Firstly I’m going to discuss the album itself, having left plenty of time since reviewing its predecessor, before I talk about the background.
Tailgunner is a good opening track, featuring some Bruce Dickinson lyrics about World War II aerial combat. The first single, Holy Smoke, follows, which is really catchy and deals with the popular late eighties/early nineties topic of corrupt televangelists. The title track follows, and manages to sound epic and dramatic, despite only being about four and a half minutes long. Public Enema Number One is the first of the Dave Murray tracks and is a really neatly structured song which builds into a great guitar solo. Bruce’s lyrics for this song are very grounded in reality, talking about politics, corruption, the environment and civil unrest. ‘California dreaming as the Earth dies screaming’ is a real stand-out quote. Fate’s Warning is another Dave Murray track and the lyrics see Steve waxing philosophical about fate. It’s probably the weakest track on side one, but has a nice middle eight and the guitar harmonies are really nice from Dave and Janick.
The Assassin begins side two. It’s a decent enough track on the album, although the chorus sounds a bit silly, but when I saw Maiden play it live the song really came into its own and sounded great. The bass is particularly nice on it. Run Silent, Run Deep is a Harris/Dickinson track about the part played by submarines in The Battle of the Atlantic. It’s an okay track but a bit Maiden-by-numbers. It has some nice key changes during the instrumental section and some nice guitar harmonies. Hooks In You was co-written by the now absent Adrian Smith with words by Bruce Dickinson. It is a very catchy and melodic track with lyrics about an ordinary married couple who have exotic tastes in the boudoir. It is very commercial for a Maiden song, but Adrian’s recent solo project had been more in this melodic rock vein. It’s not amazing but it’s a fun track. Bring Your Daughter… To The Slaughter follows. This was Iron Maiden’s only number one single. Bruce wrote it as a solo track for a Nightmare on Elm Street soundtrack but Steve heard it and wanted it for Iron Maiden. It’s another tongue in cheek song and quite fun. Maiden do a good version of it, but the original solo version has a much better production. Mother Russia is the final track and is another song that, despite being only five and a half minutes long, manages to sound like a huge epic. Steve wrote the song about Glasnost and Perestroika and the exciting but uncertain future facing the former Soviet Union at the start of the nineties. It is a really strong track to finish the album and has real depth of feeling to the lyrics: ‘Can you release the anger and grief? Can you be happy now your people are free?’ It’s not always about fantasy and escapism with Iron Maiden.
So that’s the album itself, and I’ve always been quite fond of it since I first saw Maiden live on this tour. But there are some problems with this era. This was the beginning of the downward slump in Maiden’s fortunes. Adrian Smith had left the band, having become dissatisfied with how the band played live. Mainly that everything was played hell for leather so that all the subtleties of the songs were lost. Janick Gers had joined from Bruce’s first solo band and he was very different to Adrian so that Dave seemed to play in a more melodic and structured style to be the counterpoint to Janick’s wild style of playing. From his solo album, Bruce had developed a rough vocal style which sometimes sounded a bit harsh on the new album and didn’t always suit the songs. No Prayer was also recorded in a barn owned by Steve Harris, using the Rolling Stones Mobile. This did not lead to a great sound and Bruce Dickinson has spoken about how dissatisfied he was with the sound of the album. This was also the last Iron Maiden album produced by Martin Birch, who had produced every album apart from their debut in 1980. So at this point, the indestructible heavy metal legends were beginning to show chinks in their armour. It would be unfair to compare this album to Seventh Son as it is clearly not even close. The band was undergoing a period of extensive change and this was a very different kind of album. It brought the band a number one single but it is widely regarded as one of the creative low points in their body of work.