REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Skunkworks, Skunkworks Live EP (1996)

Part 24 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

BRUCE DICKINSON – Skunkworks (1996)

Bruce’s studio band from the last album, Balls To Picasso, had a regular gig to get back to (Tribe of Gypies) and Bruce formed a new young band he called Skunkworks:  Alex Dickson (guitar), Chris Dale (bass), and Alessandro Elena (drums).  Dickson’s since turned up on Robbie Williams albums.  (I know because I bought one.)

Why Skunkworks?  Well, you know Bruce and his love of aviation.  Skunk Works is the top secret project that brought to life the Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird among other advanced aircraft.

Dryden's SR-71B Blackbird, NASA 831, slices across the snow-covered southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California after being refueled by an Air Force tanker during a 1994 flight. SR-71B was the trainer version of the SR-71. The dual cockpit to allow the instructor to fly.

Skunkworks, the album, was a new direction once again.  Just as Balls To Picasso was very different from Maiden, Skunkworks was another hard left turn.  It polarized fans:  Some praised Bruce for doing something new and different again, others were puzzled and disappointed.

And some were just pissed that he’d cut his hair.

With most songs of the 13 clocking in between 3 and 4 minutes (none exceeding 5), Bruce and Alex had written a set of tight songs.  Bruce was clearly in tune with what was happening with music in the 1990’s as most songs have that alterna-90’s vibe mixed with a heady prog-rock tendency.  The sound of the album is dry and in your face.

The problem for me is most of the songs are just not memorable.  The single “Back From the Edge” (which we’ll talk about later) is great, a rocket trip to the moon in a very sleek vehicle.  Also great is the metallic and  angry (but lyrically obtuse) “Solar Confinement”.  These songs I like a lot.  Most of the lyrics have a sci-fi bent that Bruce would revisit on later solo albums, which is also fine by me.

I don’t mind the epic closer “Strange Death In Paradise”, nor the chrome choruses of “Inside the Machine”.  I like the velocity of “Innerspace”.  But a day after listening to it, I couldn’t tell you how it went.

I love the Floydian artwork that unified the album with its singles.  Compared to later Bruce albums, the artwork doesn’t stand out as much, but as a whole with all the singles it works great.

As I mentioned, fans are really polarized on this album.  There has to be something here that I’m missing.  I do like the B-sides, which were mostly fantastic!  Some were heavy, some melodic, some acoustic.  All worth having.

 

“Back From the Edge” CD1 contained:

  • “Rescue Day”
  • “God’s Not Coming Back”
  • “Armchair Hero”

 

“Back From the Edge” CD2 contained:

  • “R 101”
  • “Re-Entry”
  • “Americans Are Behind” (one of Bruce’s trademark joke songs)

 

And the “Back From the Edge” 7″ picture disc contained:

  • “I’m In A Band With An Italian Drummer” (another joke song based on Alessandro Elena)

SKUNKWORKS – Live (1996 Japanese EP)

There would also be a cool live EP, billed under the name Skunkworks, and just titled Live.  This was only made available in Japan, and I paid $30 for a copy at HMV 333 Yonge St.  Now, this and all the B-sides are available on a deluxe edition of the album.  Then, I spent a lot of money to get all the songs, but the end result is a bunch of cool looking discs with united artwork.

The Live EP had four tracks, three from Skunkworks:  “Inertia”, “Faith”, and “Innerspace”.  It was capped off by a Maiden cover, “The Prisoner”, something Bruce was only beginning to do as a solo artist.  As a cover it highlights the differences in bands.

For the album Skunkworks:

2.75/5 stars

For the EP Skunkworks Live:

3/5 stars

Perhaps Bruce felt a tugging in his heart for heavy metal, or perhaps the fans were too vocal in their rejection of Skunkworks.  Whatever the case may be, Bruce decided to abandon the band Skunkworks.  He turned to his friend Roy Z, from Tribe of Gypsies and co-writer of Balls To Picasso.

“I want to make a heavy metal album,” said Bruce.  “Do you have any metal riffs?”

As it turned out, Mr. Z had plenty.  The Balls To Picasso lineup was back.  And that wasn’t the only reunion in the works.

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7 comments

  1. U know after B.O.P ,for reasons unknown I did not buy Bruce’s Skunkworks material.
    I have no idea why I just didn’t until his next classic came out with a guy named Adrian Smith playing guitar!

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  2. You know already that I’m an advocate of this album. That said, I do think it’s the weakest of his post-Maiden solo albums but if you’re worst album is as good as this then you must be doing something right! I agree with the highlights you picked, but I think there are more memorable tracks on here than the ones you mention. Faith is very immediate and one of the more conventional riffy songs here. Space Race and Inertia are also really strong and memorable tunes. Many of the songs did work better live admittedly.

    The drawback is mainly that the album is too long and the filler kicks in during the albums 2nd half (Headswitch, Octavia etc…). I think if the album had a few songs pruned it might have gone over better. It’s a bit of an endurance test to listen to the whole thing. I’d give it maybe 4 out of 5 but only when I’m in the right mood! It’s one of those albums that’s a bit of a cause for me as I think it gets under-rated. A bit like the Motley Crue S/T for you!

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  3. With Heavy Metal Overload here, Skunkworks came at the right time when picked it up week of release, the entire thing wins although granted, a little long in the tooth by albums end and it wouldn’t be difficult to select a few songs to shorten its play time.

    Quite right with your comment regarding Solar Confinement, it’s easily the albums highlight and with its huge singalong chorus (in comparison to other album tracks at least), it should have in this fans opinion been released as first single. Was really disappointed it wasn’t a live cut for the EP nor for Bruce’s Deluxe DVD release many years later in which a live performance primarily of the albums material by the Skunkworks band otherwise kicks serious behind. Reckon Bruce should pull this one out when/if playing future solo shows… Oh and Inertia is a great tune too, Bruce sounds fantastic particularly during the songs intro piece (and even better on the live material at that!).

    The Sci-Fi progressive 70’s vibe was in contrast to his previous material (never was grunge IMO, think that was just an easy label to place upon the album I suspect by those who didn’t truly understand it?) and while was certainly won over by what came next I do wish we had gotten a second Skunkworks record.

    I do think if Bruce had released this after his rejoining of Maiden with Brave New World it may have gone over better with the masses!?

    Regardless, another good review.

    SOLAR CONFINEMENT – ‘Nuff said ;)

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    1. I think Bruce would do well to revisit some of these songs soon. It certainly can’t help to give them a second showing in live gigs or something. I hope Bruce has more solo material up his sleeve. I’m sure he does. Just as I’m sure we’ll see one more Maiden album at least.

      These guys, Bruce and Maiden, have been of such high consistent quality. Epic.

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