Iron Maiden

Somewhere in Time

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The weakest album from Iron Maiden's classic ‘80s period, Somewhere in Time is really the first true disappointment in their catalog, too often collapsing under the weight of their now-trademark ambition. Though it sold well on the heels of the hugely successful Powerslave tour, and is often regarded as underrated by Maiden devotees, it clearly finds the band struggling to refresh what was rapidly hardening into formula. Trying to keep up with the times, Maiden incorporate synthesizers here, much as Judas Priest attempted to do on the same year's sterilized-sounding creative flop Turbo; the main difference here is that Maiden pull it off much more effectively. Yes, the production does have more of that typically ‘80s studio sheen, but Maiden makes the new instrumentation serve their existing sound, rather than trying to hop on contemporary trends. (And really, why make the sound more commercial when you're already amassing a small fortune from merchandising?) Their ferocity hasn't gone anywhere either, as this ends up their fastest album (on average) since The Number of the Beast. The real problem here is that the material is less inspired; too often Somewhere in Time feels like epic-Maiden-by-numbers, as fewer of the extended pieces truly catch hold. The first half of the album actually works very well -- "Caught Somewhere in Time" is an effective opener, introducing the newly futuristic flavor in the band's sound while offering a thematic parallel about time travel. Adrian Smith really comes into his own as a writer here, penning both of the album's singles ("Wasted Years," the undisputed highlight here, and "Stranger in a Strange Land," surprisingly not based on Robert A. Heinlein's sci-fi classic), plus the nicely metallic "Sea of Madness." Though it perhaps could have been trimmed a bit, "Heaven Can Wait" remained a concert singalong staple for years to come. But then the misfires take over. "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" is far and away the least suitable subject for an extended epic that the band has ever undertaken, and the music itself offers little catharsis. Despite the wailing chorus, "Déjà Vu" never quite gels, feeling a bit underdeveloped musically. The now-expected prog-metal album closer this time is "Alexander the Great," and this part of the Maiden formula here verges on self-parody. Steve Harris' lyrics largely stick to a recitation of facts, names, and places that add little drama to the music, and Dickinson is stuck belting out a lazy, totally on-the-nose chorus ("Aaaaaaalexander the Greaaaaaat!"). Somewhere in Time will appeal more to the metal diehard who's already suspicious of too much overt melody; there's plenty of progressive complexity here to impress that type of listener. For the rest of us, even though fully half of the album is still excellent, Somewhere in Time is the first Maiden record that's less than godlike.

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