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Like Dickinson’s previous record, 1990’s Tattooed Millionaire, 1994’s Balls To Picasso strayed from the roots of Iron Maiden even further. The record pushed the envelope a bit too far. You have the additions of ace guitarist Roy Z and with Z came his “Tribe Of Gypsies” band, featuring Eddie Cassillais on bass, David Ingram on drums, and a percussionist named Doug Van Booven. This caused uplift in the band’s style, mixing in reggae and Latino elements. The end result was defiantly Bruce’s worst solo record, save for the epic final track. Balls To Picasso is plagued by crap production and just terrible songwriting. Overall, this one is not very recommended to anyone, let me tell you why.
The album kicks off with the average sounding “Cyclops”, which is the better of most of the songs on the album. The song does drone on for about 7 and a half minutes though. The next 15 or so minutes are filled with droning music that I feel the need to constantly skip through on my CD player, or fast forward on my cassette player. Songs like “Hell No” begin to wear the Latino flair a bit too much. “1000 Points Of Light” is the next song of mention. It begins to go back to the “metalness” of the album’s opener, yet the song is plagued by funky sounding percussion gimmicks. After that, you get a horrendous version of “Laughing In Hiding Bush”. The song is again plagued by percussion gimmicks which ruin it all. It makes it sound like a Mexican village trying to attempt music! “Shoot All The Clowns” is a song that is worthy of mention. The song sounds like Latino Aerosmith. The song is straight forward rock and roll, without the drumming gimmicks. After this, the album begins to drop off a lot, only to pick way up with the album’s epic closer “Tears Of The Dragon”. This is easily the best song off the album. The song is devoid of any percussion gimmicks, which is a good thing, in fact. It is a really great way to end the album. In my opinion, this is what most albums like this should have. This is what saves an album such as this from being a total failure.
Although it strays a bit too far from what Bruce did in Maiden, you are not at a total loss if you purchase it. If you do in fact purchase it, buy the two disc, expanded edition, which has some amazing outtakes that would have saved this album from such a low rating. This is not really recommended to anyone who has any heart for Maiden. This is way too far removed from anything that Dickinson has done in his past career. The only things that save it from a zero is Shoot All The Clowns, Cyclops, 1000 Points Of Light and Tears Of The Dragon.
Singer, fencer, author, pilot, DJ, father, etc... Bruce is truly a renaissance man in our modern times. Without needlessly going into a past every Metalhead knows about (or should know about by now) it will be said that this album is much better than it’s been credited for here. Unlike his first solo effort, 'BTP' is heavier and more adventurous. Granted there is a Hard Rock feel to the music in some places, it’s still heavier than a lot of things to come out at that time. Heaven forbid Bruce embrace several different styles and incorporate them into his own.
The production is about the same, maybe a little better than what we heard on 'Fear of the Dark'. The guitars are very bluesy and laidback. There is a dark and sinister feel on several of the tracks. Mixed with these emotions there is also a feeling of loss and struggle. There are a bunch of solos and leads laced throughout a somewhat tribal background. There is an equal amount of crunch to open chord in all the songs.
The bass has some funk in it and this adds a new level to the down tempo songs. He doesn't follow the guitars very much. The drums are surprisingly standard with few to little surprises. There is even a little keyboard work in the background of some songs.
Bruce's voice is incredible. This is what we should have heard on 'No Prayer for the Dying' and 'Fear of the Dark'. He doesn't rasp his voice and it’s practically all clean. He reminds us why he is such a force to be reckoned with on every track.
The only real complaints here are the political overtones in the lyrics and their utter lack of subtlety. We don't want to hear a British man complaining about American politics, especially when we're used to hearing him sing about fantasy and history. Sound bites of former presidents take away from the escapism that we have come to expect. This album has taken a considerable amount of flack from the usual fan boys. This album in terms of quality isn't that far removed from the first four Danzig records. They're both Blues based Metal, they both have seemingly simple production and musicianship. The difference here is Bruce's Metal is heavier and of a higher caliber. There's also more variation in the vocals, song structure and musical relevance.
While its true, Bruce’s' later offerings would yield a more positive response, his earlier work has merit and shouldn't be over looked. This is something that he could've expanded on but didn't. Whether or not that's a bad thing considering how his later albums have been received is up for debate. Needless to say, this is worth owning as it’s a good piece of Heavy Metal music.
