Seems like it’s the season for it with Tankard’s first few albums being reissued and Skyclad’s Noise Records history also seeing the light of vinyl day. Joining them are six albums from Bruce Dickinson, spanning his entire solo career. Metal’s famous air-raid siren first went solo in 1990 with Tattooed Millionaire while he was still fronting Iron Maiden. He then released four albums, including a couple which were rated more highly than Maiden’s own at the time, after stepping down from the band. His solo career was wrapped up by one final blast, A Tyranny of Souls, in 2005 after he’d rejoined the Maiden ranks.
In an old role working with university radio, I interviewed Bruce when he was touring on the Skunkworks album in 1996. Around that time, I only really knew that album and the follow-up Accident of Birth (1997). I’d missed Millionaire (despite it managing to land Dickinson a small role in a BBC TV drama) and Balls to Picasso (1994), caught up with the middle period and was focussed on Maiden again by the time his last album came out… so now I have a chance to revisit the whole lot.
Tattooed Millionaire was popular in its day and a surprisingly light departure for Dickinson, perhaps in a deliberate attempt not to be too similar to his then-main job with Iron Maiden. The title track is pure, catchy, singalong cheese and third single “Dive! Dive! Dive!” could have been written by AC/DC if they were taking the piss out of themselves. It’s a great album. Fresh, funny yet still undeniably Bruce with those trademark vocals. The inclusion of a wonderful “All the Young Dudes” cover is especially poignant now. The guitarist on the album, former Gillan six-stringer Janick Gers, may be a name familiar to some of you…
What Millionaire wasn’t, however, was metal. It was very much a hard rock album – none the worse for it, but perhaps not what Dickinson’s fans were used to or looking for. Cue Balls to Picasso, an album which raised things up a level in the heavy stakes. Opener “Cyclops” just wails Black Sabbath and the rest of the album follows suit. Production is a little tinny, if I’m being picky, but there’s nothing wrong with the songs themselves. Plenty of range and certainly some experimentation going on with the likes of “1000 Points of Light” and the funky nature of “Shoot All The Clowns”. The backing band on this occasion was Tribe of Gypsies.
Skunkworks was the album I already knew and it’s aged remarkably well. A project that Dickinson wanted to turn into an entity in its own right (the label refused to release it without his name on the cover despite him wanting Skunkworks to be the name of the band), it seems almost conceptual with sci-fi leanings in the song titles and lyrics. Putting “Space Race” on for the first time in what must have been over a decade, I remembered every word. Bruce’s vocals were at their most Maiden-y since his departure from the band on this album, but the music was definitely a sidestep from the larger band that, by now, was beginning to flounder. With only one studio album out since Bruce’s departure (the fair-to-middling X-Factor), their next release was to be the decidedly lacklustre Virtual XI.
Dickinson, on the other hand, followed up the excellent (though for some reason largely ignored) Skunkworks with Accident of Birth. Bringing another former Maiden member, Adrian Smith, into the fold (originally as a guest, Smith stayed on for this and the next album), the metal quotient was ramped up and Accident is held as many as the highlight of Bruce’s solo career. With angry numbers like “Freak” and Priest-esque number “The Magician”, it definitely hits the metal genre square in the face. This was the first solo album to feature two guitarists (Tribe of Gypsies plus Smith) and you can immediately hear the difference it makes to the sound. I might get some stick for this, but Accident out-Maiden’s the Maiden of the era.
It was swiftly followed a year later by The Chemical Wedding, utilising the same line-up. The first chords of “King in Crimson” crush. Again, Dickinson draws on Sabbath and drafts a track heading into doom territory. The album as a whole is based around the works of William Blake. Metal has a habit of making use of history and classic literature, and Maiden were always an act at the forefront of this. Dickinson did more with this one album than the former behemoth had done in a decade, and his work on it went on to influence Iron Maiden when he rejoined shortly after (along with Smith). The baroque feel of “Dance of Death” owes a little to “Jerusalem” from Chemical Wedding, I’m sure.
One final solo album popped up seven years later – 2005’s A Tyranny of Souls. Reuniting with Gypsies’ Roy Z, Dickinson co-wrote this album with the guitarist while he was on the road with Maiden. The songs vary from the heavier end (“Soul Intruders”) to the more hard rock such as “Devil on a Hog”. As such it provides a suitable book-end (for the moment?) to Bruce Dickinson’s solo career. While not the strongest of the half dozen, it’s still a damn fine release and worth adding to your collection if you’ve not already got it.
All six albums are released on vinyl on October 27th. Pre-order exclusively from http://brucedickinsonsoloworks.com/ or Pledge Music now. All fans who purchase the complete Soloworks box via those links will receive a double-sided 24” x 36” Bruce Dickinson poster.
Header image by Sheggs
Bruce Dickinson: artist page