Reconsidering Frehley’s Comet

Because we’re breathing and the Earth is rotating, and my editor is looking the other way, now is as good a time as any to talk about how great Frehley’s Comet were.

Frehley’s Comet were the post-KISS band formed by legendary guitarist/life of the party Ace Frehley (who is releasing his latest solo album, Spaceman, on October 19); they only put out two albums and one alarmingly-good live EP; this small amount of output stands as not just some of the best melodic rock of the era, it also has a uniqueness and personality to it that few bands of the era had. Let’s explore, and let’s reconsider, Frehley’s Comet.

For their debut, Frehley enlisted Anton Fig on drums (you know him as David Letterman’s drummer), John Regan on bass and Tod Howarth on guitars, in-your-face keyboards and vocals. The combination of these four strong personalities (well, three and Regan, who always seemed nice, so, sure, four) went a long way toward giving the band’s 1987 self-titled debut album its incredible charm.

“Rock Soldiers” kicks off the album; it’s an absolutely excellent anthem with some of the most insane lyrics ever (it kills me every single time when Ace mumbles out “And the devil sat in the passenger’s side/of DeLorean’s automobile,” as if that’s how the humans talk, as if saying “of DeLorean’s automobile” is a remotely normal way to phrase that thought). “Rock Soldiers” is actually a stone-cold classic, a rock song as good as they come. “Breakout” was, confusingly, kinda also recorded by KISS on Revenge as “Carr Jam 1981” (this is nowhere near as confusing as talking about “Hide Your Heart,” which we won’t get into here), featured a “zany” little intro, tapped into the iconic “jailbreak” theme, and was turned into an agonizing drum solo live. And, because/despite of all that, it’s a great song.

“Into the Night” is the greatest “night time in the big city in the ’80s” song ever and, after the opening pair of rockers, shows the glory of Frehley’s Comet: the near-AOR melodies and the sense of atmosphere. I can’t believe Frehley was coherent enough at this stage to write the melodies on this album, which makes sense, because I suspect a lot of the heavy lifting went to Howarth (who figures in our story even more prominently next album). “Into the Night” is an absolutely fantastic song, one that should be discussed regularly when the great rock songs of the ’80s are discussed.

“Something Moved” is an odd, balls-to-the-wall rocker, and “We Got Your Rock” is a simple groovy rocker to end off the first side of this album. “Love Me Right” starts off side two, and it’s a super left-field Frehley-led mid-paced melodic radio rocker with a great lead riff, and it leads in to the phenomenal “Calling to You,” the band suddenly sounding like the greatest AOR band no one ever heard, Howarth leading the charge, Frehley doing something back there, I guess, but this song is mainly a showcase for Howarth’s melodic songwriting smarts and soaring voice. Listen to that chorus! Talk about anthemic.

On “Dolls,” shit gets weird: Frehley sings about his collection of dolls and how he doesn’t understand why visitors are alarmed by them, which always struck me as a sort of lonely thing for an ex-KISS member to admit; the song is pretty weird, too (it all totally freaked me out when I spun this as a kid, which I did regularly; Frehley sounds like he’s smiling ear to ear when he’s singing about his collection of stuffed friends, which still gives me the willies). “Stranger in a Strange Land” is memorable and moody, and gives Frehley some good solo time. The album ends off with “Fractured Too,” a sequel to the instrumental “Fractured Mirror,” which closed off Frehley’s 1978 KISS solo album. It’s actually a legitimately interesting and engaging instrumental, Frehley’s Comet getting it right here, big time.

And there you have it, an excellent, fun, and varied album, one that had a good amount of hard rock, melodic rock, and oddball personality (and, Anton Fig on drums). On the debut, Howarth sings lead vocals on “Breakout,” “Something Moved,” and “Calling to You.” There’s also an instrumental, meaning there are only six songs that Frehley actually sung on this album, a number that dips even more with the second album. But before we get to the second album…

1988’s Live+1 EP is really good. With live versions of “Rip it Out” (from Frehley’s ’78 KISS solo album), “Breakout” (agonizing drum solo included), “Something Moved,” and “Rocket Ride” (one of the five studio songs from KISS’ 1977 Alive II album), the EP rocks pretty hard and has a great live production sound, but the one new song, “Words Are Not Enough,” totally rules, and embraces the shit out of synths and huge ’80s production. Few can pull it off, but our spaceman is one of ’em, although this song indicated the more melodic direction the band was about to head in.

