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Review: Bruce Dickinson – ‘Soloworks’

Bruce DickinsonThe impending arrival of Christmas is usually heralded by various occurrences. Mince pies on sale before Halloween, skint councils paying 10 grand to get some Z-lister to turn the lights on, “hilarious” gifs counting down how many Fridays until the big day, and the plethora of box sets get released. Metallica, Rush, and Black Sabbath are all set to release box sets heavy enough to give Santa a hernia as he empties his sack. Not wishing to be outdone, Bruce Dickinson has issued a rather spiffing vinyl collection of his six solo albums, available individually or as a collection. So what do you get for your hard earned moolah? Six albums over nine LP’s, along with a Brucie bonus fold-out poster, all housed in a lovely green box.

‘Tattooed Millionaire’ was the first solo album from Bruce Dickinson. Featuring more of a traditional hard rock sound, ‘Tattooed Millionaire’ had some pretty tasty moments. Opener ‘Son Of A Gun’ is a belter. A classic old school intro that bleeds into quality riffing from Janick Gers. Nothing fancy or remotely “progressive”, just simple hard rock with Dickinson sounding in fine voice. The title track itself is a perfect slice of pop rock. The guitar intro is pure Def Leppard, but the wicked sense of humour is all Dickinson. ‘Dive! Dive! Dive!’ is his ‘Carry On’ meets AC/DC moment, with some lovely double-entendres (also on ‘Zulu Lulu’), and yet again Gers shows that he is constantly overlooked in the guitar hero status. Many standout moments on this much underrated album. ‘Gypsy Road’ especially ticks all the required boxes.

After leaving Iron Maiden, Dickinson released ‘Balls To Picasso’, and again the end result was as far away from Maiden as possible. Darker than ‘Tattooed Millionaire’, which could only be expected, this features more of a modern metal sound that doesn’t sound out of place some 23 years later. Opener ‘Cyclops’ runs in an impressive eight minutes, with multiple twists and turns. Now partnered with Roy Z and Tribe Of Gypsies, Dickinson hadn’t sounded this fresh in ages. ‘Hell No’ is a great example. A mysterious middle eastern intro that builds to a whispered vocal from Dickinson, before the full band crash in. ‘Change Of Heart’ is another; Dickinson pouring his heart out over some neat guitar picking from Roy Z. Ambiguous lyrics open to many interpretations. ‘Skunkworks’ appeared a few years later, and was originally intended to be the name of the band that Dickinson had formed. Record company pressure meant that it was released as a “solo” project. The last thing that you could accuse Bruce Dickinson of was rehashing previous output. A strange mixture of Soundgarden influences and even hints of prog in places, I listen to ‘Back From The Edge’ and I hear Rush meets Seattle, but ‘Inside The Machine’ and ‘Octavia’ couldn’t be more grunge influenced even, if they wore plaid shirts tied around the waist and grew a shitty goatee. Good songs though.

1997’s ‘Accident Of Birth’ was much better. Reunited with Roy Z, as well as fellow Maiden alumni Adrian Smith, this was a return to more of a classic metal sound. What could be more metal than a song called ‘Welcome To The Pit’? That would have to be the galloping guitars on ‘Road To Hell’, a little beauty that begins with very Thin Lizzy-style twin guitars, before settling down to a canter. It could easily have come from the same sessions that spawned ‘Piece Of Mind’ back in ‘83. Maiden fans were surely happy upon hearing this one. Bruce Dickinson doing a ballad? Yep, ‘Man Of Sorrows’ is a ballad, but without the saccharine. A lovely mix of guitar fireworks and string arrangements. ‘The Chemical Wedding’ quickly followed on twelve months later, a proper Metal album that didn’t waste any time laying down a marker. Opener ‘King In Crimson’ was the proverbial punch to the throat from Dickinson, and the same band from ‘Accident Of Birth’, an album that proved that Dickinson was way more than simply the “air raid siren”. ‘Killing Floor’ is immense with it’s crushing riffage and the medieval middle section can only be described as bonkers. ‘Book Of Thel’ is another highlight. Masterful storytelling from Dickinson on a track that still sounds fresh today. After rejoining Maiden, it would be six years before another Bruce Dickinson solo album appeared. ‘Tyranny Of Souls’ was a mixed bag of styles that features some of his most varied work. Chugging guitars set the scene nicely on ‘Abduction’, which has a great melodic metal groove to it, or how about the thrash metal intro on ‘Soul Intruders’ that gives way to a more commercial mid section? Never afraid to mix it up, Dickinson breaks out the acoustic guitars for ‘Navigate The Seas Of The Sun’, which in places, you would never guess it was the Iron Maiden vocalist singing. ‘Believil’ is dark and brooding, with more than a few Iommi-inspired guitar licks, and perhaps makes a strong case for standout track on the album. Love the bell tolling!

Bruce Dickinson will forever be known as Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden… or the pilot… or the fencer… or the author, but ignore Bruce Dickinson the solo artist at your peril.   

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Review: Dave Stott       

 

 

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