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 look back at 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 they would face emotional torture in 1993 as the tour resumed and turned into a painfully drawn-out Dickinson farewell:
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 in his own Barnyard Studios in Sheering, Essex. 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.
Here is the official Fear Of The Dark video that promoted the album, filmed at Donington in 1992 but taking the audio from Helsinki, Finland:
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.
The subsequent A Real Dead One suffers from the same problems.
After all, it’s the focus on recent material that makes the album interesting. But Maiden continue to stumble through the 1990s in an unimpressive 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
13 thoughts on “Review: A Real Live One (1993)”
I remember buying this album and being excited to hear live versions of the then newer material, since I found that Maiden live material is more often better than the studio recordings, displaying sped up tempo and a heavier sound. However this live album was an extreme disappointment, sounding like it was recorded in a blastic bin. The sound is muddled, nothing stands out or sounds clear. The album has a clautstrophobic feel to it. The Real Dead One, although not a classic, is much better than this effort. I probably have only listened to it 10 times, because it’s just not enjoyable.
Recently found this site and I’m very surprised I hadn’t found it sooner! I used to browse a lot of Maiden sites in my early teen years and spent many evenings reading about the band. This site is a gem and I’ve been reading the articles as fast as I click on them. Up the Irons!
That is very kind of you Tony! We have been going for about five years, but we will certainly keep digging into the Maiden legacy in years to come. Maiden Revelations is a long-term project. 🙂
HAve ypu done any articles on the blaze era?
Not too much, Mike. But we will get there as time goes on. Our history series is up to 1993 at the moment, while we also have this feature about people that left Maiden. And many of our Best & Worst features also have bits of the Blaze era in them. Have a look around! We’ll publish more at the appropriate time.
Interesting that Derek Riggs painted Steve as an aggressive, salivating monster. Maybe that was his commentary on the fiasco of Steve’s taking over the album production and other near-disastrous cost-cutting efforts, including starting to give other less suitable artists the responsibility for creating Maiden’s iconic artwork and imagery that Derek had created.
On a related note, the cover art for A Real Dead One seems to depicts what might be interpreted as a withered, angry, despaired listener. Perhaps another subversive nod to the below-acceptable sound quality of the two live albums?
Since Riggs always claimed to have no interest in Maiden’s music, and never listened to them when painting Eddie, that is probably reading too much into it.
Riggs also stated repeatedly that he had no ideas about what to do with Eddie after 1988, and that he was never paid more than peanuts to do it. It’s unlikely that using Grant for Fear Of The Dark was about cost-cutting, when they brought Riggs back in 1993. And the sculpture/photography for The X Factor was probably significantly more expensive than an artist’s rushed painting (which the Riggs artworks of the 80s always were).
All good points. Thanks for weighing in.
I’m listening to A Real Live One right now for the first time in over 20 years. Although the album lacks in production quality, I think the raw production captures the energy of the band very well. I may be in a minority, but I’d rather listen to this than Live After Death, where the guitars are really thin and everything sounds muffled. At least A Real Live One sounds more present and cleaner, especially the guitars. What do you think?
You may be in the minority, but I suspect the minority is rather large, because I hear and read the same thing quite a lot. For me, I prefer listening to the Shirley live records to be honest. 🙂
I consider Maiden England, the Birch version, to be Maiden’s best live album in almost every aspect, including the best Maiden setlist to date. One could argue that the sound is a bit thin, but that is only if one does not take into consideration the artistic vision that Birch had sonically for each and every Maiden album, where the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album had drums and vocals raised in the mix to create a clear, brilliant, and atmospheric mix, which Derek Riggs then perfectly rendered visually as a frozen blue lake with ripples, floating lights, glaciers, and blue skies. The Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour live sound is a continuation of the album and represents Maiden’s most beautiful and haunting concert experience to date. The remasters of the album do sound beefier, but they also temper with the genius of Birch. Only Birch could produce albums that sound like you’re out in the street at night (Killers), Egypt and pyramids and pharaohs (Powerslave), medieval times (Piece of Mind), futuristic (Somewhere in Time), and ethereal and sacred (Seventh Son of a Seventh Son).
As a side note, I was also very disappointed that parts of Bruce’s speeches were cut on Maiden England ’88, which ruined the continuity of the concert for me. I also think the color correction was too aggressive, resulting in many shots that were either too saturated (e.g., red lights in Moonchild) or submerged in darkness, whereas previously you could make out every detail.
The Shirley productions are all flawed in some way. Brave New World is sterile and too clear and round sounding for Maiden—a missed attempt at modernizing the band’s sound for the 21st century. Dance of Death, as a transitional record, is a hard turn back to a more classic sound, but the guitars sound icepicky (best case in point: “Paschendale”). A Matter of Life and Death is similar to Dance of Death, but a marked improvement; possibly the best of the lot and the album with the most personality, sonically speaking. The irresponsible mastering of Final Frontier manages to mar the beautiful “Starblind,” the best song on the album, where the compression suddenly kicks in and lowers the volume on a big part of the song, only to gradually return the levels to normal. Such carelessness with an album by the greatest heavy metal band of all time and a permanent record of their art is inexcusable. Whoever was responsible for the screw-up, should have been terminated, in my opinion. The production on Book of Souls is not bad, but not stellar either, a bit muddy for my taste.
Lately, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for Maiden’s live albums, especially the pre-2000 output. I love how honest the sound on those albums is, especially on A Real Live One. On A Real Live One, the guitars are brimming with harmonics and saturation, which at first can be perceived as harsh, but at the same time, that IS the sound of a guitar amp with a mic in front of it. I also love how direct those recordings sound, as opposed to the post-2000 live albums, where the guitars always tend to sound a bit mellow and distant, as if the albums were recored with the mic in the audience, rather than right on the guitar cab.
I should also note that the first three songs on A Real Live One have the rawest guitar tone, which some people will find very harsh on the ears. After that, it gets a bit thicker.
Although a lot could be criticized about A Real Live One, the setlist is a real bright spot. Same goes for A Real Dead One, where we get some really deep cuts (“Prowler,” “Transylvania,” “Remember Tomorrow,” “Where Eagles Dare”).
A Real Live One (and A Real Dead One) have really grown on me. I love how upfront and detailed the guitars are. Great mix. Very, very honest. One can even hear the pick noise in the guitars. This is the closest we will ever get to experiencing Maiden’s real live sound and energy. I wish all Maiden’s post-2000 live albums had been recorded like this.