Then it’s the band’s second and final album (under the Frehley’s Comet name; Ace went on to do solo albums under his own name, recruiting various Comet dudes, but the chemistry was never the same, mainly due to the absence of Howarth, but please see 2016’s great Four by Fate album to catch some of the Comet reuniting without Frehley), 1988’s Second Sighting. As much as the debut rules, Second Sighting is even more of a melodic, Frehley-less journey through era-appropriate rock, Ace singing only on four and a bit of 10 songs, Howarth stealing the show here by also singing on four and a bit of the songs but making his songs way better than Ace’s.

Fig was gone for Second Sighting, replaced by Jamie Oldaker (who had played with Eric Clapton and Bob Seger, among others, which was kinda weird, but not as weird as Fig’s presence); the band was either gelling wonderfully at this point or Howarth was just writing great songs and the rest of the band was rolling with it; either way, Second Sighting rules.

“Insane” starts off the album with a great Ace vibe, some cool licks, and a super Ace vocal performance. It’s more or less this album’s “Rock Soldiers,” another fun song about the Ace experience, which is more or less what we all wish our lives were like. Good song, killer way to kick off the album, and the best Ace song on the joint.

“Time Ain’t Running Out” is a great example of the power of Frehley’s Comet, especially during their second-album era. Moody, anthemic, keyboard-heavy but not in a horrid way, this is basically AOR with Frehley stopping by to throw down a riff in the background now and again. Howarth gives a great vocal performance here on this, a song that I consider a rock classic even if it’s not exactly being spun on classic rock radio every day. “Dancing with Danger” features the odd songwriting credits of “Ace Frehley/Dana Strum/Streetheart,” confusing because Strum has his own post-KISS connection but wasn’t in Frehley’s Comet, and, Streetheart? Well, yeah, it’s a reworked Streetheart cover, which seems like a really weird thing to put as song three of your second album, but damned if the Comet don’t totally kill it here, and I didn’t even know it was a cover for a long, long time.

“It’s Over Now” is next, and it should have been huge. That huge bridge, and huger chorus, Howarth totally killing it behind the, uh, keyboard here, Ace showing up for a cameo, this slowly turning into the Tod show but even huge Ace guys like me weren’t really complaining. This song is a fantastic example of excellent, dramatic, AOR-tinged melodic rock. Released as a single but didn’t have much impact, a fact that will continue to haunt me as I’m lowered into my grave one day, still tormented over the fact that “It’s Over Now” is a really, really great song that didn’t take the world by storm like it should have. (Check out the outrageous video to see something else a bit surprising: Howarth actually plays the solo on this song, while Frehley handles rhythm work.)

“Loser in a Fight” is a rare Frehley/Howarth vocal duet, with a totally killer chorus. I mean, 100-percent killer: this song, like many others on this album, get stuck in my head at random when I haven’t spun Second Sighting for years. I love hearing the two guys go back and forth in the verses, Howarth wailing away, Frehley doing his charming mumbling style just fine. “Juvenile Delinquent” is next, and it’s an Ace stomper; it’s a bit Alice Cooper stoopid but it’s also a bit Ace Frehley awesome.

Next up is “Fallen Angel,” and as any fan of ’80s rock knows, all songs called “Fallen Angel” or variations thereof are really good. So, no surprise that this is really good, Howarth delivering another very moody, mid-tempo rocker that showcases his pipes and his excellent melodic songwriting smarts. Check that chorus and wonder again why the Comet never made it huge off the strength of the songs on this album (or, more to the point, Howarth’s songs).

“Separate” is another memorable Frehley rocker, the Spaceman stomping through it all with a sort of relaxed determination, almost as if he just knows the Comet are releasing better albums than his old day job at this point. Or, maybe he was just too spaced to give much more. “New Kind of Lover” is another fantastic Howarth melodic rocker, chorus soaring high, Howarth’s songs on this album just having tons more energy than Frehley’s, but the two styles complementing each other perfectly.

The album ends off with the manic “The Acorn Is Spinning,” a sort of pseudo-instrumental with Ace’s insane boxing-saga narration over top of some serious shredding from the band. A good counterpoint to the “Fractured” series of instrumentals Ace usually puts on his albums.

Then, just like that, it was done. Frehley’s Comet quietly imploded, with Frehley putting out the Trouble Walkin’ album out under his name in 1989. While it had its moments, it was a total letdown after the variety and personality of the Frehley’s Comet records. Because Frehley’s Comet had what Ace Frehley—as much of a legend as he is—does not have on his own, and what no solo artist has on his own. They have what more bands should have: distinct personalities thrown in the mix by the band members; different sounds that gel together to create diversity, but with a cohesion; the best melodies ever.

It’s not even that we need to reconsider Frehley’s Comet, it’s just that we need to be sure to remember Frehley’s Comet, because they’re one of the best melodic rock bands ever.