The past few years have seen a renaissance and revitalization in the career of Ace Frehley. He’s become a fixture on the concert circuit, and his two most recent albums, ‘Space Invader’ (2014) and ‘Origins Vol. 1’ (2016), have brought the former KISS axeman some of the loudest critical plaudits and highest chart positions of his Hall of Fame career. With all the hype surrounding these two releases (deserved as it may be), it can be easy to overlook the album that kicked off this new Age of Ace, his 2009 comeback ‘Anomaly’. This deluxe reissue (which is being released September 8th via eOne Music – just in time for Frehley’s run opening for Alice Cooper in Australia and New Zealand later in the month; Nexusers Down Under, this is maybe my textbook definition of a must-see show) will hopefully remedy that; ‘Anomaly’ proved to be Ace’s strongest set of songs since ’78. If you’re an Ace fan and you’ve never heard it, you’ll love it; if you haven’t heard it in a while, it’s well worth exploring again.
Frehley is a recognized and undisputed master of the riff, and from the outset ‘Anomaly’ offers ample proof. Songs like “Outer Space,” “Sister,” and the opener “Foxy & Free” rock like gangbusters, their solos dripping with attitude and Ace-isms that would have been right at home at Cobo Hall in 1975. Cover songs can be a tricky matter, but throughout his career Frehley has proven to be a master at choosing just the right tunes to interpret and make his own; his take here on the Sweet’s Glitter Rock chestnut “Fox On the Run” can stand proudly alongside his Ace-ified versions of “Do Ya,” “2,000 Man,” and even the classic “New York Groove.”
The influence of Jimmy Page on Frehley has been evident since “Deuce;” nearly every solo the Spaceman has played over the past four decades has at the very least nodded toward the Dark Mage of Boleskine House. ‘Anomaly’, however, may mark the first time Page’s influence has been seen in Frehley’s song structure, both on the instrumental big-riff stomper “Space Bear” (which also features an almost Proggish conclusion that sounds straight out of the early Rush playbook), and especially on “Genghis Khan,” where a near-Flamenco acoustic introduction gives way to a Zeppelin-esque groove that Frehley rides just as close to the Misty Mountains as we’ve ever seen him. Longtime conspirator drummer Anton Fig shines on the whole album (of course), but perhaps nowhere brighter than here, ably assisting Ace on the journey from Jendell to Kashmir.
This expanded edition of ‘Anomaly’ features three bonus tracks: a demo for “Foxy and Free” (here under its original title “Hard For Me,” and with a slightly more risqué set of lyrics), a slowed-down earlier version of “Pain In The Neck” (that musically speaking wouldn’t sound out of place on KISS’ grunge excursion ‘Carnival of Souls’), and “Return of the Space Bear,” originally a digital-only extra that features Frehley quoting lines from KISS’ infamous Halloween 1979 appearance on Tom Snyder’s late-night show Tomorrow (if, by the way, you haven’t seen this, you owe it to yourself to do so.) There’s also enhanced artwork, a live poster, a track-by-track analysis of the record by Ace himself, and an in-depth essay by author and noted KISS expert Ron Albanese.
When ‘Anomaly’ was originally released, it represented Ace Frehley’s first full-length solo project since 1989’s ‘Trouble Walkin’’. It had been nearly seven years since he had walked away from the KISS machine for the second time, at the end of the band’s “Farewell Tour.” Occasional appearances (turning up at the 2006 VH1 Rock Honors to perform “God of Thunder” with Rob Zombie, Slash, and Tommy Lee, or donning the Spaceman attire once again for a Dunkin’ Donuts ad the following year) and teases (“It’ll be out in the spring!” became a bit of a running joke for a while in certain fan circles) aside, Frehley was out of the public eye for a large chunk of the decade. As ‘Anomaly’ was officially announced and its release approached, there was more than a little trepidation mixed in with the anticipation; it had been a reaaallly long time, and the solo albums released by the other original members of KISS during the same timeframe had been, to put it gently, somewhat less than spectacular. Could Ace pull it off?
We needn’t have worried. Ace’s solo record was the best in the late 1970s, and Ace’s solo record was the best in the late 2000s. ‘Anomaly’ provided proof that, with or without the makeup, there’s only one Spaceman.