balls to picasso

#724: Balls to Picasso

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.

 

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Part 316: Oh What A Feeling

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RECORD STORE TALES Part 318:  Oh What A Feeling

In 1996, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Juno Awards, a box set titled Oh What A Feeling was released.  It was four CDs loaded to the gills with Canadian music, from all corners of the country and all styles of music.  It was a great set and one which sold regularly in our stores.  The original run of the set sold out briskly.  We had a hard time keeping it in stock new, and a few years later, used copies were somewhat scarce.  We sold it at a very reasonable price of $19.99, used.

We had one customer, who I never gave a name to except for “Eastern European Guy”.  He had an accent and broken English so that worked for me.  He pulled Oh What A Feeling off the shelves and asked to listen to it on one of our six crappy listening stations.  I popped in all four CDs, handed him the headphones and remote, and left him to listen.

One thing that always pissed me off was people who constantly need help on the listening stations.  It’s not hard.  Volume controls were right there in front of you.  The remote was like any remote that people would have had at home.  People who couldn’t figure out how to skip tracks pissed me off.  How do you listen to music at home?  I didn’t get it.

Eastern European Man motioned with his hand for me to come over.  “This song…there is a problem with it.  Listen please.”

“Hey, I have an idea. Let’s stick the lead guitar player behind the bassist for this video.”

I placed the headphones on my head.  It was track 1, disc one.  “American Woman” by The Guess Who.  I listened for a few seconds, nodded my head in approving time with the song, and removed the ‘phones.

“Sounds good.  What problem are you having?” I asked as politely as I could manage.

“This song…there is strange sound.  Listen again.”

I placed the headphones back on.  Dah da da da da, dah da.  American Woman, stay away from me-hee.  Sounded fine.  I heard no strange sounds.  I told him I heard nothing unusual.

“There is a sound…ticking sound.  Tick tick tick.  Listen please.”

I put the phones on for the third time.  Finally I got it.  I heard the ticking.  It was the cymbal.

“Oh, OK, I get it.  Yeah, that’s not a defect.  That’s the drummer playing cymbals.”  I made a drumming motion to get my point across.

“No, no.  There is ticking sound.  Tick tick tick.  This not right.”

I explained again, “I hear the ticking sound you’re talking about.  It’s part of the song.  It’s the drummer playing cymbals, it’s a percussion instrument, like this.”  I made the drumming motions again.

“I not like.  Can you order me other copy?”

Man, I freaking hated ordering shit in when I didn’t have to.  There was nothing wrong with Oh What A Feeling.  If I ordered in a copy, it would be coming from another store in our chain.  We carried this item as a used item, but they were all going to be the same.  When we brought in this item from another store, we wouldn’t make any money on it.  The store that sent it to us gets the sale.  So, even if he buys it which was not guaranteed since the next copy would have the same tick tick tick, I would be losing the sale.

He insisted.  I ordered in the box set, we called him, and inexplicably, he bought the new one even though they were identical.  He never even returned it, which I completely expected.

SAM_1244Later on, the same man came in and picked out Bruce Dickinson’s album Balls To Picasso to listen to.  Once again, I brought him over to the listening stations, and left him to listen.  Once again, he signaled me over with a hand gesture.  I made my way to home wondering what the hell could be wrong this time.

“Did you put in correct CD?  I know this singer.  This is…not him.”

I put on the headphones and turned it up.  It was Bruce singing “Cyclops”, track one.

“This is the right CD.  This is Bruce Dickinson,” I told him.

Puzzled, the man said, “He changed his style!”  Well, win some lose some man.  I left him to listen once again.  I got back to my work, I had lots of customers to deal with that day.  About 10 minutes later, he motioned me over once again.

“The player…it not working.”  This happened quite frequently.  Our stuff was used and abused by the lowest scum and passersby who needed to kill 10 minutes while they waited for the bus.  Tire kickers.  They like to try things, but not to buy things.  Eastern European Man was not one of these, he did buy things.  However our stuff took a lot of abuse from others and was always on the verge of failure.

Attempting to joke around with him, I put on a happy voice and said, “Oh, did you break it man?”

Not understanding the humour, he answered, “Ehhh…perhaps.”

He bought the disc.  After a while, I never saw him again.  It’s funny.  You dread people like this coming into your store, and you having to wait on them hand on foot when they want to listen to something.  You hate them constantly signaling you over when you’re busy with other customers.  But, then you miss them.  You miss that eastern European accent because hey, he might have been annoying but at least he wasn’t a dick, and he did buy things.  He might have treated you like a servant to him, but technically that’s what you were.  You might have been a manager but to these guy you’re serving them, and they’re the customer, and that’s it, and I don’t begrudge it anymore.

