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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Bruce Dickinson

Balls to Picasso

Review by Lisa Palmeno

Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden fame released Balls to Picasso in 1994. The front man whose powerful and highly-developed voice provided the inspiration for legions of heavy metal followers proves himself again and again on this massive work. From start to finish, the rocker pushes the envelope on style, form, and genre. Dickinson blasts protests about politics and expounds on the effects of sin on the human condition while seasoning the metal stew with rap, alternative, and other “stuff.”

A double dip of tasty treats, this Balls to Picasso is a full-length CD of originals accompanied by a second CD with 16 bonus tracks. Described as a “Tribe of Gypsies” in the liner notes, “the Bruce”’s band are skilled veterans. “Tribe” members are: Roy Z (all guitars); Eddie Casillas (bass); Dave Ingraham (drums); Doug Van Booven (percussion). Roy Z co-wrote nine of the 10 songs, and Casillas shares the triple bill on “Fire.” Someone by the name of A. Dickinson appears on the credits with Z and Bruce on “Laughing in the Hiding Bush,” indicating a musical relative to the singer.

Lyrics are included for fans who want to test their pipes on these hearty ditties, and the sleeve offers plenty of hot photos of the European rock god himself. Described on the cover sticker as a “Solo collection, deluxe re-mastered editions expanded with rare demos, B-sides & live tracks,” the CD is no doubt a staple in the collections of metal maniacs and al-ter-native dudes.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Cyclops
The CD opens with a demonic voice in the background and carefully-placed chimes. The nightmare of “sleazes” living in the limelight to overcome broken and busted childhood traumas is fully realized in this haunting depiction. The song is perfect for a horror flick as Dickinson’s open-throated, operatic vocals taunt the subjects in question.
Hell No
“Hell No” offers a steady hard rock beat, shimmering metal riffs, self-searching lyrics, and plenty of angst.
Gods of War
This song reveals the importance of Dickinson’s work with Iron Maiden and the key to their success with audiences. His commanding voice enlightens and entrances the listener as he explains the effects of the seduction tactics of warmongers. The lyrics send out a powerful message.
1000 Points of Light
Dickinson stays on the soapbox in this commentary on stolen freedom, wasted youth, and lies fed to the American public. Hard-edged guitars juxtaposed with melodic verses and repetitious alternative assertions establish a ‘90s slant.
Laughing in the Hiding Bush
Evil and macabre tones dominate this piece about hatred bred in children who “spend their lives getting ready for the kill.”
Change of Heart
Bongos are featured on this slow and woeful ballad. Pretty guitar work and a Latin back beat impart color to the tune. This is a highlight of the album.
Shoot All The Clowns
A tale of insanity and “killer clowns,” the song starts out and ends with harmonizing vocals from the band, harmonies that are reminiscent of 1960s psychedelia. Parts of the song, especially the verse with “Welcome to the circus,” sounds very much like Guns and Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.” Rap in the middle fuses various genres of music in one track.
Fire
Serious and masculine, “Fire” talks about the terrible mistakes a man can make when climbing to the top and stepping on everyone on the way up. “Money won’t pay for the trouble you caused, Troubles coming back for more” discusses actions that lead to the eventual trap: Fire. This is another highlight of the album: The band seems to do well with writing the slow, dramatic ones.
Sacred Cowboys
Urban poetry comes to life in this rap/metal crossover. Dickinson and his cohorts weld metal’s barroom fighting pipes to the bullets brandished by boys from the hood. It’s the absolute best piece on the CD.
Tears
“Tears” is a great finale for Balls to Picasso. Acoustic guitar opens the tune, and the band gets back to a slow, melodic ballad. I usually don’t give more than three “highlights” or “features” on a CD, but this one warrants it. “Tears of the Dragon” is a definite highlight.
Disc 2
Fire Child
The bonus tracks start out with this great blues-based tune. The tough ballad is filled with plenty of cool changes, breaks and bridges. It’s a very well-written piece enhanced by echoing voices. There seems to be a bit of influence from Ronnie James Dio here.
Elvis Has Left the Building
This is an alternative/metal pick that starts out with a speaker announcing the same lyrics repeatedly (“Elvis has left the building”) through a train station type of microphone There is no actual singing: The strength of the composition lies in the rolling, climbing guitar parts.
The Breeding House
The band revisits the traditional 1980s format with a consistent driving beat, ultra-sharp strings, and horror story lyrics about evil sinners and death.
No Way Out...To Be Continued
An echoing narrator “welcomes” the listener in Alice Cooper fashion accompanied by just one humming guitar chord with a heavy down stroke. The drums and bass announce their arrival with attitude, kicking off a tough, hard rock drama.
Tears of the Dragon
This is a four-minute version of the six-minute ballad from the first CD, but all acoustic and completely resplendent.
Winds of Change
Dickinson’s voice shines brilliantly on this hopeful and simple confession of love.
Spirit of Joy
In a much different vein than the rest of the collection, “Spirit of Joy” is a straight up rock tune with many influences: blues in flavor, metal in the middle, 1970s hard rock in foundation, and gospel in tone. It’s a great Sunday morning choice.
Over and Out
Synthesized sound effects introduce funk and then full-open metal and then back to something that sounds like Robert Palmer backed by the Pointer Sisters followed by some hippie music. This song has a lot going on in it. The composition continues to swerve and twist in different directions, adding a variety of sounds and styles.
Shoot All the Clowns (12” extended remix)
The extended remix is exactly that: A longer version of the first recording on CD 1, but with a much funkier bass line.
Laughing in the Hiding Bush (Live)
The live version has a ton more energy than the studio version, and the sound crew did such a good job recording that nothing is lost in the translation.
The Post Alternative Seattle Fall Out (live)
The announcer returns, talking in the background when a little jazzy intro switches to a Bowie-style piece documented by a heavy funk groove. Alternative in behavior, the destination of the writing is never clear. Just when the Tribe get into a certain groove, they change gears. This one is quite an exploration in genre crossing-dressings.
Shoot All the Clowns (remix)
This is another nice remix of the aforementioned song.
Tibet
World music and guitar rock are squeezed together in a techno production.
Tears of the Dragon (First Bit, Long Bit, Last Bit)
The guitar makes waves and dazzling chimes ring in this version of the earlier ballad. Harmonizing vocals and sweet guitar make this a beautiful tune. A little thick on the techno midway through the song, it gets around to tracks that are reminiscent of some Pat Benatar albums. The genre slipping and sliding is evident here but not as thoroughly worked over as “The Post Alternative Seattle Fall.” An old English flute (possibly a manufactured sound, but fitting) ending works well.
Cadillac Gas Mask
The next bump in the road takes the band back to “Spirit of Joy” and parts of “Over and Out” with some strangely familiar 1970s backup singing and really relaxed downbeats. The bongos are a feature of the simple rock tune. 
No Way Out...Continued
A marching beat and a long-reaching guitar solo are backed by more techno and synthesizer parts. An eerie atmosphere develops as the storyteller bemoans that he is being “torn apart” and that there’s “no way out of here.” The song fades out indicating the loss of hope on the part of the trapped victim.
 
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