Anomaly is the latest release from Ace Frehley, but it’s also a good description of Space Ace himself in a sense. After all, he’s the only member of KISS to make any good records on his own. So, score one for Ace. On the other hand, it’s been twenty years since he’s released a studio album. A long layoff from recording alone raises questions, so it’s hard to predict what we’ll get.
Early on, the album is a much heavier hard rock offering than I expected. If anything, Ace has developed a chunkier, meatier and somewhat darker sound over the last two decades. It’s not until his cover of Sweet’s pop-glam classic, "Fox on the Run," that things lighten up a bit. At that point the album becomes a bit of a mixed bag. "Genghis Khan" dabbles in mild trippiness with some success. At the same time, the well-meaning "Change the World" is lyrically and musically inarticulate (even by the standards of Kiss alumni). The instrumental "Space Bear" has some solid parts that would have worked well in regular songs, but is inconsistent at best on its own. Even so, there are enough songs here like "Foxy & Free," "Pain in the Neck" and "Sister" that mix a heavier approach with the glammy swagger that always influenced Ace’s playing. Heavy-handed production does rob the guitar of some of that sound that always made Ace fun to hear even though he wasn’t technically a great guitar player, but it’s not entirely absent.
As it stands, the album is better than expected (and better than his former band mates’ latest). There’s enough solid hard rock here to satisfy fans, but probably not enough songwriting to win over anyone new. At this point though, I doubt expanding his fan base was at the front of his mind anyway. The lyrical references in "Outer Space" make it quite clear that he’s in no mood to break with his past. It’s not a great offering, but also doesn’t leave the door open for any current or former KISS members to usurp him as that band’s best solo artist. To be fair, Ace plays with some heart in a genre that is often sorely short of it and, in the end, delivers well on his past promise.
On rare occasions, CD packaging is actually pretty cool. This is one of them. While I would never steer anyone away from buying vinyl, I will say that the pyramid foldout on the CD is very cool and packaging does matter. It isn’t a substitute for crappy tunes, but here it doesn’t have to be, because the album wouldn’t disappoint Ace’s fans even if it came in a jewel case.