But what happened to him?  Did he return to Eastern Europe?  Did he go online and start listening and downloading there?  Who knows.  After all, I never caught his name.  He was just Eastern European Man.

CUPFACE

 

DVD REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Anthology (2006)

I acquired this DVD for ridiculously cheap at my old place of employ via their web order service, but after I left their employ so no staff discount.  Its condition is impeccable!  Very impressive.

BRUCE DICKINSON – Anthology (2006 Sanctuary)

Bruce Dickinson is that rare kind of artist, one whose solo work has the same level of quality, integrity and emotional impact as the work with his better-known band. I think it is safe to say that most Iron Maiden fans have enjoyed Bruce Dickinson’s solo work, or at least most of it. This DVD Anthology is a complete collection of all of Dickinson’s solo video material in one 3-disc package.

Up first is Bruce’s live video supporting his first solo album whilst still in Maiden, Tattooed Millionaire. This video, which was extremely rare when it first came out (I never located a copy), was called Dive! Dive! Live! and featured Maiden guitarist Janick Gers. It also features every song from that Tattooed Millionaire performed live, plus several B-sides and a handful of covers.  No Maiden.  As Bruce was proud to say, this video is very raw. Also on the first DVD is the video Skunkworks Live, which was released in the mid 1990’s. It featured Dickinson’s new solo band, also called Skunkworks, featuring guitarist Alex Dickson. I was not a huge fan of Skunkworks, as I found their style (particularly the bass by Chris Dale) not to mesh so well with Bruce’s songs. Most of the Skunkworks album is performed live, plus some older songs and B-sides, and one Maiden cover (“The Prisoner”). This is another very rare performance as once again, the original video was very hard to find.

Disc 2 is the Scream For Me Brazil show, featuring my favourite lineup of Bruce’s band. Roy Z and Adrian Smith on guitars, the hulking Eddie Casilias on bass, and the talented tribal and bizarre Dave Ingraham on drums. This to me was Bruce’s finest moment as a solo artist. The performance itself was never meant to be released at first, this is a rough and raw video feed. However, as grainy as it is, the raw energy and sheer performance chops of Bruce and his ace band come through. The tracklist is a mix of songs from the three albums featuring Roy Z (Balls to Picasso, Accident of Birth, and Chemical Wedding).

Disc 3 is my personal favourite disc, seeing as Bruce’s music videos were rarely shown on Much. Every video is included here. There are some really off the wall videos directed by Storm Thorgerson (check out “Tattooed Millionaire”! Shoes for hats?) and some really cool horror-chiller-theater-type videos directed by Julian Doyle. Further on, I loved “Accident Of Birth” (directed by Bruce himself), mainly because Dave Ingraham makes awesome faces while playing the drums, and is wearing this funny leather aviation hat through the whole thing. But that’s nothing, wait until you see “Road To Hell”. Ingraham is now wearing a gas mask through the whole thing! Julian Doyle’s “Abduction” video is also cool, as Bruce himself is captured by mysterious Men in Black, and experimented upon….

But there are some pretty bad videos too. “Tears of the Dragon” comes to mind, a great song, but a terrible video. Here’s Bruce, looking all pensive…then there’s some weird sumo wrestler looking guy…fire…a beach…Bruce wrecking stuff…I would have preferred to see his band. It was the early 90’s, and this was the kind of video that people were sick of seeing, pompous and self-important. Awful video.

Lastly as a bonus there is an old Samson video directed by Julian Temple. I don’t even know what to say about Biceps of Steel except it’s an odd one! There is also a lot of supplimentary bonus material, including some introductions and explanations from Bruce himself….

This package was extremely well assembled, and is very enjoyable for all Bruce Dickinson fans. You won’t be let down.  Completists in particular will appreciate that Bruce is very hands-on with his product and tends to give the fans what they wanted along with stuff they didn’t know existed.  Full endorsement from LeBrain.

5/5 stars

More BRUCE DICKINSON at mikeladano.com:

Accident of Birth (1997) Man of Sorrows EP (1997)
Balls To Picasso (1994 & deluxe edition)
The Chemical Wedding (1998 Japanese import)
Skunkworks, Skunkworks Live EP (1996)
Tattooed Millionaire (1990, 2005 Sanctuary 2 disc set)
Tyranny of Souls (2005, Japanese version)
RECORD STORE TALES Part 148: Navigate the Seas of the Sun

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…