virtual xi

RE-REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Virtual Lights Strikes Over France (1998 bootleg CD)

Merry Christmas, Harrison!

 

IRON MAIDEN – Virtual Lights Strikes Over France (1998 bootleg CD)

I took some flak when I first reviewed this.  “So funny, you guys bashing on a Maiden album,” said a disbelieving Aaron.   “Compared to contemporaries, you gotta know they still kick ass and take names over any of the pretenders to the throne.”  If only it were that simple.  More recently, Blaze Bayley-devotee Harrison has questioned my 1/5 star score.  It’s time to revisit the album after seven years and see if it sounds any better.


Ever wonder why Blaze only lasted two albums with Iron Maiden?  Most people assume it’s because they were more popular with Bruce, which is true.  But there was more to the story than that.  The evidence is here on Virtual Lights Strikes Over France, a live bootleg from the 1998 tour.  A handful of tracks aside, Blaze’s voice was in rough shape.  He struggles to hit and hold notes, on his own material no less.  He’s not as bad as Vince Neil, mind you.  He sings all the words and gives it all he’s got.  He’s just continually flat or sharp on key notes.

“Futureal” starts things in a promising manner, powerful and solid.  The struggle begins on “Angel and the Gambler”, missing notes here and there.  He begins “Lightning Strikes Twice” prematurely.  He does OK through the verses, but the chorus is a lost cause.  This is the tipping point.

“Man on the Edge” from The X Factor should be a slam dunk.  The problem is when Blaze hits a bad note, he really commits to it.  When the first Bruce Dickinson song is up, “Heaven Can Wait”, it’s all over.  No matter how good Iron Maiden are, this version is as close to unlistenable as the storied metal band ever gets.  Bayley recovers for a while on “Clansman”, but “Two Worlds Collide” must be tougher to sing.  “Murders in the Rue Morgue” is a slaughter.  Shame, since it’s a rarely performed Paul Di’Anno tune.  “2 Minutes” is marginally better.

In general, Blaze fares better on his own songs, but that doesn’t mean they’re exempt from problems.  You have to be a patient fan to listen to the entire set in one sitting, and you’ll absolutely wince multiple times.

The second CD has three bonus tracks from a show two years prior, from the X-Factour.  On these, Blaze is tops!  The difference is striking.  Here, he’s got the power necessary to accompany Iron Maiden on stage.  You can at least buy this CD for definitive live versions of “Fortunes of War”, “Blood on the World’s Hands” and “The Aftermath”.  It’s clear Blaze’s voice had changed between the two tours.

Am I being harsh?  Admittedly, yes, but for two reasons.

  1. Iron Maiden and Steve Harris have higher standards than this.
  2. I paid $60 for this goddamn thing.

The main point though is 1.  Obviously this situation was not going to be sustainable and Harris made the necessary change.  If he hadn’t, Iron Maiden might have risked being known as one of those bands who are hit and miss in concert, like Kiss and Motley Crue today.

I am going to revise the score higher.  It is live, and it’s not all terrible.  But few songs are free from some seriously sour notes, and for that reason, Virtual Lights will remain the least played Maiden CD in my collection.

2.25/5 stars

GALLERY: Four Great Finds! (with store report card – Encore Records)

During a trip to Encore Records in Kitchener, Ontario, I found some pretty cool stuff among their used discs.  I used to work with the guy behind the counter, Chris — trained him in fact.  We had a chance to catch up and discuss the difficulties of being a collector.  Piles and piles of discs, an expanding collection and lack of space for it.  Filing systems.  How easy it is to get behind in your filing.  Good to know there are still kindred spirits out there.

Thanks for the discs Chris, and without further delay…

1. VAN HALEN – In Concert

This double CD is at least partially taken from Live Without A Net, the old Van Halen home video.  That’s cool to me — some of those versions, like “Love Walks In”, were the originals that I was first familiar with.  It’s weird today hearing Sammy Hagar play guitar solos on Van Halen songs, but that’s how I first heard them.  $9 used.

2. HELIX – Wild In The Streets (Rock Candy remaster)

PROS:  These hard-to-find (in Canada) Rock Candy reissues have great liner notes and pictures.  CONS: It lacks the lyric sheet from my old Capitol Records version.  This one was expensive ($14 used) but the great Heavy Metal OverloRd tells me they are well worth it.

3. FISH – “Credo” CD single

Limited edition, #5945.  Cool?  Yeah, but how many copies did they make of a Fish single?  Anyway, this has two non-album cuts, a 7″ remix of the title track and a song called “Poet’s Moon”.  “Credo” itself is a great song from Internal Exile.  Great cover art by Mark Wilkinson!  $6 used.

4. IRON MAIDEN – Virtual XI with limited edition lenticular cover

This was a limited edition (expensive in Canada) that had a 3D cover similar to the current Kiss Monster CD.  I tried to get an idea of this in the photos.  Look at Eddie’s finger in relation to the boy’s headphones.  You can see it’s not in the same place in the two photos.  It’s much cooler in person.  Now, I know Aaron is probably going to give me shit for buying a Blaze Bayley album — any Blaze Bayley album — twice.  But it’s more about the Maiden collection than Blaze.  This is one I’d wanted back in the day but completely forgotten about.  $10 used.

REPORT CARD

Encore Records, 54 Queen St. South, Kitchener ON, (519) 744-1370

Encore is as good as as any of the stores that Aaron and I reported on in Toronto.  Sure, I’m biased in that I did train the guy behind the counter, and it was great having a conversation with somebody who understands my point of view vis-à-vis collecting.  But their selection is second-to-none in this town (rock, indi, roots, jazz, blues, vinyl), with fair prices, and excellent quality.  Not one blemish on any of the discs that I purchased.   As an added note I found a number of Guided By Voices singles for Aaron (some stealthily pictured below) — although he is apparently banned from purchasing them at this time, until he wins the lottery!

For these reasons, Encore’s grade is:

5/5 stars