What does it sound like?:
Bruce Dickinson´s six solo studio albums, released between 1990 and 2005, in a box, remastered.Three of which are double on that vinyl thing all the kids are talking about.
When the story begins Bruce is the current singer of Iron Maiden, for the second stop he´s their ex singer, and when we reach the last installment he´s once again their current singer. Questions?
And yes, this will be longer than an average Bruce Springsteen concert, though sadly not as entertaining. Read at your own peril. But then endless ramblings with no end or point in sight is kind of the whole point of this place anyway, so why not enjoy it?
Tattooed Millionare (1990) The short version is that it´s a very charismatic voice not given the songs it deserves. The songs are pretty much meat and potatoes. Bruce had, and has continued to after his return, contributed some really good songs to Iron Maiden. But coming up with material for a whole album is a different matter. Most of the songs on this album was cowritten by guitarist Janick Gers, soon to replace Adrian Smith in Iron Maiden.
Mind you, Bruce was still in the band when Tattooed Millionare came out. And to be honest, considering the band was making No Prayer For The Dying directly after this, it´s hard to tell which is the better album. Maiden were not peaking at the time. Considering Bruce´s main argument for leaving Maiden in 1993 was he felt they should experiment more and follow through on the progressive leanings of highlight Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, their last effort of the eighties, it´s surprising how traditional and hard rock his debut away from the band sounds. Includes decent version of All The Young Dudes and a couple of songs that could be Aerosmith covers but aren´t. Sounds like he enjoys his freedom though.
Balls To Picasso (1994) Bruce´s second was his first after leaving Maiden. He was in his mid-thirties and had been in one of the biggest heavy metal bands, if not one of the biggest regardless of genre, in the world for ten years. Now he started from scratch. Pretty much all of the ten songs are written with new collaborator Roy Z, who also plays guitar. Roy brought his band Tribe Of Gypsies after Dickinson had experienced two failed attempts at getting the sound he was looking for. It doesn´t sound a million miles away from the then trendy and seemingly ever present grunge. He even wears a woolen cap on the cover, thankfully no flanel in sight. Hell No is a good example of this influence, and with an Arabic touch as well. Some of the guitar riffs possibly escaped from Led Zeppelin´s Physical Graffiti. Change Of Heart sounds like an attempt to get played on the radio. It could have been performed pretty much by anyone with a talent for a big ballad. The songs, in general, lack personality. Shoot All The Clowns mixes funk and rap, make of that what you will.
Tears Of The Dragon, the only song here Dickinson wrote alone, also became the album´s biggest (if modest) single and is now his best known solo song. It´s the most Maiden sounding song on his first couple of solo albums, with tempo changes, some gallop and a really big chorus.
Balls To Picasso is not as much of a traditional hard rock album as Tattooed Millionare and, despite its shortcomings, shows the way forward to what would become the even more experimental follow-up Skunkworks. He does indeed try new things musically he couldn´t have done with Maiden.
Dickinson is keen on finding new ways to use his voice and, most likely, was both nervous and excited about having had the guts to leave Maiden. Footage of the last tour he did with them shows someone who´s clearly less than happy on stage.
Btw, none other than Storm Thorgerson did the original artwork for Balls, which Bruce or the record company then couldn´t afford. I guess the two canceled sessions took their toll on the budget.
Skunkworks (1996) was supposed to be the debut album of a band called Skunkworks, but the record company said no – the name wouldn´t attract as many buyers as the name Bruce Dickinson. So it became the title of Bruce´s third solo album, this time cowritten with Alex Dickson.
To my ears it sounds like then trendy alternative rock like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam with Bruce´s characteristic voice, even if he´s holding back, on top. Not my cup of tea, but he was definitely trying new styles of music. Though the grunge fans probably didn´t want to listen to someone in his late thirties jumping the bandwagon. And Iron Maiden fans most likely didn´t want to either. They wanted Bruce to sound like Bruce. The all new band didn´t last (even if they don´t sound worse than any other “grunge” band) and for the next album Roy Z was back. But this time Storm Thurgerson did end up creating the art work.
Accident Of Birth (1997) starts to move towards the inevitable. The cover art is created by Derek Riggs, best known as the creator behind numerous covers for a certain band and their mascot Eddie, and featuring a guy called “Edson”, as in son of Eddie. Bruce is also joined by a certain Adrian Smith on guitar and two songwriting credits. Smith, just like Bruce, was at the time former and future member of a certain Iron Maiden. Add to this the fact we´re back to something we can refer to as more traditional heavy metal.
