Ace Frehley – ‘Anomaly - Deluxe’ (Steamhammer/SPV) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Mark Ashby   
Friday, 20 October 2017 04:00

acefrehleyanomalydeluxecdTo be brutally honest, I’ve always thought that Kiss have always been greater than the sum of their parts. Outside of Simmons and Stanley, members have come and gone quicker that Donald Trump’s cabinet, but the band as a whole has always produced a catalogue of material that is infinitely stronger than the individual output of those who have moved in and through its revolving door. And, to continue that theme of honesty, Ace Frehley has always been the prime exemplar of said critique, with an output that can best be described as “patchy” at best – as emphasized by this deluxe reissue of his post-reunion fifth solo offering…

 

Frehley has become by far the most commercially successful of the Kiss alumni, with ‘Anomaly’ giving him his first top 30 album in the States: it’s successor, 2014’s ‘Space Invader’, went one better, becoming the only Kiss-related solo album to bother the Top Ten. Of course, it obviously took him quite some time to shake off the “former Kiss guitarist” mantle automatically pinned on his shoulders by fans and critics alike: he probably never truly will, but at least his success outside of his two tenures in the band has helped establish him as a highly respected artist in his own right and not just part of that big rock ‘n’ roll circus that rolled out of New York in 1974.

 

I used the word “patchy” above to describe Frehley’s solo output – and I’ll come back to that in a second. You could also describe it as sporadic: if nothing else, it would appear he likes to take his time between albums; discounting his 1978 debut (one of the four done by the Kiss members at the time – perhaps to prove they could actually play their instruments!), he produced three between leaving the band in 1982 and re-joining in 1996, and it then took him a full seven years after being kicked out for the second time in 2002 to produce this release. Six albums (we’ll discount last year’s truly awful ‘Origins Vol. 1’ covers thing, shall we?) in almost 30 years isn’t exactly prolific is it?

 

But, what of ‘Anomaly’ itself? Well, I managed to avoid it the first time around: it came out in a period when I was just emerging from a lengthy break from the music business, having taken time out to raise a family: I spent much of the time around then catching up on what I had missed during my enforced hiatus, and it was only shortly afterwards that I started exploring what new music was out there to see if it could re-ignite my passion… But, that’s a sidebar… If ‘Anomaly’ had comes across my radar back then, I probably would have regarded it as something akin to its title, a blip on my screen and moved on (or crawled back into the hole in which I had been hiding for the past decade or so).

 

There is no doubting Frehley’s ability as either a guitarist – there’s always been an argument that the only reason Kiss recruited him was because he could actually play and would mask the shortcomings of Messrs Simmons and Stanley – or a songwriter: after all, this is the man who gave us ‘Cold Gin’, one of the stone-cold classics of the pop rock genre. The problem is that he tries to explore too many avenues and styles within the context of a single album.

 

Opener ‘Foxy & Free’ has Kiss stamped all over it – perhaps it was a song, along with ‘Outer Space’ and ‘Too Many Faces’, destined for an album he never got to be involved it? – with its thumping beat and anthemic pop metal chorus. ‘Outer Space’ itself is the first song to feature a Frehley fretboard feast, right at the beginning and then again in the mid-section, while ‘Pain In The Neck’ has another infectious groove and chorus, coupled with a stomping backbeat rhythm (although the snare sounds too clinical in the mix). But, then, the album disappears up its own backside…

 

 

There’s a needless, throwaway cover of ‘Fox On The Run’ which, although heavier, adds nothing to the Sweet original, while the proggy, psychedelic ‘Genghis Khan’ starts well, with a nice acoustic and slide intro, but outstays it’s six-minute welcome and feels more like a studio jam than a finished song. ‘Too Many Faces’ briefly restores order, with its foot-stomping rhythm and catchy melody, but the country-rock tinged ‘Change The World’ ain’t gonna do that: it’s banal and had my eardrums cringing, begging my fingers to reach for the skip button.

 

‘Space Bear’ is one of those workouts that every guitarist-turned-frontman feels almost contractually obliged to record, and as such it’s a good an example of Frehley’s ability and knowledge of both his instrument and his craft as you’re like to come across: what is actually quite remarkable is its restraint… it’s almost as if he thought about adding lyrics and then decided to leave it well alone. This re-issue actually features an extended version of the instrumental (as well as its sequel, ‘The Return Of The Space Bear’, available here on CD for the first time).

 

Kicking off with just Ace’s voice and acoustic guitar, with a hint of Hammond emerging from the background is twee beyond the most extreme edge of tweeness: the tale of Frehley’s emergence from alcoholism to the comfort of family life, it’s asinine. But, that’s just my opinion: others will love it. ‘Sister’, on the other hand, is as close as Frehley gets to metal, with its crunching riff and headbanging rhythm: although again the snare is a bit too predominant in its snap, it features one of Ace’s best vocal performances and a seering solo that would have many lesser shredders doing just that to their instruments. Head and shoulders the best song on the album, and one which has stood the test of time in terms of both its feel and delivery.

 

‘It’s A Great Life’ sees him slow things down again, with another touch of country rock backing up its indie-pop groove and another of those simplistic choruses that he and his former bandmates specialized in for so many years: it’s just a pity that the best guitar part is reserved for the fade out! Closer ‘Fractured Quantum’ is another instrumental, this time with a more reflective feel: that of sitting on the porch on a summer Sunday watching your children play on the nearby beach (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve heard the intro), ebbing and flowing like the tide washing over the pebbles. It’s a nice round-off.

 

This is billed as the “deluxe” edition, and so there are the obligatory bonus tracks: the previously unreleased ‘Hard For me’ and a slower version of ‘Pain In The Neck’, the former another which could have straight from the Kiss songbook and the latter something of a passing curio. There’s also that above-referenced sequel to ‘Space Bear’, which is a nice compliment to the original piece. It’s also very nicely packaged, in a gatefold cardboard sleeve and with comprehensive liner notes, including reflections by the Space Ace on the album and the songs.

 

Quite why this has been re-issued now, just eight years after its original release, isn’t explained. To release it as the follow up to a covers album is also an unusual sequence of events, and suggests an artist treading water… or maybe he’s not going to leave it six years (its already been three) until his next offering? We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, I reckon this one is for purists only.

 

‘Anomaly - Deluxe’ is out now. You can get your copy HERE.

 

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