Review: Bruce Dickinson – Accident Of Birth (1997)

accident cover 2“Welcome home”, goes the chorus. “It’s been too long, we’ve missed you”, go the fans. Bruce Dickinson found himself with his fourth solo album. And it was closer to home than he might have imagined.

Accident Of Birth
Released 14 May 1997
Produced by Roy Z

Bruce Dickinson has said that he once had a conversation with his ageing mother in which she told him that he was not planned, that he was an “accident of birth”.

In late 1996 the ex-Iron Maiden singer had shelved his band project Skunkworks and considered giving up music. Then guitarist and producer Roy Z played him some riffs and told him that he was the only singer who knew how to do this stuff.

The “accidents” of Dickinson’s life kept piling up, leading him back home.

As soon as Freak bursts out of the speakers, one thing is perfectly clear: Dickinson has done another 180 degree turn, right back into heavy metal of the much more traditional kind than he explored on his previous two solo albums Balls To Picasso (1994) and Skunkworks (1996).

First single Accident Of Birth had already given a taste of the new Dickinson metal and showcased the singer’s new band in a suitably metallic video:

As it turned out, Roy Z would be Dickinson’s ultimate solo muse. The material that Z instigated and co-authored with the singer, over the course of four records to date, is the strongest Dickinson would ever achieve outside Maiden.

bruceband1

The Bruce Dickinson band, left to right: The singer you know, bassist Eddie Casillas, drummer David Ingraham, guitarist and producer Roy Z, and (cue overjoyed fans) the one and only Adrian Smith.

Taking The Queen is an epic slow-burning track with immense power of riffing courtesy of Roy Z, who is also in charge of the production, something he could have been as early as Balls To Picasso if caution had not prevailed. Dickinson would never look back, always doing his solo music with Z after the artistic triumph of the Accident Of Birth album.

Darkside Of Aquarius thunders along in a delicious Maiden-style gallop, sounding like something off Piece Of Mind (1983) and even incorporating an “oh-oh-oooh” section that would surely make Steve Harris envious.

Speaking of Maiden, an obvious highlight of the Accident Of Birth album is the participation of ex-Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith, who co-writes two tracks and plays on several more. Paradoxically, Smith contributes a dud, Welcome To The Pit, but much is forgiven when the other Smith track is the awesome melodic heavy metal of Road To Hell:

After all, Z himself also throws a below-par song into it, the lacklustre The Magician, making Accident Of Birth a little uneven. All things told, though, Road To Hell in particular is a spellbinding reminder of the musical fireworks that can happen when the two men who wrote Flight Of Icarus and 2 Minutes To Midnight sit down to create songs.

bruceandadrianaccident2

It had been a long time since Adrian Smith backed up Bruce Dickinson with songwriting and guitar-playing. Not since Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, in fact, had they made music together.

The second half of the album is home to no less than three songs that could justifiably be called ballads, or at least ballad-ish tracks. The first, Man Of Sorrows, would not have sounded out of place on Balls To Picasso. The final two tracks on the album, however, opens up a landscape (or better yet, a space-scape) previously unheard from Dickinson: Omega (with a properly Maiden-style heavy metal mid-section) and the acoustic Arc Of Space both resound with the melancholy of something important being irrevocably over, and even so they are utterly beautiful songs.

Here’s the Man Of Sorrows video, where we get to enjoy the sight and sound of Adrian Smith delivering a meaty guitar solo that underlines what Maiden lost:

Quite how the cool Dickinson and Smith composition The Ghost Of Cain did not make the album (it was included on the US and Japan version, but not the regular release) will forever be a mystery, but there is enough good material on Accident Of Birth to determine that Bruce Dickinson returned with a vengeance.

Somewhat provocatively Dickinson hired artist Derek Riggs to design the album cover, a spooky and gut-wrenching jester that the singer dubbed Edison (as in Eddie‘s son, get it?). He admitted later that he deliberately wanted to “out-Maiden Maiden”, and it’s hard to disagree with the need in light of what Maiden themselves managed to create at the time. The X Factor was a disappointing record where Maiden failed to move on and failed to be themselves (something of a perverse “triumph”), and it would get even worse for the mothership on their next record Virtual XI.

accident reissue cover

The Derek Riggs artwork for the Man Of Sorrows single, also used for the 2005 reissue of the album.

The energy and enthusiasm that backs up nearly every song is remarkable, and Dickinson’s voice has rarely sounded as comfortably at home with the material as it does on Accident Of Birth.

This record re-established Dickinson as a premier heavy metal voice, and it also raised the spectre of a potential Maiden reunion. If Dickinson sounded this good doing music so close to Maiden’s style, what could happen if him and Harris mended fences?

Click here to read about Maiden’s struggles when making The X Factor, and stay tuned for the story of Virtual XI.

Thankfully, they would put off the reunion discussion for another year, in which Dickinson delivered his crowning achievement in solo terms: The Chemical Wedding (1998). On the way there, Accident Of Birth proved at least three things. One, Dickinson is the best ever heavy metal singer. Two, Roy Z was the indispensible catalyst for Dickinson’s best solo music. And three, the combination of Dickinson and Smith is essential to the sound of Iron Maiden.

All told, Dickinson finally delivered a really good solo album, but also one that inevitably set him off on the road back to Maiden.

