Friday, August 11, 2006

Solo act

I was watching some of Bruce Dickinson's Anthology DVD the other day. I remember buying "Tattooed Millionaire" when it came out and I gave it away after a few listens because I didn't like it. I think that I heard "Balls to Picasso" once when it came out and it was okay. Most of the music on the DVD was alright, but not as good as I had hoped. I know his later albums got better reviews, but I have not heard them. Rob Halford was another one where I couldn't get into his post Priest stuff. Fight were okay and the Halford stuff was better, but none of it was as good as I had hoped and nowhere near as good as Priest's Painkiller. I think it's hard for a singer of an established band to leave and do something that's just as good as the previous band's work. There are some who have done it or come close. When Ozzy left Sabbath very few people thought he would do much. He did two great albums right off the bat and some decent ones later on. Although he was just about always surrounded by good musicians and he had a lot of help. Ronnie James Dio had success with Rainbow and Black Sabbath, but left and formed his own band because he wanted to call the shots. The 80's was a good decade for Dio and the 90's were a little rough on him. When Mercyful Fate broke up King Diamond changed the music and his voice a little and had some real success in the late 80's. David Lee Roth had a supergroup for a limited time and some real success for his first two releases. In the cases of Dio and King Diamond, they both started with at least a couple of people in their band that they had played with before so that probably helped. I guess it can be so hard for someone going solo because there is likely be a set of expectations placed on them by fans of their prior band. You probably don't want a singer to completely change their style. At the same time it's pointless to do something like sound just like your prior band like Vince Neil did on his "Exposed" album. Then people wonder "why leave if you're going to do the same exact thing?". Most of the people I mentioned above eventually went back with their previous band for at least a while as well. I guess a lot of musicians like to be in charge, but ultimately they do what they have to in order to make a living.


Blogger Metal Mark said...

I forgot to mention that eight days of the 80's starts on Saturday. So poof up your hair and get ready.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

You're a busy boy today, Mark!

When I reviewed that DVD, well, we discussed it later... I was really impressed by his Skunkworks material, meaning the studio stuff. Very edgy, different, something way out there for him, but it was like David Bowie's Tin Machine, which I am also fond of, and which Bruce admitted he was mimicking.

I really loved those songs, but you probably see what I'm talking about that Skunkworks band in a live setting; they were way off, not tight at all, and he was floundering...oh hell, let me just copy the review for your readers, that'll get the point across instead of rehashing here...

I think you have some interesting thoughts here, but I would say that the pressure Halford, Dickinson and maybe King Diamond faced in their home bands was too great, thus the solo outlet was necessary for them to cope and return. At least King Diamond had a more meaningful career as a solo artist, but balls if that Halford "Resurrection" album isn't the shit!

8:29 PM  
Blogger Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Anthology DVD
Sanctuary Records
By Ray Van Horn, Jr.
appearing in Septmeber "Death
From Below" column, AMP magazine

The first time Bruce Dickinson’s solo video “Tattooed Millionaire” debuted on the original Headbangers Ball it seemed suspiciously like something was up in the IRON MAIDEN camp. How odd to see Dickinson release straightforward hard rock when he was already fronting such a goliath, but there was still something catchy about “Tattooed Millionaire,” the song and the album, that in the light of a slightly mainstream album such as MAIDEN’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, it didn’t seem quite so bit of a stretch. “Can I Play With Madness” at the time was considered IRON MAIDEN’s first commercial hit, never mind that time would soften the brutality of their staple “Run to the Hills” so that even the average music fan could pretend for three minutes that they’re down with the metalheads…

“Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter,” a quirky but equally popular song from No Prayer For the Dying that struck number one in MAIDEN’s native England should’ve been an indicator that even as their subsequent album Fear of the Dark proved to be mostly memorable for its title track, a disruption in the fold was soon to take place.

Anthology collects three concerts from Bruce Dickinson’s estrangement from IRON MAIDEN plus all of his promo videos for EMI Records and later ones he self-financed. What’s striking about this capsule is how we get to watch not only Dickinson find himself as an individual artist, but also how he regained the confidence to rejoin IRON MAIDEN later. Perhaps he and Rob Halford, frontmen for the two mightiest heavy metal units in history needed to step back from the pressure of their positions and let chaos theory prevail. As Halford kept his heavy thrusters going with FIGHT and HALFORD, Bruce Dickinson mostly strayed from the IRON MAIDEN formula and created individualistic music that is still contested amongst his fans.

