Saturday, August 13, 2011

Iron Maiden Commentary - Part Eight

No Prayer For The Dying (1990)

I suppose nothing good lasts forever. This album was released during a time of upheaval for Iron Maiden, and it shows. If you recall, guitarist Adrian Smith left the band after Seventh Son of a Seventh Son out of creative differences with band leader Steve Harris. Fellow guitarist Dave Murray stuck around, but Smith was replaced by Janick Gers, who is a solid guitarist but it would take several albums before he came into his own. After the fantastical bombast of Seventh Son, No Prayer for the Dying was a deliberate step back towards "stripped down" metal...which kind of baffles me. After all, Smith was the one complaining and he left? So why did they still feel compelled to regress like this?

Wanting to tone down the synth/keyboards is defensible (though they are still heard on a few of these tracks), but something else definitely got lost in the process. The riffs are weaker, the songs are shorter and much less complex, and singer Bruce Dickinson suddenly decided he wanted his voice to be less operatic and much raspier. It's humorous just how unpopular this affectation turned out to be with the fanbase - this approach completely negates all the strengths of Bruce's voice, and everyone knew but him.

"Tailgunner" is a song about aerial warfare, following in the footsteps of "Aces High." The comparison really hurts this song. "Tailgunner" has about one tenth of that song's energy, though raspy Bruce does make an amusing pun involving Dutch aircraft ("Nail that Fokker"). This is not a bad song by any's just okay, which is a good way to describe this entire album.

If a solid track like "Holy Smoke" appeared on one of the "Golden Age" albums, it probably would not have ranked among the best songs. On this album, however, it's easily the best. Perhaps still seething over the Religious Right protests against "The Number of the Beast", Iron Maiden delivers a scathing, hilarious takedown of televangelism. Adding to the humor is that the song is actually narrated by Jesus himself ("I died on the cross...that ain't funny, but my so-called friends are making me a joke"). Despite the venom, the song is deliriously upbeat, the musical equivalent of giving the middle finger with a big grin. With its catchy riffs and impressive solo, it's a shame that the quality of this song proves to be an exception rather than the rule.

"No Prayer For The Dying" is a ballad that can't really decide if it wants to remain a ballad. The guitar work is nice and the lyrics seem sincere, though Bruce attempts to apply his new style to meet the needs of an emotional song like this...with mixed results. About halfway through, the song explodes out of nowhere and throws out some insane solos. It's not bad, just a bit unexpected. This song isn't bad, but it doesn't feel particularly polished.

With "Public Enema Number One," Iron Maiden beat Blink 182 by several years when it came to puns involving buttsecks. The title might be lame, but this song is okay. As usual, raspy Bruce grows tiresome quickly but the instruments fare pretty well. "Fates Warning" has a very cool intro, but Bruce's vocals drag it down. Jeez, why the hell did he think this was ever a good idea? These songs still have a lot of what makes Maiden appealing, including some nice solos in this one...but the songs themselves just don't turn out to be very memorable.

Hey wow, is that actual atmosphere? "The Assassin" has a nice Arabic vibe to it and gets into the psychological elements of assassination. The killer stalks the intended victim and tries to get inside his head. The song definitely has a lot of cheese (towards the end, Bruce just starts shouting "Assassin!" over and over) but all the elements come together reasonably well.

"Run Silent, Run Deep" is definitely one of the better tracks on the album. A tale of submarine warfare, it does a masterful job of conjuring up some claustrophobic atmosphere and Bruce actually cleans up his vocals for the chorus. I particularly like the ending, where the instruments calm down and the chorus rings out one more time to haunting effect.

You know Iron Maiden's in a bit of a rut when they have to trot out Charlotte the Harlot once again. She's not mentioned by name in "Hooks in You," but her address (22 Acacia Avenue) is referred to early on. The song is basically a series of terrible puns about sadomasochism and I'm not even sure what it has to do with Charlotte (some fans dispute whether this is really part of her storyline). The instruments make a valiant effort to salvage this song (it actually has some of the album's better riffs) and it almost works. Almost.

Still, "Hooks in You" is Beethoven compared to the awful "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter." A super-cheesy tale of deflowering virgins, this easily has the worst lyrics of the band's entire career. "Unchain your back door and invite me around," Bruce growls. Get it? He's going to pound your daughter in the ass, LOL. Everything about it is just dumb, including the cover where Eddie is apparently on a date with Jessica Rabbit. Raspy Bruce also has the writing credit for this song and once boasted to journalist Mick Wall that he wrote it in three minutes. It shows, buddy. In part because it was attached to the soundtrack for A Nightmare on Elm Street 5, this is actually the highest-charting single of the band's career, despite it winning a well-deserved Golden Raspberry. Still, the commerical success meant that this turd would be guaranteed to appear on all future greatest hits compilations. I can't stand this song, and I hate that the chorus is catchy enough to make me want to sing along despite hating it.

At five and a half minutes, "Mother Russia" is the album's longest song...a far cry from the previous albums. It turns out to have the best instrumental work on the whole album, especially the haunting introduction and middle section. The lyrics are a salute to the Russian people and the impending end of Communism there. It doesn't exactly feel like a deep exploration of the country's history and I wouldn't be surprised if Russian listeners felt patronized. This song wouldn't be out of place on one of the Golden Age albums...kind of a shame it got stuck here.


Overall Strengths: This is still Iron Maiden, and there are some solid songs here. The acerbic social commentary in "Holy Smoke" is a nice new addition to the band's bag of tricks.

Overall Weaknesses: Very weak when compared to all of its predecessors. Bruce's odd vocal style is mostly off-putting. "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter" is just fucking terrible.

Recommended Tracks
Holy Smoke
The Assassin
Run Silent, Run Deep
Mother Russia

Next: The turmoil within Iron Maiden continues as the band releases the varied, wildly inconsistent "Fear of the Dark."

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