Wednesday, February 17, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 94: KISS

Another shot of the harder side of rock, this time back to the seventies. This album once again tested my willingness to be a "hard marker" on my ratings. Once again I was tested, and found wanting. I think I'll just remove the "I'm a hard marker" claim on my rating system, since I can't bring myself to do it often enough.

Disc 94 is...Ace Frehley - Solo Album
Artist:KISS (Ace Frehley)

Year of Release: 1978

How I Came To Know It: I have known KISS all my life, but I never heard this album until about ten years ago, when my buddy Spence played it for me during a "Music Appreciation Night in Vancouver" moment. I had known the Gene Simmons album from my youth, but had not previously heard this one. I bought it shortly thereafter.

How It Stacks Up: I have ten KISS albums, and I've already reviewed four of them! At this point I only have one of the four solo albums they each did in 1978. I'm told Ace Frehley's is best of these - it is certainly good enough to be in the top half of my KISS collection overall.

Rating: I wanted to give this 3 stars, but I knuckled under after simply enjoying this record too much. 4 stars.

KISS' four solo albums came out in 1978 - right after "Love Gun" in 1977 and before 1979's "Dynasty". As I noted above, this is the only one I know very well, but I'm thinking about trying a couple of the others. One reason I haven't is I can't see them comparing favourably to Ace's entry.

This record is what you would expect from the lead guitar player in a band - it is principally driven by giant riffs and excellent guitar playing. Ace's vocals have never been great, but he writes his songs to suit his vocal style, which effectively hides any shortcomings in that area.

Like any great guitar player, Ace has a really unique style. In some tracks, it is just basic hard rock playing, done well. But in some other tracks, like "I'm In Need of Love" it sounds like a laser cannon going off. This is hardly surprising for a guy who claimed in the seventies to be the son of space aliens, and who in concert would have his guitar shoot like...a laser cannon. Never has a stage show so accurately mirrored a sound. OK - excepting the great Alice Cooper, I suppose.

Last weekend I was buying CDs at Lyle's and I actually saw a complete original "KISS Army fan club" mail package for sale, complete with silly stories about how Ace was a space alien, Peter Criss was raised by cats, Gene Simmons was a demon, etc. I can't believe I ordered that as a seven year old for about $10, and went around elementary school convincing everything written about them was true (after all - it was in print!). Now, 30 years later, there it was - this time for $150. I almost bought the damned thing, too. I also sold my KISS belt buckle back in the day so I could raise $300 to buy a Coleco-vision. Youth is wasted on the young, indeed.

Anyway - back to the record, which also has one of the greatest remakes ever done, "New York Groove", where Ace branches out into an almost funk-guitar sound. The guy has great talent. I recently heard his more recent solo album from last year (again at Spence's place) which is also good, although I'm not sure he'll ever capture the magic of this album again.

Not that he had a complicated message to get across. A lot of the songs on KISS: Ace Frehley are basically a message about how much fun Ace has getting hammered and doing drugs. Songs like "Snowblind" and "Ozone" practically scream out "I like cocaine!" It is too bad, because it is a warning sign about just how far Ace was going to fall due to drug abuse - to the point where he would be kicked out of KISS completely for many years.

KISS was never the same without Ace - by far the most unsung hero for the casual fan. Too often people focus on Paul's charisma (what is it he's got?) and Gene's penchant for both showmanship and marketing, and forget that Ace was the musical backbone to the sound that gave them their hard rock edge.

Best tracks: Rip It Out, Ozone, New York Groove, I'm In Need of Love


Sheila said...

I actually really like this album ("New York Groove" is killer), and if you played it for me and asked me to guess who the artist was, the last person in the world I would guess would be Ace Frehley.

Joel C said...

My favorite of the 4 was Gene Simmons'. I always liked how it was musically all over the place. The Peter Criss album is, however, one of the worst albums I have ever heard. For what it's worth. I would rather sit through a Nickelback album...