Listening Booth: Iron Maiden, Steel Train, Rush
Some singles have just arrived on our doorstep, so now’s as good a time as any to scan what’s sailing ’round the horn.
To kick things off, let’s talk about “El Dorado” from Iron Maiden, which is available at the band’s site, www.IronMaiden.Com. The track comes from their newest album, The Final Frontier, and finds the band in that strange position of being who they are. Some groups are expected to explore different areas of sound and maturity, while others are expected to remain true to a pre-designated sound they’ve fostered through the years. Occasionally it is for the best. By now, if AC/DC tries to sound like anything other than AC/DC, it’s liable to be rejected and left for dead. This was a problem for Metallica, where they pushed against their thrash metal roots and became more commercial. At the same time as they were achieving new heights of fame, their longtime fans bristled. Many still carry that resentment, even though their last album, Death Magnetic, tried to inch back to the comfort zone.
Iron Maiden needn’t worry, because “El Dorado” sounds exactly as you would expect an Iron Maiden song to sound: the galloping rhythm, gonzo guitars, and Bruce Dickinson’s strident wail are all here to some degree. The two most noticeable points to the song are that Dickinson is mostly in control — his voice, now a little more gruff with age, fits the verse just right. When he breaks out that vocal spike we know so well for the choruses, it seals the deal that this is the Iron Maiden the fans expect. The other point, perhaps not altogether positive, is that the primary guitar line over the galloping part sounds like Heart’s “Barracuda” — not enough to be considered a ripoff, but enough to make the listener think about it.
If you are a person that just can’t stand these bands that stay in a groove forever, knowing that they’re giving their people what they want and growth be damned, you’re not going to like “El Dorado.” If you want Iron Maiden to sound like they sound and be as they are, you’ll likely be thrilled with this latest outing. The choice is yours.
Coming off a couple years with the band fun., Jack Antonoff returns to Steel Train with the track “Turnpike Ghost.” He’s brought fun. producer and former Redd Kross bassist Steven McDonald with him and the song, sonically, sounds of a similar piece to his other work. There is a bouncy, power-pop-ish vibe to the track until what I assume is the chorus kicks in. I say “assume” because the four individual parts that make up the song don’t share an immediate connection melodically. This is not a bad thing, especially when some songs instantly telegraph themselves and surprise no one, but when the presumed chorus erupts in glam-rock guitar downstrokes and gang vocals, it does indeed turn your head around.
The differences between fun. and Steel Train, as far as this track is concerned, reveal themselves in the demeanor of the music. fun. reveled in big, widescreen soundscapes that flipped from insane calliope to drum-bashing indie shouts, all tied together with big harmonies and bigger melodies. Steel Train fills “Turnpike Ghost” with nervous, agitated energy that hints at more but never lets it go (the cover of the single, depicting a girl sprawled out on the floor with a bloody head wound, also has a way of displacing the sweetness of Aim and Ignite.) What it has going for it is that I’m now really interested in hearing the Steel Train album. I’m not certain whether it’s entirely because of this one song or the possibility of a quasi-sequel to fun., but either will add up to a fine album, so I doubt the band would quibble with why I’m interested.
And now, the new release so big, I couldn’t hack it alone. Rush returns with two tracks from next year’s Clockwork Angels, “Caravan” and “BU2B” (or, “Brought Up To Believe”) and colleagues Scott Malchus, Ted Asregadoo and Rob Smith help me break down our feelings about it.
My first reaction was that it was ridiculously heavy and loud but short on melody. We’ve seen this for a few albums now, but since these are songs from an album that hasn’t even been completely finished yet, it’s hard to say what direction Clockwork Angels will take. “Caravan” has grown on me. Beyond the heavy riffing, there’s a really strong chorus. “BU2B” is still the odd song out. It seems to position itself as the “Witch Hunt” of this album, dark and sinister, but will only achieve that effect if the band lightens up on the rest of the potential tracks. I hope they do.
Ted Asregadoo – My initial reaction to these new songs is disappointment. It’s not just the minor keys, the heavy, tuned-down riffing, the verses on “Caravan” that have an anti-melodic thing going on, it’s the lack of progressive song writing from a group that prides itself in pushing their music in different directions. “BU2B” reminds me of the filler songs on Snakes & Arrows — you know, the four songs after “Far Cry” that felt forced, half-cooked, and in dire need of direction. I agree that “Caravan” has a strong chorus, but not much else. Wait. Let me amend that and say that their playing on “Caravan” was really good, but there’s something amiss in Alex’s playing. He’s going up and down the scale in a way that suggests he’s trying to be adventurous, but it lacks that certain something he was able to add to a similar sounding guitar sound on “Show Don’t Tell.”
I will say that over the past couple days I’ve warmed to the new Rush songs, not overwhelmingly but enough that I don’t mind them after the initial shock of first hearing them. I still hope they have it in them to back off the power trio business and do some tunes that are melodically more pleasing.
Rob Smith – I question what folks are looking for melodically. Are we talking about retreating to Grace Under Pressure / Power Windows-type stuff? I’d be happy if they buried the synths somewhere in Saskatchewan. I actually dig the heavy riffs–I find it rather cool that men their age can still come up with riffs like these and can still play with precision and fire. Put a little keyboard behind them in the mix to give an added sonic dimension to things if you wanna, but give me a hard-rock Lifeson riff over a puffy cloud of synths any old day.
Focus on what’s here, rather on what’s not, and I think you’ll see things worth getting excited over. Peart’s lyrics, for one: on Snakes & Arrows, he turned his muse onto the topics of questioning faith and acknowledging the struggle to find one’s place in life. “BU2B” continues in that vein, and does so effectively. Dunphy, you mentioned the chorus of “Caravan” being strong, and you’re absolutely right. I also like the little rest in the main riff — it’s a nice touch. And Ted, I’m not entirely sure I understand your comment on Lifeson’s solo, about his attempt to be adventurous. It just sounds like a cool little extension of the song to me.
The band’s been around long enough and followed enough disparate paths that it’s possible for multiple people to claim the band as their own, yet have significantly different expectations of their music. I’m obviously in the minority here, but I hope to hear more slammin’ riffs and probing lyrics in Clockwork Angels — that’s MY Rush. Gimme more.