You could say Bruce has gotten the experimenting out of his system and decided to return to his roots and do what he´s good at. And by not trying to be commercial and contemporary, he embraces a sound that was very far from trendy at the time. The pieces fit again, so to speak. I´m still not convinced by Roy Z´s ability to come up with riffs to last an entire album, but both Starchildren and Taking The Queen stands out. The latter is a ballad that would have worked nicely on any later Maiden album. Speaking of which, Darkside Of Aquarius even has a twin guitar thingy towards the end. Man Of Sorrow, written by Bruce on his own, is almost a power ballad, but in a good way – if possible. On the expanded version, available elsewhere, that very song is also featured in a Spanish version.
Road To Hell (the phrase “brave new world” shows up in the lyrics) and Welcome To The Pit are other highlights, both cowritten with Smith. He´s a subtle guitarist and presence, not the flashy stereotypical LOOK AT ME OMG I´M PLAYING A SOLO type (he´s a keen fisher, which says a lot about his personality) but he knows how to write a driving, solid riff and a chorus. And in heavy metal, that´s a very good start.
The Chemical Wedding (1998) is next. It continues on the Accident Of Birth path. It´s heavier, and to my ears better, than the early solo albums. Opener King In Crimson is a statement of intent. This is the best opening track thus far. Heavy metal just suits Bruce´s voice. There´s no gap between his voice and the music. Not a sense of an opera singer trying to sing like Leonard Cohen. The need to experiment and use his voice in new ways in new musical contexts, which he did on his first three albums, is understandable. But this is where his voice is coming to its full use. And when he´s at his best, few heavy metal singers can keep up.
Smith is still on board and, apart from playing guitar and providing back-up vocals, also cowrites two songs. The album shares its name with a screenplay, written by Dickinson, about Aleistar Crowley. It was turned into a movie ten years later. But apart from one song – the title track – the album as a whole has nothing to do with the movie, though another song here is called The Alchemist. Jerusalem is based on William Blake´s poem. It would be a fairly ridiculous idea, but it works (which, of course, doesn´t mean it´s not ridiculous). It was always waiting to be turned into a slightly – well, not so slightly – over the top heavy metal folk song. If not by Bruce, then who?
So, yeah. We´re up to 1998. In the fall Bruce gets a call from Iron Maiden (ie Steve Harris) about a possible reunion. Both parties have had the time to realise they are better together than apart and have tasted various humble pies. They have a band meeting in January 1999. Does Bruce want to come back? Bruce says “if Adrian can come too” (aaaaaaw!) and Adrian can come to. The next year, Iron Maiden´s Brave New World was released with Bruce and Adrian back with their old friends. Bruce´s first with the band, and their first with three guitarists since Janick Gers (remember him from Tattooed Millionare?) stays, since 1993´s Fear Of The Dark. It was followed by Dance Of Death in 2003.
Still, in 2005 Bruce released Tyranny Of Souls, his sixth and, to date, last solo album. The ten songs were written while Bruce was on tour with Iron Maiden. Roy Z – yes, him again – would send riffs and Bruce would then write melodies and lyrics. Abduction, the first song after a short intro called Mars Within, could be a lost Megadeth (sic) gem. At least until Bruce starts singing. Guitars (all played by Mr Z, Adrian had probably gone fishing) and drums both reminds me of Dave Mustaine and his jolly bunch. Navigate The Seas Of The Sun feels like a really good song, lost in a slightly cheesy production.
Tyranny Of Souls is a good album with lots of energy and angry guitars, but doesn´t quite reach the heights of Accident Of Birth and The Chemical Wedding. It´s possible Roy Z´s production could have done with slightly more punch and dirt.
And thus ends our story…for now.
What does it all *mean*?
Occasionally we all need to explore new ideas in life and not play it safe, even if only to realise we´d already found what we were looking for. But, and it´s a big but, if Bruce hadn´t left Iron Maiden they probably would have broken up by now. Or just been crap in a pub somewhere, like a lot of other bands of their era.
Goes well with…
Exploring yourself (hurr hurr). Pretending to be able to sing like that. Playing air guitar.
Might suit people who like…
The first three albums might suit people who don´t really like Iron Maiden (though I doubt they have read all this…). Maiden fans not familiar with Bruce´s solo adventures should go for Accident Of Birth and The Chemical Wedding.