Sound — 7
Ace Frehley is one of the most iconic '70s guitar players. As the lead guitarist in KISS, he captivated audiences with his stage presence, his array of smoking and rocket-shooting Les Pauls, and to a lesser extent it seems, his guitar solos. Though many probably know him better by his character name, the Spaceman, Frehley became one of the world's most recognizable guitar heroes. And despite his average at best musical skill, he influenced hordes of young, would-be guitar players across the world, most famously Dimebag Darrell. On a personal note, his guitar solo in the live version of "Deuce" is one of the principle reasons why I started playing. As a testament to his popularity among guitar players, his signature Les Paul model was one of the best-selling Gibson signature models in the company's history (although the guitar was so visually stunning it may not have needed much help).
However, pretty much all of Frehley's fame comes from his time in KISS. His solo career has been a far less illustrious endeavor. His previous solo albums are not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but when Frehley advertises this new album by effectively saying, "It's just as good as my 1978 solo album" (which was written while he was still in KISS), it is easy to see that, well, he is no Paul McCartney.
Considering that Ace also continues to take shots at his former band/boast about his own music and KISS seems to be doing the same, it is definitely worth comparing "Space Invader" to KISS' newest album "Monster." After listening to both albums, though with Ace's album admittedly being the fresher in my mind, I have concluded that KISS and Ace need each other, at least from a musical standpoint.
To begin with, Ace's album sounds more like a classic '70s KISS album than KISS' new album. Ace's songs still have a bit of attitude, which most of the KISS songs seemed to lack. From a production standpoint, Ace's album sounds more vintage than KISS' despite Gene Simmons' boasting of how great it was that KISS recorded their album with analog equipment. Ace's guitar work is also unique to the point that neither Tommy Thayer nor KISS hopes to replicate Ace's contribution to the KISS sound, which is why it pleased me when Thayer took the guitar work on Monster down his road, with his sound, not a shady replication of Ace's. Whether Thayer or any other former KISS guitarist is a better musician than Ace is debatable. What is not debatable is that Ace was a large, irreplaceable part of the classic '70s KISS sound. KISS can continue with their current sound, but it will not be that sound. And, personally, again, completely my opinion, I wish it were.
That being said, Ace's new album is not much better than KISS'. Ace lacks a couple of crucial pieces. First, there is a reason why Ace was the least impactful vocalist in KISS, but I'll get to that later. From an instrumental standpoint, Ace is not as good an arranger as either Simmons or Stanley. He also cannot seem to write memorable riffs as they can. Yes, Ace did write some of KISS' greatest riffs, like those in "Parasite" and "Cold Gin," but that caliber of riff doesn't appear here. Most of them seem to model the "Shock Me" or "Rip It Out" riffs in that they are still riffs but not particularly impressionable ones.
To Ace's credit, his album does sound as good as or better than his solo album from 1978. However, that is a double-edged sword. He plays lead guitar the same as he did in 1978, primarily relying on first position, repetitive pentatonic licks in A minor with tons of double stops and vibrato. Personally, I love that. Frehley's tone is unique and irreplaceable (he never seems to lose sustain). It's nice to hear some new Spaceman licks, even if they are mostly recycled. In fact, I would be alienated if he didn't stick to what I and many others know him for. On the other hand, there's a valid argument that Ace hasn't grown musically from his KISS days. This argument is made even more salient by the fact that Ace was not too skilled a guitarist while in KISS.
Lyrics — 5
Ace's voice has not worsened a bit since his 1978 solo album. The unfortunate thing is that Ace has a terrible voice as far as rock singers go. It was bad then and it is bad now. As a conciliation, he doesn't at all sound strained when he sings (Paul Stanley hasn't been doing well lately) but considering his voice was not worth much to begin with, I don't see how it matters much. He seems to be talking the entire time instead of singing and his melodies, except for those in the chorus, have no substance. His is not the worst voice ever, or even close, it just feels like his music deserves better. Vocals are another area where Ace's songs could be better if he was in KISS.
From a lyrical standpoint, Ace's topics of choice have remained consistent and somewhat interesting, usually discussing girls or flying into/from outer space.
Overall Impression — 7
Overall, I think fans of Ace Frehley will love this album. I think it is a step forward from his last solo album, "Anomaly." Ace brings a ton of great lead guitar work into the album and there are a couple of catchy songs here and there. For fans of guitar-based music in general, this album is flat average.
The last area, one I failed to mention, where this album suffered from not being made with KISS was in the creativity exhibited by the other instruments. The bass and drums showed no autonomy, always pandering to the guitar parts as necessary. I somewhat expected this given that Ace has total control over the album. But I bet that if he were in KISS, the members would feel equal and therefore contribute more distinct parts as individuals.
In any event, this album is a fun comeback for the Spaceman, Ace Frehley. The best straight-ahead song was the album's single "Gimme a Feelin'," the most creative song was a soft one, "Starship," and the most recognizable is a cover of the Steve Miller Band's song, "The Joker."