The Spaceman Ace Frehley Returns!
A New Solo Album for the Annals of KISStory
One of the bands that changed the landscape of rock is KISS. Ace Frehley—one of their founding members and guitar hero—is now releasing his new solo album named Spaceman on the Entertainment One/Bronx Born label. Frehley has always had a cult following outside of KISS and has been considered an uncompromising Rock-and-Roller!
The album Spaceman delivers on expectations. Frehley always gives the people what they want. I found the album enjoyable. It was named after his persona Spaceman a.k.a. “Space Ace”, which has been featured in many a lucrative comic-book series since the ‘70s. I remember being introduced to Frehley as the Spaceman by my cousin who had just bought a copy of KISS’ 1975 LP Alive! when it was released. In the original album gatefold sleeve, there were four handwritten letters (or what they call in comic-book lingo “origin stories”) that went into imaginative detail about how each KISS character came about. The whole thing was far fetched and intriguing to me. I wasn’t even 10-years-old and I thought, “What does this have to do with music?” Well, it was the 1970s and, back then, a good gimmick had everything to do with music!
The band sold a concept along with their music and a lot of merchandise, partially because the members of the band were convincing as superheroes. Those liner notes from Alive! extravagantly described the concepts behind the Demon (Gene Simmons), the Starchild (Paul Stanley), the Cat (Peter Criss) and, of course, Frehley. I didn’t realize that the impression it made would stick with me through today—four decades later!
Spaceman the album is a hybrid of rock anthems—metal, grunge and power ballads. It has subtle touches of southern rock and other elements as well. Frehley ties together all these different ingredients from different genres seamlessly on this record, while keeping it straight-ahead Rock ’N Roll. He keeps it simple as we would expect from Frehley: no bullshit! With this kind of music, you need a certain kind of swagger to pull it off and Frehley wrote the playbook on doing it right. Not every artist can sing these kinds lyrics and get away with it! Frehley revisits his classic alter-ego and on Spaceman there is a track called “Mission to Mars” in which he flies back into sci-fi territory. “Mission to Mars” has a more sonic intro than the other tracks and it’s one of the thrashier cuts on the album. It dabbles in jet Rock ’N Roll and is one of my favorite new cuts.
Frehley then touches ground and returns to reality with “Bronx Boy.” It has a flashy Frehley-intro with some tight bass passages that Soundgarden would like to borrow. “Bronx Boy” is a street smart manifesto. “Don’t give me bullshit… I’m just a street kid, we seek and destroy…” captures the bravado the Space Ace is known for. The song is almost like an anthem for all the rockers in the borough of the Bronx. It has some showboating guitar that that will rock you like a hurricane!
“Rockin’ with the Boys” is another rocker about street loyalty like “Bronx Boy” is. “No need to worry, I’ll be home soon cause I’m rocking the boys…” the chorus shouts. It’s about the reassurance of fidelity. “I Wanna Go Back” has a twangy intro with a sprinkling of southern rock favor. It’s more melodic than the other cuts and is an Eddie Money cover about loneliness and wanting to go back and do things over again. It is a reflective song. This really shows Frehley’s musical versatility because here he demonstrates he can shift gears and take someone else’s melody, interpret it, and make it his own. He does a great job with the vocals and it works also because Money writes with such musicality.
“Without You I’m Nothing” is a rocker and it revisits the grooving KISS riffs of their glory days. There are lines about seeing the Devil and a struggle to keep one’s soul along with that whole bad boy outlaw thing. Frehley drops the name of his autobiography No Regrets in the lyrics. The guitar solo shreds. It’s kind of a love song with a swagger.
“Off My Back” has a syncopated groove that AC/DC could have written. It has lyrics like “I need to get you girl off my back…” and “You got to understand our time is past, we have to separate and I need fast…”
This song is back to the basics: A rocking rhythm section and attitude. It’s a break up song from the perspective of the person that wants their freedom. “Your Wish is My Command” is in the same style but has an A cappella intro and is a little more laid back. There also has a bit of a Chuck Berry flavor hidden beneath it all.
“Pursuit of Rock and Roll” a little bit more trashy in sections. Frehley gets some nice tones out of his axe as the instrumental break gets dramatic. He plays out his heart as a cowbell in the altro makes for a nice jam. Elvis, Little Richard, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are mentioned as Frehley writes about the things he loves.
Through the principal of six degrees of separation, I was able to connect with the man who wrote imaginative and classic linear notes from Alive! and the other KISS Classics that have even been translated into Japanese over the years. His name is Robert V. Conte and he is writing a new book on KISS that will be available in 2019. The title of the book is My KISS Story and I’m sure it will be of interest to anyone who has enjoyed Frehley’s music. Conte was KISS’s first-ever Catalog Consultant. He worked with the band on various projects from 1995-1999 or so. Perhaps what he is best known in the KISS ARMY community (that’s KISS’ fan club) for his role in remastering and repackaging almost two-dozen KISS albums from their debut through Crazy Nights plus two compilation releases, You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best and Greatest KISS. Conte expressed that that time was a high point in his professional career.
Conte articulates what many of us feel about Frehley’s music: “I am looking forward to listening to Ace Frehley’s new album, Spaceman. Of all past-and-present KISS members, it cannot be denied that. collectively, Ace’s solo career has been the most successful of them all. His first KISS solo album, the Frehley’s Comet albums, Trouble Walkin’, Anomaly, Space Invader, etc. I listen to all of them regularly and admire his contributions to Rock ’N Roll.”
Frehley’s solo material has been some of the most successful things from the KISS alumni. He had a hit with the cover “New York Groove” from his 1978 solo project. I must confess I didn’t acquire a taste for KISS until I was in my late teens, partially because my parents hated “that hard rock” when many kids I grew up with were already fans since their tweens. The track that converted me was “Parasite” from Alive! It is heavy even by today’s standards. Frehley gives Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath a run for his money on that track.
The closing track on Spaceman, “Quantum Flux,” is an instrumental and a melodic beauty. It’s on the borderline of fusion with an acoustic intro, then expands to into twangy majestic sound. It has dynamics and gets quiet in some sections as Frehley brings it down and in order to elevate it again into dramatic heights. It is an emotional piece of music and goes back and forth between two contrasting themes. One parts is twang with nice little subtle Allman Brothers-like harmonies incorporated in the tone that is juxtaposed to a more bluesier section.
Overall, I don’t think Frehley’s fans would be disappointed with his new project. He has always been known for putting on an exciting live show. After all, Alive! put the band on the map and made KISStory. Beforehand, KISS was struggling to sell records — although they were gaining a reputation for charismatic and electrifying live performances with outlandish theatrics— like Frehley’s guitar going up in smoke as he shredded. After that album dropped in 1975, the band started selling platinum albums. In addition to Conte’s book, I would recommend Frehley’s autobiography No Regrets, but chances are you might have read it already. So I would recommend the Spaceman LP and seeing Frehley live because he tears it up!