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Bruce had left Iron Maiden back in 1993 to focus on his solo career. A few years onwards he decided he would form a new band called "Skunkworks" rather than continuing to record under his own name. This was to be that band's debut album. However, label pressures meant that it ended up being another Bruce Dickinson solo album. Therefore, it is very different to Dickinson's previous solo albums, and a far cry from anything 'metal'. It's an alternative rock album, essentially, possibly with hints of grunge. However, it is a fucking good album.
What this album does so well is combine thought provoking lyrics with fantastic melodies, resulting in songs that make you feel good, and songs that take you on journies of the mind. With generally shorter song lengths with no song quite reaching the 5 minute mark alongside the melodies, it's easy to say that it's more "accessible" than some of his other work. However, it's by no means a sell out move, and lyrically, there is no loss of intellect or creativity.
The songs are mainly fast paced or mid tempo, so there's a lot of badass straight up rock to be found here. The music sounds especially great in songs like "Space Race", "Back From The Edge", "Inertia" and "Inside the Machine". My favourite song on this album is indeed "Back From the Edge", which is just one of those songs that demand repeated listens because of the feelings it makes you feel, the atmosphere it creates. "Inside the Machine" creates a similar kind of feel-good atmosphere but with the same level of depth present in the lyrics. Again, this is part of what makes the album as great as it is.
The tempo slows down for songs like "Dreamstate" and "Strange Death in Paradise". "Dreamstate" begins with grungy guitars, and Dickinson's vocals during the verses are reminiscent of that quiet grunge singing style used by Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley etc. "Strange Death in Paradise", the closing track, is one of the tracks on the album that take you on a journey. The guitars are heavy at the start but the melodies become more prominent in the choruses. After the second chorus, the music calms for a moment before beginning to head back into the heavy guitars, with Dickinson repeatedly singing the song title. Both the vocals and guitars work well together throughout the album.
Skunkworks is a hidden gem in Bruce Dickinson's body of work. It took me some time to discover it after becoming an Iron Maiden fan, and then it took me some more time to get around to listening to it, and it's safe to say that I'm happy that I did. I consider this to be his best solo album, even though it wasn't intended as a solo project. It would have been nice to see the Skunkworks band carry on making albums and elaborating on that rock sound. But this is what we must settle with, and settle, I shall.
Iron Maiden's vocalist Bruce Dickinson's solo career started in 1989 and his first album 'Tattooed Millionaire' (1990) was not heavy metal, after all. Its hard rocking approach must have made a huge amount of Maiden fans feeling disappointed. Four years later, the sophomore album 'Balls to Picasso' didn't much ease their heartfelt pain. So, when the announcement for the release of Mr. Dickinson's third solo piece 'Skunkworks' was made, was there still excessive expectation for a heavy metal album from The Air Raid Siren? I believe there was. But what happened? With 'Skunkworks', Bruce Dickinson wanted to, understandably, try to get away from Iron Maiden sound. Regarding to the producer Jack Endino, Dickinson wanted this to be a more modern-sounding album. Well, they managed to make it sound modern, plus also one bloody far from the Maiden sound and style.
Skunkworks was also the name for the band itself, with Alex Dickson on guitar, Chris Dale on bass and Alessandro Elena on drums. So, this album is a band album, not just another Dickinson solo work (like any of 'em ever totally was?!). Other band members pushed the music towards modern rock, even though Dickinson had some ideas for heavier sounds. What happened, and was there any chance for this to work out?
The unexpected answer is yes, it does work. And at times it works like a dream (this has nothing to do with the fact, that I'm a Iron Maiden fan, and also love Bruce's voice). The easiest way to describe this is to say, that this sounds like British rock, but still very individual at that. The thirteen songs the album consists of are quite different to each other, but then again the band identity is strong. The instrumentalists wanted to show off a bit, so it's all pretty curiously performed, and there's nothing too basic to be heard for most of the time. Anyways, this solidifies the band identity. All of the guitar playing isn't riff-based, but more like open-stringed moody style. The rhythm section is absolutely wild yet tight. Hard sounding bass guitar backs up the wandering guitar brilliantly, with playing the riffs. So, this album was meant to sound as live as possible with the lineup it had.