Christer’s verdict: 4/6

6/6 Masterpiece
5/6 Great
4/6 Good
3/6 OK
2/6 Disappointing
1/6 Crap

10 thoughts on “Review: Bruce Dickinson – Accident Of Birth (1997)

  1. I respectfully beg to differ… a little. All Maiden fans I personally know consider this to be his best album along with The Chemical Wedding. It’s close to a 6 (5,5 or 5, at the very least). In fact, at least half of us believe that none of Maiden’s post reunion albums can match these two albums (except maybe AMOLAD). I guess we can’t all always agree, right? 😀

    • You haven’t read my take on the post-reunion albums, so you wouldn’t know yet. And I also consider this to be his best album along with The Chemical Wedding.

      • You are right. And I can’t wait to read your review of Dance of Death and The Final Frontier. I find these two so mediocre, I just don’t understand how certain (many) fans like them so much. I disliked A Matter of Life and Death upon first listen… but gave it a chance a couple of years ago and actually enjoy it quite a lot. Half of it is extremely good. Anyway, cheers!

  2. Excellent review! AOB, TCW and TOS are quite frankly in the same league as most Maiden 80s outputs and probably more consistent than most of the post reunion stuff.
    However, I feel like none of the tracks off Dickinson above mentioned solo material can touch the greatness of certain post 2000 Maiden songs (i.e The Ghost of the Navigator, Brave New World, Montsegur, Dance of Death, The Longest Day, Isle of Avalon, Starblind, If Eternity Should Fail or The Book of Souls).

  3. For some reason this album passed me by at the time, as, almost unforgivably did the Chemical Wedding – I didn’t like the title and that was back in the day when you had to spend 13 quid on a new album rather than just checking them out online! But I’ve made up for it in recent years on both counts. For me CW is the superior (indeed, it’s in my top 3 albums of all time) but AOB is a well above average hard rocker. it’s perhaps a key milestone in that it got Adrian back on board with Bruce and ultimately Maiden. For me the biggest factor in Maiden’s 90s malaise was missing Adrian’s songwriting. Steve can always be relied on for 2 – 3 absolutely top drawer tunes per album, Janick maybe 3 every 2 albums and Dave 1 every other album. Adrian was consistently providing a further 2 or 3 per album; taking these away also expanding the albums to fit CDs so there were 10 – 12 songs per album instead of 8 meant that all the musical contributors were having to contribute middling tunes, meaning each 90s album had epic highs but also mediocre filler. Right, gotta stop, I could ramble on about maiden all night. Great review, great site as always, cheers Dave

    • Oh, you are so right about Adrian. I think the ultimate consensus on that issue was an understatement from Steve himself back around the reunion: “I think maybe Maiden lost something when Adrian left.” Right he was.

  4. Far better than anything maiden have done in 20 years! 4/6 is way, way too low! In fact, this is how maiden should sound. Full of energy and inspiration. It’s strange how your work ethics increases when you have something to proof. The solo sections are better than any of maidens, the singing is top notch, the songs are well written and rehersed. It’s near pefection. This is not a good album, this is something better.

    • It’s only my way of ranking it, I’m sure most of you would do it different. I’m forcing myself to use all of the scale that I made up. And this record is certainly one of my all time favorites, but not as good as, say, ‘Powerslave’.

  5. At the time this album came out, I regarded it very highly. I even thought it represented a natural progression and what Maiden should have sounded like at the time. Heck, I thought it sounded better and more Maiden than Maiden themselves at the time.

    Fast forward 20+ years and I haven’t reached for this album on my shelf more than maybe once in the last 20+ years or so. I very quickly became put off by its darkness, in-your-face heaviness, and, most of all, lack of heart and melody on the guitars. Sure the songs are strong for what they are, and there is some great guitar work, but it leans more toward riffing and very technical melody runs than around bluesy melodic playing. “Darkside of Aquarius,” the most Maiden-esque track, is brilliant, but there isn’t enough of those on the album for me. There rest are often rhythmically off for my taste, lacking the mid-tempo splendor of Maiden’s songs and the more expansive vocal melody lines, opting instead for a more “spoken,” choppier singing style. It is obvious that Bruce started with lyrics and then built the melodies around the lyrics. I understand his artistic reasons for this, but in my experience as a former songwriter and in my humble opinion, this is an inferior approach to songwriting. For an example of how to tailor lyrics perfectly to the melodies, take a look at Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, where each verse fits perfectly and excellent use is made of repetition and parallel structure. For example:

    Moonchild–hear the mandrake scream
    Moonchild–open the seventh seal
    Moonchild—you’ll be mine soon child
    Moonchild—take my hand tonight

    There is time to..
    And a time to…
    When it’s time to…
    There’s time to…

    Only the good die young
    All the evil seem to live forever
    Only the good die young
    All the evil seem to live forever
    Only the good die young
    Only the good die young

    And finally the masterpiece:
    Here they stand, brothers them all…
    Here await the birth of the son…
    Here the birth from an unbroken line…

    Seventh son of a seventh son
    Seventh son of a seventh son
    Seventh Son of a seventh son
    Seventh son of a seventh son

    Overall, Accident of Birth has a dark and disturbing sound to me. It lacks “heart.” That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s probably the shortage of Maiden-esque melody that gives me that creepy feeling.

    Between this and Chemical Wedding, I prefer this album. Despite the fact that Chemical Wedding is based on a book, this one feels to me more like a concept album in that it manages to create its own world and imagery. I also like it more because it sounds more classic metal.

  6. This album and the subsequent TCW showed me how important Bruce and Adrian were to Maiden. Kind of like a balance to Harris. I think AOB and TWC also sound better than any Maiden album production wise, especially the reunion era albums. I would like Roy Z to produce an IM album, but Harris would never go for it. Harris leads the ship, through the good, bad, and indifferent.

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