Monday, November 29, 2004

Americans are Behind

I recently read a piece online reviewing one of Iron Maiden’s shows from last year’s Dance of Death tour and found it fascinating. With the band announcing European dates for next summer, and no mention of US dates, it brings me to a question that has bothered me for a long time.

Why is Iron Maiden so immensely popular in Europe and South America, but so off the map here in the United States?

A review of the charts is depressing for anyone who believes in music. Eminem, Destiny’s Child, and Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz occupy the first three spots, and it gets worse from there. I don’t know where you would find an actual musician on this list.

For the American Iron Maiden fan, a review of the charts in September of 2003 tells the depressing story.

In Sweden, Iron Maiden’s Dance of Death entered the chart at number 1, where it stayed for three weeks, before falling to number 5 in week 4 and number 10 in week 5. It stayed in the top 60 for 3 months. Dance of Death was in the number 1 spot in six different countries.

In Germany, Dance of Death made its debut at number 2, falling to number 5 in week 2 and number 12 in week 3. It reached the number 2 spot in three other countries, including the UK.

In the USA, Dance of Death made its Billboard debut at number 18. From there it took a nosedive and was gone from the radar within 2 or 3 weeks. I can only imagine what was topping the US charts at that time.

So, those are the facts. The question is, why?

Now the easy answer is that US audiences are sheep that are fed the slop that the suits in the music industry and on Fox shove down our throats. Can this really be true? Can we be so stupid?

To be certain, we are that stupid. Any country that has Eminem, Destiny’s Child, and Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz at the top of the charts is completely devoid of taste and culture. Despite this fact, I am unsure if we can place the blame here, although in fairness, many of these acts are popular in Europe as well, so they are not as smart as they think they are. However, music with actual music is still popular in these countries.

A controversial answer is the hip-hop culture dominates the US. Even suburban white kids can be found blasting gangsta rap from their cars these days. It is certainly cooler to be black or latino than white, so maybe that is it. Iron Maiden is definitely white, that is for sure, and white is so uncool.

Another factor is that Maiden is seen as an 80’s thing. Their popularity here was kind of short lived, and as such they are seen as a nostalgia act as opposed to a hard working band that has had consistent global success with thirteen albums over 25 years. In the era of MTV, bands have a pretty short shelf life as we are always looking for something new.

Finally, Maiden has never fit the US stereotype for heavy metal. They just don’t sing about sex, drugs and rock n roll; and while the metal community in Europe has grown up, kids here really can’t get into a group who writes 9 minute songs about World War I battles that took place in a small village in Belgium. Most Americans can't even find Belgium on a map.

This of course opens a can of worms regarding how many Europeans stereotype Americans as ignorant of the world around them at best, and just plain stupid at worst. I am not going to get into this discussion here about our educational system, and who is to blame, but based on our music choices, they may have a point.

So, I really can’t give a definitive explanation as to Maiden’s lack of commercial success here. I have proposed a couple of theories, but I really can’t explain why for certain. One thing I can be sure of is that Iron Maiden is not for the feint of heart. They are for people that like heavy music and good musicianship, but also like history, science and culture. Here in the USA, that may be a tough niche, and for the corporate suits that live and die by focus groups, it is well below the radar.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Lost my mind in 'nam

I realize that the title has nothing to do with the below blog, but consider it like Led Zeppelin's album Houses of the Holy.

Today’s top ten list:

The top ten puctuation marks of all time.

10 – The period. Suffers from over exposure, but think of where we would be without it.

9 – The hyphen. Using it often in this blog!!

8 – The exclamation point. Not really a favorite, but No list is complete without it.

7 – The ampersand. I think actually wrinting the word and is easier than writing this thing, but because it looks so cool, it makes this list. Oh, here it is &.

6 – The pound sign. # Before touch tone phones, this was sometimes used to abbreviate the word “number”. It is also used in music to denote a “sharp” note. A very versitile and fun symbol. In a pinch it can be used to play tic tac toe.

5 – The tilda. Some may claim it is not english and maybe it isint, but without our friend the ~, Cesar CedeƱo, would merely be Cesar Cedeno. The difference is clear.

4 – The section symbol. I wish this were on a keyboard. It would make my life so much easier. We need a § on every keyboard – NOW!!!

3 – The curly looking brackets. I have no idea what these are for other than mathematical order of operations. It is () first, then [], and finally {}. So if you see a math equation with {} in it, you are in big trouble.

2 – The at symbol. Before the internet the @ was a practical unknown. Now it is on everyone’s business card. You’ve come a long way baby!!

1 – The question mark. I know it is common, but the ? has always been a sentimental favorite. It reminds me of my college days. Really it does.

The story is that my fraternity was looking for a rush gimmick, and we could not find one. When the biff fratenity down the street decided to use a big !, as their sign, it was obvious that ours should be the ?