Since the first time I heard the album, I've tried to compare it to some other artists' works, to find out where it belongs to. I really haven't managed to come up with anything, that would make any sense. The music here has bits of older and newer Bruce Dickinson solo works, that's what is clear. However, this album is not for those, who listen only to metal music and nothing else. This album is for those, who love good simplistic songs and respectable musicianship, and above all, can take in something else than metal music alone. The songs and their moods are varying enough to give a lot of space for Dickinson's broad voice, even though he intentionally left most of his highest singing out from this album. Most of the songs are rockers and for them, my tips are 'Back from the Edge', 'Inertia', 'Solar Confinement', 'Inside the Machine', 'Headswitch' (the simplest, most typical song here) and 'Innerspace'. Whoa, most of them, I see! Well, they just work, even though sometimes there is not so much variety between each other. There are some slower pieces, but they have nothing to do with a thing called ballad. Nor are they beautiful songs, tune-wise, (except for 'Octavia' and 'Strange Death in Paradise' in places) but more like dark and sullen. The two above-mentioned are the better slow songs, and the closer is absolutely epic at times. Epic can be tranquil in its essence, too. The Endino production is kicking and powerful, but still very clear indeed. As with the music, the stylish cover artwork and multifaceted lyrics make this album truly unique.
After all, next time around when a Bruce Dickinson solo album came out ('Accident of Birth' in 1997), all fans of Maiden could at last rejoice the return of The Air Raid Siren. Skunkworks the band always had artistical differencies, so no wonder this one got no similar continuation. In its own, 'Skunkworks' is a fine piece of rock music, and not worth solely for the voice heard on it. It still sounds unique, after 15 years. Oh, at the moment I'm writing this, NASA's Space Shuttle program is running its last flight, ever. Where's the space race going next..? Where's Bruce Dickinson going next?!
(originally written for www.ArchaicMetallurgy.com)
Everyone (ok, well a lot of people) pretty much disregards this album as crap, possibly because they genuinely hate it, or maybe because they simply do not understand it. Obviously Bruce was going in a different direction here, but it all started with his first solo album, Tattooed Millionaire, which is honestly just hard rock. It's not so different if you have already heard his two previous solo albums, the already mentioned Millionaire and Balls To Picaso, the only difference being that it's even less metal than they are. Not that it's bad, because I can appreciate good rock music when I hear it, and this is basically hard rock with operatic vocals. I've been wanting to write a review of this album for quite some time now, but just haven't been able to piece together something which I feel describes this the way it should. It's a different Bruce, but at the same time it feels the same.
As I already stated, the music is basically hard rock, but there are moments where psychadelic and even grunge pop up. I'm not much into these types of music so the songs where they show up (Faith, Dreamstate, I Will Not Accept The Truth) are my least favorite, though Faith IS better than the others. The guitars aren't heavy for the most part, though they get heavier during some song's choruses like in Octavia and Inertia. The riffs are pretty good most of the time. The main riff to opener Space Race (one of the best I feel) is damn catchy and Headswitch is the closest to metal you will find on this album, with its fast riffs and Bruce's effect layered vocals which almost sound like he's singing through a megaphone as another reviewer described. That's a good description. The bass is turned up quite loud at times and can be heard on pretty much every song. There is some cool bass parts scattered throughout such as on songs like Strange Death In Paradise and Octavia, two of the absolute best songs on here. The drums are good, sometimes doing cool little fills and patterns. I especially like the drumming on Innerspace. Now the vocals are one of the best parts of this album. It's still trademark Bruce we hear on this album. He still uses all the different ranges he possesses and they somehow fit well with the hard rock music. His voice is as good as ever and anyone would be a fool to say his voice is going downhill at all.
A lot of people don't like this album because it's not metal, but there is still damn good music to be found on here. I will break the songs found within into three categories.
