There has been some suggestion, in the run up to the release of 10,000 Volts, that Ace Frehley is essentially a guest on his own album. By his own admission, noted in an interview with Chaoszine’s Marko Syrjälä, “Typically, after I completed my lead vocal and guitar solo and possibly doubled the rhythm track with an octave guitar, Steve would finalize the song in his studio with other musicians, allowing me time to tour and pursue my own activities.” While it would not come as a shock that Trixter guitarist Steve Brown has made an outsized contribution to the album, it is unfair to use the resulting constructive methodology to negate the album’s merits. It needs to be made absolutely clear that 10,000 Volts is no Second Sighting, an album from which Ace was audibly missing in action for large chunks. Nor does 10,000 Volts feel like a Steve Brown solo album with Ace guesting. Instead, it feels far more like a collaboration where multiple parties have played to their strengths with positive results. As a result, there are less tracks than on previous original Spaceman efforts that sound like filler or undercooked meals.
Foremost, the lengths of the 11 songs suggest an attention to editing and refinement, where unnecessary fat has been trimmed. The arrangements are tight and concise. There is consistency throughout and the mix of the material clearly comes from a new perspective which presents wonderful stylistic separation and sonic clarity. The first single, and title track cowritten by Ace, Steve, and David Julian, has been digested by most for some time now. It holds up well as the album’s leadoff track with a catchy (I think I’ll be using this word again) phased intro. Shifting the song’s context from single to album opener, it sets the stage with its strong riff and catchy gang chorus. Up tempo, important elements of songcraft and refinement are present: driving drums, chunking rhythm guitars, handclaps, catchy pre-chorus, big chorus, and a huge solo with all of Ace’s trademarks. The proverbial checkboxes are checked, and all requisite elements are present and accounted for. And of course, it’s a subject matter winner for Kiss nerds with its allusion to Ace’s electrocution in Lakeland, Fla. in December 1976, melded with sentimentality without getting sappy. “Walkin’ on the Moon,” keeps the lyrics finely balanced between the sort of comic book cliched kitsch we’d expect from a Kiss original, infused with a more predictable kind of sentimentality. It’s clear where a great deal of inspiration is coming from, regardless of the percentage of lyrics that come directly from Ace rather than his cowriters. That said, it works as a throbbing sonic wall of sound.
“Cosmic Heart,” the second of the songs cowritten with Brown & David, has a big bombastic feel of an anthemic collision between “Calling Dr. Love” and “Iron Man.” It drips attitude, spacey Ace as a cool dude in a loose mood, with a “Cherry Pie” meets “I Love Rock & Roll” chorus. It has great phrasing on the solo. The filthy intro guitars of “Cherry Medicine” echo the now ancient “Outer Space.” The gutter symphony delivers the cure with a melodic-pop infused chorus without becoming syrupy. Where Ace has suggested in assorted interviews that he hears several “hits” on the album, the modern industry has killed that model, and no medicine is bringing it back. But the point he’s making rings true, and this is certainly one of the album’s standouts, particularly the lead work. The disease may be spreading, and you may find yourself bopping your head or singing along, inviting strange looks from those around you.
“Back into My Arms Again” is in a difficult position. On the one hand it’s been enjoyed in its original form as an unreleased gem from the early era of Frehley’s Comet. On the other hand, it’s been forty years that many fans will have had the original 1984 demo etched into their brain. It makes for an unfortunate, unintentional, and unfair comparison. This song is going to be where those who never dipped a toe into the pool of unreleased magic benefit. Ignorance will be bliss. None of that makes for a negative. The song remains majestic and soaring and the flighty elements and lyrical content clearly still resonate. It doesn’t feel dated, but it’s impossible for this listener to not compare Ace’s vocals in 2023 with those from decades ago. You know some madman will create a matrix of both versions. But I’m glad he’s finally revisited some of that long neglected and abandoned material and given it the legitimacy it deserves. His new take does justice to the original, but the lack of a grand acoustic intro seems a texture-shifting opportunity missed for me. I’m clearly no Ace. The story goes that Steve reintroduced Ace to the song, from a YouTube video. Hopefully, in the future, Ace will spend more time on YouTube trawling through the dozens of abandoned demos that litter the less commercially productive years of his solo career…
I don’t want to say Bon Jovi, but “Fightin’ for Life” could easily be Ace’s “It’s My Life.” It’s got a similar sort of cachet, and the New Jersey lot delivered peerlessly when they were at their best long long ago. This is Bronx delivered equivalent and is my standout pick from the album. Dueling guitars, brash leads, a defiant vocal, it screams for Richie Scarlet. It’s probably the song I’d most like to hear a live performance of, but fear that it’s tempo and dynamics made that an unrealistic wish. I’ll settle for the fist-pumps and cheering from my couch. From that zenith, there’s a shaky start to “Blinded.” I’m not sure if it’s the “blinded by science / blinded by fear” lyrics, or melodic elements such as “when all is said or done it’s like a loaded gun” seem overly familiar in a Guns N’ Roses 1991 way. Ace mentioned in a Guitar World interview that the basis for the song was originally about panic attacks, and he recommended the A.I. direction. It’s refreshing from that perspective that Ace remains grounded in current affairs as a source of inspiration and new explorations.
