After a couple tours with questionable openers, Iron Maiden finally gives us a reason to show up early for their latest North American trek–with support from shock-rocker extraordinaire Alice Cooper. In some regards, it’s a little odd having Alice open the show as his commercial peak came a decade before the headliner’s, but, much like Judas Priest bringing a reconstituted Thin Lizzy on tour last winter, I suppose this is a case of honouring your elders, or something like that. After all, I’m not sure that Alice Cooper sells out stadiums on his lonesome anymore…
Though they achieved their fame in different decades, Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper both shared the spotlight in the late 80′s. In April of ’88, Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son topped the British charts, while the following year, Alice’s Trash made it all the way up to Number Two during the summer of Gloria Estefan. While both albums were commercially successful, spawning eight(!) music videos between them, each could be considered a departure from the artist’s classic sound. Here’s how they stack up:
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
Maiden’s 1988 release topped the charts in the UK—their first album to do so since The Number of the Beast—and just narrowly missed the Top 10 in the US and Canada. Spurred by four singles (and their accompanying music videos) that all cracked the UK Top 10, Seventh Son was nevertheless a bit of a departure for the band at the time, though it introduced some of the more progressive elements that have become prevalent in their later work. Speaking of departures, guitarist Adrian Smith would leave Maiden after this record—though his eventual return in 2000 would usher in the three-guitar lineup we now know and love (except for Janick Gers).
“Moonchild” doesn’t exactly open the album with a bang, as the first thing we hear is Bruce singing over some strummed acoustic chords—and the next is a simplistic synthesizer pattern. But then the riffs start pounding, and things pick up speed, this one just about as aggressive, even if it’s not as memorable, as some of their earlier work. “Infinite Dreams” comes next, the fourth single from this record. This one is a little softer by Maiden standards—it’s certainly not unusual for Maiden to stick a slower song second on a record (see “Children of the Damned,” “Revelations”) but this one just doesn’t have the “oomph” of its predecessors, for lack of a better term.
If Seventh Son is remembered fondly, it’s best remembered for “Can I Play With Madness,” its first, and most successful, single. The only song shy of four (nearly four-and-a-half at that) minutes on this one, it’s known for its clean, jangly riffs, pulsating bassline—but mostly its soaring, uplifting chorus that’s induced many concert sing-a-longs throughout the years. Likewise, “The Evil That Men Do” has become somewhat of a concert staple, another song that begins with synths and some clean, high-register riffing. This song drives along with a sense of desperation, Dickinson tuning down the high-pitched sirens in the verses for a more emotive performance, which makes the extended pre-chorus pack even more of a punch—to say nothing of another chorus that’s simply out of the range of most mere mortals.
Up to this point, Maiden had usually saved the lengthy epics for last, and thus, sticking the nearly 10-minute title track smack dab in the middle was a bit of an oddity. It begins on a faux-operatic note, someone selecting the “chamber choir” option on the synth settings, I’m sure. The song rumbles and chugs along, not unlike “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”—albeit with much, much more keyboards. The chorus simply repeats the song title several times, before Bruce breaks into an Udo Dirkschneider-esque “Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh” (I think I got all of them). Samuel Coleridge, this is not.
Though this was meant to be a concept album, it just sorta ended up being “about good and evil, heaven and hell, but isn’t every Iron Maiden record?” as Dickinson would later ponder in Kerrang. On that note, both “The Prophecy” and “The Clairvoyant” sound like they could be chapter titles to a fantasy novel or something. The former is chuggy, gallopy—basically it sounds like a Maiden tune, with Bruce doing a double-tracked duet with himself to (kinda) cut through the monotony. The latter, which would become the album’s third single, is a little more upbeat, those bright, sparkly riffs cutting through the mix and a chorus pondering the futility of man’s existence—whoa, that’s pretty deep. I’d be lying if I said I was dying to hear this one tomorrow night, though.
“Only the Good Die Young,” fittingly enough, ends a sparkly, synth-filled album on a synth-heavy note. But hey, at least it’s not a Billy Joel cover. In any case, this is certainly the beginning of Progressive Maiden, which depending on who you ask, either is or is not a good thing. But hey, if they keep on touring, they can play the noodly prog stuff to their hearts’ content—just as long as they don’t forget to play the hits.
