GETTING MORE TALE #724: Balls to Picasso
In 1993, Iron Maiden announced the departure of Bruce Dickinson, and my world was shattered.
“Oh no. Not Iron Maiden too…”
I found out via M.E.A.T Magazine, and because of print magazine lead times, the actual announcement came weeks before I found out.
All the big bands seemed to be losing their key members. Both Motley Crue and Judas Priest were dealing with it, and nobody knew if those bands would survive. Maiden hurt the most; they had been with me the longest. What could Maiden do without Bruce? What could Bruce do without Maiden?
The band tried to keep up appearances, but the split was not amicable. We wouldn’t know this for years. In the meantime, my life changed when I was hired at the Record Store. Though I loved the job, it was starkly obvious that in 1994, heavy metal was passé. Nobody was buying it, while Soundgarden dominated our rock sales. No matter how it panned out, both Bruce and Iron Maiden would be facing uphill climbs.
Bruce’s solo outing Balls to Picasso was released in June. I was surprised that we were carrying it at all, but it wasn’t selling. I hadn’t got it yet; the review in M.E.A.T stated that the Japanese version had a bonus track. Drew Masters claimed the bonus acoustic version of “Tears of the Dragon” was better than the album cut, so I was trying to hold off until I could find the Japanese. All I knew is the album in general was supposed to be very, very different from Iron Maiden.
I never found the Japanese version. In 1994 it was virtually impossible to find Japanese imports, though I asked the boss to try to order one for me. HMV in Toronto carried rare imports, but I didn’t know that.
When a used CD copy of Balls to Picasso was traded in, I waited for the boss to leave for the day and then I eagerly put it on the store player.
Where are you going?
What are you doing?
Why are you looking,
At the cameras eye?
By the first chorus of the first track “Cyclops”, I knew I was going to like the album. Different indeed! Growling guitar sounds backed by exotic percussion were new twists.
There were two songs that sold the album to me immediately. I did not want to live my life any longer without the songs “Change of Heart” and “Tears of the Dragon”. Both songs spoke to me. I was dealing with the fallout from a nasty breakup and the lyrics seemed to apply to my life. Not to mention, the music was brilliant! If Bruce had to leave Iron Maiden to put out a song like “Change of Heart” then so be it. I played the song over and over. I even told the boss how good the album was.
“I was playing the new Bruce Dickinson in the store the other night,” I said, “and it’s really good. Not what you’d expect.”
“Isn’t that too heavy for the store?” he semi-scolded.
“No,” I semi-lied. “It’s pretty light.” I obviously didn’t tell him about the white hot “Sacred Cowboys”!
For some reason I chose to buy the cassette, and I played that tape everywhere. I jammed it in the car for my buddy Aaron. He particularly liked “Shoot All the Clowns” because he’s terrified of clowns. Shooting all the clowns was a sentiment he could get behind.
What I liked about the album was that it was modern sounding (“Shoot All the Clowns” had funk and rap!). I could get away with store play, but yet it had the sterling musicianship and guitar solos that I craved. I could play it for younger friends like Aaron, who would appreciate the modern production and maybe get past the operatic vocals.
Playing “Change of Heart” today is not the same. I’m no longer the heartbroken sad sack of shit. It’s still a brilliant track but I don’t hang on every word anymore. In 1994 it seemed like every line was for me to sing. The feelings it used to stir don’t exist anymore. But man, what a song! The unusual drumming, the guitar work, the singing…it is one of Bruce’s very best, including those he wrote in Iron Maiden.
I can’t say that I am as passionate about Balls to Picasso in 2018 as I was in 1994. I still love it, but I daresay Bruce has made better solo albums in his amazing career since. Still, Balls to Picasso is historically important. It introduced many of us to Roy Z for the first time, and it may have put him on the map. Roy’s work in metal since has been highly respected by connoisseurs worldwide. And then there’s that personal history. I played this album so much during that cold, depressing winter. It still stands up today, with a timelessly clear production and some very strong material.
Obviously things eventually worked out between Bruce and Iron Maiden. He’s been back fronting them for almost 20 years. Things worked out OK for me too. Balls to Picasso was a step in both Bruce’s journey, and mine.