So perhaps a sentimental choice for number one all time, but hey it’s my list!! Feel free to make your own.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Finally - 9/11 Masterminds Caught Together

I can not believe this article is serious. The picture of the two masterminds together is one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life. Try to imagine the scene at their meeting. If I were as witty as Sweetie you would be in stitches by now. Maybe he could help me with the dialogue!!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Tell the World of Paschendale

I can’t imagine being a music reviewer. It is really impossible to properly judge a CD after one listen. I guess if you are reviewing canned pop music like you would find on the Top 40 chart, it is not too difficult, but for music that is created by musicians and not media conglomerates like Ashlee Simpson you cannot properly review a CD in the week of its release.

So that brings me to the purpose of this blog. I am going to write my review for Dance of Death by Iron Maiden. The CD came out in September of 2003, and now, finally a year later, I feel I am able to craft a proper review of the CD.

The opening track is one we first heard on their summer tour in 2003. Wildest Dreams. This song proves that in the case of Dance of Death, the total is greater than the sum of its parts. On its’ own, this track is a medium grade Maiden song. However, as the opener to Dance of Death, Wildest Dreams along with track 2 Rainmaker stir up the listener’s senses and prepare them for the greatness ahead.

Wildest Dreams and Rainmaker are a pair of songs that were meant for one another. I can’t believe that the band did not play them back-to-back on the tour. Wildest Dreams features Adrian Smith and Rainmaker features Dave Murray. It is a symbolic return to the glory days of the band (though Gers makes a positive contribution or two on Dance of Death, it is my opinion that he is outclassed by Smith and Murray on almost every level) where Murray and Smith would harmonize and solo like a single two-headed beast, always aware of the other.

The third track is No More Lies and is somewhat of a let down, but again, it fits in with the rest of the CD, it changes the mood a bit, and the introspective nature of the song and lyrics are great. No More Lies features a blazing solo by Smith, and here is where he sets himself apart from Gers and to a lesser extent even Dave Murray.

Montsegur is another fantastic history lesson by Maiden, and it is crunching and heavy, and really moves along quite nicely.

Now things really cook. The track Dance of Death is clearly Jannick Gers’ greatest contribution to Iron Maiden. The man has come so far in the last 13 years as both a player, but particularly as a songwriter. The complex and dynamic song moves along at a great pace and when it is over, the listener finds himself truly amazed at how great Iron Maiden have become.

With Gates of Tomorrow, I think Maiden mad the only true mistake on this CD. The song is weak, and I hate to say I might call it filler, but I don’t think Maiden purposely put in filler. I just think they misjudged the track and put it on, when it really should have been scrapped. In any case, even Maiden’s worst tends to be at least listenable, and there are some cool moments here, but overall, you could skip this track.

New Frontier gets things going in the right direction again. It has a great riff in the beginning, and moves along quite nicely. The soloing by Smith and Dickinson make this track a true classic, as the instrumental section on this song is among the best on the CD.

Now we come to the highpoint, the climax, the finest moments in Maiden history almost. Paschendale. Really there are no words that can accurately describe this track. This is the point where you realize how truly gifted and brilliant Adrian Smith is. I am not sure how much of this track was written by Steve Harris and how much by Smith, but I can assure you, Steve Harris while brilliant, has never written anything this epic, this grandiose, this mind blowing in his career. Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Alexander the Great are both staggering achievements, but it they pale in comparison to Paschendale. About 5 minutes into the song the guitar solos start and as usual Smith and Murray are astounding, then a 20 second vocal “bridge” that is the highlight of the song. Even Jannick’s choppy, garbled solo cannot ruin this brilliant track.

Face in the Sand follows and it somehow manages to keep the level of Paschendale up. This song is the most underrated in the band’s history and it is a shame they could not play it live. The entire album, Bruce sings with a passion and vigor that I have not heard since Powerslave, and nowhere on this CD is it more evident than in his performance in Face in the Sand. Again, we see an Adrian Smith composition that shines far and above those of his band mates.

Age of Innocence is another valley, but considering its location, after Paschendale and Face in the Sand and before the best closer since Mariano Rivera, it is really unfair and impossible to give any king of objective opinion on this song, so I will not.

Journeyman closes the album. What a closer it is. I am so glad Maiden had the ball to close this album with this acoustic masterpiece. As with other parts on this album, it leaves me speechless. Dickinson’s performance here is again one of the best in his career, and the music and tempo (again due to Adrian Smith) is indescribable.

So, looking back on this review, the reader may think I’m Jannick bashing, but that is not my intent. The whole album is great, and in this 23-year Maiden fan’s opinion, it may be their best ever, and without Jannick’s contributions, particularly on the title track, it would not be the same. I suppose one of the things I do take from Dance of Death is confirmation of the suspicion I have held since I first heard Back in the Village in 1984, that Adrian Smith is by far the most superior musician and songwriter the band had ever had.