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Ace Frehley - Anomaly
Release Date: September 15, 2009
Label: Bronx Born Records

Rating:
****
out of
*****

It's been 20 years since former KISS guitarist Ace Frehley last released a solo album. Since 1989's Trouble Walkin', Ace was a bit busy with the KISS reunion. But since he parted ways with his former band in 2002, Ace had been promising a new album "in the spring" for quite awhile. The reasons for the delays are many, mostly involving Ace's battle with addiction, but on the third anniversary of his new-found sobriety Ace is back with Anomaly, a quirky, groove-based album that may surprise skeptics.

Kicking off with the strutting "Foxy & Free", it is immediately clear that the tune is the perfect mood-setter for the CD and includes a trademark solo break. "Outer Space", the first single, provides a great theme song for the Spaceman. Lyrically cocky, the tune hums along with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Unfortunately, a bizarre backwards solo keeps it from being a true classic.

When "Pain in the Neck", another groove-based rocker, suddenly screeches into an acoustic break with yodeling (courtesy of Ace's touring drummer Scot Coogan), it becomes apparent that Ace isn't playing it safe on Anomaly. And, no, the yodeling doesn't ruin the song, it merely epitomizes what many love about Ace Frehley: his off-the-wall sense of humor.

A cover of Sweet's "Fox on the Run" recalls Ace's cover of ELO's "Do Ya?" from Trouble Walkin' with Ace's trademark shouting-not-quite-singing vocal style taking center stage.

The first of three instrumentals on the disc, "Genghis Khan" is an epic track with some sound effects and a trippy chant-like vocal layered on top. For trivia hounds, one of the voices on the vocal track is Pearl Aday, Meat Loaf's daughter.

Ace gets more personal on many of the remaining tracks. "Too Many Faces" contains thinly veiled references to his drug and alcohol usage: "I can't stop all of the faces / They're always looking back at me / I wish I knew who was me." "Change the World" is a hopeful, spiritual song about peace and love. The acoustic-based "A Little Below the Angels" also references Ace's past demons and regrets and his newfound sobriety and seemingly healed soul. "It's a Great Life" is an unusually poppy, almost funky, tune about living strong.

Two of the three remaining tracks are instrumentals. "Space Bear" is a pulsing rocker and "Fractured Quantum" is a Joe Satriani-esque entry in Ace's ongoing "Fractured Mirror" series of instrumentals that have been featured on each of his solo albums.

"Sister" is a song that Ace performed live in the 1990s on his solo tours, but never appeared on a studio album until now. It's a double-bass-drum infused rocker that most likely will be wheeled out again when Ace tours for Anomaly in the fall.

One thing that's immediately noticeable about Anomaly is that, even though Ace is known for his lead guitar work in KISS, rhythm is the strongest aspect of the whole CD. Each song has a definite groove and character that comes out of the rhythm. The solos work best when Ace keeps them simple. He was never known as a shredder on guitar and his fast playing tends to sound a bit sloppy. When he breaks into his trademark melodic soloing, like in "Too Many Faces", it makes more of an impression than, say, the solo break in "Outer Space," which attempts to be something hard-hitting or awe-inspiring. Ace's best solos have a definite feel not a speedometer.

Anomaly may not always play to Ace's strengths, but it's good to see him not resting on his laurels and simply trying to recapture the past. Although he says he drew inspiration from his classic 1978 solo album, it's apparent he wasn't simply trying to imitate it. Good for him and good for us. Welcome back, Ace!

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