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A sign of a bygone time. - 68%

hells_unicorn, December 6th, 2018
Written based on this version: 1984, 12" vinyl, Nexus (Japan)

The spirit of youth could be likened to an uncompromising fire that would sooner burn the entire world to cinders than entertain the idea of selling out, and metal could be analogized as a massive propane line that continues to perpetuate the blaze. Nevertheless, various flames from this towering inferno having found themselves prematurely burned out (pun intended) and find themselves looking to cash in and find some peace and quiet before reaching the age of 30. Such was the disposition that former Iron Maiden front man Paul Di'Anno found himself in after parting ways with the band, much to the chagrin of many an early fan of said NWOBHM icons as it coincided with him breaking literally every tie with his own musical accomplishments in favor of what was arguably little more than a passing fad. If anything can be said in defense of the resulting head first foray into mid-80s AOR with no accounting for subtlety that was Di'Anno's eponymous debut, featuring a cast of competent yet no-name rock musicians behind him no less, is that it preempted similar yet arguably more competent breaks with NWOBHM's roots such as Saxon's Innocence Is No Excuse and Tygers Of Pan Tang's The Wreck-Age. But regardless how one justifies going from a masterwork of metallic genius like Killers to something more appropriate to then recent outings by the likes of Journey, Survivor and even Jefferson's Starship, Di'Anno is ultimately a collection of rock songs, and not a bad one to be honest.

Perhaps the greatest strike against any album that walks this much maligned path is that the formula is, for lack of a better description, contrived into oblivion. Even when measured against the more commercial ventures of the time out of Scorpions, this forgotten chapter of 1984's musical rejects boasts a method where predictability and hook-oriented fanfare hold a dictatorial reign over any peripheral elements that would otherwise make for a distinct listening experience. This is most apparent in the rhythm section's largely methodical, mid-paced rock orthodoxy that finds the album moving at a largely uniform tempo, steering clear of even the fast-paced mayhem of Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher" but also largely avoiding excessive balladry. To be fair, bassist Kevin Browne does occasionally throw in a distinctive fill here and there that breaks away from outright AC/DC territory, but this is music geared towards supporting a vocalist and occasionally featuring a few signature riffs and solos from the guitars, which is this album's best selling point. Though there are usually scant few spots for riff oriented majesty on here even by the standard of say, Journey's Frontiers, a few moments on the Love At First Sting homage "Bright Lights" and the bluesy coaster "Heartuser" sees a guitar performance that goes beyond simply banging on power chords until a shred-happy, 15 second guitar solo breaks up the monotony of expected cadence points and cliche lyrical devices.

As with any solo project, though what goes on in the background courtesy of what can be best described as hired guns may prove competent, the buck stops with the participant whose name adorns the band's title. Putting aside the utter disappointment that the author of this review would have shared with the masses had he been older than 4 at the time this album dropped, Di'Anno's vocal performance on here fares quite well for what it seeks out to accomplish. There is little in the way of ballsy growls and raspy goodness to match his iconic contributions to Maiden's first two opuses, but there is definitely a clear level of versatility at play here that occasionally reminisces on his amazing work on his former band's cover of "Women In Uniform" (which was superior to the original), combining a more nasally high range that is appropriate to a mid-80s arena rock romp with a deeper and more soulful croon that is most obviously on display on the aforementioned "Heartuser", yet also employed to charming effect on the semi-ballad nod to early 80s Rainbow "Lady Heartbreak" and the piano driven anthem "Tales Of The Unexpected". Putting aside the sappy lyrics which would even make the likes of Bryan Adams blush, even more straight-line radio fair songs like "Flaming Heart", "Road Rat" and the oddly happier yet obvious predecessor to Robert Tepper's "No Easy Way Out" in "The Runner" are good fun for anyone looking to take a respite from ending war and solving world hunger for some lighter material.

To the average passerby, regardless of whether coming to this album with an expectation of metal or not, this is a largely average, by the numbers, and completely time specific affair. Even for the shameless trustee of all things 80s AOR who tirelessly defends everything that Saxon put out between 1983 and 1990, this goes pretty heavy on the sappiness and simultaneously fails to really break out of the conventions of the day. By contrast, when one ventures into the 80s content of Scorpions and Deep Purple, or even the short-lived Alcatrazz, there is a greater degree of musicality and adventurism that is notably absent here. It comes off as more of a compilation of 80s hits with individual songs that stand reasonably well on their own, but present a collective disunity that makes listening to the entire album a bit of a chore for even the most hardened 80s fanboy. Iron Maiden enthusiasts who never heard of this album and are expecting more of what they love are naturally encouraged to either outright avoid this or temper their expectations before blowing a proverbial gasket over something that even Di'Anno himself disowned decades ago. It is not metal by any estimation, nor was it ever really intended to be anything approaching such, but by hard rock standards of the time and particularly among other ventures into said territory by NWOBHM alumni, it's far from the worst thing to ever rear it's head from the vat of 80s commercialism.