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BRUCE DICKINSON Reissues Sanctuary (2005)

To coincide with the Air Raid Sirenís new (and actually rather good) new album, Dickinsonís entire solo catalogue gets a long overdue and equally good going over.

Back in 1990, Bruce was still with Maiden and denying rumours of splits. Tattooed Millionaire (Sanctuary SMEDD198(43:20) (47:33) ****) was recorded largely for fun and the light heartedness comes over well.

The project actually came together to record the original ďBring Your Daughter To The SlaughterĒ (later a Maiden chart topper) for a film soundtrack. An album, tour and several successful singles later, Bruce inadvertently had himself a respectable solo career. With the big chorus of the title track (quite rightly a hit single too) and the Back In Black like Hell On Wheels (blow job while driving), we also get the autobiographical Born in í58 and an excellent cover of All The Young Dudes.

With former Gillan / White Spirit guitarist Janick Gers (later of Iron Maiden) and the Jagged Edge rhythm section, the band was sound, solid and the album excellent. A Brucie Bonus disc features every extra you could want, the original soundtrack song, b-sides and live tracks (covers/murders of Samson, Deep Purple et at). Top marks for packaging.

A change of direction post Maiden and in 1994, after 2 aborted attempts, Balls To Picasso (Sanctuary SMEDD199 (51:10) (79:14) ***) was a darker and more progressive affair.

Featuring members of Tribe Of Gypsies (including guitarist Roy Z), thereís a Latin edge in places, and others could be Peter Gabriel gone grunge. Some excellent vocals and guitar work litter opener Cyclops, and the rest of the album features some great work.

Perhaps too off the beaten track for fans but pretty damn good anyway. A whopping 16 extra tracks on the bonus disc make for a very complete package.

The three disc Alive (Sanctuary SMEDD200 (58:50) (62:30) (68:56) ***) set covers the Alive In Studio A double disc and Bruceís previously last solo live set Scream For Me Brazil.

The 1995 double set is split between a live in the studio set recorded for a US radio broadcast, and another set recorded live at the Marquee. With guitarist Alex Dickson on board, thereís a nod back to the Bruce we all know and love, even on tracks like Cyclops.

Whether in front of the select audience or letting loose at the Marquee, the music is tight yet absolutely fierce. And no reliance on old Maiden material, meaning material on both discs is culled from the first two solo albums only. A little extravagant if unnecessary. A well packaged filler.

1996 and still with former Gun guitarist Alex Dickson, Skunkworks (Sanctuary SMEDD196 (47:31) (39:38) *****) was far more cohesive effort. Less experimental, it was actually a brilliant album that the fans still ignored. Quite modern yet equally trad, it didnít copy Maiden at all, and producer Jack Endino (Nirvana, Soundgarden) did a fine job.

Stylistically, vocally and in songwriting, this saw Bruce at his best, as epitomised by Inertia. Again a second disc of extras and B-sides make a great package.

Skunkworks had been a band, like David Bowieís Tin Machine, and likewise it hadnít worked despite the excellent music.

Back as BD with the Tribe Of Gypsies backing, Zís guitar was augmented on Accident Of Birth (Sanctuary SMEDD 197 (53:46) (41:57) *****) by Adrian Smith, former Maiden partner in crime. Itís a solid album mixing fast and slow. A little grungier than Maiden it should still have pleased many, and Bruce was certainly on form. And like Skunkworks, infinitely better than what Maiden were doing at the time.

The same line-up and twin guitar let 1998ís Chemical Wedding (Sanctuary SMEDD 214(71:54) ****), Bruceís last studio outing before he and guitarist Smith rejoined Iron Maiden. Retaining the light trad metal sound that was a far cry from the debut solo outing, and there are hints of progressive metal at the heavy end in here too. The title track is truly awesome and features some amazing guitar duelling between the two maestros.

A couple of Japanese only singles provided a handful of bonus tracks that fit nicely on the end of the single disc.

1999ís Scream For Me Brazil (Sanctuary SMEDD 215 ***) sees Bruce back with Tribe Of Gypsies (including Roy Z), plus second guitarist Adrian Smith. A brutal sound and more varied set list, itís a great set but not Bruce at his best. By this time he and Adrian were on the road back to Maiden.

With the packaging (lyrics, sleevenotes, slip cases) and bonuses, packaging is pretty much 5/5 throughout, making Bruce Dickinsonís solo career petty much complete here and excellent value for money too.

Some great material here, but Bruce never quite reached the heights of Riding With The Angels.

Review by Joe Geesin

Related>> Album review

***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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