When you watch the offsetting duality of the first disc that bears “Dive Dive Live” and “SKUNKWORKS Live,” what’s interesting, aside from the fact that Bruce ended up recruiting future MAIDEN guitarist Janick Gers through his freshman run as a solo artist, is how liberated and comfortable he appears, particularly through the “Dive Dive Live” footage. Captured at The Town and Country Club in Los Angeles, this 1990 concert is raw but also indicative of how heavy metal looked and felt just before its imminent collapse. Ripping through songs like “Son of a Gun,” “Hell on Wheels,” “Sin City” and “Tattooed Millionaire,” Dickinson is perhaps more playful on the smaller stage than the arenas he was accustomed to at this point in his vocal career, and it comes off like a psychological outlay that kept him going a few more years in IRON MAIDEN before hitting the pavement on his own officially..

SKUNKWORKS, which is described by Dickinson as “an advanced garage band,” much as David Bowie’s TIN MACHINE was, can be looked at as controversial since it followed Dickinson’s scrambled eggs Balls to Picasso album that did yield the wonderful ballad “Tears of the Dragon.” Looking for a new direction, the SKUNKWORKS sessions produced two absolute gems “Back From the Edge,” which rings like KILLING JOKE in a meaty collision with RUSH, and “Inertia,” both songs featuring promo videos represented on Anthology that are likewise creative highpoints for Dickinson. The unfortunate thing about “SKUNKWORKS Live” is that while there’s a charisma about the venue in Spain that keeps you watching, the band is hardly representative of the promise given from the album. Frequently the band is out of key and about as tight as gelatin. Bruce Dickinson’s vocal power is largely fed by the music at his back and the set shown here often leaves him floundering. They’re too loud on “Tears of the Dragon” and too sloppy on “I Will Not Accept the Truth” and “Dreamstate.” Ironically enough, it is when they cover IRON MAIDEN’s “The Prisoner” that SKUNKWORKS homogenizes beautifully.

The money shot of Anthology if you will, is the inclusion of 1999’s “Scream For Me Brazil,” the heaviest of the three concerts. Particularly noteworthy is the guitar heroics of not only Roy Z, one of Bruce Dickinson’s chief songwriting partners, but also IRON MAIDEN’s Adrian Smith in a statement of solidarity that probably had every bit to do with Dickinson’s return home in 2000 for Brave New World after his former mates sloughed through a valiant but futile effort to carry on with Blaze Bayley on The X-Factor and Virtual XI, two albums that might’ve succeeded had IRON MAIDEN found a way to write for their young buck who most fans have already forgotten about, unlike the now-celebrated Tim “Ripper” Owens who was more fortunate with JUDAS PRIEST.

“Scream For Me Brazil” is often criticized for its bootleg stature, but if every bootleg had this quality, it might actually hold its own as a competitive market. If you can excuse the fact the camera operator repeatedly focuses in on the wrong guitarist during the solos (Roy Z is positively brilliant in this concert, for the record), and if you can excuse the constant wedgies Dickinson exhibits with his raggedy sweatpants onstage, the concert in Sao Paolo is bombastic and is the tightest backup band Dickinson heaps before your eyes. Shot on tour for his critically-acclaimed Chemical Wedding album, Dickinson exudes confidence through such snarling jams as “Killing Floor,” “Book of Thel,” “Accident of Birth” and “The Tower.” Even “Tears of the Dragon,” which is shoddier on “SKUNKWORKS Live” sounds appropriately majestic with Adrian Smith smoothly keeping melody on acoustic guitar, whereas his predecessor Alex Dickson tries to force the issue in the SKUNKWORKS set.

Add the hilarious mini-film “Biceps of Steel” featuring a younger Bruce Dickinson and his pre-Maiden band SAMSON (one of the seldom sung heroes of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal) and a detailed interview session with Dickinson where he walks the viewer through his most recent solo album Tyranny of Souls, and Anthology becomes a six-hour treasure trove of one of heavy metal’s most enigmatic voices through a catalog probably not as well-known as his alma mater’s, but is a diverse and clearly-thought prospectus in its own right.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Metal Mark said...

Bruce sounds good and the Skunkworks stuff had some life to it. Yet somehow it's all a bit ordinary at times from a guy who once worked magic. Then again Maiden's No prayer for the dying was a mess and it came out shortly after Bruce's first solo album. Although Dickinson was probably doing better on his own (post 94) than Maiden were without him. The same can also be said for Fight/Halford vs. Judas Priest with Ripper Owens (not that it was Ripper's fault).

