REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Balls To Picasso (1994, deluxe edition)

Part 20 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

BRUCE DICKINSON – Balls To Picasso (1994, deluxe edition)

I remember working at the record store, and a guy asked to listen to Balls To Picasso, by Bruce Dickinson.  I put the disc on the player and he slid on the headphones.

About 2 minutes later, he took off his headphones.  “You put on the wrong CD.  This isn’t the right one.”  I went over and checked — Balls To Picasso.  Sometimes, though, CD’s could be misprinted with the wrong music, so I put on the headphones.  “Nope, this is it.  This is the right album,” I told the guy.

He responded, “It can’t be.  I know this singer.  That’s not him.”

Just one of many reactions to Bruce’s second solo album (and first since leaving Maiden)!

Regardless of the weird title and cover, Balls To Picasso is an album that I loved immediately.  Right from the opening grind of “Cyclops” and its vicious lead vocal, I was hooked.  Yeah, it does throw me from time to time (rapping, on “Shoot All The Clowns”) but this is a solid album by Bruce.  Fans have grown to appreciate it more over the years.  And you can’t fault its lineup, Bruce’s first album with Roy Z, Eddie Casillas, and Dave Ingraham from Tribe of Gypsies.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYu1tCuLNqA&w=560&h=315]

The album had a torturous birth.  He started it once using the British band Skin, and aborted.  He tried again with Keith Olsen.  I suspect that this is the “very different” Peter Gabriel-type album he’s spoken about.  It is very different, with a lot of drum programs and keyboards, and very lush, polished production.  To me it is very Fish-like.  It is definitely not metal in any way, which is fine, but for whatever reason,  Bruce opted to shelve this album. Then he finally completed the task with Tribe of Gypsies, the only song making it to all versions of the album being “Tears of the Dragon”.

The end album sounds like alterna-metal, the kind of thing that a lot of metal artists were doing at the time to stay relevant.  It is bass heavy, 90’s sounding, and not very Maiden at all until you get to “Tears of the Dragon” itself, which could have easily been on a followup album to Fear of the Dark.

While not every song here was universally loved by the fans, there are many that were. “Change of Heart”, “Cyclops” and especially “Tears” are now considered fondly by Maiden fans. Tribe of Gypsies were a latin-flavored rock band, and they really lent Bruce a cool vibe for this record. There’s a lot of nice percussion stuff going on, and the occasional bit of flamenco guitar thanks to Mr. Z.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QO2tIqkBMfY&w=560&h=315]

I think “Change of Heart” is the best tune on the album.  Perhaps it reflects Bruce’s feelings on leaving Maiden.  Perhaps not.  Either way it is a side of Bruce we’d never seen before, and he shows it with depth and taste.

“Tear of the Dragon” has got to be about Maiden.  It seems so on the surface:

Where I was
I had wings that couldn’t fly
Where I was
I had tears I couldn’t cry

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shfZzTJYZWs&w=560&h=315]

The remastering job on this 2 CD deluxe is stellar. I can hear some percussion parts on songs that I didn’t know existed before. I’ve played this album a hundred times in the past, and this time it sounded really fresh.

And of course the real reason I buy this stuff:  a second CD of B-sides. I really love it when somebody puts out a quality reissue like this. They have gone to the care of putting on a complete set of every B-side associated with this album. Present are the tracks for the CD singles, as are the tracks that were exclusive to 7″ and 12″ vinyl.

I would have had to buy 8 singles total in different formats to get these songs.  Thus far I’d only managed to get 4.  So I’m cool with this.  The B-sides were songs from the Keith Olsen album, live stuff featuring his new band Skunkworks, and remixes.

4/5 stars

Also seen below:  A rare 1994 promo CD featuring a “Shoot All The Clowns” club mix. (!)

…but what you hungry readers are really waiting for is the next Maiden.  Well the wait is over.  Next time, we’ll get X rated…

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30 comments

  1. Cool review. I’ve never heard that record, don’t have it here. But I do have to say that that is the coolest album title yet. Is he giving balls to Picasso? Or are he and Picasso playing catch? Is he saying ‘screw Picasso (as in “balls to all that!”)? Or is he showing his balls to Picasso? I just don’t know.

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        1. Now that the two live records I needed to hear to catch up to you are done, yes, X Factor is next! And you’ve already thrown up a hits set too! I think you’re doing this to me on purpose, so that I’ll never catch you up completely!

