REVIEW: Ace Frehley – ‘Anomaly’

CLICK HERE to read my interview with Ace Frehley about Anomaly once you’re done reading this CD review.

Alright stop! Collaborate and listen! Ace is back with a brand new invention! Ace Ace baby! Oops, sorry about that, just got carried away… Okay, unless you’ve been living under some manner of space rock you would be aware that the original KISS spaceman, one Mr Ace Frehley, has beamed back down to record stores with his first album in 20 years, Anomaly (CLICK HERE to buy it from Riot Entertainment). A lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge since Trouble Walkin,’ and Ace would probably be the first to admit that a lot of that was of the firewater variety. But here in 2009 Ace has been sober for three years, and he seems determined to make up for lost time.

‘Foxy and Free’ (the song contains a few sly references to Jimi Hendrix) opens with a chugging guitar riff and a tom-tom thunder that kinda reminds me of Alex Van Halen, before launching into a big classic hard rock verse. In true rock fashion we’re at the chorus by 37 seconds. Awesome. The production is reminiscent of that kind of early to mid 80s sound, with bright double-tracked guitars, reverbed drums and multi-tracked vocal takes. Two minutes in, we get the first guitar solo of the CD: a classic greasy Les Paul festival of blues licks. Awesome.

Track two, ‘Outer Space,’ tends to get lodged in my head at 4 in the morning. Some fans have reported taking a few listens to really get into this one, and while I liked it from the start I can sorta see what they mean, as I like it even more now. The guitar tone is a little more distorted here compared to ‘Foxy and Free,’ and the guitar riff behind the chorus vocal melody bridges the gap between T Bone Walker and Pantera. There are some cool atmospheric space sounds to tie the theme together, and lots of prototypical Ace double-stop pentatonic licks. The solo itself is a little raw and ragged, in the best possible way.

‘Pain In The Neck’ starts as a straightforward rocker with another cool distorted (as opposed to overdriven) guitar tone. The first half of the verse riff kinda reminds me of something from Van Halen’s 5150 album. The song takes a surprising turn in the middle section with a cleaner-toned, spacious, orchestrated section, before kicking into a classic rocked up Ace solo full of pinch harmonics, oblique bends, squeals, hammer-on/pull-off licks and heavy vibrato. Again, awesome.

Now for ‘Fox On The Run.’ Wait, what? ‘Fox On The Run?’ Really? Yep! Might sound like an odd choice at first, but once you hear the verse riff it’ll all make sense. Interestingly the verses make this track probably the most KISS-sounding thing on the album. Nice backing vocals too. Sweet solo too but it’s nowhere near long enough. Yeah, I’m a guitar geek, I want long friggin’ solos, okay?

‘Genghis Khan’ is mostly instrumental with the exception of the chorus, this one starts with a very processed, electronicy acoustic guitar sound before a much brasher, brighter electric tone comes in. Could be a Telecaster or the Gibson Reverse Firebird Ace mentions using. Certainly not a standard Les Paul tone. Ace takes the song through a lot of different sections and feels, but I dunno, it could use an instrumental hook in addition to the vocal one to just push it right over the edge for me. Great wah wah solo starting at 4:37 though.

‘Too Many Faces’ has more of the cool layered guitar tones that seem to be rapidly defining the CD for me. The drum sound on this one makes it sound particularly 80s, while Ace’s vocal delivery has a kind of George Harrison vibe, if not in voice then in cadence and direction. I kinda like the line ‘too many faces in the mirror looking back at me’ – obviously a reference to his previous job where he wore a lot of makeup.

There are a lot of songs out there called ‘Change The World’ but none of them have quite so nice a guitar tone as whatever the hell’s going on in this one. Throw on some headphones to appreciate its full majesty. Great drum performance too.

Now comes ‘Space Bear,’ my favourite song on the album. Ace opens this instrumental track up with a filthy, dirty, fuzzy, edgy, angry guitar tone. Almost like Link Wray’s ‘Rumble’ mashed up with Edgar Winter Group’s ‘Frankenstein,’ I’d say this one is destined to be rehashed on tennis rackets in bedrooms across the world for years to come, but all the kids play Guitar Hero now so they’ll probably all be jamming it out on that before too long, if the makers of Guitar Hero know what’s good for ‘em.

‘A Little Below The Angels’ is a predominantly acoustic folkish strummer about Ace’s battle with alcoholism. Parts of it could be considered a little corny but the sentiment is very heartfelt and it must be difficult to talk about this kind of stuff, so props to Ace for bearing his soul and getting himself together. ‘Sister’ features an awesome drum performance and a great heavy rock feel – another track that sort of sounds like it could have been recorded in the 80s, and one that demands to be utterly and thoroughly cranked to the edges of tolerable volume.

‘It’s A Great Life’ is packed with great semi-clean guitar tones with lots of atmosphere and a driving rhythm. I could hear this being a hit single, if not now then at some other time in the past when radio actually mattered. I think it’s pretty cool that Ace hid such a catchy track so far back in the album. On the ‘My trip’s over but I’ll just sit in the driveway til I get to the end of the CD’ scale, Anomaly rates about a 9 for me, partly on the strength of this track.

Anomaly closes out with ‘Fractured Quantum,’ another instrumental with some tasty acoustic overdubbage and some understated little guitar melodies. It’s a pretty relaxed way to round out the album, and feels like it belongs on a film soundtrack. Maybe a montage in a road movie or something like that. It finishes with a solitary guitar just drifting off into the distance, and with that we bid Anomaly adieu.