Review Summary: With the few good tracks suffocated by appaling vocals and production, there is very little on here worht hearing.
The 90s were not kind to Maiden. They released 4 studio albums, all of which spectacularly failed to live up to the standards set by their prior output. The replacement for Bruce, Blaze Bayley, was probably in fear for his life, let alone the dark, the chagrin he recieved for his efforts. However, the rot had set in long before Bayley reared his head. In was in fact Adrian Smiths departures from his guitar duties that catalysed the bands fall, and it is in this album, the second and most listenable of that decade, that the proof is concrete.
For a start, Bruces vocals almost throughout make the album unlistenable. From his attempt at growling menacingly in Be Quick or Be Dead, a pathetic and poor attempt to match the emerging grunge crowd, to his old man strains in Afraid to Shoot Strangers, strangulating what so desperately wants to be a good song as effectively as he has his voice. The only real moments where his vocals are passable are Judas My Guide, where he decides to sing for parts of it, and Childhoods End, where he fails to wreck the song entirely.
But Bruce is not the only member failing here. The guitar interplay which so dazzled throughout even the weaker moments of Maidens output till the 90s, is practically gone in any meaningful sense. No, Janeck Gers in not a bad guitarist, and as his recent work with the band proves, they couldn't really have found a better replacement for Smith. However, it took Murray and Smith over 9 years (they played together as kids) to build the telepathic understanding they had for each other by Sevent Son, and it can't simply be replaced. As such, mid sections in songs such as Afraid to Shoot Strangers and even at this point the title track, lack the vitality and eagerness of most of the guitar moments produced by this band.
Harris too, seems to have relapsed. His songs just don't work. Wasted Love could be so epic, but aside from the terrible production that stifles the whole album, it just doesn't work. The chord stabs at the end each chorus line, don't emphasize anything, they rob the track of continuity. Elsewhere, From Here to Eternity is just silly and cliched, The Fugitive is boring and Weekend Warrior is by far the worst song ever put forward by Maiden for my money with its depressingly bad melodies and beyond terrible lyrics (its as if they're trying to make the soundtrack to Danny Zucko: The Later Years).
Furthermore, he seems to have completely edited himself out of the mix. Despite being so prevalent on almost everything else by Maiden, the only time the bass makes an appearance is when there are only lead guitars playing. Everything else suffers from poor poduction too. The powerful guitar lines in Afraid to Shoot Strangers (once Bruce stops 'singing') could have been so huge, but despite still being good, sound tight and compressed. So too do the guitar lines in the title track (listen to the live version and then the album version to see what I mean), and when not making the guitars and drums devoid of power, the production makes them sound fake and poppy (The Apparition, Chains of Misery, Wasted Love). The drums are poorly miked too.
It is not however, all bad. There are some good songs on here, most notably Childhoods End and Judas Be My Guide. The former is a genuinely affecting song detailing the loss of innocence in thrid world countries due to their harsh realities, and its guitar refrains seem more heartfelt than much more on this album. The latter however is a straight out rocker, which defies the small production to still sound epic. The fact that Bruce has decided to sing and even add some interesting harmonies helps too.
The title track also, as we all know, is one of the best songs Maiden has released. Its inventive and soaring duals between Gers and Murray lift the soul, and the chorus is a real fist pumper. Not on the album though. No, Bruce's shoddy vocals and terrible production have seen to that. The Rock in Rio version is amazing, epic and full. But thats not the one on display here.
And unfortunately, thats what you're paying for. So, here's my advice. If the title track makes you want to buy this, get Rock in Rio. If you want to hear what it sounds like, be my guest, but be warned. This is Maiden at their best during their very worst, and it aint that great. Safer to download the good tracks, and forget the 90's ever happened.