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Old 01-18-2012, 05:02 AM   #741 (permalink)
Trollheart
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As mentioned before, this section takes one hell of a long time to put together, and as I certainly don't want to rush it just to get it up there, I apologise for the delay in getting the latest edition out, but think you'll all appreciate it the more for the time taken and the attention to detail. Now, where's that cut-and-paste job from the last time I did this...?

It'll come as no surprise to anyone who the featured solo artist is this time round, as that girl Stacey-Lynn has had her NewsFoxes on this like sharks scenting blood in the water for some time now, and it is in fact one I've been wanting to do for some time. So without any further fanfare, let's look deeply into the solo career of one

Part I: The loneliness of the long-distance run to the hills: Breaking the iron grip
From his humble beginnings as vocalist for a small rock band to frontman, writer, singer and recognised face of what is arguably the biggest and most successful and indeed most enduring heavy metal band in the world, Bruce Dickinson has come a long way. Somehow he's managed to stuff into a thirty-odd year career, in addition to fronting Iron Maiden and releasing ten albums with them --- four of which were recorded after his much-publicised break from the band --- being a writer, actor, screenwriter, fencer, broadcaster, managing director and even commercial airline pilot, and he has still had time to record and release six solo albums, with which we will of course be concerning ourselves here.

His first solo effort, “Tattooed millionaire”, was released in 1990, three years before he would take a sabbatical from Iron Maiden (well, let's be fair: quit the band, but he would later rejoin it for their triumphant “Brave new world” album and has remained with them since), and came about more from the fact that he was asked to write a song for the soundtrack of the new “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie. He came up with “Bring your daugher … to the slaughter”, which appeared on Maiden's “No prayer for the dying album” of that year, and also became one of their biggest hits. Impressed, the label asked if he was interested in writing a full album, and so “Tattooed millionaire” became his first work outside of Iron Maiden.



Tattooed millionaire --- 1990 (Columbia)



It opens with “Son of a gun”, with a familiar Iron Maiden guitar, and indeed features, as does the whole album, guitarist Janick Gers, who joined Maiden that year and is still with them. The song is Maiden in ways, and isn't in others, with a very western, almost heavy Bon Jovi kind of feel. The lineup is more back to basics, stripped down to just a four-piece, with Andy Carr on bass and Fabio del Rio on drums completing the band. Unlike with Maiden, there are no double (or even triple!) guitar attacks, but Gers performs at times as if there were. Dickinson's voice is as strong and powerful as ever, and there's a certain feeling of freedom about the song, as if he is finally happy doing what he is, whereas he had been unhappy with the direction Maiden were taking from the “Somewhere in time” album on, the more progressive metal sound the band were developing as the 1990s wound on.

The title track has more than a touch of Def Leppard's “Photograph” about it, more rock than metal with very AOR-style vocal harmonies, and a big step away from his work with Iron Maiden, which of course is what he was trying to achieve. It's hard though not to associate that gravelly, rasping voice with Steve Harris and the boys, but as the album goes on Bruce manages to successfully establish his own identity, separate from the band with which he had made his name.

At times, Gers' guitar work takes on a certain Thin Lizzy sound, and there's even a sense of the Police on “Born in '58”, a retrospective look at Bruce's growing up in a small mining town, a half-ballad with jangly guitar and solid drumming but little metal about it, and indeed with a title like “Hell on wheels” you would be inclined to think, given who's involved, this is where the album takes off into Maiden territory, but no, it's relatively restrained. A heavy track, but more rock than metal: no blazing guitar solos, no screaming high notes of the type that earned Bruce his nickname of “Air-raid siren”, but a solid rock track nonetheless.

There's a definite sense of Dickinson consciously trying to give his recognised sound a wide berth, a calculated attempt not to fall into the trap many solo artistes do, that of just transposing the music they play in their band onto their solo album, so that it sounds more or less just like another album from that band, albeit without the rest of the guys. “Gypsy road” has a lot of Guns'n'Roses about it, a mid-paced rocker with some nice guitar work, while “Dive! Dive! Dive!” is the first song to tip a nod back to Maidenesque songs, reminiscent in lyrical theme of “Run silent, run deep” from their album of that year, “No prayer for the dying” (although it's a far different song) and the other world war two songs like “Aces high” and “Tailgunner”, but again it's missing the heaviness of the Maiden songs, and it's really only Dickinson's screeching voice that puts you in mind of those tracks. Gers pulls off a nice solo though.

A solo album can also be the place to pay your dues, give respect back to the music you grew up on, and that perhaps influenced your own musical career, and here Bruce pays homage to Bowie. Although it gained fame as a hit for Mott the Hoople, “All the young dudes” was written by Bowie and was in fact intended to be on his “Ziggy Stardust” album, so I see this as a Bowie song. It's a great song, kind of simple really and probably hard to mess up, and Bruce does a decent job with it, lowering his register enough to sound a little like the Thin White Duke, and so his version is okay, but to be fair it's nothing special.

That's a description unfortunately that also suits “Lickin' the gun”. With a title like that you're expecting something a little different, but it's sort of forgettable rock fare that passes by quickly and into obscurity just as quickly. Better is “Zulu Lulu”, rocky and fun with a hint of Maiden's staple “Charlotte the harlot” in there, but the closer, “No lies”, in fact the longest track on the album at nearly six and a half minutes wraps things up nicely with a fast-paced rocker, again somewhat reminiscent of Leppard. It's a good chance for Janick Gers to show off his expertise on the guitar, and he puts on one hell of a show, taking the song from about the third minute to almost the fifth.

