Welcome to another “Album by Album Challenge.” For those that are new here, the “Album by Album Challenge” is where I take a band’s entire discography and listen to every album in order of release from front to back. With my unforgiving and well-aged ear, I call it how I hear it. In some cases, I find that what I once thought was good is actually pretty crappy and sometimes crap manages to age into something pretty kick ass. And in some cases, face melting is still just good ol’ face melting.
This time around I dove head first into the solo catalog of Bruce Dickinson. Now I have been an Iron Maiden/Bruce fan for nearly 30 years. I followed Bruce’s solo work up until the release of Skunkworks and just failed to be made aware of the greatest that I missed all those years. My good buddy Jammin Jaymz was the one that showed me just what I was missing and that convinced me to give these albums a chance. Ok, there’s your back story. Let’s get started shall we?
Bruce Dickinson – Tattooed Millionaire
Release Date: May 1990
The Good: Son of a Gun, Tattooed Millionaire, Born In ’58, Hello on Wheels, Gypsy Road, All The Young Dudes, No Lies
The Indifferent: Dive Dive Dive, Lickin’ the Gun, Zulu Lulu
When I first got this album back in 1990, I clearly remember that it took me by total surprise. I was so surprised how different from Iron Maiden it was yet it was that voice. I absolutely loved it because it was so good and 22 year later it sounds as good if not better than I ever remembered. What I loved about this album (and Bruce’s other solo stuff as well) was that Bruce used these albums to speak his voice, tell the stories he wanted to tell, and sing and play them the way he wanted to. This album has such a great vibe to it. “Son of a Gun” is such a dark yet heavy song and a great way to open the album.
“Born In ‘58” is probably one of my favorite songs because of its autobiographical nature. “Gypsy Road” is a fucking beautiful song and his cover of Mott the Hoople’s “All The Young Dudes” totally works in his favor. He really did a great job on this song and I still love hearing it to this day. Again, it kind of makes me feel that there’s a certain autobiographical nature to that song as he really sounds connected to it.
While I love this album, that’s not to say that there aren’t a few duds. “Dive Dive Dive” is absolutely useless. I don’t really understand that one and while I don’t hate it, I just find it kind of meh. “Lickin’ the Gun” is kind of the same although the lyric “Lickin’ the gun finger lickin’ fun” does make me chuckle. It’s so odd to hear Bruce Dickinson singing about shit like this so even though I don’t love it there’s a really fun element to the tongue in cheek delivery. All in all, I still find myself enjoying this album and it’s a really easy and fun listen.
Bruce Dickinson – Balls to Picasso
Release Date: May 1994
The Good: Cyclops, Hell No, Gods of War, 1000 Points Of Light, Laughing in the Hiding Bush, Change of Heart, Shoot all the Clowns, Fire, Sacred Cowboys, Tears of the Dragon
When Bruce announced he was leaving Iron Maiden to pursue his solo career it broke my heart but at the same time intrigued me. I really loved what he did with Tattooed Millionaire and was really looking forward to seeing what he would have to offer. Balls to Picasso was even more of a departure from Maiden than Tattooed Millionaire was. This particular album had such a dark tone to it which I loved right away. Matter of fact, songs like “Cyclops”, “Hell No”, and “Gods of War” almost had this kind of tribal sound to it. I remember not loving it so much back in 1994 but listening to it now I find myself really enjoying this album. Bruce really took his vocals into some unchartered territories as he explored some really dynamic songs ranging from the mellowness of “Change of Heart” to the heavy groove of “Laughing in the Hiding Bush.”
Bruce really proved himself to not just be an amazing singer but a really great lyricist as well. I really love his lyrics and I just get the feeling that he might have felt a bit stifled creatively in Iron Maiden. The songs on this album touch on a lot of political issues like war and gun control but its “Tears of the Dragon” that knocks it completely out of the park. “Tears of the Dragon” has to be without a doubt the greatest break up song ever as it talks of his departure from Iron Maiden. This album didn’t have a single that I felt the need to skip. It’s such a versatile album and an album that I will definitely be revisiting more in the future. I loved rediscovering this one so much.
Bruce Dickinson – Skunkworks
Release Date: June 1996
The Good: Space Race, Back from the Edge, Inertia, Faith, Solar Confinement, Inside the Machine, Headswitch, Meltdown, Octavia, Innerspace, Strange Death In Paradise
The Indifferent: Dreamstate, I Will Not Accept the Truth,
Boy, talk about a departure. Balls to Picasso was the end of the line for me back in the day because I remember reading reviews of Skunkworks and how people called it an “alternative” album and whatnot. I just avoided it like the plague because I was like, “Bruce sold out.” It would be 2007 or so when my buddy Jaymz convinced me to dive back into Bruce’s solo stuff. From the first listen of Skunkworks I was completely facemelted and blown away. Yeah, it is definitely a departure from the metal thing but not so much. The songs on Skunkworks are so well written and played and they cover a lot of ground.
