May 25, 2008

CD Review: Iron Maiden - Somewhere Back in Time, The Best of: 1980-1989

When I saw this collection announced I am sure many longtime fans had similar reactions to me: "Why?" Seriously, do we need another collection of Iron Maiden's greatest hits? You can almost pick up an album at random and have a collection of hits, or at least a collection of strong music that you should have anyway. Beyond that, you can already choose from 1996's Best of the Beast, 1999's Ed Hunter (featuring a Maiden-inspired video game), 2002's Edward the Great, and 2005's Essential Iron Maiden. I am sure there are more floating around, but you get the idea. So, the thought of yet another greatest hits collection can be considered a little less than exciting. However, there is another way to see the release, and that is through the eyes of the label. You see, there actually is a good reason for this release, a reason that makes it much more attractive, just not to the long time fans. Get this, it wasn't meant for us (I include myself, although I am still relatively new).

Earlier this year, Iron Maiden embarked on a large-scale world tour called Somewhere Back in Time. This tour is a tribute to their greatest era, the 1980's. They have headed out with a stage inspired by the 85/86 World Slavery Tour behind the Powerslave album, a tour that culminated in the landmark Live After Death concert album and video. Not only is the set inspired by the 1980's, but the set list is completely comprised of songs from their 80's era releases (save for the inclusion of "Fear of the Dark" from 1992). Take all of these factors and add them to the fact that there is a whole new generation of Iron Maiden fans discovering the band through recent albums such as A Matter of Life and Death, and they may not know much of the classic material. It is possible they may be hearing these older cuts for the first time on this tour. This collection is for them, the younger fans who are in need of a little Maiden education.

I know, I know. I sound like a PR rep. You know what? Why not? This collection is clearly not targeted towards the longtime fan and I don't see anything wrong with putting out a package that will appeal to the potential new fan. Iron Maiden is one of those touchstone bands of metal, alongside bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. So much of what has happened since the dawn of metal can be traced to the influences of these bands. Considering that they are all still active in one form or another, there is always the potential of drawing in new fans with new material, this release looks to introduce new fans to the old material, plus it is presented in, what I consider, to be a rather unique form.

Rather than just slap a few hits together in some random order, be it sequential or another arbitrary sequence, the disk is compiled to be similar to an actual concert set list. Now, a CD cannot contain all of the energy, much less all of the songs of a full set, but an admirable job is done at coming as close as you can. Two key points to replicating the concert experience is starting with Churchill's Speech and closing with "Iron Maiden," for they are the traditional opening and closing to their show.

What comes between is a selection of some of their greatest cuts, including "The Trooper," "The Number of the Beast," and one of my personal favorites, "Can I Play with Madness." The song selection has a nice flow that takes the listener on an up and down ride through Maiden past.

Seriously, the construction of Somewhere Back in Time is great. With its mix of studio tracks and live cuts (from Live After Death) the collection makes you feel like you are sitting there in the crowd. Another thing it does is make you forget about Paul Di'Anno, Bruce Dickinson's predecessor who appeared on Maiden's first two albums. When those oldest of songs are presented, they are the live versions featuring Dickinson.

Bottomline. In the end, this is a fine collection of tunes. If you are a fan, feel free to give it a pass, unless you are an absolute completist; however, if you are a new fan, this would be a good place to start your journey into Iron Maiden's deep catalog. Just remember, this is the tip of the iceberg.



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