REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time (1986, 1996 bonus CD)

Part 9 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Somewhere In Time (1986, 1996 bonus CD)

After the yearlong World Slavery Tour, to hear it told by Steve Harris, lead singer Bruce Dickinson had “lost the plot”.  Bruce on the other hand felt that the next album should be a game changer:  their Physical Graffiti.  But burned out from the road, all he brought to the table were some acoustic tunes which were all rejected. According Steve Harris, it wasn’t so much that the songs were acoustic.  It was because they weren’t very good.  This was the first time Bruce didn’t get a writing credit since The Number of the Beast!  And instead of Physical Graffiti, Bruce said that they “just made another Iron Maiden album.”

Bruce and Janick Gers acoustic, 1990

In spite of the lack of Bruce songs,  Steve, Adrian Smith and even Dave Murray came in with enough songs for an album.  They also came in with synthesizers for the first time.   All three were credited with guitar or bass synth on Somewhere In Time, a sound that threw some of us for a loop.  Also for the first time, Adrian would take sole writing credits on several Maiden songs (lyrics, music and all) which lent his more melodic bent to the resulting album.

The production, again by Martin Birch, was paradoxically both cold, and warm.  It’s a chilly sounding album, but the synths actually bring some warmth back to it.  Unfortunately there isn’t as much guitar grit as before, everything sounding smoothed out.

“Caught Somewhere In Time”, the excellent opener, starts right off the bat with synth; Maiden were laying their cards on the table.  The gallop is still there and Steve still drives the Beast forward withi his bass.  The synth doesn’t really detract from it.  It is plenty riffy, and Bruce’s voice soars with the excellent chorus.  This is a Maiden rocker to sing along to.

Adrian contributed the first of the two singles:  “Wasted Years”.  This classic song was my introduction to the new Maiden sound, since it came out a bit before the album was available.  Not only was the video great (black and white footage of the band rehearsing with collages of Eddies and tour photos) but the song was also great.  This is definitely hard rock Maiden, the kind of thing that made good Maiden singles, like “Flight of Icarus”.  The lyrics, also by Adrian, are clearly about the road life and I’m sure Bruce could pour his heart into the words.

Two lacklustre songs follow:  “Sea Of Madness” and “Heaven Can Wait”.  Neither song have ever really blown me away, but at the same time “Heaven Can Wait” turned into a tour classic for many years so what do I know?  It was the traditional concert spot for the crowd to sing along.  Smith contributed “Sea of Madness”, while Steve wrote “Heaven Can Wait”.  I do like the slow part in the middle of “Sea of Madness”, with its nice solo.

That ended side one.  Side two started with “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”, one of Steve’s longer songs.  It was based on a short story of the same name, and I have to admit that lyrically it’s not one of those Maiden songs that really has me waiting to sing the next line.  The choruses are pretty straightforward:  “Run, on and on.  Ru-uu-un, on and on.  The loneliness of the long distance runner.”  The synth in this song is effective although the song is arguably filler.

(Of note:  The intro portion of this song would really serve as a blueprint for many many Maiden songs to come.  You know the kind:  Steve’s rinky-dinky-rink bass, backing a mellow guitar melody, with mild synth in the background.  “Fear of the Dark”, starting 30 seconds in, is similar.  “Mother Russia”, 30 seconds in.  Most of  The X Factor.  And so on.)

The excellent “Stranger In A Strange Land” follows, the third of Adrian’s writing contributions.  This was the second single, and a good choice it was.  A catchy mid-tempo song, it took advantage of the textures of the new synths effectively.  I’ve read in the past that it’s based on Stranger In A Strange Land by Heinlein, but I fail to see the connection.  I always felt it may as well be about the 1984 film, Iceman.  The lyrics fit.

“Stranger” was also host to another excellent Adrian guitar solo.  It was around this time that I bought a white guitar simply because Adrian played one in the video!  And yes, the video was an excellent summation of their stage show, with giant inflatable Eddie coming out of the stage!

Steve and Davey’s “Deja-Vu” is up next, and I have always loved this one.  It’s the only song under five minutes, and it has a furiously fast pace.  The synths take a bit of the edge off, but this one is irresistible

But alas, we are now at the end:  The 8th and final song is yet another Steve Harris epic album closer.  This time the topic he chose was “Alexander the Great”.  Another historical topic for me to devour!  I later majored in history.  I wonder how much of that was due to my two greatest influences?  My dad, and Iron Maiden?

