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Thursday, October 01, 2009

CD Review: Ace Frehley - Anomoly

Ace Frehley - Anomoly
2009 Bronx Born Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

As a kid of the seventies, Kiss was my great obsession along with baseball cards, Star Wars, Get Smart reruns and my Fonz felt poster. No different than most of my susceptible peers growing up with Kiss. We all knew where Gene, Paul and Peter stood, but Ace Frehley was the dark horse we kids knew very little about other than his onstage persona as a rider of the nebula. The Spaceman, as Frehley eventually became known, was for all intents and purposes, the soul of Kiss, much as George Harrison was for The Beatles. The same case might even be made with Ringo Starr and Peter Criss respectively.

In the same manner as The Fab Four (though Kiss is hardly in the same league even at their finest hour), you had a core duo writing most of the songs, allotting here and there for penned and sung ditties from the other two members.

Let's quickly inventory some of Ace Frehley's songwriting contributions to his old band: "Cold Gin," "Shock Me," "Getaway," "Strange Ways," "Talk to Me," "Hard Times," "Rocket Ride," "Two Sides of the Coin" and "Save Your Love." Not to mention co-writing credits on a number of Kiss tunes, some of the best being "Parasite," "Flaming Youth" and "Rock Bottom." Ace also fielded the Stones' "2000 Man" with a more street-tough choke than the original source.

Need I go there with the Kiss solo albums from '78? The truth is well-evident and well-documented who ruled that exercise in futility which at least fetches nice duckets if you have the vinyl versions with the posters still inside. "Rip It Out" alone manhandled anything Ace Frehley's comrades issued by themselves.

Though bailing on Kiss the first time after Creatures of the Night (do the research if you want to know about the inner controversy of that otherwise booming album, along with the Alive II sessions turmoil) Ace came back to the scene during the eighties with his Frehley's Comet venture featuring his self-flogging metal confessional "Rock Soldiers." Add a snap-tight crew including the underrated Tod Howarth and soon-to-be David Letterman-bound Anton Fig, and Ace had it made for a moment. Seriously, the first Frehley's Comet album and his sadly-dismissed 1989 solo effort Trouble Walkin' stood toe-to-toe with much of their competition in the hairball sweepstakes.

After Trouble Walkin' The Spaceman went on sabbatical, resurfacing in his old Kiss duds during a vintage years reunion and a so-called "farewell tour" which is still going almost a decade later. We all know Ace and Peter Criss waltzed back out of the Kiss camp as fast as they returned, to be looking at their famed alter egos painted and platformed onto alternate players.

By all means Ace Frehley would have a reason to vent and gripe to his heart's content with his first solo album in 20 years, Anomoly. Instead, what we get from Frehley is a rock-solid howdy to his fans with more passion and occasional sweetness than might be expected of him at this point in his career.

Anomoly may skid to a meandering crawl in a couple of spots, but gol-dang does Ace Frehley sound motivated in 2009! God bless him, his voice has not aged one iota, nor has his dirty Strat scorches. While the songwriting of Anomoly keeps things mostly in a mid-tempo primer with repetitious beat patterns, you'll want to give Ace a great big hug for his bravado and his willingness to bare himself.

This is perhaps the most honest Ace Frehley has been with himself and his faithful audience. While the '78 solo album remains Frehley's most invigorated snapcase of rawk ecstasy, Anomoly is the work of a senior mind still playing in a young dude's body. You can already picture the smoke belching out of Ace's guitar during the wailing shred of his solo on the bang-dango "Sister." You can likewise fall into nearly the same dreamscape of electro-acoustic nimbleness on "Fractured Quantum" as Ace's original composition "Fractured Mirror," the latter being to this day one of his undeniable masterpieces.

The first two songs of Anomoly, "Foxy & Free" and "Outer Space" are hedged with classic glam and Aerosmith grooves plus spots of Ace's own "Wiped Out" and "Rip It Out." "Foxy & Free" is perhaps the most footloose and giddy tune Ace has written ("Dolls" from Frehley's Comet notwithstanding), while "Outer Space" pumps and pumps some more with absolutely gnarly distortion surf and an infectious chorus. If anyone has questions as to whether or not Ace Frehley still has affection for his far-flung character, consider "Outer Space" your answer.

