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One of Maiden’s more widely panned albums, No Prayer for the Dying presented a stylistic alteration that tested the loyalty of their fan base. The atmospheric and synthesized elements of the previous two albums were gone and the songwriting had returned to a simpler form, often compared to the sound of the band’s early work with Paul Di’anno. Surely Iron Maiden didn’t need a slew of complex, progressive arrangements to write killer songs, did they? Unfortunately, the answer appears to be yes. While the resulting album isn’t nearly as bad as it is notorious for, it’s certainly Iron Maiden at their least ambitious and NPftD is one of their weakest albums overall.
The songwriting is definitely simpler than it has ever been. Only one song breaks the five minute mark (Mother Russia), the song structures tend to adhere to a generic verse-chorus formula, and the focus is on catchiness of riffs and vocal melodies rather than on atmosphere or lyrical content. Everything sounds much less like heavy metal and much more like 80’s hard rock, making the album sound quite similar to Bruce Dickinson’s early solo work than any Maiden release (perhaps due to Janick Gers, a far inferior player and writer to Adrian Smith). Even so, there are some good songs here, which is the reason my rating is so generous. There are some solid rockers on here, such as “Tailgunner” and “Holy Smoke,” that while adding nothing particularly new, still carry with them an admirable sense of fun. This is not an album to really take seriously lyrically, as much of it is either typical of hard rock or just somewhat lighthearted. This is true especially when compared to the last few Maiden albums. The songs that absolutely make this release are “Hooks in You” and the title track. The former is pretty much the catchiest song the band has ever released to date (and a personal favorite among their more straightforward tracks) while the latter is a very mellow half-ballad, mixing expressive clean tones with heavier riffing towards the end. The rest of the songs range from mediocre subject attempts to poor filler and are otherwise forgettable.
One of the reasons the songwriting here suffers is the band’s playing, not just their arranging or writing. Bruce’s voice is a lot raspier and generally sucks through much of the album. This is also the only Maiden album where the lead work actually fails to impress me. Not a single solo stands out here, with many of them sounding sloppy and rushed and others are out of place entirely. Steve Harris actually sounds pretty good here. His bass lines come through nicely without overpowering and they’re usually well thought out. Unfortunately, no one else seems to make the effort, leaving the album feeling weak and incomplete.
Despite all these problems, the few good songs and some otherwise nice riffing makes this worthwhile at the end of the day. But fans of Iron Maiden be warned: this may not earn the same respect of you. With the good songs come the bad and it’s still the weakest Iron Maiden with Bruce Dickinson as vocalist (the Bailey ones are worse). I still recommend giving it a shot, but I can’t promise much.