TRACKLISTING

1. Son of a gun
2. Tattooed millionaire
3. Born in '58
4. Hell on wheels
5. Gypsy road
6. Dive! Dive! Dive!
7. All the young dudes
8. Lickin' the gun
9. Zulu Lulu
10. No lies

As a debut solo effort, I feel this is an album that started off very well but tailed off from about track six or so, recovered right at the end, but I would have expected something a lot better from the frontman of Iron Maiden to be perfectly honest. I doubt it won over any of the Maiden crowd, and I feel sure that those who were not already fans of the band would have been rather unimpressed had they decided to check this out. Still, it seems to have made a reasonably respectable showing in the charts, at least in the UK, but a look at the performance of subsequent solo albums shows that this must have been largely due to curiosity.

Having decided to leave Iron Maiden in 1993, Bruce released his second solo album (first since leaving the band) the next year. For this he brought in the band Tribe of Gypsies as his backing group, and the album was released in 1994. It did poorly, possibly due to the well-publicised animosity between he and the rest of Maiden, and the fans' shock and anger at his departure from the band. In fact, the history of Dickinson's solo releases shows a retrograde down the charts, each album charting lower in the UK than the previous (with his last, and current, not even breaking the top forty) and doing even worse in the USA, where three of his six completely failed to chart. This was, in fact, the last of his albums to get anywhere in the US before “Tyranny of souls”, his last, and even then this only got just inside the top 200, getting to 185 with ToS reaching a paltry 180.



Balls to Picasso --- 1994 (Mercury)



“Cyclops” gets us underway, with a big heavy Black Sabbath-like sound, vocoders adding a little uneasy menace to the track, then hard and heavy guitars heralding what sounds to be, on first listen, a much more metal album than his debut. Prior to this, Bruce had tried recording with two other lineups, the sessions for both he had hated and had scrapped. He later said that this album was not as heavy as it could or should have been, but it certainly sounds closer to the sort of thing Iron Maiden fans would have expected. Roy Z on guitar is somehow heavier and grungier than Janick Gers was on the previous outing, and even the drumming sounds more intense, provided this time by Tribe of Gypsies' David Ingraham. With big, crunching guitar sounds and heavy, sludgey bass, “Cyclops” is a good opener, and raises the bar, as well as raising hopes that this album could be a lot better than the admittedly disappointing debut. The track is also his longest to date, just shy of eight minutes.

“Hell no” maintains the heavy vibe, but slower, crunchier, with a sort of latin or eastern tone, while “Gods of war” is another heavy cruncher, with some good vocals and a decent hook, then “1000 points of light” is a little more in the rock vein, with some twiddly guitar in the best Zep tradition with a certain nu-metal flavour. It's nice also, throughout this album, to see Dickinson rein in his famous screeching voice in favour of a more controlled growl which doesn't tend to grate in the way his voice sometimes can. The heavier nature of this album is also much more appreciated, and I already like it more than “Tattooed millionaire”.

The first (and so far as I know, only) song co-written with his son, Austin, “Laughing in the hiding bush” is a heavy song written about childhood, it would seem, with some really nice soaring guitar and slow, measured drumming, while Dickinson's first ever ballad is next up, in the form of “Change of heart”. With what sounds like classical guitar, a laidback melody and some really nice and controlled singing from Bruce, it's one of the standouts of the album so far. “Shoot all the clowns” (a sentiment I think the vast majority of us share!) has a real hard-edge funk style, even incorporating (gasp!) a rap! But somehow Bruce manages not to allow this to let the song slip into parody, and it turns out to be a really good rock track.

“Fire” goes back to Black Sabbath territory, with a little Deep Purple in there also, and “Sacred cowboys” reprises the idea of rapping over the music, slightly different, and with a title like that it's of course going to recall Maiden's big hit “Run to the hills”, though it's not that similar. Good fast guitars from Jay Z and thunderous drumming and bass bring this track to the fore as Dickinson asks ”Where are the injuns on the hill? / There's no injuns left to kill!”

One of the other standouts then, and indeed the second ballad, “Tears of the dragon” is a real slowburner with echoey guitar opening that slowly builds to a heavy climax with a really effective guitar solo from Jay Z, dropping back to its balladic core for the ending. This is in fact the only song on the album which Bruce writes solo, on the others he collaborates mostly with Jay Z and as mentioned on “Laughing in the hiding bush” with his son Austin. There's again a strong ending with “All in your mind”, a fast rocker where he goes back to the air-raid siren voice, sounding more like Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden than Bruce Dickinson the solo artiste, but we can allow him this one indulgence, as “Balls to Picasso” is a far superior album to his debut, and shows Dickinson growing as a solo performer.

TRACKLISTING

1. Cyclops
2. Hell no
3. Gods of war
4. 1000 points of light
5. Laughing in the hiding bush
6. Change of heart
7. Shoot all the clowns
8. Fire
9. Sacred cowboys
10. Tears of the dragon
11. All in your mind

As with all solo artistes featured here (with the exception of our inaugural star, Phil Lynott, who only had two solo albums before his death cut short a promising solo career) we tend to try to feature up to four albums from the catalogue. Bruce Dickinson has had six in all, but we won't be reviewing every one of them, instead picking and choosing from the releases. I haven't heard any Dickinson solo output prior to this (even though years and years ago, a mate at work bought me a double-boxed tape of “Tattooed millionaire”: I never even got to listen to it) so I don't know if I'm making the right choices, but generally I try to get the artiste's debut --- obviously --- their most recent or last, and one or two then from around the middle of their career.

So here I'm going for our third look, and I'm choosing 1997's effort, which saw Bruce team up with his old mucker from Maiden, guitarist Adrian Smith, who had also left the band by that time, but who would rejoin them when Dickinson made a triumphant return. This album also features Jay Z and his Tribe of Gypsies, and is said to be a lot different to the previous year's “Skunkworks”, but I can't cover everything, so this is what I'm going with.

That's coming in part two, up right after this...
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