“Alexander the Great” has been criticized by some as being a lesser epic.  I really don’t know.  At this point you’re into splitting hairs.  Who cares?  It’s still awesome.  Maybe you don’t like it as much as “Ancient Mariner”; maybe you prefer “Fear Of the Dark”.  It doesn’t matter:  It’s a Steve epic and that means fast parts, slow parts, different tempos and riffs.  And through it all Bruce manages to spit out the tricky lyrics:

A Phrygian king had bound a chariot yoke
And Alexander cut the ‘Gordian Knot’
And the legend said that who untied the knot
He would become the master of Asia

The choruses are awesome, and I consider this to be one of Maiden’s lesser-known triumphs.

And what about that album cover?  Absolutely my favourite Maiden cover of all time, look for all kinds of hidden messages.  What time is it again?  Oh yeah…

I imagined that after Eddie’s resurrection on Live After Death, he had emerged some time in the future (around the time period of Blade Runner, it appears) and gotten himself some cybernetic enhancements.  The cover is, in essence, an updated take on Killers.  Emerging from his Spinner, Eddie’s traded in his hatchet for a laser.  On the back, you can see the members of Maiden themselves witnessing Eddie’s deed.  Notice Nicko’s goggles?  He’d just got his pilot’s license!

The artwork for the singles were equally awesome:  On “Wasted Years”, we see Eddie travelling back in time to 1986…chasing the T.A.R.D.I.S.?  Its B-sides were excellent!  As far as B-side material goes, these were two of the best.  “Reach Out” was a rare thing:  A song written by an outside writer, Adrian’s buddy Dave “Bucket” Colwell who would later end up in Bad Company.  Perhaps even more astonishing was the lead vocalist:  Adrian Smith!  Martin Birch compared it to Bryan Adams-type rock, but fear not! Bruce shows up by chorus-time to blow you away with his wail, as he answers Adrian’s lines.  Pure awesome in a nice sweet hard rock package.

Then there was “The Sheriff of Huddersfield”, a not-very-complimentary roast of Maiden manager Rod Smallwood!  “‘Rufus the Red’ has a crane by his bed, to wrench himself up in morn’, but if you dare to tread at the foot of his bed, you’ll wish you’d never been born!”  Not a great song, it’s still pretty damn funny.  Rodney, it seems, had fallen for the L.A. lifestyle and the band were not beyond giving him a hard time about it!

The “Stranger In A Strange Land” single had even cooler artwork:  Eddie entering a space bar full of space-scum and villainy!  Looking like a cross between Harrison Ford’s Deckard, and Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name”, Eddie ignores their stares.  This might be my favourite Maiden single art of all time.  (Of ALL time, Kanye!)

Its B-sides were two covers:  “That Girl” (FM) and “Juanita” (Marshall Fury).  “That Girl” is a pretty good hard rock song, very much in line with a song like “Reach Out”.  I never liked “Juanita” much though.

Don’t worry – Maiden’s arrangement is nothing like this!  Makes you wonder why they covered it though.

I have a real soft spot in my metal heart for Somewhere In Time.   Although it sags a bit in the middle, and it’s toned-down Maiden, this is still one of my personal favourites.  It came out when I first started high school, and you can’t compete with nostalgia.  Although today many consider inferior to the albums that came before and the album that came after, I have to rate it pretty high.

4/5 stars

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13 comments

  1. This was a great post! It’s great to see who all those B-Sides were done by originally, I’d never looked into that.

    I’d rate this the same as your good self but with a few different preferences/dislikes for individual songs. I love Side A completely start to finish. Sea of Madness is my favourite track on the album actually! The album trails off for me when it hits the last two songs. Maiden were pumping albums out too regularly for there not to be filler, but they got away with it cause people can’t agree what the filler tracks actually are! Hahaha.

    Overall this is an album I always put on in those rare Glasgow sunny days! (Which means I’ve not listened to it much this year)

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  2. So what you’re saying is, don’t be planning a Glasgow summer vacation next year?

    I think it’s great that we have opposite feelings on the filler! I remember I did an art project (calligraphy and sketching) based on Steve’s lyrics to “Alexander the Great”! It was one of those songs that we memorized the lyrics to. Then, one kid at school told us was the Gordian Knot was…I’m telling you man, I was all over it. Hooked.

    One more observation: When you listen to the albums in order like this you can really see all the different transitions and arcs and so on, in the sound and direction of the music.

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    1. Well… just don’t expect sunny weather that’s all! But, as they say here, if you don’t like the weather just wait five minutes. It’ll change!

