Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Talkin' Eds - No Prayer for the Dying (1990)

The first and most obvious change to Maiden since Piece of Mind is the departure of an apparently disillusioned Adrian Smith, keen to go his own way and not happy with the developing retro sound of the band post-Seventh Son. In the intervening years the band has had something of a break and Bruce Dickinson has begun writing books and recording his first solo project, also contributing to a movie soundtrack (more on that next time). Janick Gers, brought on board by Dickinson after providing guitars for his solo album from the same year, Tattooed Millionaire, becomes Smith's replacement for the next four albums. Gers had previously played for Fish (of Marillion) as well as Gogmagog alongside Paul Di'Anno, so already his pedigree is very sound. Previously I referred to him as Dave Murray's understudy which is more than a little uncharitable, although I think the comparison bears scrutiny. Gers lies closer to Murray's technique than Smith's on the spectrum, although his style is different again - newer techniques like shredding are part of his arsenal, and I would suggest his influence lies in helping to modernise Maiden's guitar sound. His solos are competent, with a good sense of space and less flashy than Murray's for most of the time, although these would be accompanied by on-stage stunts like throwing his guitar over his shoulders a la Blackie Lawless from W.A.S.P and dancing while playing. As the last permanent addition to the band his presence by now is well established, and while his work on this album is sound and distinctive, some of his best stuff is yet to come.

The Album
Towards the end of the Eighties the trend of annual Maiden albums stretches to bi-annual. No Prayer arrived three years after Seventh Son, having taken in that album's tour plus a longer hiatus intended for the group to recharge their batteries. Their return reaps this album, a rougher, less intricate piece with fewer nods to fantasy and horror and the beginning of Maiden employing contemporary subjects and influences. Overall the songs' structures are less elaborate and shorter, with introductory guitar leads (Run Silent, Run Deep) which prefigure many of Maiden's tracks from subsequent albums. Balancing out the roughness of guitar and Dickinson's new-found gravelly voice is a heightened sense of mischief - Tailgunner, despite recalling the horrors of Dresden in its opening lines (and Hiroshima towards the end) is too lightweight lyrically to sit alongside the likes of Aces High or Where Eagles Dare ("Kill that Fokker nail that son/gonna blow your guts out with my gun"). As the curtainraiser for the album it seems a willful attempt to expunge the seriousness of those songs and their earnest subject matter. That the title was informed initially by a particular form of home video really drives it home. There's no let up either in the next song, the Quo-like Holy Smoke, which takes the oh-so-topical subjects of religious hypocrites Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Bakker et al to task from the viewpoint of a rather potty-mouthed Christ. Low hanging fruit, surely, but it must have been immensely satisfying for Harris and Dickinson to be given such licence from news media to lampoon their past tormentors and critics so ribaldly. The video sets the tone of both song and album - Maiden never were a band for videos (although recently have adopted the medium a little more - possibly to rely less on their own appearance in them?), and this one takes the biscuit - shot on Harris' farm it's all agricultural equipment, comedy vicars, lingeries ladies, mugging to camera and guitar breaks on a slowly trundling tractor. Glorious.

There's more low hanging fruit in Dave Murray's Public Enema Number One, this time aimed at the baby boomer set of the US and their selfish lifestyles couched in environmental lip-service. Yes, a hard pitch to throw and to be sure the topic meanders with it, as it does in Fates Warning. Accompanying a harder, faster guitar sound and simpler arrangements are 'church' organ sounds in place of something more synthesised (notably in the album's title track), and actual backing vocals. To me and coming from the G'n'R era of pop rock it marks a temporary adoption of a West Coast sound, perhaps; Maiden is no longer setting a style but following those of others, including younger bands (perhaps this is why the album was less well received by fans?) Adrian Smith's last contribution to the album, Hooks in You carries this off most convincingly, and is another favourite. It's stupid and misogynistic, but unable to be taken seriously, and teases with its mention of "keys to view at Number Twenty-two" to be another chapter in the story of Charlotte the Harlot. Myself, I think it's more straightforward in featuring the heroine's abandoned workplace and domecile up for rent, and that's all. We'll see what becomes of her in the next album anyway. After Hooks comes Dickinson's Bring Your Daughter… to the Slaughter, of which more will be said in a later post. Mother Russia closes the album, a plodding ponderous mess with a leaden chorus and awful lyrics.

Cover Art
This is Derek Riggs' last full-sleeve commission besides a revised version for the 1998 re-release. It's of poorer quality than previous efforts, coming across as alternately sketchy and perhaps rushed. Eddie, streaked green with rot and mould, bursts from his crypt to either thrust at a terrified gravedigger (1990) or out at the viewer (1998). It's possible that the looser style is deliberate, evoking an EC Comics/Tales from the Crypt vibe. In that way it fits the tone of the album well, but against what's been done before it's more than a little distracting. Certainly not Riggs' best cover, though not his least accomplished, and in album cover stakes we're still not at Maiden's worst just yet.

Notable is Eddie's appearance - essentially it's a reboot, with a return to the fright wig and hellfire eyes of the early albums. The parallels to the superior Live After Death are obvious, though in the gatefold illustration Eddie is back on those self-same London streets of albums one and two, ripping into another victim with Kruegerish hook-clawed hands. There's none of the earlier mischief to this Eddie - he's a vicious ghoul, and in his leather jacket and angry snarl it's hard not to read this look as a deliberate attempt to harden up the cartoon character as much as the music and vocals of the album also strive for.

Album tracks via YouTube

Tailgunner (official video)
Holy Smoke (official vdeo - YMMV)
No Prayer for the Dying (Live in Holland, 1991)
Public Enema Number One (live 1991?)
Fates Warning (album version)
The Assassin (live in Dortmund, 1990)
Run Silent, Run Deep (album track)
Hooks in You
Bring Your Daughter… to the Slaughter (stay tuned...)
Mother Russia (fan made video)

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