ACE FREHLEY: SPACEMAN

(eONE MUSIC/ENTERTAINMENT ONE; 2018)

Even though Ace Frehley wasn’t my favorite member of Kiss, I was certainly appreciative of his guitar pyrotechnics (figuratively, if not literally) and, once I heard his first lead vocal on the LOVE GUN track “Shock Me,” his stock shot up dramatically in my estimation; the band now had three very distinct voices (Ace’s other-worldly, Marvin the Martian on helium atonal delivery alongside Gene Simmons’ deep-throated growl and Peter Criss’ gravelly purr) to offset Paul Stanley’s rock star style and front-man proclivities. Frehley’s ups and downs (and ins and outs) with Kiss and his battles with more than a couple of personal demons have been well documented; I won’t waste your time rehashing Ace’s checkered past… I’m just glad to have new music from the man.

ACE FREHLEY (uncredited photo)

SPACEMAN kicks off with the anthemic grind of “Without You I’m Nothing,” a track – surprisingly – co-written by former bandmate Gene Simmons, who also adds some chunky bass to the proceedings. Ace’s vocals, which have taken on a certain world-weary quality, are in top form and a slow-build solo is a much-needed cherry on top; not that the song is bad, it just never seems to catch fire, much less spark, aside from that solo. “Rockin’ With the Boys” is a hook-laden rocker that, oddly, hearkens back to “Beth” with its “No need to worry/I’ll be home soon/’Cause I’m rockin’ with the boys” chorus. The song is quite easily one of the best things Ace has recorded as a solo artist. Proving himself to be “King of the Power Chord Riffing World,” the hooks just keep coming with “Your Wish Is My Command,” Ace continues to turn up the cool factor with each successive tune. Even though Alex Salzman is onboard as bassist, the cut is another Simmons co-write, featuring just about everything that we’ve ever loved about Kiss. “Bronx Boy” has a little harder edge than the previous tracks, but then, the New York borough that spawned Frehley and Kiss tends to be a little harder edged than a good chunk of the United States. Another anthem, “Pursuit of Rock and Roll,” closes the first half of the album, as Ace name-checks some of the biggest names in the history of good ol’ Rock ‘n’ Roll, while visiting upon many of the cliches that the music is founded upon: Power chords, riffs you could caulk your house with, wicked solo after wicked solo, gang vocals and, I’m pretty sure that there’s a chunk of apple pie in there somewhere. Oh, and Anton Fig. Ace’s long time friend (Fig played drums on Frehley’s first solo record way back when) is in there, too. While Scot Coogan and Matt Starr are fine time-keepers, they aren’t always willing to show any flashes of aggressive playing, tending to keep things simple which allows the guy who’s name is on the album cover to show off his prodigious guitar chops; Anton has played with Ace long enough to feel comfortable playing with a more aggressive style.

ACE FREHLEY (photo credit: JAYME THORNTON)

Even though it’s a cover (originally recorded by Billy Satellite, later a hit for Eddie Money), “I Wanna Go Back” fits in well with what could be described as a “developing pattern,” with its lyrics-as-catharsis recalling both the happier times and a life sometimes ill-spent. The song, short on lyrical content (though it does get the point across nicely), is a mid-tempo rock ballad that fades just as Frehley takes flight on another guitar solo. Picking up the mantle envisioned with the album’s title, Ace is off to the final frontier with “Mission To Mars.” It’s another song that somehow feels unfinished; again, the tune’s not bad, just… incomplete. Another fine solo saves the number from mediocrity. “Off My Back,” likewise suffers from an early fade. The number itself feels more fully formed than the previous two cuts, with an aggressively biting vocal and another finest-kind solo. The album’s final track, “Quantum Flux,” is an instrumental track with ebbs and flows that has me thinking that I sure wouldn’t mind hearing an entire record of instrumentals from Mister Frehley; hey, don’t laugh… it has been done before. With a really cool acoustic riff playing underneath, Space Ace delivers some of his tastiest runs on this piece. Even though there are other stellar moments on SPACEMAN, it seems that Frehley saved the best for last. I will admit that many of the problems I mentioned above are merely minor annoyances; something a bit more troubling is the mix on the vinyl version of the record (the version I used for this review). The music seems compressed and muddy, which could have clouded my perception of the players’ (particularly drummers Starr and Coogan) performances. With vinyl making a strong comeback, it’s a shame that many of the mixing techniques that were perfected in the ‘70s and ‘80s are now, seemingly, forgotten. Still, while this album probably won’t get as many plays as DESTROYER or HOTTER THAN HELL, it won’t necessarily be collecting dust on my shelf, either.