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        2. Well I think you can probably skip the hits set, just listen to the one or two key tracks we’re discussing and you’ll be up to speed! HMO even said he didn’t own the one hits album.

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    1. The original title for the album was ‘Laughing In The Hiding Bush’ but he was persuaded by the record company to change it. The new title comes from a piece of graffiti Bruce saw on a (I think, toilet) wall that said “Balls to Picasso” so he went with that. It also explains why it’s written on a wall.

      In the UK any phrase beginning “balls to…” is essentially saying “F*%k that….”.

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  2. It’s a total solid followup to Tattoo Millionaire,even more so ,I mean I think u gotta give Bruce props for not following trends,just doing what he wanted to do,maybe a alternative metal to what Maiden was doing…I was hooked with Cyclops and it carried on from there……
    Good call on Tears of The Dragon on some lines being about Maiden,never looked at it like that but jeez u may have nailed it there Mike……

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    1. Personally Deke maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think Bruce tends to wear his heart on his sleeve from time to time, and stuff comes out in the lyrics. Wasting Love, same thing…maybe on one level he was talking about cheating on his wife. Maybe on another level, he was talking about moving on from Maiden. “Maybe one day I’ll be an honest man…”

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  3. I love this album and love the reissue even more! I’d got fed up with Bruce and thought he was off the boil. I listened to Tears when it came out as a single and was blown away by it and Breeding House which was the B’Side. I thought Bruce sounded like he was singing better than he had in ages. The guy that didn’t think it was him must have had cloth ears!

    I do remember Bruce talking about Tears in interviews and basically admitting it was about Maiden and the thrill of taking a chance, stepping into the unknown.

    The band that toured this was fantastic too. Alex Dickson was a real find as a guitarist and it was great to hear beefed up versions of Balls and Tattooed Millionaire material. For me, this album changed my estimation of Bruce.

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    1. Me on the other hand, I have the live album and I didn’t like the new band. So this is where we diverge…

      I’m not going to review Bruce’s live albums, I’m going to stick to the studio releases and associated tracks for now. Perhaps I’ll revisit them at a later time…I remember buying the double live one and looking forward to hearing the live versions. But I really didn’t like them, and that sort of reflected my view of the next studio album too…but we’ll get there eventually!

      Next we talk about Blaze…

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      1. That’s interesting. I love the live album. Mainly because it sounded so different. It wasn’t one of those “like the studio versions with crowd noise” affairs at lease! Personal preference I supppose. The guitar sound was quite over-chorusy and the drum sound was very clattery (possibly an influence on St.Anger? haha) but I liked that he was trying to explore new areas. It helped seeing them at this point. I really enjoyed the gig and it was obvious that Bruce was really enjoying himself too. You didn’t like Skunkworks? I’m surprised at that, I though it was great. It’s funny that while I was fed up with him in Maiden I didn’t think he could do any wrong as a solo performer!

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        1. I can’t wait to get to Skunkworks! Even while doing the review I gave it another shot. For some reason of all his records, that album and lineup didn’t appeal to me.

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        2. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself because we’re certainly going to get there. Suffice to say that I was living on a different street at the time than Bruce! Although I don’t think it’s a terrible album by any stretch.

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        3. Well, Bruce was so up my street he was practically living in my shed! I’d give Skunkworks a 4/5 although it hasn’t aged as well as Balls to Picasso. Ultimately, I was just pleased to hear him enjoying himself and I like bands that throw regular curveballs to their listeners so I was just really excited by it in a way that I wasn’t with Maiden. Although I wouldn’t rate it as highly as Maiden at their best it was definitely more interesting to me that No Prayer and Fear of the Dark.

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        4. I was impressed at how he kept cranking out albums in the face of Maiden who kept going at it slow-pace. And when you include the B-sides and stuff, you could throw a couple extra CD’s into that period and argue he made 6 albums in the time Maiden made 2.

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  4. Getting through your Bruce reviews in chronological order and not much to add here, review is quite spot on the only song I’d add top loving to would be Gods Of War which I personally rate better even than Cyclops thinking too it shoulda taken its place and opened the record! And Sacred Cowboys is another highlight…

    Other than that pretty much agree with this one, nice!

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    1. Thanks again Wardy! Hard to believe this album is 20 years young. I’ll have to give it another spin soon. Sacred Cowboys would hit the spot right about now so I’m gonna go do that!

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