8:59 PM  
Blogger José Carlos Santos said...

i like bruce's solo stuff a lot, 'the chemical wedding' in particular was an amazing record.

4:48 AM  
Blogger David Amulet said...

I only have Bruce's first three solo albums, and I enjoy all of them. I would say that most lead singers go out on their own not because of different musical directions --although that happens -- but because of conflicts between band members. Think of Ian Gillan and Ritchie Blackmore ... Don Dokken and George Lynch ... DLR and Eddie ...

The only singer who left a very successful band they had been a part of for a long time and did BETTER is probably Ozzy. Sure, we all enjoyed DLR's first two albums more than the entire post-DLR catalog of Van Halen, but Van Halen was much more successful in every measurable category. (Coverdale leaving DP doesn't count in my book b/c he wasn't in the band long enough to be "THE singer of Deep Purple.)

All that said, I often enjoy the solo albums by the lead singers as guilty pleasures: Don Dokken's Up From the Ashes, Geddy Lee's My Favourite Headache, and even Roger Daltrey's monstrous Under a Raging Moon still get spins in Amulet's car CD player once in a while.

-- david

5:01 AM  
Blogger OnMyWatch said...

I love David Lee Roth, but I really only liked a couple of songs and mostly because I already liked *him*. Solo he just seemed silly to me, in a way...if I didn't know where he came from I probably wouldn't have liked him at all.

but Ozzy did great! and I thought it was funny that you used the term 'right off the bat' concerning him. ha. :)

5:15 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Talking of Bruce, he hosts a really popular show on Radio 2 once a week, playing old metal and hard rock.
Hang on.......

You can listen to the latest show anytime via BBC's "listen again" radio player. I think you might enjoy it

5:32 AM  
Anonymous fred charles said...

Bruce Dickinsons earlier albums are not even in league with his later stuff. You should really pick up Accident at Birth. It's such a great CD! Chemical Wedding and Tyranny of Souls are just as good. I think that Bruce's last few solo albums are better than both Brave New World and Dance of Death...and that's saying something considering how much I love Maiden.

5:38 AM  
Anonymous Rhodeislandrock said...

When Tattooed Millionaire was released, I immeadiately took to the album and it still gets many spins. I think the fact that it was straight up Hard Rock rather than the more complex Iron Maiden was the reason I like was something different.

I like all of Bruce's solo releases but Accident Of Birth has to be one of the best comeback albums I've ever heard. I can't believe it's been 9 years since that was released. Same with Chemical Wedding (1998), it's been 8 years? Bruce has explored different styles with every album of his solo career, I like that he keeps it interesting.

I have to agree with Fred, Bruce's last 3 albums are far better than the last two Maiden offerings. I'm a huge Maiden fan as well but if you put them up to compare, Bruce solo wins. Hopefully the new Maiden album will be much better.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Rhodeislandrock said...

Rob Halford solo - Fight was pretty good, at least on the debut, War Of Words. Again, something different at a time when Metal was changing. I didn't get into A Small Deadly Space as much as the debut. Two was awful, I can't find anything good about it. Move to Resurrection and Crucible, Halford beat Priest hands down. Resurrection was the album Priest should have made to establish Tim Owens.

Ozzy - I'll give Ozzy credit for having a great solo career BUT he had a great solo career because of people like Bob Daisley, Jake E. Lee, Randy Rhoads, Randy Castillo, Zakk Wylde, and the rest. If these excellent musicians didn't write the tunes/music, Ozzy's career is over after he left Sabbath.

Dio - Another great solo career. The downside started with Lock Up The Wolves, which was good but not great. Strange Highways (1993), Angry Machines (1996), and even Magica (2000) strayed from the classic Dio style, again the mid-late 90s change in style killed the albums. Each of these albums did have their moments but paled in comparison to the first few Dio records. Killing The Dragon was a good comeback and Master Of The Moon is a solid album.

Diamond Dave - DLR or Hagar? I'm a Diamond guy but his solo stuff is a bit lite. I rarely listen to his solo albums anymore because there's no meat to the albums aside from the sigles that were released. I think the guy is brilliant, I thought his last album, Diamond Dave was great. Maybe because it was so different, the guy takes chances and succeeds.

9:45 AM  
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