Immediately following his departure from metal legends Iron Maiden, singer and jack of all trades Bruce Dickinson signed a new deal stateside to Mercury Records and went to work on his second solo effort. Notwithstanding some dreadful artwork, his Polygram debut, Balls to Picasso, is somewhat of a disappointment and, for the most part, an ill-conceived project. Eager to get away from the classic galloping we'll-march-to-the-war Maiden sound, the singer joins forces with a band by the name of Tribe of Gypsies. The band (which managed to generate quite a buzz on its own but alas never found a home for itself) features Roy Z, Dickinson's chief collaborator/songwriting partner for this album. Eddie jokes aside, if Dickinson wanted to get away from the classic Iron Maiden sound, he sure does a good job on this album. Unfortunately, the singer fails to come up with anything truly groundbreaking or even interesting here (save for the album closer, "Tears of a Dragon"). Balls to Picasso gets underway with the messy, seven-minute "Cyclops." Following it is "Hell No," which, again, makes a valid argument for the singer's newfound musical freedom and prerogative to shun a sound that he once helped create. Not only is "Hell No" not Maiden-ish at all, it gives way to the über-heavy, down-tuned rumblings of "Gods of War" -- which takes flight like some sort of ode to Pantera gone New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The end result? Nothing substantial. Maybe a good idea on paper but definitely lost somewhere along the way in the execution. Moving forward, "1000 Points of Light" is another faux pas. Nicking its main riff from, of all places, Living Colour's "Cult of Personality," the cut erupts into a bizarre Queensrÿche-meets-Prong chorus and bridge that leave one scratching his or her head. Only Dickinson's strong vocal delivery manages to salvage the song from being a complete disaster. Other cuts like "Laughing in the Hiding Bush" and the soft "Change of Heart" fare a little better. Bongos give way to the lyrically challenged "Shoot all the Clowns," which, stunningly, comes across like some sort of bad L.A. hair metal experiment meets "Welcome to the Jungle." "Fire," a strange stream-of-consciousness warble, gives way to a classic Maiden-type chorus. Just when you thought all was lost, surprise of all surprises, the album closes with the absolutely magnificent "Tears of a Dragon." Maybe it's the cut's familiar Iron Maiden aesthetic, or perhaps it's Dickinson's wonderful vocal delivery. Who really knows. But what is known is that it's by far the album's best song. Superficially, it threads typical Dickinson territory. However, upon closer inspection, it's obvious that with lyrics like "where I was, I had wings that couldn't fly," there's no love lost between the singer and his former bandmates. It's clear that the singer makes a clear open and shut case for his need to "release the wave and let it wash over me" as he sings about unburdening himself from the artistically stifling direction of his previous outfit. Looking back, the singer made very few new friends with this release and would go on to record far superior solo records like Accident of Birth and The Chemical Wedding. These last two records in particular would see the singer receive worldwide press accolades and a warm reception from some old-school Maiden fans. Again, deservedly and predictably, the album's closer, which musically veers into familiar Maiden territory, is probably what the singer's fans expected all along. Also worth noting, the musical direction of the aforementioned track would be later revisited six years down the road -- it would foreshadow a direction that the Dickinson-reunited Maiden would take on some of Brave New World's more introspective songs.
Balls to Picasso Review
by John Franck