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.
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”
- “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:
For the EP Skunkworks Live:
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.