1. Really good - Octavia, Strange Death In Paradise, Innerspace, Space Race, Solar Confinement, Back From the Edge.
2. Pretty Good - Meltdown, Headswitch, Inertia, Faith, Inside the Machine.
3. Not my cup of tea - Dreamstate, I Will Not Accept the Truth.
As you can see, IMO most of the songs are really good and are not to be disregarded so easily, in fact, I really only dislike two out of thirteen songs. There's a lot of really catchy songs and riffs to be found on here. Sure it has its flaws but the positives outweigh the negatives I think. This is actually my second favorite Bruce solo album, just behind Chemical Wedding. I appreciate and respect what Bruce was going for and I think he succeeded where others say he failed. Good job Bruce. For those who can handle music from a metal icon that isn't metal at all, then pick this up and enjoy all the good this album has to offer. You won't regret it.
I really enjoyed the last Bruck Dickinson solo album, Balls to Picasso. Not exactly metal, it still managed to impress with top notch riffs and Dickinson's always pleasing voice. Skunkworks keeps the latter attribute while atrophying considerably in the former. The guitar on this album seems noticably mild and mostly forgettable. Blame lies on both the songwriting and the production.
The lack of distinctive guitar riffs contributes significantly to the main problem facing this problem: the songs all sound regretfully similar. The album opens with one of the better songs in the slightly goofy Space Race. Up next is the first of the batch of terribly alike songs with Back from the Edge. As the paragon of these songs it provides a template for the rest. Unfortunately, when he strays from this sound, Bruce comes up with offal like Dreamstate and Headswitch. Or perhaps I am wrong and it just the near complete lack of captivating, mind-enchanting songs that allow each track to blend together.
Octavia sounds like a tribute to the grunge bands of a few years before, which is actually a good thing for this album. The album does end on a good note with Strange Death in Paradise. Thankfully, after this album Dickinson has purged himself of these musical vagaries and returns to his metal heritage.
Ok I will say this right off the bat. I really, really enjoy this album. It isn't the most metal record I have ever heard, but it still kicks ass. This is where Bruce experimented with his sound a lot, making it fit somewhere between Led Zeppelin and The Beatles, although really it doesn't even sound remotely like those two bands. I can't really explain what this album sounds like, because frankly, it doesn't sound like anything I have ever heard. This is a truly unique album. Most people don't like it because it is different. When someone sees or hears something different from what they expect, they immediately condemn it, thinking it is utter trash. That's basically what we have here. A different sounding Bruce solo album, which is instantly trashed and flammed for being, to put it lightly, a piece of shit. Well my friends, this album is a forgotten gem. All the songs, yes ALL the songs are top notch.
From Space Race to Strange Death In Paradise, every track presents something different and unique. Could it be that Bruce maybe wanted to get some personal feelings on certain things off his chest? Maybe, because some of the lyrics sound as if he is getting out his personal feelings on love, the universe, politics, and other such things.
The songs are catchy, displaying many different musical avenues. There are some rockers on here as well, such as Solar Confinement, Back From the Edge, and Headswitch. Dreamstate is a slow song, which displays a nice heavy chorus. Inside the Machine seems to be about seeing the inside of people, their real inner self.
All in all, this is a great album. It is different, but that is nothing to fear. Get this if you are a Bruce fan, or just want to try something different from Bruce.
Let me begin by saying, when I first heard this disc, I was not impressed. In fact, it probably took me about two or three YEARS before I liked it. In that time, maybe 20 listens, thinking, this is OK, but.... However, now I must say, it is my second favorite Bruce solo album, and certainly in my top 50 of all time metal albums. That’s right it is a metal album. Is it as heavy as Accident of Birth or Chemical Wedding? Of course not, but heavy does not equal greatness. Space Race opens the album and it has a great vibe. Catchy chorus and an original sound. Back From the Edge continues in a similar fashion. Inertia is next and here the album takes off. This song also has a catchy chorus and a great feel. Faith is just as heavy as your average Iron Maiden song, and it is just as good as well. Solar Confinement truly rocks. There are other very good songs here; in fact they are all very good.
The album continues, never really achieving complete greatness, but that’s OK. This album is very good, and the songs are all tight fast and succinct. I don’t think this album was capable of the popularity Bruce hoped for. However, it is a strong effort and a bit of a different sound from one of the legendary vocalists of heavy metal.
Is this album for the casual fan? Probably not. I would only recommend it only to hard-core Maiden/Dickinson fans, who appreciate Bruce’s voice and style, without being hung up on the question, is it heavy enough? I say it is.