Bruce Dickinson's "Ball to Picasso" starts the path of greatness for Bruce's solo career. This is his first album to feature Roy Z and it shows in this album. Roy Z gives this album an edge. This is not a heavy metal album though as it is more a hard rock/metal album, but Bruce's catchy choruses and Roy Z's guitar work make this something great.
The album's opener is "Cyclops" which is an eight minute song and has a somewhat creepy vocal line by Bruce and in the later minutes of the song there is a great rocking solo which makes the song great. This album has great riff work and this is much evident in "Fire" where the riff rips through the song and has a nice groove to it. "Laughing in the Hiding Bush" is a classic because it has storytelling in the verse and the little "hey hey, hey hey" between each line and then Bruce's voice becomes evil and mad in the chorus. The catchiest song on here though is "Shoot All the Clowns." Now this is more of a rock song, but the song starts and Bruce starts singing the line "shoot all the clowns" and I find myself singing along as the song hooked me as I'm sure it will hook the listener.
A couple things different about this album is featured in some songs which good and bad. "Hell No" begins with this slightly middle-eastern vibe with the drums and guitar line. That is a good. Now a bad is "Change of Heart." After I'm done rocking with "Laughing in the Hiding Bush," this song comes on and it's some ballad that just slows down the album and has some cheesy chorus line that makes me wanna puke. The song "Sacred Cowboys" is very strange is that Bruce's voice is like rambling incoherantly in the verse. My first listen to it, I thought either my cd was bugging out on me or this is just fucked up. Well, it is just fucked up. Luckily, the amazing sing-a-long chorus keeps it from being total crap. Now, "Tears of the Dragon" is a kick ass ballad that is well-written and actually has a good solo part. This song is fantastic to close this album.
Overall, this album is awesome as Bruce had something to prove here and he proved it with well-written songs and finding the genius Roy Z to handle the guitar. As I have stated before, Roy Z gives this cd an edge as the combination of riff work and Bruce's voice make this kick ass. Buy it. Love it. Like it.
Look, I know this album has ‘Tears Of The Dragon’ which even with the Rush playing reggae section is a fantastic song but that does not mean it’s a classic album, especially when consider that eight of these songs are either embarrassingly bad or just forgettable. I should of known, Bruce wearing what look like Pete Way’s tracksuit bottoms on the sleeve and the fact that I picked this up for 70p that this was going to be a stinker but no, I thought from hearing ‘Tears Of The Dragon’ that I was in for a classic Bruce Dickinson solo album.
Your probably thinking that I hate this album because its not metal? Well no, this is pretty damn bad regardless of the genre, its confused and Bruce although trying new things which is good as he didn’t descend into the stale autopilot generic metal that Maiden did in the 90’s, these new ideas for the most part simply don’t work. First of all this album opens on ‘Cyclops’ which is goes nowhere for seven minutes and even features the one thing which makes me scared and angry, slap bass, what the hell Bruce? Did you think you’d try to be funky? In the Red Hot Chilli Peppers now are we? Thankfully things pick up a bit on ‘Hell No’ which is very reminiscent of the Led Zeppelin song ‘Friends’ from ‘III’ and it’s easily one of this albums highlights . ‘Gods of War’ isn’t a Def Leppard song, sadly (yes, I like ‘Hysteria’) and is just filler as is most of the album so I won’t go into much detail. Now, if you thought the slap bass was bad wait till you hear ‘Shoot All The Clowns’ it has rapping! Bruce Dickinson, a nice English boy from Worksop rapping, I’ll let that sink in for a minute. Anyway, Bruce was apparently told by the record company to write a song like ‘Rocks’ era Aerosmith and he came up with this, Ok Roy Z’s guitar is pretty Aerosmith but their wasn’t any rapping and slap bass on an Aerosmith album in 1976. Also this song sounds pretty much like any other mid-90’s crap rock band, just to make matters a little bit worse. Even some good guitar solos can’t save this one. Now as previously stated ‘Tears Of The Dragon’ is an amazing song, easily one of highpoints of Bruce’s solo career which would be so fruitful in the late 90’s, however I can’t help but smile when thinking “here’s Bruce trying to be a 90’s rocker and he still slips in a song about Dragons” now that’s metal! It even features an tempo change and a great solo, wow at last a bit which rocks, it’s a similar feeling to ‘Dirty Women’ at the end of ‘Technical Ecstasy’.