If Iron Maiden went prog in ’88, Alice Cooper went pop in ’89. After a decade’s worth of albums that barely dented the charts, Coop ended the 80’s in style with this Desmond Child-produced pop-metal album that yielded four hit singles (and their accompanying music videos), most notably “Poison,” Alice’s first Top 10 hit since ’77—and arguably his catchiest song since “School’s Out.” The album barely cracked the Top 20 in the US and Canada—something he hadn’t accomplished Stateside since Welcome to My Nightmare, mind you—but went all the way to Number Two in the UK, kept from the top spot by Gloria Estefan’s Greatest Hits. Sad but true…
Alice wastes no time on this one, leading off with “Poison” and its guitar riffs that scream Def Leppard—as do the group vocals on the chorus. Alice does add his trademark sneer to the verses, interspersed with a single drum-hit. This single was co-written by Child, famous for his work with Aerosmith and Bon Jovi—although he never actually worked with Def Lep, he certainly knew a thing or two about big hair-metal hooks. “Spark in the Dark,” meanwhile, sounds a little like Corey Hart—he who’d wear his sunglasses for such an occasion, I’m sure.
“House of Fire” would be the third single, though it barely cracked the Mainstream Rock Top 40, what with its big 80’s drum sound, simple, straight-forward bluesy rock riffs and a big, dumb, arena-rock chorus. If this one sounds a little like a Joan Jett tune, well, she actually got a co-writing credit, so there ya go. “Why Trust You” is a synth-rocker—not in the proggy Maiden sense—but in the whole 80’s new-wavey vein. This one at least has some of the venom not heard on here since “Poison”—the outside songwriters stripping away a lot of the quirky carnival qualities that had been a staple of Cooper’s early success.
As opposed to the eerie piano ballads that marked Cooper’s work with Bob Ezrin, “Only My Heart Talkin’” is a slickly-produced 80’s-style ballad—this doesn’t sound like something Alice should be singing at all. Yet it still went all the way up to 19 on the “Mainstream Rock Chart”—which shows just how much Billboard loved ballads back in ’89, I guess. It’s worth noting that Steven Tyler, Jon Bon Jovi, Michael Anthony and Stiv Bators(!?) lend their (backing) vocals to the chorus—you can clearly hear a couple of Tyler’s trademarks “Gah-gah-gah-gah-gows” as the song fades out. “Bed of Nails” also charted at Number 20, the creepy intro kinda sounds like Vincent Price—though I’m pretty sure that’s just Alice (and his heart) talkin’. Though it oozes 80’s hairspray and sleeze, it actually sounds like Alice’s idea of a love-song—as opposed to its predecessor.
The rest of the album alternates between cheesy love-songs and what I suppose passes for “down-and-dirty,” including the title track. “This Maniacs’ (sic) in Love with You” is gag-inducing, a really bad piece of 80’s pop that could’ve been written for Michael San Bello (or whatever his name is). Everything wrong with 80’s music can be found here, synth horns, rapping, soulless female backing vocals, you name it. You almost wanna take a shower after hearing it to get rid of the ickiness. The title track sounds like solid gold afterwards, Alice oozing sleeze and sex over what passes for (overproduced) 80’s blues rock. His call-and-response with (what sounds like) Tyler at the end is pretty lame, though.
“Hell is Living Without You” opens with a synthesizer flourish—another late 80’s power ballad, you betcha. The chorus is sort of a reprise of “Poison,” minus the clever wordplay, and that’s about its only redeeming quality. The intro to “I’m Your Gun” is cheesy as hell, but the verses have drive and a couple decent double-entendres. I’m not even sure what’s up with that pre-chorus, though. It’s like they actually tried to make Alice sound like a snake, or something. Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple decent tunes here, but this album has not aged well at all. Another forgettable late-80’s rock record, the kind that we can’t blame grunge for killing in retrospect.
THE VERDICT: Though it wasn’t their finest hour, Maiden still has enough faith in Seventh Son to take it back out on the road after all these years. On the other hand, I’m sure that 64-year-old Alice would be too embarrassed by most of this Trash—not to mention that it would come off as awfully creepy on stage (and not in a good way). Gotta go with the one that (sorta) stands the test of time… Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.
And in a five-round decision, your winner, by a score of 3-2, IRON MAIDEN! I guess that’s why they’re the ones headlining this shindig, eh?