With Anton Fig helping out yet again on 9 of the album's 12 tracks, Anomoly keeps a steady rhythm throughout. Fig gives "Pain in the Neck" some extra snap while keeping the stomp-jam instrumental "Space Bear" the necessary glue to hold it from going too wayward into Kiss-laden pastures, even if Fig gets slightly happy on the bass pedal. Otherwise, he remains one of the hardest hitters in the game.

"Ghenghis Khan" is one of the most adventurous songs Frehley's yet attempted and he turns largely to Led Zeppelin with complicated and frequently beautiful acoustic lines kicking the track into a blues-splashed stratosphere. You have to wonder who Ace's muse for this weighty cut is, particularly whomever inspired the chorus line "so long...Genghis you're gone, so long..." Hmmmmm...

As Ace tries to feed some of his spiritual ideals into Anomoly's tracks such as "Change the World," "It's a Great Life" and "A Little Below the Angels," they slow the pace down musically, save for "Angels," which is downright innocuous. Hearing Ace testify to his little girl how beautiful angels are, followed by a spritely gang of kids singing the chorus, these after Ace has lyrically purged himself of his past sins...irresistible.

What works for Anomoly is Ace's upbeat resolution on this thing. Even when talking about having difficulty finding which is the real him on "Too Many Faces," Ace keeps a laidback step to the song which makes the ripping solo come off more effectively. You can hear Ace practically cleansing himself with those tugs. His cover of Sweet's "Fox On the Run" is by-the-numbers but he's simply enjoying the moment and you can't fault him. Historically his vocal patterns have mimicked those guffed on Sweet's version. This was meant to be.

Not always perfect, Anomoly is nevertheless a golden nugget in Ace Frehley's personal catalog. It's both grounded and galactic and most of all, it's a fun-time shuttle ride into Ace's decidedly anti-blackened life. Who was the Star Child?

Rating: ***1/2


Anonymous said...

3 and half *'s are you from the same planet he's from this is up there with Chinese Democracy could it get any worse?

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

hahahahaha, enjoy your day, amigo

bob_vinyl said...

Anon is from a planet where they don't believe in punctuation. I suppose he could also be from a country where periods are taxed heavily and all he could afford was a question mark.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...


Anonymous said...

Have you ever reviewed a good album on this,ever?

Anonymous said...

I haven't come across a good album on this entire site.

bob_vinyl said...

Do you also take issue with spaces? The rest of us think there should be one between the comma and the word "ever."

You might also want to consider that anonymous comments don't hold much water. Random insults mean very little, but they mean nothing if you won't even put your name on them.

Let's see, Ray runs an award-winning site that gets significant traffic. He's a published music critic who has interviewed some of the top names in heavy metal.

You post grammatically inept comments that offer no insight or depth and you (perhaps understandably) won't even put your name on them.

Do I really have to ask who has more credibility?

Anonymous said...

I guess bad taste runs rampent

bob_vinyl said...

Holy smokes! There is a PERIOD at the end of a sentence! Should anyone take you seriously when the simplest rules of grammar elude you?

In addition to the ineptitude of your writing, I have also enjoyed all of the wonderful heavy metal knowledge that you've shared as examples of "good taste." Oh, I'm sorry. I guess you haven't shared any. That's so selfish, because I'm sure you're listening to some fabulous stuff.

Seriously, do you have an actual point hidden beneath your poor writing?

Anonymous said...

Relax there Bob vinyl, giving this album 3 and 1/2 *s just seems highly overrated.I doubt I'll ever listen to this album again let alone next week.

bob_vinyl said...

Well, thank you for treating us to yet another edition of your bad grammar clinic, my nameless friend.

Anonymous said...

You want to listen to something with some depth try anything from Njiqahdda or Nadja for some real musical quality.

bob_vinyl said...

Once again, you've omitted a comma.

