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Ep. 172 Track By Track Review of Ace Frehley’s Origins Vol. 1

Episode 172, April 5, 2016. This week we sit down and give you a track by track review of Ace Frehley’s new album Origins Vol. 1. This won’t be some sugar-coated oh Ace you are the greatest review. This is three lifelong KISS fans who love Ace telling you what they really think. You might be surprised, we were! What were the standout tracks? On a scale of 1 to 10 how does this album rate? How does Ace’s guitar playing stack up?

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  • Mike Scott

    After listening to this new album a few times today on Spotify, I’m going back through your comments from the episode. As with any discussion about what is a “good” song, the opinion of the listener is subjective to personal tastes (like Bob Kulick said in one of your earlier episodes). That being said, here are my comments.

    In general, I like the sound of the record from a production point of view. The guitars are loud and up front, as well as the drums. Ace’s vocals are not strong. I don’t mind any vocal effects, as long as they add something unique to the song. But, as a whole, it seems like the vocals are too deliberate and not loose and organic like Ace himself (I can picture him reading the lyrics from a sheet at the time of recording). Surely that’s because these are covers and not Ace’s own words (other than Parasite and Cold Gin of course). And, he probably didn’t spend as much time playing each song enough to develop his own feel as he would on a song that he wrote himself; fair enough. The enunciation of all of the lyrics is a bit odd as well. I actually find it distracting. But, as a whole, I like the sound of the record. Now for the songs…

    White Room: Nice to hear Ace playing with the wah-wah pedal. It seems to keep him a tad restrained and more melodic with his soloing, which is where I prefer him to play. The guitars and drums sound fine while the vocals are fairly bland. The outro solo is really good!

    Street Fighting Man: This is more in Ace’s wheelhouse. Probably a better vocal performance than most songs on the record. The first half of the solo sounds like Alive-era Ace. After two songs in though, the album is not grabbing my attention.

    Spanish Castle Magic: This should’ve been the lead-off song! To my ears, it sounds like Ace is extra inspired with his soloing on this track. I’d guess that he spent a little more time with it than some of the other songs. John 5 adds a few tasty licks in the outro which should have been longer. I’d love to hear him perform this live.

    Fire and Water: Sounds like it could’ve been on Sonic Boom or Monster. Very cool, as a KISS fan, to hear Paul singing with Ace playing behind him (or is that Tommy? 🙂 ). For me, it falls a little flat, both vocally and soloing; just like the aforementioned KISS albums! As much as I truly wanted this to shine, it’s very average. I agree with Michael’s comment that most of the songs would’ve been better served with guest singers like this one.

    Emerald: I was very excited about this one because Lizzy is one of my all-time favorite bands and this is one my favorite songs too. There’s no way for the vocals to come anywhere near Lynott, whether it’s Ace or anyone else (almost anyone else would’ve been better though). But, I loved the sound of the guitars and I actually liked the dueling guitar solos with Ace and Slash. (Side note: Agree with Mark that “Cold Sweat” is one of the best Lizzy songs, as well as one of the best guitar licks ever! Where are you John Sykes!?).

    Bring It On Home: Ace loves Jimmy Page, as do most of us, right? So, I have to believe he was extra inspired to really deliver a solid performance on this Zeppelin classic (yes, I know it’s a blues cover). And, he absolutely does! It’s one of my favorite tracks, if not the top of the list. The guest vocalist is very good, and allows Ace to focus just on his guitar. Hey Ace, Jimmy always used a singer (hint, hint) and it worked out pretty well for him!

    Wild Thing: This is a decent cover but there’s not much meat on the bone. No special accolades for Lita Ford. There’s a little more wah-wah but not enough to make this anything more than filler to my ears. Save it for weddings Ace! Next!

    Parasite: I’ve come to really appreciate John 5 in recent years and think that he’s an absolute monster on guitar. So, I may have been looking more forward to this tune than any other from the track listings when they first came out. Sadly, I think his portion of the guitar solo is totally out of place. Now, I know that he’s a complete KISS fanatic and he must’ve been pinching himself during this recording session. But, his solo honestly detracts from the song (really pains me to say it) and he should’ve stuck with just the rhythm guitar (maybe adding a few tricks and tweaks) and let Ace shred all over it. Forget this one and listen to Spanish Castle Magic again! (Side note suggestion: how about an instrumental only with multiple guest guitarists?!)

    Magic Carpet Ride: I may have approached this track with the lowest expectations because I really am so tired of the original song, especially with it’s extra long psychedelic section. But, much to my surprise, I actually really like this version! I agree with Mark’s comment that this is better than the original. If only Ace had gone with a more “stellar” solo along the lines of “I’m in Need of Love.” That may have put it nearer the top of the album tracks for me. As it stands, it’s somewhere in the middle.

    Cold Gin: A true Ace/KISS classic song that, regrettably, just can’t be improved upon. It’s the lick that other guitar players should play on their tributes to Ace. But, seriously, do we need yet another recording of it from you Ace? Since Mike McCready is the guest, why not let him shred on “She” since he loves (and stole) that solo? 😉 I’ve got to believe that there’s some monetary reason to cover both Parasite and Cold Gin when Ace had so many other non-KISS songs to consider.

    Till The End of The Day: Wasn’t expecting this one at all. Not sure if it was intentional but it sounds like Ace combined a little of “All Day and All of the Night” with the chord structure, which certainly didn’t hurt. I could see this either sped up for more energy or slowed way down for some spacey Ace licks with echo. The last 15 seconds actually give a little glimpse of both. It’s definitely a “skip” song for my tastes.

    Rock and Roll Hell: More than any other track, this one had me the most curious. First, it’s a bold move to include a song from “Creatures” in a thinly veiled FU moment to that tumultuous period in KISStory. The fact that Ace is confident enough to offer a comparison between his 2016 version and a 1982 Ace-less KISS (which is actually Robben Ford guesting on lead guitar…it’s complicated!) is pretty damn cool. So, just how does it stack up? It’s actually a great Ace song. Lyrics and delivery are perfect for his voice. The vibe is right up his alley. The solo starts of aggressively but quickly turns into a note fest with a real lack of cohesion for my taste. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was his first take. The ending solo however, which lasts over a minute into the fade, is actually way better. Put it in the middle section and this is a really outstanding track.

    So, those are the songs. As I reflect on the song choices and the guest musicians, I notice that there are none of Ace’s actual influences present. It is only peers or younger musicians. While it’s great to see the impact Ace has made, the album is called Origins. Do you really think that Ace couldn’t get a return phone call (or email) from Page, Townsend or Scott Gorham? At the rate our rock legends are dropping off this year, I think everybody is learning how to kiss and make up (pun intended)!

    All in all, it’s a fun record with some nice moments. Will I buy it? Definitely not. Will I continue to listen to it? I’d rather listen to his ’78 solo album for the 1,000th time. And I will…right now. 🙂