Album Review: ACE FREHLEY Origins Vol. 1
New York stalwart rock god Ace Frehley's last album, 2014's Space Invader, garnered better reviews than the man has received in years (not so much here, but…). Don't expect that mojo to repeat on his latest collection, a shopworn covers album of well-trodden chestnuts largely culled from the 1960's, but in true self-congratulatory fashion also including no fewer than three selections from his old band, KISS. Diehards and casuals alike will have to admit that Frehley's voice is bar-band adequate at best, so any value proposition brought to this package leans heavily on the man's guitar playing and the novelty of guest stars that glut the album.
It's not enough, frankly. While Frehley acquits himself well enough on the guitar parts, he essentially just copies the original note for note, adding minor if inconsequential tweaks to the solos… if even that. The hottest thing here is an axe duel with famed shredder John 5 on the KISS classic "Parasite", but the expected pyrotechnics never really take off, leaving just another rote rendition of an already oft-covered song. His unaccompanied takes on "Magic Carpet Ride" and "White Room" further evokes a talented if derivative roadhouse bar band, stubbornly sticking with a song selection made up of the safest possible crowd pleasers.
Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) lays down a surprisingly blistering solo on "Cold Gin", with Ace following his lead (pun intended) and actually sounding fired up on his own for once. That mini-jam session really just underscores what most of us wanted to say out of such a cross-pollinated collaborative project in the first place, though, and in that regard Origins Vol. 1 rarely ignites (Slash's guest turn on Thin Lizzy's "Emerald" being a too-little-too-late exception). Frehley's ex-KISS bandmate Paul Stanley turns in an interesting take on old Free staple "Fire & Water", but the biggest headline there will be less about execution and more about the two of them having seemingly KISSed (sorry) ad made up, that after years of sniping at each other in the press (Gene Simmons is still not returning phone calls, though).
Quite simply, there isn't a single track on this album that offers a worthy alternative to the superior original, nor do any of them deviate enough from said original to constitute a different yet equal rendition in their own right. Origins Vol. 1 is basically one of those all-too-common covers albums that were clearly more fun for the musicians to record than it is for the fan to sit down and listen to. I do not doubt that Frehley and featured guest Lita Ford enjoyed a mirthful romp through "Wild Thing" – the ur-text of all overplayed cover songs – but what I can guarantee with certainty is that none of that "fun" translated to tape. Frehley is still a viable guitar player, tasteful if not showy, but between this and Space Invader it would appear that the man could stand to surround himself with collaborators that offer an actual sense of direction, as Frehley has demonstrated himself to be all too easily satisfied. Another disheartening swing and a miss.