Ah, those cover albums. It feels safe to say that cover albums these days are thirteen a dozen and most of them aren’t all that. To hear artists babbling on and on about how much they want to show their fans their influences and where they are coming from gets old pretty fast, especially when we all know exactly where our favorite bands and artists comes from and their influences. To me, most of the times, it feels more like either a bad case of writer’s block or a case of not being arsed to get out of their chair and write some new material. But every now and again there is the odd cover album that really works. Stryper made one some years ago and so did Tesla. Now the turn has come to Ace Frehley, a man who needs no closer introduction to anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last 30 years or so. Now, covers aren’t a new thing to ole Ace, fact is, his first – and biggest – hit was a cover. Back in 1978, on his self-titled solo album, he had a big hit with “New York Groove”, written and recorded first by Russ Ballard. Ballard also wrote the biggest hit from his band Frehley’s Comet’s debut album from 1986, “Into The Night”. Back in 1979 he also covered Rolling Stones’ old “2000 Man” from 1967. Yes, I write “he” because even though it appeared on Kiss’ album Dynasty, the only guys playing on that song were Ace and drummer Anton Fig, the only guys who played on his first solo album. Since then he have covered “Dancin’ With Danger” (Second Sighting, 1988), a song by Canadian band Streetfighter (although Frehley managed to get himself a writing credit on that one), “Do Ya” (written by ELO’s Jeff Lynne) and “Hide Your Heart” (written by Paul Stanley, Desmond Child and Holly Knight and recorded by Kiss, Robin Beck, Bonnie Tyler and Molly Hatchet) on 1989’s Trouble Walkin’, Sweet’s old hit “Fox On The Run” on Anomaly (2009) and Steve Miller’s “The Joker” on his last album Space Invader from 2014 and even though Ace’s versions have been under debate among fans, I think that he have managed to do some of them really good. So, even though I’m not about to go bananas over a whole cover album by the man, I sure find it interesting to hear how he has interpreted the tunes on this record. There are also some interesting guests on the album, but more about them later. So, yes, I’m one of those guys who have actually looked forward to this record. Let’s see if it was worth the wait then, shall we?
Ace kicks the album off with Cream’s old mega classic “White Room” and considering that Eric Clapton is one of Ace’s big heroes, the song is hardly a surprise. However, Ace’s big riffing and the fat drums signed Scot Coogan, who also shares lead vocal duties here, makes the song sound really great and Ace’s sloppy vocals fits the tune real well. A good start, no doubt. “Street Fighting Man”, a Stones song is up next and a Stones song on an Ace Frehley cover album isn’t a shocker either. Rolling Stones is Ace’s favorite band and maybe that’s the reason he does their songs so well. He stays true to the original but he has Aced the song, making it his own, just like he did on “2000 Man”. Very good, Ace. Very good indeed. No surprise # 3 comes with a Hendrix tune, another guitarist that Ace have looked up to all his life. The song in question is “Spanish Castle Magic” (Yngwie Malmsteen used to play that one frequently as well) and it fits Ace like a glove. It also fits John 5 (Rob Zombie) very well as he guests on the song. Free were a band that inspired Kiss as a whole and especially Paul Stanley so it’s only fair that Ace invited his old band member to sing on “Fire And Water”. Paul accepted and the pair makes one helluva version of it. Paul really nails the tune and I haven’t heard him sing this well in ages, there’s a big groove and Ace plays a great solo – awesome! Thin Lizzy’s songs should really remain untouched by everyone, no one have made their songs justice by covering them – Europe’s John Norum has made a few Lizzy covers that actually work, but that’s about it. On this album, Ace covers said band’s “Emerald” and invited Slash for a guitar duel. It’s not bad, it’s actually pretty heavy and tight, but it’s a tough nut to crack and even though it sounds better than I thought it would, it still leaves a bit to offer. Led Zeppelin are also an obvious choice, but thankfully, Ace decided not to cover any of their big hits. Instead we get “Bring It On Home”, a really good song that I’m not too familiar with. It has a bit of a noisy production, but it also swings like crazy and Frehley nails it all the way. Coogan shares the lead vocals duties again and he really owns the tune – great. The old The Troggs classic “Wild Thing” has been covered to death and that choice of cover is very unimaginative. The song has a nice groove and Lita Ford moans her vocals like a horny teenager, all is well there, but the song never really lifts. John 5 is back on the old Kiss classic “Parasite” and it’s nice to finally hear Ace sing the tune himself (Stanley and Gene Simmons sang the original), but the fact is that even though I really like this version, it couldn’t hold a candle to the looseness and groove of the original. “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf is next (thank God he didn’t choose “Born To Be Wild”!!!) and since I’m not a Steppenwolf fan, I haven’t heard this song enough for a true comparison, but I must say that I like Ace’s version – it really sounds like an Ace Frehley song. Back to Kiss again and this time Ace makes a new version of his old classic “Cold Gin” with Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready as a guest. Again, it’s great to hear this song with Ace on vocals as Gene sang on the original, but again, the original is superior. The old The Kinks song “Till The End Of The Day” is another tune I have heard very little and this one is almost new to me. Ace have made a version that sounds very Ace and that’s a good thing. Yes, I really like it. Last up, Ace visits Kiss one more time, but this time it’s a song Ace never played on, “Rock And Roll Hell” from 1982’s Creatures Of The Night. It’s the song I looked most forward to hear on this album and I really think that Ace have made a great version of it. Ace was still in Kiss when this song was recorded, but he didn’t play a note on the album, so I guess this is Ace’s way of saying: “Hey, this is how the song could have sounded had I been on the album!”. The song fits Ace like a glove and I even dig his vocals on it. It is a Gene song and I like the original better, but kudos to Ace for really nailing it the way he did.
I think that this is a really good album. A good covers album. I thought that most of the album would be a painful and embarrassing experience with maybe a glimmer here and there, but it turned out to be a pleasant one instead. Ace’s playing might be sloppy and nonchalant at times and he doesn’t always nails the solos, but with the band – drummer Scot Coogan and bass player Chris Wyse (guitarist Richie Scarlet was left out of the recordings for some reason) – sounds really tight, fresh and alive and it sounds like they are having a load of fun here. Too bad about Scarlet, the guy is a groovy player and has a great voice, something that maybe could have bettered the album. Since the album is called Origins Vol. 1, I’m guessing there will be a volume two in the not too distant future. Ace Frehley have been way more productive in the last few years than he has been since he left Kiss in 1983. Sober for more than ten years and ready to kill, Ace is back and he told you so.
Other Ace Frehley reviews:
1. White Room (Cream)
2. Street Fighting Man (Rolling Stones)
3. Spanish Castle Magic (feat. John 5) (Jimi Hendrix)
4. Fire And Water (feat. Paul Stanley) (Free)
5. Emerald (feat. Slash) (Thin Lizzy)
6. Bring It On Home (Led Zeppelin)
7. Wild Thing (feat. Lita Ford) (The Troggs)
8. Parasite (feat. John 5) (Kiss)
9. Magic Carpet Ride (Steppenwolf)
10. Cold Gin (feat. Mike McCready) (Kiss)
11. Till The End Of The Day (Kinks)
12. Rock And Roll Hell (Kiss)