As the singer in one of the world’s biggest bands, Bruce Dickinson didn’t technically need to start a solo career. Thankfully, he did anyway. With the prospect of the Iron Maiden frontman’s first solo album in 17 years – The Mandrake Project – looming over the horizon, it is time to reassess his previous efforts, and then put them in the correct order. We’re helpful like that.
6. Tattooed Millionaire (1990)
Written in collaboration with future Maiden guitarist Janick Gers, Bruce’s first solo album was a mixed bag. Clearly obliged to do something different from his day job, he opted for a more straightforward, hard rock approach. The results were a strange blend of the sublime and the extremely silly. Epic rockers Son Of A Gun and No Lies were the album’s highly effective book-ends. The title track was a self-aware hair metal banger. Born In ’58 was genuinely lovely. Unfortunately, Dive! Dive! Dive! and Lickin’ The Gun offered little beyond cringeworthy smut and the less said about Zulu Lulu the better. Room for improvement, then.
5. Skunkworks (1996)
We can be thankful that the Internet wasn’t a thing when Skunkworks was released. Although critically praised, Bruce’s purposeful stride into alternative rock territory was never going to down particularly well with the Maiden hardcore. With hindsight, any objections to this change of direction were a bit silly. Backed by a young and fiery new band, Bruce sounded liberated and newly enthused, while produced Jack Endino gave the whole thing a gritty, contemporary edge. At its best, on singles Back From The Edge and Inside The Machine, Skunkworks amounts to a highly credible response to the dominance of grunge in the rock mainstream.
4. Balls To Picasso (1994)
On his second solo album, Bruce teamed up with LA-based guitarist and producer Roy Z. for the first time. The results were smarter, snappier and cooler than anything on Tattooed Millionaire, with Z.’s band Tribe Of Gypsies fleshing out a diverse array of hard rock and metal tunes. The opening Cyclops was a slick nod to modernity, with a huge Dickinson vocal. Laughing In The Hiding Bush (Bruce’s original choice of title for the album) was a muscular, alt-tinged rocker. Hell No and Shoot All The Clowns were lithe, groovy anthems, and Fire was a bluesy, Dio-like strut that allowed Bruce to really let rip. Meanwhile, the closing Tears Of The Dragon remains an undeniable high point in his catalogue. It’s still an epic, gorgeous thing.
3. Tyranny Of Souls (2005)
Bruce’s sixth solo album arrived in the midst of Iron Maiden’s unstoppable 21st century comeback, but the singer’s focus was as sharp as ever. Songs like alien-saluting opener Abduction and thunderous melodrama River Of No Return confirmed that this was no radical departure into jazz-funk, while the likes of Soul Intruders and Power Of The Sun kicked hard enough to mitigate strange detours into acoustic prog (Navigate The Seas Of The Sun) and corny boogie rock (Devil On A Hog). The closing title track is the heaviest and most epic of the lot, and another fine example of the magic that happens when Bruce lets his imagination run wild.
2. Accident Of Birth (1997)
Two years away from returning to the Maiden fold, Bruce Dickinson made what now looks like the wisest creative move of his career. His previous three solo records had all tinkered with music beyond traditional metal, but Accident Of Birth was a wholehearted return to the kind of epic, melodic and bombastic music that his voice was plainly made for. Working with Roy Z. once again, and with a certain Adrian Smith adding to the guitar barrage, Bruce was back in his natural habitat, and with the strongest songs of his solo career to date. From the pummelling rush of opener Freak and the absurdly catchy Road To Hell, to sprawling, prog-tinged indulgences Darkside Of Aquarius and Omega, Accident Of Birth was exactly what most people wanted from the great man.
1. The Chemical Wedding (1998)
Let’s not fuck about. The Chemical Wedding is a stone cold classic. Released in 1998, Bruce’s fifth solo album took the traditional metal masterplan behind Accident Of Birth and turned it into something bigger, heavier and more righteously thunderous than anyone could have predicted. Tuning down their guitars for maximum oomph, Roy Z. and Adrian Smith served up a masterclass in riffs and solos, while Bruce sang his merry nuts off like never before. Thanks to sumptuous, heavyweight songs like King In Crimson, The Tower, Trumpets Of Jericho and the title track, this is simply one of the finest metal records of the ‘90s. Peak Bruce.