To any self respecting fan of hard rock or heavy metal, Bruce Dickinson is a man who needs no introduction. His talents seem to know no boundaries – pilot, author, business man, he truly is a modern day man for all seasons – but he is of course best known as the talismanic voice of Iron Maiden. However, there is one aspect of his career which seems to get hugely overlooked….and that is his solo work.
Dickinson’s rightful place may be as Maiden’s frontman – just look at the change in Maiden’s fortunes after he left the band in ’93 and compare to his triumphant return six years later – but it’s certainly not unreasonable to state that his solo output is better than anything Iron Maiden have released since Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, 28 long years ago. In fact, we’ll go as far as to say his solo material is more than capable of going toe to toe with Maiden’s imperious run of albums from The Number Of The Beast to the aforementioned Seventh Son…!
A risky statement? Well, we like risk and so apparently does Bruce. It takes elephant sized gonads to walk away from one of – if not the – biggest metal band in the world but that is exactly what Bruce “I have elephant sized gonads” Dickinson did in ’93. Far from happy, Dickinson made the huge decison to walk away from the hottest ticket in town and damn the consequences and it’s this same attitude, defined by unpredictability, that has determined his solo career.
For instance, whoever thought he would release an album of latin tinged hard rock? But that was exactly what he did with 94’s Balls To Picasso. Or how about embracing alternative culture with 96’s Skunkworks, surely a move nobody saw coming but damn it, it worked!
Then, in 1997, when heavy metal seemed to be dead on its feet, Bruce Bruce had the sheer audacity to release the stunning Accident Of Birth and follow it up a year later with the even better The Chemical Wedding (the man was on one hell of a creative streak) and – just to add insult to injury – he brought Adrian Smith along for the ride. The remaining members of Iron Maiden must have been weeping into their gold-encrusted cornflakes! You’ve only got to glance at the material Maiden released during the same period, The X Factor (how that title burns in today’s musical climate) and Virtual XI, hardly compare do they!
Moving forward in time – and being honest with ourselves – Maiden have become a bit, dare we say it, boring of late. It would be churlish to say there are not moments worthy of your time on each recent release but Maiden’s post 00’s output has steadily become ponderous and dialled in. Their latest album would have been more suitably titled Book Of Snores but this, however, is not the case with Dickinson’s solo albums, flaws and all!
Starting off with the straight up rock ‘n’ roll vibe of Tattoed Millionaire, it’s fair to say this album is never going to be in anyone’s top 10 of all time but it’s not without it’s charms and has a rough and ready feel to it that is at odds with anything Maiden have ever put their stamp on. It’s also home to an outright Dickinson classic in the autobiographical shape of “Born In 58”.
Next up came the oddly titled Balls To Picasso and by this time Bruce had aligned himself with Roy Z and his group Band of Gypsies. Compared to its predecessor this is a much heavier and darker beast and the odd flash of latin rhythm is a nice touch. Although there are number of duff tracks on show – worst of which is the excretable “Shoot All The Clowns” – this is one album that tried something different, messed with formula and still surprises in equal measure.
A short while later came Skunkworks. At the time this album was much maligned – mainly due to Bruce embracing some alternative stylings – however it’s an engaging album full of catchy songs; a hidden gem in his canon of work and one which should get far more praise than it does.
Only three albums into his solo career and by this point Bruce had shown he was not a man afraid to take risks and had arguably shown more imagination than Iron Maiden have in decades. However, 1997 saw him renew his relationship with Roy Z, while also roping in his old buddy Adrian Smith, for a full on, balls-out slab of old school metal! Whilst most metal bands were softening their approach or releasing steaming piles of manure – yes we’re looking at you again Maiden – Bruce and co released the corking Accident of Birth followed by its darker and heavier follow up The Chemical Wedding, just 1 year later. It seems pretty safe to say that if either of these two albums had been released under the Iron Maiden moniker they would be revered as bona fide classics. Not forgetting, Dickinson’s final solo album, Tyranny Of Souls, is yet another fine slab of classic heavy metal delivered with absolute gusto; perhaps it’s time they were paid the same attention as the likes of Brave New World, Dance Of Death and The Book Of Souls?
Despite the different genres these albums inhabit, they all have one thing in common and that is the never less than stellar performance from Dickinson and, despite the great music on offer, it’s hearing the Air Raid Siren at full pelt that makes the music so special. It seems apparent that when unleashed and operating on his own terms, he sings with an almost joyful abandon that seems to be missing from much of Maiden’s post 2000 output.
Finally, Iron Maiden are not a band that put much of their personal lives into their music while Bruce, on the other hand, litters his work with references to his own life, often baring his soul (and not via a bloody book) for all to dissect. Of course, special mention must go to the finest song he has written, the achingly beautiful “Tears of the Dragon”, a track to rival the finest ever written by Maiden and its subject matter proving ironic considering the nature of this feature. With lyrics detailing the pain and turmoil that its author was going through after departing Maiden, a faint glimmer of hope still emerges and Dickinson’s performance on this track is a thing of wonder and bristles with emotion.
There you have it. Feel free to let us know whether you agree – or more than likely disagree(!) – in the comments section below. At the very least, let’s talk Dickinson’s solo career, one far too often overshadowed by Iron Maiden.