By John Jeffrey
Being a lifelong KISS fan is an easy thing to say, but when reviewing a KISS or KISS-related product, sometimes it’s hard not to be bias or to be as objective as you should be. And when Ace Frehley is your number one influence and inspiration as a guitar player, it’s even harder to admit that one of your heroes just released a new CD that just doesn’t cut the mustard.
Although Ace Frehley’s “Space Invader” lands this week, I’ve had a review copy for some time, and I’ve given it many listens, hoping that the material would grow on me. For me, an Ace Frehley song (whether on a KISS album or one of his solo albums) usually has an instantaneous appeal that sucks you in from either a great opening riff (ie: “Rocket Ride”), a catchy chorus (“Talk To Me”) or one of his signature guitar solos that you can hum along to (“Shock Me”). Perhaps the only thing I didn’t like about Ace’s last solo effort (2009’s “Anomaly”) was the fact that instead of going into the studio with pre-written lead guitar solo ideas (which he had always done throughout his career – in KISS and solo), he played everything ‘off the cuff,’ which in my opinion, the end result wasn’t as great as it could of been. But most of the songs on “Anomaly” do have that immediate “Ace” recognition to them, making “Anomaly” a very solid release. However, between the lack of quality songs and the inconsistent production values, “Space Invader” doesn’t seem to have that same appeal as “Anomaly” and I don’t think it will be a disc that I’ll be keeping in heavy rotation.
In an attempt to stay positive about “Space Invader,” considering the album is also being released on vinyl, I’m going to further review it ‘old school,’ breaking it down by “Side 1” and “Side 2.” Side 1 begins with the title track, a mid-tempo track with Ace doing kind of a melancholy ‘spoken word’ vocal approach, going into a drone-y chorus, which could have easily been the theme song for a cheesy 80’s sci-fi flick. Not a great opening track. While some have compared the “Space Invader” CD to Ace’s 1978 KISS solo album, I really don’t hear any connection other than the fact that the guitar solo section of the song “Space Invader” goes into double time, like the solo in “Snowblind.” That’s it! Next up is the DOA first single, “Gimme A Feelin'” which has a cool vibe, but not very memorable. The remainder of the first side is somewhat interesting, as I picked up on Ace recycling parts of some older Frehley’s Comet era songs/demos. The pre-chorus of “I Wanna Hold You” is almost the identical melody lifted from the demo, “Back Into My Arms,” and the song “Change” (probably the best song from “Side 1”) sounds almost like a complete re-write of the song “Take Me to the City” (a bonus track released on the 1996 Ace Frehley tribute CD, “Spacewalk”).
Side 2 of “Space Invader” is much more enjoyable to me, as songs like “Inside The Vortex” and “What Every Girl Wants” achieve what Ace failed to attain earlier in the disc with “Gimme A Feelin'” and “Toys,” which almost seem like brother/sister songs to the aforementioned tracks. The two biggest letdowns on “Side 2” are the songs “Reckless” and the cover of Steve Miller’s “The Joker.” “Reckless” had the potential to be the best song on the whole record, as the verses are simply phenomenal – classic Ace – and then goes to this oddball chorus that really reverts the song to mediocre status, which is unfortunately what most of what “Space Invader” amounts to. While Ace covering “The Joker” may have looked good on paper – with the whole ‘Space Cowboy’ line and all – the end result sounds like Ace doing a karaoke version of the song. The saving grace of the ‘flip side’ of “Space Invader” is definitely the epic “Past the Milky Way.” On the surface, the song is simply the combination of the bridge of Elo’s “Do Ya” (which Ace covered on 1989’s “Trouble Walkin'”) and Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” with Ace pledging his love to current girlfriend, Rachael Gordon (who’s credited for 2 co-writes on the album), the song simply oozes that quirky likability, which the reason why so many people love this guy. Ace’s soloing on this song is the most inspired playing you will find on “Space Invader.” Although the whole “Spaceman” theme seems somewhat overdone on the disc, more songs like “Past the Milky Way” would have done this body of work some good.
In closing, while the marquee states “Ace Frehley,” perhaps the absence of key quality control members like former bassist Anthony Esposito and drummer Anton Fig (both who were huge contributors on “Anomaly”) really hurt this sequel of sorts. Perhaps instead of getting caught up in Ace “being more KISS than KISS” he should have concentrated more on “Ace outdoing Ace,” as the ‘Space Invader’ failed in this mission.