      Just wiki’d the Gordian Knot. Cool, I’d never paid that much attention to the lyrics! Listening to the albums in order must be really enlightening… it’s something I should do more often.

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  3. Well fellas,actually I think of all the 80s Maiden albums this is one that was a little,out there for me.
    I fine it a good record not great but Caught Somewhere In time is a great opener,one of there best and of course others as well,Wasted Years,Stranger,Deja vu, Heaven Can Wait, except for Stranger ,I find side two kind of weak but saying that the other tracks are ok,but I can take em or leave em…so to make a long story short I dig all of side 1 and for side 2 Stranger. I just found that writing 2 long tracks to start and bookend side 2 was just to much ,I don’t know why but those tracks for some reason never took off with me.
    Side note,this was the second of the three tours that I saw Maiden in the 80s in Winnipeg.
    Huge show and one of there best with Waysted opening.
    Whereas the Powerslave show was sold out this one had a few thousand less about 8,000 people showed.

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    1. I’m with you on Side 2 being weak, definitely. Although I do have a soft spot for Loneliness… but that’s mainly due to the middle section “I’ve got to keep running…” and the excellent guitar solos that follow it. That’s one thing worth noticing, the guitar solos are fantastic on this record!

      What do you think of the production Deke? A lot of people don’t like it on this but I actually do because it gives the album a unique sci-fi feel their other albums didn’t have. I think it’s some of the songwriting that really lets the album down. But then, as Mike pointed out, they were a songwriter down… and a good one at that!

      I’m so insanely jealous you caught Maiden on all these tours by the way!

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  4. Well I was lucky I was the right age,I mean by the time 7th son came out I was 21 yrs old….so I guess u could say I was the target audience for Maiden at that time.
    As for the production I don’t mind it at all ,I thought there albums up til No Prayer were good but that one,well I will save my 2 cents when Mike gets his reviews up for that one.

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      1. I can’t wait for you guys to read the Seventh Son one. Such an important album. And of course contextually important — I believe most Maiden fans would agree that it marked the end of an era. Or maybe even several eras.

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  5. Man, the 80s sure had a sound. You know the one I mean – over-produced, that big and fat tone, full of synthesizers. All these metal bands went through that phase. And here’s where Maiden finally succumbed… sort of. I want to say the records before this were more raw – but that’s not right, they weren’t, not all of them, anyway. But there’s definitely something to this sound that is slicker. It’s Maiden… but different. Which is a good thing! Right? Right!

    I should temper all of these comments by saying that I am hearing all of these records within a couple of weeks, so things like that really stand out for me. I’m sure that it seemed quite natural, at the time of their release over however many years, to sound like they did each time out.

    Caught Somewhere In Time starts out like it could be any other band from the period and then bang! it’s off and running at full speed as only Maiden could manage it. What a guitar solo! Damn. Wasted Years is briliant. I don’t know why but to me it sounds like it could have been off one of those karate or fighter jet movie soundtracks in the 80s, you know? Not to diminish the song, it just fits perfect with that line of thinking. Great song – I like the lyrics’ sentiment. They’re totally right, of course. Sea Of Madness is a great fucking riff! I love how that bass is right out front with the guitars, just stomping away and then goes all slinky. I also like the middle bit, where the beat shifts to the off-beat and makes your ear work for it.

    Heaven Can Wait is another tongue-twister at very high speed. The band just smokes their way through this one. The “oh oh oh…!” section cracked me up. Maiden from three albums ago would not have had that on a song! Whatever, I have either heard this song before (was it a single?) or it just sounds like a lot of other songs by other bands from around that time. Probably both. The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner just has a great title, as a jogger I love it. I’m learning to not fall for their lovely intro sections – it always blasts into a headlong high speed metal song, so I just wait for that! Cool. This sounds more like their earlier records. I like this one a lot. One of the better songs here (so far).

    Stranger In A Strange Land. Is this supposed to be about the Heinlein novel, ‘cos I don’t really think it is. Maybe it’s just a cool title for what they’re actually talking about in the song. Shows the power of that book’s title though, eh, that that’s what I immediately assumed. Anyway, it’s another big full-on rock song at half-Maiden pace for the soundtrack feel I was talking about way up there at the top of this whole thing. And Alexander The Great is just epic. Wow. I love it when these guys do songs like this. It’s history, and huge everything , no holds barred. So fun.

    I enjoyed this record, I really did. And this is still miles better than most of the other stuff out there, don’t get me wrong. But I like the sound before this better. Says the guy who’s new to all of this. In this day and age! Imagine! Well, I have Mike to thank for getting me into all of this.

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