Balls to Picasso (Mercury)
by Joe Hacking
Although he’s been solo for a while now, Bruce Dickinson will forever be the ex-lead singer of Iron Maiden. Maiden’s impact upon the industry and the lives of their fans (yours truly included) was just too immense to fade into the background. When a Maiden fan approaches Dickinson’s new album, Balls to Picasso (Mercury), the spectre of Iron Maiden lingers in the back of the mind.
Listening to the disc confirms the expectations. Dickinson’s band sounds like an echo of Maiden (without Steve Harris, how could they be otherwise?), and yet they are a strong quartet, sporting compositions that are both catchy and clever. Roy Z’s guitar totters between metal and grunge, Eddie Casillas throbs along on bass, and Dave Ingraham and Doug Van Booven provide a wall of strong percussion to the sound. Dickinson is no longer the air raid siren he once was. Rather, he’s keeping his vocals within the range of human hearing, pulling more low-end power out of his voice than in the past.
Balls to Picasso also marks a change in Dickinson’s lyrical mindset. The elemental forces and mythological warriors are still there on the lyric sheet, but now they’re seen in the light of the real world. “When I was younger I thought/That to kill or be killed/Was a thing to be proud of…” sings Dickinson in “Gods of War.” Dickinson searches through the warriors and heroes of today and finds there are none. “Where is our John Wayne/Where’s our Sacred Cowboys now?” he sings.
Dickinson gives forth the work of a mature veteran of metal’s glorious past on Balls to Picasso. While the sound has been formulated to suggest it, this is no Maiden album. This is nostalgia rooted in the present, a surprising piece of work by one of the heavy metal gods himself.