Monday, September 23, 2002 @ 9:56 AM
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A few weeks back, our lovely and talented editor, Princess Big Lou, shocked the KNAC world when she revealed that she (gasp!) hasn’t always been an Iron Maiden fan. Imagine, ruling this roost or rabid rockers (thanks for noticing the alliteration!) and not being a Maiden fanatic since the time she was potty-trained! Blasphemy!
Well, boys and girls, not to rock the boat again, but Your Friendly Reviewer here wasn’t always into Maiden either. Oh sure, they had some songs I liked, and I eventually bought their greatest-hits CD, but fanhood for me was a bit more for show than an actual heartfelt love for the band. Bruce Dickinson annoyed me, for one thing. I mean, could the man go for one song without hitting the vocal whammy-bar for all he was worth? And just what was the deal with all these long, historical-epic songs, like “Alexander the Great” and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
All that changed one fateful day. I got a phone call from a guy named Beef, whom I’d never heard of before. It seems Beef was having some money problems, and was selling his CD’s. The poor bastard! My heart bled for him, and I vowed then and there that I would someday quit fucking around and procrastinating, and really buckle down and study, so that I might never be in a position where I would have to pick up a phone, call some guy I didn’t know but had heard liked metal, and try to sell him my prized CDs. In fact, I promised myself further, I would start first thing next week.
Anyway, what I ended up doing was working out a deal with Beef, wherein I would help him with his financial woes as best I could, and I would be the proud recipient, among almost a dozen other treasures, of four Iron Maiden CDs. Needless to say, I was damn near hooked after that. Sure, Bruce still got on my nerves with his excessive vibrato (the technical musical term for making your voice quaver like you just saw your grandmother’s ghost eating a corndog), and I always did have trouble sitting through all of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” But still! This is METAL! How could you argue with Iron Maiden? They were the kings, weren’t they? I mean, goddamn, listen to any song on Number of the Beast, would you please, and then try and refute their legendary status. Just you try!
And so it was a few weeks ago when fellow converted Maiden fan Big Lou asked me if I wanted to review the reissue of Bruce Dickinson’s first solo album. I was intrigued. I had only heard the title track, and it sounded pretty good to me, if not exactly metal. More hard rock, I figured, but who cares? Hard rock, heavy metal, I can hang with ‘em both! So of course I said yes.
This is where we finally get down to the actual review. Thanks for waiting!
Tattooed Millionaire is indeed quite a departure from the music Bruce was making with Maiden at the time. Hard rock I thought it would be, and indeed, hard rock it is. The songs on this album put me in mind of Deep Purple minus the keyboards, Def Leppard before they started sucking, and, surprisingly, Y&T. I always thought Dickinson and Meniketti had similar vocal styles. To be sure, this may not all be GOOD hard rock, but it’s pure hard rock through and through, and there are some most delectable songs here.
The album starts off with “Son of a Gun,” which at first I thought was a rather odd choice to be lead track, as it begins quite slowly. Pace aside, the melodies are obvious here, and the guitarwork (by future Maiden guitarist Jannick Gers) is excellent. “Son of a Gun” is also one of only two tracks that exceed the five-minute mark. How DID we get so lucky?!
The title track is next, and boasts a neat little guitar riff that even Bruce says reminds him of Rainbow. Supposedly, “Tattooed Millionaire” became a hit back in ’90, but I don’t remember ever hearing it, or else it didn’t register with me at the time. For this, I’m truly sorry.
“Born in ’58,” follows with a steady pace (this is where the Def Leppard comparison sprang to mind), over which Bruce sings, entirely yodel-free, about how HE was brought up proper and what the hell are these young kids up to these days? Reading the lyrics, you get the impression Bruce has a bit of a grumpy old man inside him, but dammit, it’s true, and another superb melody saves the song from crankiness.
Another pleasant surprise comes with the kickoff of “Dive! Dive! Dive!” Here, Mr. Scary Badass begins the song with a VERY AOR-sounding gang-style chorus of “Oh-WHOA-oh, oh-WHOA!” The first time I heard that, it actually made me thing of something Bon Jovi might do, on a good day.
The album also boasts “All the Young Dudes” (a cover of the Mott the Hoople song, faithfully played, if not terribly exciting), “Gypsy Road” (which is NOT a cover of the Cinderella song), and “Hell on Wheels” (again, NOT a Cinderella cover). The latter, along with the leering “Zulu Lulu,” seems mighty like it could be about… no, it can’t be! It’s about sex! Bruce put down the encyclopedia and fetched a copy of Playboy! Amazing! Actually, “Hell On Wheels” may not be solely about sex, but there are definitely some innuendos, and what the hell’s wrong with a few of those?
And now onto the part that everybody who already has this album has been eagerly awaiting since I began this damn review almost a thousand words ago; the bonus tracks. Three stand out in my mind. “Darkness Be My Friend” stopped me dead in my tracks when I first listened to it. Just an acoustic guitar strumming softly in the background, with Bruce singing about being about a loneliness so deep, it requires a flute solo to fully describe it. Or is that a piccolo? Some kind of wind instrument at any rate, where normally there would be a guitar solo. I like it! The effect of this song, in its gentleness, is altogether more shattering than any bar-trashing rocker could pull off. After this moment of reflection, it’s time to go back to having fun, with a thundering cover of AC/DC’s “Sin City.” Kudos to Bruce (and Iced Earth as well) for admitting he listens to AC/DC and not being ashamed of it. (You’d never hear somebody like Dream Theater cop to that. It’s beneath them, the fuckin’ snobs!) I’m a fan of cover songs in general, and this one would land somewhere in the top 25%. Speaking of covers, Bruce and Co. dust off an old classic from his days in Samson for the other noteworthy bonus track. It’s a live version of “Ridin’ with the Angels,” and it is loud! as! hell!
I know a lot of Iron Maiden fans don’t like this album, nor are they especially fond of Jannick Gers, but I’m going to give them both my vote here. Jannick, although his playing maybe isn’t so well-suited for Maiden, throws out some excellent riffs here, and solos that are just as good, and even better acoustic or semi-acoustic work can be found here. Bruce himself gets my respect for not doing most of the things that often drive me nuts. As for the album as a whole, I have to say that since my own roots are in hard rock, I welcome the change from the dead-serious, we-read-lots-of-books Maiden fare. I was genuinely pleased to hear Bruce loosening up and putting the chessboard away for a while to shoot a little pool.
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