THE DICTATORS: THE NEXT BIG THING EP

(REAL GONE MUSIC/EPIC RECORDS/SONY MUSIC; 2015)

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In a perfect world, the Dictators shoulda been the next Big Thing in rock and roll when their debut album, GO GIRL CRAZY, was released in 1975; instead Andy “Adny” Shernoff, Handsome Dick Manitoba and the rest were relegated to the bargain bin of what coulda been, with Ross the Boss Friedman showing up a few years later in a wooly mammath diaper as a member of Manowar. For whatever reason (the ridiculous – now legendary – cover shot may have done it, but such song titles – taken out of context by my then-sixteen year old brain – as “Master Race Rock” and “Back To Africa” could have played a part, as well), I never purchased that first album. I did, however, fall madly in love with the ‘Tators second release, MANIFEST DESTINY… to the extent that, before my shift at the local record store began, the other employees would try to hide the promo copy from me. I have, more recently, listened to GO GIRL CRAZY and thoroughly enjoyed it (MANIFEST DESTINY is still IT for me, though, as far as this band goes). In advance of an expanded Fortieth Anniversary edition of the first record, Real Gone Music – through the auspices of Epic Records – has released a six-song 10” red vinyl EP as a Black Friday special. And… there’s that ridiculous cover again, modified with a picture of Andrew WK, of which, more in the following paragraph.

The Dictators, 1975 (Ross the Boss Friedman, Stu Boy King, Handsome Dick Manitoba, Andy Shernoff, Scott Top Ten Kempner) (publicity photo)

The Dictators, 1975 (Ross the Boss Friedman, Stu Boy King, Handsome Dick Manitoba, Andy Shernoff, Scott Top Ten Kempner) (publicity photo)

The first three tracks (Side One) come from the GO GIRL CRAZY album (when Shernoff was the lead singer and Manitoba was the band’s “secret weapon”), but have been remixed and “re-imagined” by the previously mentioned Andrew WK. Though Andrew’s credits also say “over-produced,” the cuts – “The Next Big Thing,” “Two Tub Man” and “Weekend” – have more of a raw sound than the high-gloss sheen that Murray Krugman and – especially – Sandy Pearlman are so well known for. The final three tunes (you guessed it… Side Two) are early takes or unreleased songs from the Krugman/Pearlman sessions for the record. “Backseat Boogie” is listed on the cover sticker as a “newly-discovered recordingbut, the song – at least a version of it – appeared on a Norton Records compilation from 2007 called EVERY DAY IS SATURDAY. It’s a raucous piece of Stones or Dolls like trash with slightly over-modulated vocals from Andy, some truly over-the-top guitar from Scott Top Ten Kempner and Ross the Boss, with Ross laying down a biting, proto-metal solo. A heavy, extended bass/drums intro heralds an alternate take of “The Next Big Thing.” This version has an over-all heavier sound than the one that made it onto the original album, Shernoff’s vocals included. On this take, the tune is a massive gut-bucket shot of neo-punk. Finally, there’s a fairly straight-forward take of “Weekend,” minus the vocals. Shernoff’s bass-playing prowess really stands out on this instrumental take, which, oddly enough is the one immediately following the version used on the final version of the album. According to a new release listing for the 40th Anniversary edition of GO GIRL CRAZY, two-thirds of this EP will be featured… everything except Andrew WK’s remix of “The Next Big Thing” and the Instrumental version of “Weekend.” I gotta say, though, that I am particularly pleased with my little slab of vinyl.