While it can't measure up to classic Maiden metal, Judge Bill Gibron found this overview of lead singer Bruce Dickinson's solo career to be thoroughly enjoyable.
I don't wanna be a tattooed millionaire!
Though he wasn't their original lead singer (that would be one Paul Di'Anno) and his contributions to the band's sound may be minimal at best, Bruce Dickinson certainly is one of Iron Maiden's most recognizable faces. It's safe to say that, along with the stalwart Steve Harris (group founder, bassist, and chief creative force) and skeletal mascot Eddie, he's a clear fan favorite. But after a nine-year tenure with the band, the fearsome hirsute fireplug wanted to explore his options (he released a solo album in 1990, Tattooed Millionaire). After some acrimony, he left Iron Maiden in 1993 to pursue a more pop-oriented approach to music. The result was a series of distinguished LPs and a practical reinvention of his fiery frontman image. Passions for literature, fencing, and aircraft came to the fore (Dickinson is a capable commercial pilot) and, in time, he found the individuality that was lacking inside the Maiden machine. Besides, by 1999, replacement vocalist Blaze Bayley was proving unpopular with fans as well as horribly inconsistent onstage and it wasn't long before "Conan the Librarian" (as Dickinson is often called) was back with Harris and the boys. He still remains a crucial component of Iron Maiden's lengthy legacy, both as a reminder of the British rock band's '80s heyday and as an important element in their post-millennial popularity.
Still, if you want to discover what exactly Bruce Dickinson did during those six years in the solo career wilderness, Sanctuary Records' new, magnificent overview, Anthology, will provide a wealth of insight. Offering three concerts, every promotional video Dickinson ever made, factual discussions of each clip, and a nostalgic look at the rocker during his Samson days (Bruce got his start with the unusual U.K. group), you've got an amazing audio and video encyclopedia of the entire non-Maiden Dickinson canon. In addition, there is an insert outlining everything included on this three-DVD set and a preview of his latest release. Before going into generalities, it is important to note the three different live performances presented. Spanning the years 1990 to 1999, they argue for Dickinson as a premiere showman, excellent vocalist, and risk-taking artist. Much of the material here is the sonic opposite of Iron Maiden. While still couched in heavy-metal terms, Dickinson goes for a more straightforward songwriting approach. Gone are the complex arrangements and proto-prog leanings of Harris. In their place are verse/chorus rave-ups and occasional power-ballad bombast. While avoiding most Maiden material, Dickinson still delivers a lively concert performance. Separately, the three shows offer the following set lists:
Skunkworks Live! (1996)
As with most live performances, the situation surrounding each concert is just as important as the musical effort itself. In this case, Dickinson has some clear, concise feelings about the Dive, Dive Live! show and he voices them empathically during the Disc 3 discussion of the music videos. In essence, he hates everything about the concert—the venue, the filmmaking team, the audience response—even his own singing. In truth, he's being rather hard on himself. While it can't live up to the level of excitement in the Brazil show (those South Americans enjoy the HELL out of their rock idols), it's on par with the Skunkworks-era offering. Still wearing his hair in the trademark Iron Maiden exaggerated pageboy and sporting a leather jacket loaded with fringe, Dive Dive Live ! Dickinson is one step removed from his famed band ballyhoo (he was still with the group at the time) and it shows. He has yet to find his own sense of style and relies a little too heavily on the metal mentality (hand signs, crowd interaction) to keep the show afloat. By the Skunkworks show however, Dickinson was on his own. Three years removed from his former band with a series of albums to draw from, this obvious promotional effort for the LP of the same name is a stellar extravaganza. It features our vocal god in fine, near-nirvana form, with a backing band that's tight and extremely talented. There is a real immediacy between artist and audience and as the sensational songs pile on top of each other, a real level of entertainment enthusiasm builds. Granted, it can't match the enthusiasm of the Brazilian throng (they're just crazy), but the final two concerts here confirm Dickinson's status as a legitimate solo act.
However, if you really want to get into the mind of this amazing musician and rock 'n' roll renaissance man, you've got to experience the music video disc. Featuring 14 tracks and individual introductions to each one, Dickinson is forthcoming about his solo career fumbles, his lack of keenness for the short film form, and his general disdain for much of the music business. He dishes dirt on how deals are made, the stupidity of some American executives (who fell in love with the track "Shoot All the Clowns" for some odd reason), and the problems of self-financing and helming video productions. This is great stuff, a real behind-the-scenes glimpse into how a heavy metal superstar goes from mythic lead singer of a prominent rock act to an unsigned vocalist looking for an outlet for his muse. In between, we get hints into Dickinson's private life, his feelings about Maiden's legacy, and an overall portrait of a man with, perhaps, too many interests for his own good. Genial, chatty, and occasionally a little egomaniacal, Dickinson's appearance as part of the music video section of the DVD collection, as well as the look back at his Samson days (he was SO very young) and the Tyranny of Souls EPK (a look at Bruce's first solo album in seven years), provide an amazingly dense digital presentation that really expands our insight into this true metal icon.
On the technical side, Sanctuary does Dickinson proud. While the transfers are full screen (1.33:1, and/or faux letterboxed on occasion) and PCM Stereo only (no new 5.1 remasters here), the sound-and-vision elements of this release are still excellent. Both the Dive Dive Live! and Skunkworks shows capture the concert vibe in crystal visual clarity and the awesome musicianship extolled by Bruce's backup bands really shines in the moderate mix. The Brazil outing is considered a "bootleg," since there was no official release of this material before now. Taken directly from crowd screen feeds, there are lots of close-ups and some minor analog issues (flaring, bleeding) marring what is otherwise a decent depiction of the concert. On the sound side, there are no problems at all. Since each disc is overflowing with content, there is no room for extras. Still, with the wealth of information offered, there is really no need for additional supplements.
While he still seems like the punked-out sprite who tore the top off songs like "Run to the Hills," "The Number of the Beast," and "Flight of Icarus," Bruce Dickinson has definitely matured into a grand old gentleman of the British metal scene. If you ever wondered what he was up to while in exile from Eddie and the gang, Anthology is a comprehensive primer on his exceptional solo career. The sounds he made might not be to every Maiden fan's liking, but there's no doubting Bruce Dickinson's place in the history of modern music.
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