Revisiting the Debacle of Ace Frehley’s ‘Second Sighting’
Gene Simmons once referred to Ace Frehley as “without doubt, the laziest, most self-destructive person I’ve ever met.” The guitarist’s addictive and distractive personality most certainly contributed to his early '80s and 2001 departures from Kiss. But even when he was working under his own steam on his solo career, those tendencies returned to haunt him.
After returning from a self-imposed exile to successfully launch his long-delayed solo career with 1986's Frehley's Comet, the guitarist undid nearly all of his progress with the 1988 follow-up, Second Sighting, which appears to have been such a low moment that Frehley has barely referred to it since.
The second and final LP from Frehley’s Comet - which featured Frehley, guitarist, keyboardist and singer Tod Howarth, bassist John Regan and drummer Jamie Oldaker - was something of a nonstarter. It was recorded in a tight time frame while the band struggled with internal issues that would lead to its collapse. Those pressures probably contributed to the guitarist’s lack of focus. During one of the few interviews in which Frehley's discussed the project, he told writer Devorah Hostrov that “we had just come off the road when we recorded that album. I didn't have much new material. … I was sick with bronchitis during the recording sessions, so I wasn't involved with it as much as I should have been. Basically, it didn't come out like an Ace Frehley record.”
Second Sighting executive producer Eddie Trunk offered more insight into those comments in 2016, saying that, while on the road, Frehley had started to return to his substance abuse habits. Trunk told Three Sides of the Coin, “I’m as guilty as anybody for letting it go the way it went, but I could only do so much at the time. I only had so much say in all this.” He added that Howarth was keen to fill the gaps left by the bandleader. “Ace was not in the right headspace, didn’t show up or showed up really late. … It just wasn’t working,” he said.
The pressure was all the greater because Frehley had been offered the opening slot on Iron Maiden’s 1988 U.S. arena tour amid the overwhelming success of their album Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. “Atlantic wanted a record out to coincide with the tour,” Trunk explained. “So we couldn’t even take the time to say, 'Hey, let’s go through the material more, let’s get Ace in the right place again.' We just need to get a piece of product in the marketplace, so let’s just get this thing out there.”
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It was almost fortunate that the other members of the group were demanding more input and responsibility; they wanted to be a fully fledged band rather than Frehley’s sidemen. “Tod wanted way more input and songs, and wanted to be more out front … You had Ace then starting to disconnect a little bit, kind of go off a little bit. … We had no choice but to say, ‘OK, we do need to make this a band because we need these other guys to take up the slack.’ And that’s exactly what happened.”
"Having been with Ace since he started gigging again, I had learned how to handle him," Regan told Metal Edge. "Ace is a great guy, but he was a handful while he was drinking and doing all that stuff. ... I have to give a lot of credit to Tod; he recorded a lot more guitars on Second Sighting than people realize. Ace just wasn't up to the task on some days, but we had a record to make.
“There’s a couple of just awful songs on that record, I think – from Ace. … Tod’s great, but it was not what Ace Frehley fans wanted," Trunk explained. “Tod is light years a better singer than Ace – it was nothing to do with that. It’s just simply the fact that people loved the character of Ace’s voice. They wanted Ace Frehley.”
Trunk also noted that one of his clearest memories of sitting in the studio with Frehley seemed to sum up what he called the “debacle” of Second Sighting: “Ace was eating this bagel with cream cheese. He took a bite out of it before he started the next take on the solo. The other end of the bagel just opened up and all the cream cheese just dropped into his guitar, into the pickups, onto the strings. … To me, it was just a symbol of this thing just wasn’t going to go right. ‘We’re screwed here.’”
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In 2021, Howarth said he received positive comments about the record, which he admitted was “kinda rushed in an effort to keep the momentum going.” He told ‘80s Glam Metalcast that he “was a madman writing songs all the time. So, Ace was gracious enough to say, ‘Let’s put Tod’s songs on there.’ It could have gone better, but it could have gone a lot worse.”
When the record failed to meet expectations, the aftermath included Howarth’s departure from the group, which perhaps worked in Frehley’s favor, because the follow-up album, 1989’s Trouble Walkin’, was better received and was presented as a solo album rather than a band effort. “The label wanted Ace to write and sing everything,” Howarth said. “That left me with nothing to do and nothing to earn. It wasn’t my record deal, it was Ace’s. If I'm not singing and showcasing myself, it’s basically a face slap and puts me in the background again. … I called Ace and told him I had to bow out. He told me he didn’t want me to leave. I figured I had to take a gamble and go out on my own.”
Frehley stated proudly that he has never seen a bad review of Trouble Walkin’, which featured the return of singer and guitarist Richie Scarlet. “I think people [were] a lot happier with Richie’s direction," he said. “His direction [was] the same as my old roots.”