tribe of gypsies

REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Accident of Birth (1997) Man of Sorrows EP (1997)

Part 25 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

BRUCE DICKINSON – Accident of Birth (1997)

As mentioned in the last chapter, Bruce Dickinson was eager to get back to metal, and he brought Roy Z with him.   Together they forged a great modern steel beast of an album.  But there was an additional surprise in store:

Bruce had also teamed up with his old Maiden alumnus Adrian Smith!  The classic writing partnership was back, and Adrian was playing those trademark melodies again.

And then, just to stick it in Steve Harris’ nose, Bruce hired on Derek Riggs to do the cover art.  He came up with a mascot:  Edison!  Get it?

The opening track, “Freak”, slams the listener right in the face with a modern metallic riff before the classic Bruce wail forces you to admit this is the kind of music he’s best at.  And while it’s not the same as Maiden, you will be delighted to learn there are guitar harmony parts once again.

You have to give Roy Z credit where it’s due, the guy is great at writing metal riffs.  He’s also a great soloist and a nice contrast to Adrian.  Also not slouches are the badass rhythm section:  Eddie Casillas (bass) and David Ingraham (drums), both back from the Balls To Picasso album.

“Starchildren” is an absolute stunner, a fucking brilliant song that combines programmed samples with traditional metal riffery.  I also love that Bruce has continued on with the sci-fi lyrics, something he’s quite good at.

Although “Taking the Queen” is another great song, it is overshadowed by the epic track “Darkside of Aquarius”.  At almost 7 minutes long, “Darkside” combines multiple parts together with guitar harmonies into one cohesive, stomping whole.  This to me is the jewel on a fine album.  I think this would have made one fine Maiden number (finer than what Maiden were releasing at the time).

Then, “Road To Hell”, a co-write between Bruce and Adrian.  You can tell by the catchy guitar parts and singalong chorus.  It is followed by the anthemic ballad “Man of Sorrows”.  This one was chosen for release as its own EP later.

The single “Accident of Birth” is next, yet another great tune, but also a standout among great tunes. Once again the samples are back, blasting this piece of sheet metal into a pulp.  The guitar melodies ground it in familiar territory as Bruce’s wail assaults the listener.

Why is Ingraham wearing that pilot hat?

“The Magician” comes somewhat awkwardly afterwards, as it is more upbeat than the previous material.  But “Welcome to the Pit” (also co-written by Smith) sinks deep into a sludgey morass.  “Welcome to the Pit” is filler, the first obvious such track on Accident of Birth.

The US edition of the album was elevated by another Smith co-write, the Maiden-esque “The Ghost of Cain” which restores the melody and guitar harmonies to the forefront.  The UK edition skipped this track but made it available on a single (which we’ll get to).  But it is a song like “The Ghost of Cain” that reminds the listener of the kind of magic that Iron Maiden lost when it lost Adrian Smith.

“Omega” and “Arc of Space” form a sci-fi duo.  The sun is about to go all red-giant on Earth’s ass, and most people have left.  But many remain behind.

Now it’s Omega-Zero day
The red star shines its last rays
The sun that gave us life yesterday
Is now the sun that takes our lives away

It’s this kind of lyric that gets my nerd-blood pumping.  Arthur C. Clarke would have been proud.  I’m sure Bruce has read The Songs of Distant Earth.  But even musically it’s a winner.  At first it sounds like a ballad before the band hits the gas and it turns into a blazing rocker with twin guitar harmonies.

And finally “Arc of Space”, an acoustic number (with cello!), and a perfect ending to a fine album.  The choruses soar.  Roy Z’s acoustic solo is perfect.  The album ends as a triumph.

 

There were also singles to be had:  “Accident of Birth” parts 1 and 2.   Part one added “The Ghost of Cain” to the lineup for those who didn’t get it on the UK album.  Both parts contained demo versions, basic stripped down recordings of “Accident of Birth”, “Taking the Queen”, and “Starchildren”.  It sounds like these were most likely recorded using drum machines.  In the case of “Accident of Birth” itself, in a lot of ways I prefer the more mechanical demo!

The Japanese even got their own exclusive EP from the albums called Man of Sorrows.

BRUCE DICKINSON – Man of Sorrows EP (1997)

Man of Sorrows is an awkward 5 song collection, essential only to the obsessed or the lucky ones able to find it at a good price.   It has three versions of the title track:  A radio edit, an orchestral mix, and a Spanish version (on a CD released only in Japan.)  The orchestral version just mixes those instruments in higher.  The Spanish version, “Hombre Triste”, is especially poor since the backing vocals in the chorus are still in English.  You can also hear edits, as if the vocal recording was probably spliced together piecemeal line by line.

The saving grace to the EP (but not worth the $30 price tag to the average collector) are two more demos:  “Darkside of Aquarius” and “Arc of Space”.  Much like the other demos, these are fully fleshed out arrangements.  “Darkside” features that drum machine again, but “Arc of Space” sounds like Bruce and Roy just doing the song live in a room.  The liner notes reveal that Roy Z plays all the instruments on the demo versions.

Incidentally, all these songs plus the “Accident of Birth” single B-sides are now available on the deluxe edition of the album.

Bruce made a hell of a comeback on Accident of Birth, showing up Iron Maiden, and proving that he was built to sing heavy metal music.  The cynical said that Bruce was just cashing in, but the next album would prove to be an even more powerful statement.  Stay tuned.

For Accident of Birth:

4.5/5 stars

For Man of Sorrows:

1.5/5 stars

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…