After many years of silence, Adrian Smith returned with Psycho Motel. At a time when all things Maiden seemed either lost or controversial, how did Smith do on his own?
State Of Mind
Produced by Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith had been quiet for a long time after leaving Iron Maiden in early 1990. He didn’t charge ahead into the land of commercial late 1980s rock music, like many had expected him to do after his first solo project Silver And Gold (1989). He might have been a candidate to join Def Leppard in 1992, but that never happened. In fact, when Smith resurfaced with a new band and a new album it would be to the heavy tones of down-tuned guitars and pounding drums.
Psycho Motel grew out of The Untouchables, Smith’s 1993 band experiment. The Norwegian connection would be strong with Psycho Motel: Drummer Mike Sturgis had performed and recorded with a-ha and singer Solli was a Norwegian native who had wanted to audition for Maiden after the exit of Bruce Dickinson. He was passed on to Adrian Smith and soon fronted Psycho Motel, whose line-up was completed by bassist Gary Leideman.
Here’s a rare glimpse of The Untouchables, Adrian’s non-Maiden return to the stage, before the project morphed into the decidedly heavier Psycho Motel:
The resulting Psycho Motel album State Of Mind is a batch of sometimes interesting songs, almost exclusively written by Smith, but also a below-par production credited to the band leader.
Opener Sins Of Your Father fuses heavy contemporary guitars with Smith’s trademark melodic sensibility, and just about overcomes the underwhelming production. The record is off to a promising start.
Unfortunately, the album is quickly derailed. The next couple of tracks, World’s On Fire and Psycho Motel, seem undercooked. Solli’s voice fails to match the former but carries the latter impressively, and Smith’s guitars can always be trusted with bringing the proper groove and melody. However, what soon becomes clear is that Smith needs another songwriting foil or two to get the best out of his own ideas and abilities.
A nice ballad follows: Western Shore. Here’s an ambitious attempt at combining the power ballad aesthetic of the late 1980s with a folk-inspired verse that could come from the mid-1970s. It doesn’t manage to light up the 1990s, and the psychedelic breakdown in the middle does it few favors, but there is no denying the sincerity that Smith and Solli conjure up in that chorus. A big plus is the sound of Smith’s voice doing harmony vocals.
Another fair stab at creating an appealing track that could potentially bridge the gap between Smith’s roots and the new musical landscape of the 1990s is City Of Light, but even repeated spins of State Of Mind fail to uncover any sense of excitement. Somehow it seems calculated to be not too much of this and just the right amount of that.
This record was released in between the two most alternative albums by Smith’s previous singer, Bruce Dickinson. They had both been formidable songwriting and performance forces in Iron Maiden, and in the mid-1990s they both struggled to stay relevant. The evidence seems to suggest that they tried too hard.
Dickinson released his first post-Maiden album Balls To Picasso in 1994 and would come out with his next, Skunkworks, around the same time as Psycho Motel’s State Of Mind in 1996. In retrospect it is easy to see that Smith and Dickinson would only find their path when they teamed up again, but that was a couple of years ahead.
What ultimately drags the first Psycho Motel album down is confusion of direction. There are pointless token metal tracks like Rage and Money To Burn, as well as the shark-jumping blues of Time Is A Hunter. On the latter song the razor blade guitar sound is completely at odds with the music. And at the very end the temptation to throw in their lot with the grunge vogue of the day could not be resisted: Excuse Me is an utterly confusing end to a disappointing record. Confuse me? Achieved.
This confusion of styles would be sorted out with the subsequent Psycho Motel record Welcome To The World in 1997, where Solli is replaced by Andy Makin and the grunge aesthetic is given run of the show. That record would also wisely utilise the services of a competent producer.
Indeed, Smith seems to have had an equally challenging time producing his own band as Steve Harris had with Maiden’s first Blaze Bayley record at the same point in time, The X Factor. It is perfectly impossible not to hear how Harris and certain ex-members of Iron Maiden needed each other to rectify their numerous collective faults.
Christer’s verdict: 2/6