Kiss fans (and, indeed, hard rock fans in general) will find much to love in Spaceman.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 15 March 2019
Without wishing to cast a shadow over any current member of Kiss, there’s no question that there’s something special about Ace ‘ Spaceman’ Frehley. His wonderfully dilapidated voice (part Keith Richards, part David Johansen) perfectly complements his no-nonsense riffing, and there’s no question that the band lost a part of their soul when they lost Ace. One thing is clear: of all the members of Kiss (past and present), Ace has been the most successful as a solo artist and, right from that very first solo album back in 1978, his fire has burnt the most brightly despite a highly publicised battle with alcoholism that is now, happily, some twelve years in the past. Ace’s renewed vigour has resulted in a purple patch of creativity and since 2009 Ace has released four solo albums, starting with the well-received Anomaly, running through space invader and Origins, vol. 1 and culminating in Spaceman, a nine-track collection which features guest contributions from Kiss alumni Gene Simmons, Eric Singer and Anton Fig, marking his best work to date.
Kicking off with the Simmons co-write without you I’m nothing, Ace delivers searing guitar by the skipful, his blazing tones set against Simmons’ typically monstrous bass sound. A kick-ass rock track more than worthy of the mothership in its heyday, without you I’m nothing benefits from Ace’s punkish vocal delivery (New York through and through), and comes to a pulse-pounding conclusion thanks to a rousing solo that shows those flashing fingers have lost none of their magic. Next up, the blistering single rockin’ with the boys proves an unrepentant counterpoint to the Criss classic Beth (Ace says he wrote the song back in the 70s), and there’s no question that, had the song been recorded at that time, it would be afforded classic Kiss status now. A hard rocking anthem for anyone who’s ever dreamed of life on the road, rockin’ with the boys encapsulates the spirit of the Spaceman in four perfect minutes. Simmons makes a return on the dark your wish is my command, a track which, it is said, Simmons originally intended for Kiss to record, and which melodically recalls plaster caster, a typically lascivious chorus bearing Gene’s paw prints no matter who’s behind the mic. A rather more autobiographical track, Bronx boy brings Ace’s pre-Kiss years vividly to life as he fires out licks like so many bullets, not to mention one his most potent vocal performances to date. It’s powerful stuff, harking back to those classic Kiss LPs of the 70s, and it does much to demonstrate that the space Ace is still a creative force with whom to be reckoned.
Kicking off the second half of the record, pursuit of rock ‘n’ roll plays out like the sequel to rock ‘n’ roll all nite, as Ace name-checks heroes such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones (“those bad boys set me free”) whilst the Eddie Money cover, I wanna go back , is the result of Ace catching the track on YouTube and identifying so personally with the lyric that he knew instantly that he had to cover it. A rather more trippy number, mission to Mars sees some of Ace’s most evocative guitar work giving way to a bristling riff that is utterly irresistible, and if you’re not hooked, then the bar-burning rock of off my back with its Steppenwolf vibe will certainly change that. It leaves only the six-minute instrumental, quantum flux, to bring the house down as Ace once more demonstrates why he is, and forever will be, the Spaceman. Moving from eerie, acoustic intro, via harmonised twin leads to a raucous conclusion, quantum flux is a far-out showcase of Ace’s undoubted abilities reminiscent of Satriani’s space-themed work. An impressive end to a short, tightly-plotted album, quantum flux may lack the rock ‘n’ roll immediacy of the other tracks on the record, but it certainly underscores Ace’s ability to spread his wings beyond the predictable.
With guest appearances from Simmons (who also suggested the title), Eric Singer and Anton Fig; not to mention some of Frehley’s best solo material yet; there’s a sense of redemption to Spaceman, as if the Space Ace has finally come to terms with his past as a rock ‘n’ roll hell-raiser, embracing it as a means to move forward as an artist once more. With songs that stand head to head with some of Kiss’ finest moments, there’s certainly no lack of inspiration on spaceman and there’s a spontaneity to the performances that is lacking in so much modern rock music. A fantastic summation of Ace’s myriad strengths, Kiss fans (and, indeed, hard rock fans in general) will find much to love in Spaceman.
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