The birth of the band Skunkworks, but a strange intermission in the solo career of Bruce Dickinson. The singer’s first solo live record feels unnecessary.
Alive In Studio A
Released 27 February 1995
Recorded, mixed and engineered by Spencer May
How often has the word alive been used for hard rock live albums? No, not even KISS invented that, nicking the title from at least one or two predecessors, like Slade Alive!, which even included the exclamation mark that KISS would copy.
So, artists generally not being available to record or perform unless they are alive, Bruce Dickinson’s record company decides to put out the strangest album of the singer’s career. It’s not one album either, it’s two, and they are nearly identical.
After launching his post-Iron Maiden career with the mediocre and somewhat pretentious Balls To Picasso in 1994, Dickinson set about touring with a brand new band. The very competent crew would consist of ex-Gun guitarist Alex Dickson, bassist Chris Dale and drummer Alessandro Elena.
Alive In Studio A consists of one live recording of the band in the studio, originally intended for radio broadcast, and another of the band live at the Marquee Club in London. If you’re going to play live, why not have an audience after all? Apart from that it is hard to decide which of the nearly identical sets are preferable. I would probably say the Marquee performance, because it’s got the rather good Gods Of War in place of the entirely horrible Fire…
The most disconcerting impression is that of a band going through motions to perform material that they didn’t originally conceive. Granted, the band that would soon become Skunkworks does a great job of giving Dickinson’s material funky grooves and technical virtuosity, but this is still basically two re-recordings of Balls To Picasso, with some Tattooed Millionaire thrown in.
The lack of new material gives the record an air of introducing a new backing band, kind of like “listen to how it sounds when these guys play it.” But there was never a problem with how Roy Z’s band had sounded on Balls To Picasso, and Alive In Studio A ultimately becomes something of a non-event.
In retrospect this seems like a record lost between all possible worlds. It is not Maiden, at a time when nobody even knew what the new Maiden would sound like once their first Blaze Bayley album The X Factor arrived later that year. It is also premature in terms of being a Dickinson solo record, as his own career was scarcely established after just one post-Maiden album. And it is not a proper Skunkworks album either, since they didn’t create this material.
Perhaps transitional would be the kindest description.
The best part of it is Dickinson’s glorious singing. His command of power, pitch and range is a stark reminder of what it would take to replace him in Maiden. Even a bland record like this can give you goosebumps because of Dickinson’s performance.
But the overall disappointing impression is that you’re listening to rehearsals for something else. Which would come later:
At the time, in early 1995, fans were still waiting to find out what would be the real sound of their heroes in a new day and age, whether it was Iron Maiden with Blaze Bayley, or Bruce Dickinson the solo artist.
Christer’s verdict: 2/6