The live album that never was. Now it is! A tantalizing game of “what if?” became tangible reality as Maiden England finally got a proper live album release, almost 25 years later.
In retrospect, Iron Maiden should have released three double live albums in the 1980s: Beast Over Hammersmith (1982), Live After Death (1985), and Maiden England (1989). These days, there’s a live album for almost every tour, but those are rarely as good and exciting as these three classic era recordings. As it turned out, only Live After Death would see the light of day, but Maiden England did at least get a video release.
In an ideal world, this double live record would have been released in 1989 as a capper to Iron Maiden’s incredible 1980s period. Even if the band felt that the 1982 Hammersmith Odeon recording was a little too early for their first live album, the 1988 Birmingham NEC recording should have been given well-deserved attention as Maiden’s second live album, a perfect release to fill the gap of their first year off.
Almost 25 years later, we can pretend it happened, ’cause here it is: Maiden England ’88 as a proper live album release for the very first time!
Maiden did record their Donington Monsters Of Rock appearance in 1988, as evidenced by live versions of The Clairvoyant, The Prisoner, and Heaven Can Wait all being released later that year. If producer Martin Birch had recorded a few more 1988 shows and given all of this the Live After Death fix-up treatment, Maiden England would have been a perfect book-end to an unbelievably prolific decade.
How does the album sound? The band is on great form, but Birch’s production has always been lacking in depth and clarity, in this reviewer’s opinion, possibly a consequence of the project only being geared towards VHS. Birch should have been hired to record the 1988 Hammersmith or Wembley concerts in addition to Birmingham and let Bruce Dickinson do some studio fixes, and we would have had something every bit as grand as Live After Death before it.
For let’s face it, in the 1985-88 period the singer sounded very tired and strained in concert. His work prior to and after that era puts this into clear perspective. This is a negative about Maiden England, just like it is for the Live After Death video. Dickinson struggles with the high registers of songs like Hallowed Be Thy Name and The Number Of The Beast, but this could conceivably have been fixed in post-production.
Having said that, this remastering of Birch’s original mix is stellar! The songs have a much fatter low-end, there’s a little less clank in Steve Harris‘ bass guitar, and a little more clarity in the guitars of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Everything seems to be improved, so what has been going on?
Birch is credited with the mix for the songs previously released on video, while current producer Kevin Shirley is credited with mixing the encores that are included now for the first time – Run To The Hills, Running Free, and Sanctuary. And, a little more mysteriously, the album is “compiled and edited by Kevin Shirley”, which probably means that he has had a finger or two on the console through the remastering of this soundtrack…
The set itself is very different from the one that was recorded in 1984 and 1985, with rare gems such as The Prisoner, Still Life and Killers being performed alongside great newer material like Infinite Dreams and Wasted Years. By adjusting the set this way, the band makes sure that there is just a minimum of redundancy and overlap with Live After Death. Counting the newly reinstated encores, only 5 of the 18 songs appeared on the previous live record, some of which – The Number Of The Beast, Hallowed Be Thy Name and Iron Maiden – are pretty much inescapable.
But how does the album look?
This is, as you all know, Derek Riggs’ original artwork for Maiden England. Band and management decided to replace it in 2013 with the then current tour artwork, which made the slight title change necessary too. Not just that, but the new artwork is clearly inspired by the original The Trooper piece by Riggs, and that song is not on the album.
Hervé Monjeaud does a fine job, but it is very disappointing to have the vinyl gatefold open to reveal only the same illustration as the cover, in place of great photos from the awesome 1988 stage show. The picture discs are decorated with some more of Riggs’ Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son era masterworks, but the reproductions are awful, especially the “prophecy” Eddie that was inexplicably left off the Seventh Son picture disc release.
Well, fans are used to this occasional lack of quality control by now.
As a live companion to Maiden’s masterpiece Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, Maiden England ’88 does the job. Our earlier review of the 1988 studio album argues that Maiden ended their classic era with one of their best ever albums, and this live recording is very close to a perfect live document of the 1988 tour.
The “Man Of The Match” award goes to Nicko McBrain. His drumming throughout this concert is excellent, with a playful edge that reaches its climax with a great version of Running Free. Nicko is the engine of a band that has truly done it all by this point. Except outlasting everyone else, that would come later.
The 1980s were over. The 1990s were looming.
Maiden England is a great capper to an unbelievable decade of Maiden music. Now, it has finally taken its rightful place in the catalog. Rejoice!