“Space Race” and “Back from the Edge” both open the album with two distinctly different sounds to them but yet this seems to work. “Inertia” is probably my favorite one on this album as I really feel that connection between Bruce and the lyrical content that lies within. “Inside the Machine” is a song that I totally must have not paid much attention to because this time around I found myself loving this one a lot. “Strange Death In Paradise” is an awesome album closer and totally has this awesome Alice in Chains vibe. All in all this is a really great album. Skunkworks has a few duds on it but again, even those aren’t terrible by any means. They’re just songs that left me going, “Meh. This is ok but nothing special.” Skunkworks is yet again a really fun listen. It’s something totally different than what you’d expect yet comfortably familiar. This album was far from a “sell out” album. This just showed me that Bruce was aware of and maybe even listening to some of these newer bands who were coming out and found a bit of himself in them. This album sounds as honest as anything he’s done. I’m sorry I was so quick to write it off but so glad that I gave it a chance. Thanks Jaymz!
Bruce Dickinson – Accident of Birth
Release Date: June 3, 1997
The Good: Freak, Starchildren, Taking the Queen, Darkside of Aquarius, Road to Hell, Man of Sorrows, Accident of Birth, The Magician, Welcome to the Pit, Omega,
Accident of Birth is basically ol’ Bruce Bruce saying, “Ok, fuck it. I need to do metal again.” This is Bruce’s return to form as a metal singer, performer, and writer. Accident of Birth also saw the reunion of Bruce and long time Iron Maiden bandmate/guitarist Adrian Smith. I really feel that this reunion was was what really lit the fire under Bruce to just unleash that metal monster within. His previous albums were great and I loved that they were so different but I just get the feeling that this was Bruce’s way of inching back towards the idea of rejoining Iron Maiden eventually.
The album starts off with a bang with “Freak” and pretty much just carries on to kill my face from there on out. “Road To Hell” and the title track are probably two of my favorite songs but it’s “Omega” and “Arc of Space” that really drew me in and proved to be the most stand out songs on the album. They really had this kind of Maiden-esque influence mixed with a bit of what at this point I feel is Bruce’s signature “solo” sound with a dash of Pink Floyd. The only thing I’m not 100% crazy about is the mix as I feel that it feels a bit flat. It doesn’t have the oomph or the punch that his previous albums but that’s not to say that it affects the quality of the songs. This is yet another outstanding album from Bruce Dickinson that I’m glad I took the time to get to know. What a fantastic listen.
Bruce Dickinson – The Chemical Wedding
Release Date: July 14, 1998
The Good: King in Crimson , The Chemical Wedding, The Tower, Killing Floor, Book of Thel, Gates Of Urizen, Jerusalem, Trumpets Of Jericho, Machine Man, The Alchemist,
I’ll be honest. I never really gave this album a much deserved listen but now that I have, holy shit! What an epic piece of metal from one of the greatest metal singers of all time. There is a certain level of anger behind some of these songs that I was not expecting. It actually took me two listens to full grasp just what the hell I was hearing. The opening song “King in Crimson” at first did nothing for me but on the 2nd time around I was prepared and I totally saw it as a fitting opening to this album. I still find it to be the least strong song on this album but from there, goddamn if my face wasn’t melted song after song.
“Killing Floor” is so brutally heavy while “Book of Thel”, “Trumpets of Jericho”, and “Jerusalem” are the three greatest Iron Maiden songs never recorded. “Machine Man” is where Adrian Smith once again injects that classic Iron Maiden opening that once again proves to be worth of being an Iron Maiden classic. So far, all in all, this is my favorite Bruce Dickinson album. It’s so consistent, focused, and full of fire and passion. Matter of fact, I just may have to agree with my buddy Jammin Jaymz and say that this is by far one of the greatest metal albums of all time. This is a classic that obviously just keeps getting better with age.
Bruce Dickinson – Tyranny of Souls
Release Date: May 23, 2005
The Good: Mars Within, Abduction, Soul Intruders, Kill Devil Hill (Best IM Sabaton song ever), Navigate The Seas Of The Sun, River Of No Return, Power of the Sun, Devil on a Hog, Believil
How did I ever go through life not hearing this epic masterpiece? I just don’t know how I let this one get by me but this is hands down my favorite Bruce Dickinson solo album. Why? Because every fucking song is just amazing. There isn’t one song on here that I thought was “ok”. From the minute I heard the intro “Mars Within” I knew for some reason that this was going to be a real treasure and damn was I ever right. Song after song my mind was blown. “Kill Devil Hill” is without a doubt the highlight track of this album and not only do I feel that it’s probably the best Iron Maiden song never written, listening to this I can hear where the band Sabaton got a lot of their influence.
What I think I love about this album is that, unlike the previous albums, this is the least modern sounding of Bruce’s albums. I mean, it still has a kind of modern feel to it but it’s more rooted in the classic metal sound without sounding dated. It’s almost impossible to put to words but when you hear it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. There is such an awesome flow as well that makes the album just fly by and by the time the epic closing title track was done, I immediately hit the play button again. This is an album that I just cannot get enough of and in all honesty made me nearly completely forget Accident of Birth and The Chemical Wedding. Don’t get me wrong. Those albums were great in their own right but after hearing Tyranny of Souls, they are a faint memory left behind.