Eight years after the colossal Live After Death, Iron Maiden have another four studio albums to plunder for their setlist. And so they decide it is time for another live album. Here is a retro review of Maiden’s controversial second concert record.
A Real Live One
Produced by Steve Harris
Released 22 March 1993
A Real Live One was released under the most depressing circumstances of any Maiden album in history, in the immediate aftermath of Bruce Dickinson announcing his departure from the band. Maiden had been through a year of European success and American failure in 1992 with the Fear Of The Dark album and tour, and would face emotional torture in 1993 as the tour resumed and turned into a painfully drawn-out Dickinson farewell. Here is our in-depth Iron Maiden story of making Fear Of The Dark and losing Bruce Dickinson:
Steve Harris ultimately decided not to retire the band, soldiered on through the Real Live Tour, and started looking for a new singer. On top of this, against the advice of manager Rod Smallwood, Harris had also decided to take on the responsibility of being the Iron Maiden record producer.
Longtime producer and living legend Martin Birch had been working exclusively with Maiden for many years, but finally decided to retire altogether. Rather than getting a new (and presumably costly) top producer to do the work on Maiden’s new live recordings, Harris sat himself in the producer’s chair. The outcome is clear as soon as opener Be Quick Or Be Dead lashes out: Harris favors a production, or lack thereof, that renders No Prayer For The Dying (1990) positively overproduced.
It’s thin, it’s dry, and it’s not pleasant on the ears at all. Harris’ idea seems to be that overexposing the high energy of Maiden’s early 90s live performances will excite the audience, and so he ignores the fact that live albums are meant to be listened to, and relistened to. Even for a die-hard fan it’s hard work to revisit this record.
Maiden also decide to split the album in two, with A Real Live One exclusively containing songs from the post-Live After Death era and the earlier material set aside for A Real Dead One later in the year. Which means that this record does not reflect the actual set as performed on the Fear Of The Dark tour. It’s also recorded in many different cities throughout the tour, giving disc-space to more fans but denying the listener any chance to really get into a concert vibe.
At the time Harris would explain the decision to split the album by saying that older fans might not want to buy the older material again. But it’s just as probable that Maiden and managment thought it was a good idea to get fans to pay for two records instead of one double album. There really is a lot to be unhappy about with the 1993 Maiden live albums…
Is there any consolation here at all?
Yes, kind of. Discounting the production issues, there are some tracks that stand out, mostly due to the energetic performances: Tailgunner, The Evil That Men Do, Afraid To Shoot Strangers, The Clairvoyant and obviously Fear Of The Dark. It’s certainly performed with passion, even if the production isn’t able to capture and communicate this very well. Both Dickinson and drummer Nicko McBrain are on top form, but Harris seems intent on sabotaging their efforts by coating them in crappy sound.
Derek Riggs is back after being dropped for the Fear Of The Dark artwork, but what he provides this time is just an uninspired run-of-the-mill version of the mythical character he painted through space and time in the 1980s. The album cover and the Fear Of The Dark single artwork match the uninspired production perfectly:
As soon as Birch left the console a sonic consequence of Adrian Smith’s departure in 1990 also became painfully evident. Both Dave Murray and Janick Gers play the Strat, and without the balancing tones of Smith’s contrasting axes (often the Les Paul) the Maiden guitar sound is reduced to a decidedly flat landscape. The less sophisticated guitar playing that Gers provides is not being done any favors by the Harris production.
And the less said about the drum sound, the better.
Harris’ garage aesthetic is certainly unforgiving when it comes to bum notes or other mistakes, so the album is clearly more live than Live After Death, but the brittle production and the absence of Smith’s groovy and melodic guitar stylings, as well as his backing vocals, makes this a less-than-mediocre effort.
After all, it’s the focus on recent material that makes the album interesting. But Maiden continue to stumble through the 1990s in a less than impressive manner, neither breaking new ground nor putting their legacy in a good light. In the inescapable shadow of Live After Death, this album is utterly disappointing.
Christer’s Verdict: 2/6