Instrumentally, this band is good and can pull off the 90’s rock thing well although the playing isn’t a patch on ‘Chemical Wedding’ and ‘Accident of Birth’ which both Roy Z and Eddie Casillas would play on. Roy Z, is seriously lacking in the riffs and solo which were vital parts of ‘Chemical Wedding’, ‘Accident of Birth’ and ‘Tyranny Of Souls’. But the bands good, Bruce always had a good ear for players giving a good few guitarists a break (I’ am especially grateful he chose Janick for the Maiden job, that’s right Janick’s a phenomenal player). Bruce is still in great shape vocally here, those who didn’t like his more gritty singing on ‘No Prayer…’ and ‘Fear of the Dark’ will certainly find this more to their liking.
So although this has a few moments for the most part it’s tame, uninspired and even dated 90’s rock. Hardly the classic some will have you believe. Download ‘Tears Of The Dragon’ and maybe ‘Hell No’ which I suppose were worth my 70p. Thankfully things would pick up on ‘Skunkworks’
With his second solo album, Dickinson starts to gain his stride. After the mostly atrocious Tattooed Millionaire, it is good to see him adopt more from the genre that made him famous and put out a quality album. I would still hesitate to call this a metal album, but it shouldn’t offend the ears of any but the most hardcore metal enthusiast.
First, let me say that Roy Z knows how to play the guitar. Part of the reason I enjoy Dickinson’s solo albums so much is the mesmerizing leads this guy busts out. The production here is stellar too, even if Roy Z wasn’t heading it as he would later.
None of the tracks here are exceptionally weak, but a few of them truly fail to stand out. I am just going to go through my favorites.
Cyclops – This is an exciting confirmation that Dickinson has abandoned that horrible rock of the last album. He opens the album with an epic 8 minute piece, not your normal opener. This thing stomps all over most of the meandering epics of Iron Maiden. This track highlights the guitars; they really talk to you—screaming out the lines along with Dickinson.
Laughing in the Hiding Bush – Tell me that chorus isn’t infinitely more catchy than the repetitive choruses Iron Maiden has put out recently? Absolutely stellar guitar riffs here.
Change of Heart – Usually look down upon by the metal community, either because of a fondness for the typical faster tempo of metal or because of the stigma attached to them by hair metal bands, Dickinson usually has an excess of ballads on his album. Thankfully, this one nearly surpasses the better-known Tears of the Dragon
Shoot All the Clowns – A silly song. Very hard rock tune with tinges of Guns ‘N’ Roses and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Excellent except for the overuse of the chorus, but at least it is a good one.
Tears of the Dragon – Despite considerable exposure, this song still remains excellent, a highlight of the entire Bruce Dickinson catalogue.
You can definitely see Dickinson picking up steam here for the absolute classics still to come.
It may be Bruce’s name on the cover, but Roy Z owns this album.
Balls To Picasso is all about the guitars and what a great work was done. From the heaviness of Laughing In The Hiding Bush passing through the groove of Shoot All The Clowns up until the softness of Change Of Heart and Tears Of The Dragon every riif is well thought, every lead is well played and you can’t find a note out of place.
The main quality of this album is that it’s completely different from Bruce’s old band (Iron Maiden). I have to tell you, given the fact that Bruce spent so many years in Maiden I had my doubts if he was going to be able to do something new and fresh once he went solo.
Fortunately for all of us, not only he was able to separate himself from his old band, but, also, he managed to do something different with every new record in his career.
Bruce’s performance is also top-notch. In his last Maiden albums he sounded tired and bored, but here going on his on he’s full of energy and that reflects on songs such as the heavy Hell No and even on a mid-tempo track like the opener Cyclops.
Balls To Picasso also shows a soothing side of Bruce and given the fact the Tears Of The Dragon has been overplayed as hell and find myself enjoying Change Of Heart more that that one.
Balls To Picasso was the record where Bruce Dickinson solidified himself as a solo artist, being finally free from the Iron Maiden shadow. In the future years, things would only get better.