Njiqahdda is somewhat compelling, but it only takes a few minutes for its mix of new age and Bauhaus to wear through its overthought metal basis. It's not entirely bad and its experimental nature certainly gives it more depth than something like Ace's latest solo record, but I can't see any way that it could be held up as the shining light of post-rock/post-metal/post-whatever. Still, bands like this, who don't entirely deliver on what they attempt, are often the catalyst for change in better bands.

Nadja, being less metal-oriented, appeals to me more, but objectively, they're more of a poor man's My Bloody Valentine. While Nadja does do a few things of their own, it amounts to an interesting stroll around the MBV grounds, not any truly new territory.

Anonymous said...

Hey I appreciate the grammer and music lesson for the day,but I fail to see the comparison of MBV and Nadja.You can listen 100+ times and hear something new each time on either of these bands catalogue.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

I was going to simply let Mr. (or Ms.) Anon be on his/her way (sorry, don't know how to address you with your incognito signature) with "another satisfied customer" quip. However, this sparring action has me intrigued.

Bob, I thank you for your kind defense. I remain objective to criticism from my readership and welcome their points of view, so long as it's done with at least a smidgeon of class. Anyone can be a courageous dart throwing constituent of the rock snob elite from behind a computer. Well met, to those who apply.

I'm not another reviewer who gave this album 4.5 stars. I'll leave his dignity intact by not singling him out mercilessly because it was a finely-written review and I'm professional enough to let him have his view. That's the difference; I keep my opinions in check and go about my business, given the very active schedule I keep.

The biggest common thread I see with this wave of hecklers is that you are all so "cool" and "underground" in your minds that it's hip to throw out band names only a select clique is familiar with. You then condemn others with your "holier than thou" attitude because you disagree with something. It's your prerogative and a golf clap from me to you for staying true to your convictions.

However, I had that attitude in my teens and part of my twenties. There is a lot of music I dislike and a lot of artists I don't care for. Unless they make absolute retards of themselves or take themselves too seriously, I try to basically move on from them.

I also get the impression when I read comments such as "not a good review on this site" you all may be looking at one or two reviews or possibly the whole opening page. If you're so concerned about "underground" names, keep rolling through the site, eh? My goal is to write about these bands, be they unknown or established crowd-pleasers.

I would simply say if you disagree with me, that's beautiful. Use some tact with your points, though, and you'll be taken seriously.

And I dig My Bloody Valentine...

bob_vinyl said...

Once again, your comment is missing spaces and commas, but the periods seem to be in place. Bravo.

I could understand finding something new each time you listen to Njiqahdda. They're a busy band. There are surely intricacies in the music that take multiple listens to catch. Whether those intricacies are truly worth catching may be another story, but I'm sure you're correct about their presence.

Nadja, on the other hand, seem to be more of a one-trick pony. They want to be interesting and trippy and genre-defying, but they're way too dependent on that "wall of noise" approach (hence, the MBV comparison) to fully succeed in their efforts. Interestingly, a quick look at their myspace page shows that I'm not the only one who hears that MBV sound. The band itself lists MBV as an influence.

To be fair, I haven't spent much time with either of these bands. However, I find it much more plausible that, given more time, I might uncover something with Njiqahdda than with Nadja.

I also find it difficult to understand how such a narrow slice of music can hold your full interest. I, too, like many bands that are a bit "out there," so to speak, but I don't think I could survive with a steady diet of experimentation. In fact, when I rate a record, I use a four scale method to assess its strengths and weaknesses. Each scale does not receive equal weight in the overall rating. Experimentation/innovation is, in fact, third in terms of importance, beating only technical skill. Experimentation is important, but too often, it takes the place of soul, something for which it is a poor substitute.

Anonymous said...

Ray how did you give this album 3 and a half stars.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Out of 5? With pleasure.

Anonymous said...

Is this album worthy of 3 and 1 half stars?

bob_vinyl said...

Wow! There were no glaring grammatical errors in that comment!