Funnily, “Constantly Cute” is constantly fun. It’s an endearingly fun, catchy, and quirky song, elements that Ace has often brought into the mix, often less successfully for my tastes. Lyrically patchy, musically it’s solid, and the pre-chorus and chorus more than make up for any perceived imperfections. “Life of a Stranger” was originally released in 2002 by Nadia on the “Transporter” movie soundtrack, and Ace was immediately taken by it. As a cover, it makes a nice change from the sort of material Ace has performed on his albums. It’s a big positive rocker that again seems infused with sentimentality. It’s also one of Ace’s best vocal performances on the album, which runs counter to his initial concerns about singing it. It’s next level, and whether that is a result of effort or studio magic, it matters not, he’s transported it from the screen and taken ownership. But let’s take a moment to mention Ace’s voice, and not treat it like an elephant in the room. He’s as good a singer as he ever was, but his voice has deepened. He’s 72-years-old! His Bronx drawl, or whatever you want to label it, has stretched the enunciation of many words when he speaks or sings. It actually is endearing when he says certain words or phrases, but he clearly doesn’t sound like he did in 2009, 1998, 1989, or 1984. It is what it is, but it would be imbecilic to deny it, and equally imbecilic to read anything deeper into the irreversible passing of time.
At this juncture, the album is a cracking success, and the final stretch is all too rapidly upon us. All that is left to determine is whether the album’s crescendo delivers a satisfactory climax. “Up in the Sky” has a punky attitude, a street (here it comes) swagger, a hint of metallic Doobie Bros. It’s straight-forward meat ‘n’ potatoes rock ‘n’ roll executed with trademark ’78 Spaceman panache. As in the beginning, the rhythm guitars and solid drum/bass backbeat propel this rocker, but neanderthal it is not. Within the sonic layers is nuance and attention to detail which contribute to a bombastic conclusion. “Stratosphere,” the obligatory instrumental, provides the after-dinner mint concluding the 10,000-volt feast. It’s a refreshing take on the generally atmospheric soundscapes Ace has traditionally used to close his studio adventures. Clearly, the base elements of this track are Steve Brown’s, but freed from the seeming normal confines and structure, Ace’s is given more than enough room to smudge his fingerprints in new expressive explorations throughout.
10,000 Volts was produced by Ace Frehley and Steve Brown and mixed and mastered by Bruno Ravel. The recordings were engineered by Ace Frehley, Steve Brown, Anton Fig, David Julian, and Alex Salzman. Drummers on the album include Anton Fig, Joey Cassata, and Jordan Cannada. Steve Brown clearly performs many of the rhythm guitars and (probably) some leads. Other credits are not officially available at print time. But now to an important final question: How does this measure up to Frehley’s previous efforts? Ace has boldly stated that he thinks the album is his best work since his 1978 solo album. That’s highly subjective, and there’s no right or wrong answer from the fan’s perspective. But it’s inspiring to see Ace so enthused about his work, and so on and so forth. For my tastes, it certainly exceeds Spaceman and much of Space Invader. It probably edges Anomaly, simply due to its new car smell, but I’ll have to revisit that thought down the road. While I certainly do like Second Sighting, it’s no contest — it’s an unfair and insulting match-up. Even with Tod and John having done the heavy lifting under different circumstances, 10,000 Volts still feels more honestly aligned with Ace’s musicality and style. Here he successfully pulls off singing lead on a full album, without sharing that duty. The production of his first post-Kiss album solo sounds dated to my ears now, but there are still some very strong (and weak) songs on Frehley’s Comet. For me, only Trouble Walkin’ can get in the ring with 10,000 Volts for a battle royale. Regardless of how that plays out, 10,000 Volts clearly sits proudly besides Ace’s peerless 1978 solo album, probably much more due to its breadth, consistency, recording quality, mix, and the fact that Kiss World craves new creative feel-good product in 2024. It’s been a long wait for new music from Ace…
Walkin’ on the Moon
Back Into My Arms Again
Fightin’ for Life
Life of a Stranger
Up in the Sky
Release date: February 23, 2024