Ace Frehley (1978)
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There is no doubt that Ace Frehley is truly one of the most underrated lead guitarists of the ’70s. Penning some of the greatest Hard Rock riffs of all time (“Cold Gin,” “Shock Me,”), Ace’s work with KISS was fantastic, and no matter what Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons try to do to cover up their losses, irreplaceable. His trademark solos and memorable face paint, mannerisms and onstage persona make him one of the most influential guitarists of the age, inspiring legions of young fans like Dave Grohl and Tom Morello to become the next generation of guitar heroes.
Understanding all of this, it’s interesting that one of the most underrated of the era could make what is indisputably the most overrated album of the four solo KISS efforts. Almost always considered to be the best, the reality is Ace’s solo effort is most of the guitar mastery of his heyday minus all of the soul of Peter Criss, the swagger of Paul Stanley and the growl of Gene Simmons (eh, that last one probably isn’t all that important). The result is a grab bag of hits and misses filled with uninspired riffing, laughable lyrics, and narry a memorable tune to be had outside of surprising Top 20 hit “New York Groove,” which was a bigtime departure from the rest of the album.
Ace didn’t have much to live up to in the lyrical department to begin with (KISS isn’t exactly Bob Dylan), but somehow he still manages to underwhelm. “Speedin back to my baby/and I don’t mean maybe” Ace sighs with resolute boredom on the second track. Yikes. Ace is better suited when making full utilization of his spaceman gimmick on tracks like the groovy “Snowblind” or even the Fallout-loaded “Ozone.” He even manages to slightly impress with the most KISS-like writing on the LP in “What’s on Your Mind?” though it’s impossible to listen to without wishing it was Stanley behind the mic in Ace’s stead. Frehley found a strong friend in session drummer Anton Fig who later went on to fame as the house drummer for David Letterman as a part of Paul Schaffer’s band. His drum fills single-handedly save opener “Rip it out” from the doldrums of mediocrity. The symphonic closer “Fractured Mirror” is also a nice touch, a closing theme that Ace returned to each time he made a solo sojourn into the studio throughout the rest of his career. But nothing can salvage the absolute mess that is “Wiped-Out” featuring perhaps the most cringeworthy chorus of all time (except maybe Frehley’s own “Pain in the Neck” decades later). Not to mention the intro… Or the verses… Ace raps with all of the flow of a tremor patient trying to type a term paper in the middle of an earthquake, and it’s only through his guitar work that he’s able to make the song sound any better than a train wreck in the middle of a small town.
Ace Frehley is a great guitarist. But as has been proven throughout the course of Rock and Roll history (and KISStory), great guitarists do not always make great songwriters. KISS fans still find pretty to love on this cash-in of a solo record. But most will yearn for something a little more inspired than the lyrical equivalent of a Denny’s to-go cup.