sorely missed time on the world stage in 2009 when he released the excellent Anomaly. It marked the first time Frehley sang on an entire record since Ace Frehley, not to mention his most critically acclaimed. Indeed, stakes were set high for its follow-up, the just-released Space Invader, which once again features Ace handling the majority of the bass and guitar duties with assistance from such prolific pals as The Cult’s Chris Wyse and drummers Matt Starr of Bang Tango fame and the great Anton Fig from The Paul Shaffer Band.
By comparison to its predecessor, these 11 new songs finds Frehley gunning for a more sophisticated groove more akin to that fabled ‘78 solo LP than anything else he’s done in the last 30 years, as tracks like “Toys”, “Immortal Pleasures” and “Reckless” signify. Meanwhile, you can also hear adventurous elements of Southern boogie on the driving “Gimme a Feelin’” and even Dunwich Records-style garage groove on “I Wanna Hold You”, while the album’s instrumental closer “Starship” features a jangle that seems to give a nod to Frehley’s love for The Byrds in an indirect way. The cover of the Steve Miller Band’s signature FM smash “The Joker” might seem like an odd choice at first. But just as he did when he blasted through Electric Light Orchestra’s “Do Ya” a quarter century ago on Trouble Walkin’, he cheekily makes the popular radio staple his own, letting Mr. Miller and company know who the real space cowboy is, was and always will be in these parts of the AOR territory.
Sure, we might allow him the dalliance of leaning on old cliches from time to time, and Space Invader is in no way void of them. But for any KISS fan who knows the truth behind who really brought the heart to the hottest band in the world during their most crucial years such things can be overlooked when you are just happy to see old Ace still alive and well, and creating some of the best commercial rock on your radio dial.