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You have to wonder why Bruce Dickinson would temporarily leave the cozy musical confines of Iron Maiden for an untested solo thing. After all, Maiden was arguably the Eighties' ultimate heavy-metal band, the one that belched out a thick, black cloud of bombast, squalor, testosterone and pus-dripping teenage fantasy like it was some kind of musical toxic waste incinerator.
The obvious reason, you'd think, would be ego. As a member of Maiden, the singer may have reaped the financial rewards of selling albums by the billions, but he never really emerged as a household word. Dickinson, however, immediately crosses self-glorification off his top ten list of reasons to begin a solo career. "I don't run around frantically jerking off every time I see my name in print," he snorts during a recent phone interview.
Not that Dickinson abhors seeing his name, mind you. In fact, the singer enjoys it enough to have written his own little pocketbook autobiography in connection with the release of his solo debut LP Tattooed Millionaire. The mini-tome begins with his date of birth and ends with "Thirty Things You Never Knew About Bruce Dickinson."
Through the trivia portion of the scintillating tell-all, you get the gist of what's behind Dickinson's solo jaunt. No matter what his work with Iron Maiden would have you believe, he's apparently interested in more than just screaming and scheming up ways to empty the pockets of horror-metal fans. Dickinson likes to portray himself as pretty much a, well, tattooed millionaire, an eccentric English aristocrat with a heavy-metal band on the side. And the solo deal, a Seventies muck-rock extravaganza, is merely another hour-long slot on the agenda of a dude who apparently gets antsy if he isn't doing five things at once. Besides his singing projects, Dickinson's bio will have you know, he's an avid collector of railway timetables, the author of a novel called The Adventures of Lord Iffy Boatrace and a screenplay based on the life of violinist-composer Paganini, and the seventh-ranked fencer in the U.K.
"I'm not a person who likes to sit around and vegetate and be a couch potato," says Dickinson. "If I get an idea that's creative about anything, I want to get it out there."
That philosophy made Tattooed Millionaire an inevitability. Dickinson had put together a tune called "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter" for one of the Nightmare on Elm Street flicks (perhaps the visual equivalent to Iron Maiden), and got on a roll with some songs that just didn't fit into his band's format. "In Iron Maiden, the music is more melodramatic than the stuff I'm doing," Dickinson analyzes. "The stuff I'm doing is more intimate, more passionate. I can sing in a lot of different ways, and I think people don't often realize that. If you can walk, you can usually run, or you can jog. It's the same thing with your voice."
The opera-metal vocal style Dickinson has used for Iron Maiden is often turned down a few notches on Tattooed Millionaire. The less piercing style is more suitable for his new, um, introspective songwriting. Yeah, introspective. That's it.
The song "Born in '58," for instance, is a good example of what happens to a heavy-metal star when he realizes there's more to write about than make-believe tales of sex 'n' Satanism. "It's a story of me growing up, my grandfather's idea of what was wrong and what was right, my contemporary generation's idea of what's wrong and what's right, and the contrast between the two."
Dickinson's description of "Lickin' the Gun" is even better. The song, says the singer, "is a vaguely Aerosmithy kind of thing."
Overall, Dickinson says, Tattooed Millionaire "probably appeals to a wider audience, simply because if you were brought up on Bad Company and AC/DC, early Seventies bands, then you'd like this record. If you're just into Megadeth and Metallica, you might not."
When the singer serves up the Millionaire LP live in clubs, he won't be bogged down by the theatrical shenanigans and gory mechanical mascot that whips up crowds at Iron Maiden's arena shows. The shedding of this heavy-metal excess is "bliss," Dickinson sighs. "It's so much more time to concentrate on music and less on technology. You don't need all that stuff in clubs. You need a fierce relationship between the band and the audience."
Whether that relationship is fierce enough for the audience to fork out money for his album is still up in the air. Where Maiden's albums routinely have clawed their way to the upper regions of the pop albums chart, Tattooed Millionaire has hung around the lower side of No. 100. Dickinson, however, is crossing his fingers that the album will soon start behaving more like his band's LPs, which have sold an average of three million copies apiece. He's concerned enough about the commercial prospects of the album to keep a close watch on how often MTV is rotating the video for his cover of Mott the Hoople's "All the Young Dudes," a Seventies anthem if there ever was one.
And to prove Dickinson's anything but oblivious to heavy-metal market shares, the singer will return with his band in October for a guaranteed platinum album called No Prayer for the Dying, followed by a tour in January. Talking now like he's never been away from his group, Dickinson says the new disc "sounds like somewhere between Killers and Number of the Beast with a guided missile up its ass."