I would agree that Ace's record is not quite worthy of 3.5/5. Personally, I gave it three stars (actually 6/10 as I use a 10 point scale) and it probably got the benefit of the doubt on a few things. That being said, reviewing records is not an exact science and a slight deviation from review to review doesn't always represent any huge difference in the perceived quality of the record. Also, if you look at Ray's scale, which he has rather creatively spelled out on the sidebar of his page, a 3.5 comes between "Metal Marginal" and "Metal Meltdown." The album has enough strengths to exceed the expectations of "marginal," yet is clearly not up to par with a "meltdown." Therefore, I think the 3.5 rating is actually pretty accurate based on Ray's published scale. When you look at a review, you can't just say, "Wow! This got a 3.5/5, so I'm sure to like it." You have to read the content of the review and find out if the album's objective strengths are elements that appeal to you.

You seem to put a premium on innovation, which is both reasonable and respectable, even if somewhat unbalanced. If you read the review, it should be pretty clear that, whatever its rating, Anomaly isn't going to be up your alley. Subjectively, it's a bad record for you, but objectively, it fulfills the goals and expectations of hard rock. As a music critic, Ray must do his best to limit subjectivity and focus on objectivity. Obviously, that's not an easy game at times, but any decent rock critic, amateur or professional, does a fairly good job of it as Ray does on this site.

By the way, why didn't you like Chinese Democracy? Don't you like Elton John? I had very low expectations for it, but I found Axl's EJ leanings to be irresistible. For a commercial rock album, I found it to be very bold. It certainly fulfills little of your interest in wild experimentation, but don't you ever just crave a big, bombastic rock album? I can see how it might be viewed as somewhat of a guilty pleasure, but it's certainly light on the guilt and heavy on the pleasure.

Anonymous said...

Just couldn't get into Chinese,now Elton John...Tumbleweed Connection thats a great album and Madman Across The Water is ok.

bob_vinyl said...

What happened to your good grammar?

Yeah, Tumbleweed is great, but a little bit less bombastic. Most of his material on the albums that led up to the first greatest hits album is really cool. After that, he really starts to go downhill.

I'm surprised you didn't like at least some of Chinese Democracy if you like EJ. His influence was all over that record. It was a bit erratic though. I think Axl was trying things throughout and taking chances, but some of them flopped. All in all though, I found it to be surprisingly good.

Anonymous said...

Appetite is the only good G'n'R,vinyl I've been spinning as of late Blood Of The Black Owl - A Feral Spirit perfect for the falling weather.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Bob, your check is in the mail for those compliments.

In all seriousness, I'm not sure what the obsession over my reasoning to give Ace a 3.5 out of 5 is. I would think at this point one would simply be ready to move on. I won't change the rating from peer pressure nor inflate it when I read more glowing remarks of the album than I gave it.

I honestly had to work hard to shave the half point off as Ace is my favorite Kiss performer and like Dave Mustaine, I've rooted for him in his outside endeavors. That being said, I strove to keep nostalgia (despite using it in the tone of the review) out of the way and focus on the presented material. I love Ace's work, but I cannot go very high on the second Frehley's Comet record despite the first one being very solid.

Unlike yourself, I found Anomaly to be very entertaining overall. A bit reliant on the same tempo and a bit sluggish on a couple of tracks, but the first two cuts are barnstorming rock 'n roll and oh hell, I don't need to rehash here what I've already written.

I don't see a constructive reasoning for your dismissal of this album, other than plying to question my acceptance of it. A bit one-dimensional, and I apologize if that's offensive. In the end, I'll respect your low opinion of the album and invite you to leave me to my mid-level one. Groovy?

I am also in support of Bob's view on Chinese Democracy. I think the entire world expected Axl to fall flat on his face but he put a hell of a lot of heart into the thing, which I think is the chief reason it succeeds. Slicker than grease, but probably the most honest Axl has been with himself and his listeners...hmmm, just like I noted with Ace.

Cheers, friend...

Anonymous said...

I'd actually give this one a 4 or 4 1/2 ... Ace really nailed it. I got the Vinyl version and it sounds fabulous. I hope this is the first album of many more to come.

Anonymous said...

Me too!

Anonymous said...

Can't wait for the next album review here I'm sure it will be a must own - eh.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

3rd anon (presumably our favorite resident heckler), which one are you, Statler or Waldorf, ohh ho ho ho ho ho ho ho hooooo, cough cough, recharge my pacemaker before I fall out of the balcony.... like, yawn, dude