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by Justin Farrar

August 21, 2014

Rock 'n' Roll Spaceman: Ace Frehley

by Justin Farrar  |  August 21, 2014

Ace Frehley is back, and the legendary guitarist's new full-length is his best since his self-titled debut from 1978. Loud and immaculately produced, energetic and filled with big hooks, Space Invader is a trip through classic, glam-stained hard rock. It will appeal not only to fans of fellow veteran acts Black Star Riders, The Winery Dogs and Black Country Communion, but also to younger hard rock fans who dig retro-oriented bands like Halestorm, Monster Truck and Rival Sons.

Space Invader spotlights Frehley's two chief assets: his laconic vocal delivery (not unlike Alice Cooper meets Lou Reed) and his hard-screaming fretwork (sharper than ever). Those qualities are what defined his best work with KISS throughout the 1970s and into the early '80s. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley might comprise the heart and soul of KISS, but Frehley, the silvery spaceman, always was (and always will be) the coolest dude to pass through the band's bloated ranks. He is a real-deal rocker, sporting a perfect balance of glittery cosmica and street-punk swagger -- a Bronx-bred kid who seemingly walked straight out of The Velvets' "Rock & Roll."

In addition penning some of the group's most beloved songs ("Cold Gin,""Shock Me,""Parasite"), he kept the band's rock edge alive when, beginning in the late 1970s, Stanley and Simmons pushed KISS into one muddled experiment after another. On the uneven Dynasty album, from 1979, Stanley splits his time imitating Donna Summer ("I Was Made for Lovin' You") and dipping his toes into smooth funk ("Sure Know Something"). Frehley, in contrast, drags the band into Runaways/Cheap Trick turf with a glam-rock-meets-power-pop rendition of The Rolling Stones' "2000 Man." Then, on 1981's Music from "The Elder," Stanley and Simmons' equally misguided stab at transforming KISS into a prog outfit, Frehley once again provides one of the album’s few standouts in "Dark Light" (a song cowritten with fellow New Yorker Lou Reed).

Though Frehley — who has experienced his fair share of ups and downs on a personal level — never fully invested in a solo career after his first departure from KISS in 1982, he has churned out a handful of albums. His solo career commenced with the aforementioned Ace Frehley, the best of the solo albums the members of KISS released simultaneously in 1978. In the '80s, he tried cashing in on the pop-metal trend (a trend he, of course, helped spawn) — but his then-group, Frehley's Comet, were too uneven to mount a successful career. Space Invader, on the other hand, is the record Frehley should've released back in 1983, after leaving KISS. He hasn't sounded this alive in years. From his many classics with KISS to the best cuts from his solo years, our playlist is a must-hear for any fan of the legendary spaceman. Go, Ace, go!

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