Bruce Dickinson - Skunkworks
Alt. Metal, Hard Rock
13 songs (47:52)
Release year: 1996
Bruce Dickinson, Sanctuary
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

Overshadowed in Bruce Dickinson’s discography by better-known and admittedly superior albums like The Chemical Wedding, Skunkworks nonetheless has a great deal going for it. Most complaints about it are in relation to the Alt-Rock influences clearly audible on several tracks, yet the Heavy Metal is still present and correct, albeit buried. From opening track Space Race onwards there are riffs, twisty and turny, maybe, and yes, with a clear Grungey Alice In Chains feel, but there are most definitely Heavy Metal riffs present on this album, far from what the detractors would say. Those used to Bruce’s solo style will be surprised by the similarities to his other works yet shocked by the differences, and this is the key to enjoying the album, really.

To their credit, the band never go all-out for the Alt-Rock crowd. What keeps it above that potential morass is Bruce’s vocals, and the easiest way to enjoy the album if you find yourself struggling is to cling to his voice like a drowning man. Do not expect another Chemical Wedding, as I often do whilst listening to solo Bruce, and am inevitably disappointed! Stay open-minded above all – Back From The Edge opens like one of Devin Townsend’s solo songs, all weird synth-guitar riffs and uplifting vocal lines. Faith is very AIC-y in the guitar department, cool wah-ysoloing elevating it above other songs, whilst Dreamstate could be a direct mimicry of Nirvana.

None of these, or indeed any of the songs on the album, come anywhere near being bad, but it is quite the culture shock if you’re a die-hard Maidenite and have stayed at arm’s length from such heresies as ‘Alt Rock’. Moments like the oddly Black Label Society-esque Headswitch don’t help, Bruce using some strange vocal effect to questionable effect. There are highlights, most definitely; Octavia rocks out in an awesome manner, and closing track Strange Death In Paradise takes a lazy-sounding Stoner-y path that reveals itself to be little short of genius give patience.

For the first couple of listens, be prepared and admit it: Skunkworks is a disappointment, but once you’ve got a little used to the album’s style and learnt to appreciate the songs for what they are, it’s a pretty good album. I’ve even heard it compared to recent Rush, and whilst it’s not particularly similar to the Canadians’ work, you can see why people would say it was. Many of Skunkworks’ riffs sound like something that may have come from Mr Lifeson’s guitar in recent years, and the songwriting has similarities too in certain places.

Approach Skunkworks, however, as the odd man out of the Dickinson discography. The missing link between the Rock of Balls To Picasso and the return to Heavy Metal of Accident Of Birth, Skunkworks is the sort of album that you buy, forget about, and then rediscover months if not years later. It certainly shouldn’t be the first choice for anyone new to Bruce Dickinson’s solo material – Accident Of Birth and The Chemical Wedding are mandatory! – but if you’ve been ignoring it for whatever reason, then it’s certainly worth a reappraisal, and chances are that you won’t be disappointed.

Killing Songs :
Space Race, Back From The Edge, Faith, Solar Confinement, Inside The Machine, Meltdown, Octavia, Strange Death In Paradise
Goat quoted 80 / 100
Other albums by Bruce Dickinson that we have reviewed:
Bruce Dickinson - Balls To Picasso reviewed by Goat and quoted 79 / 100
Bruce Dickinson - Accident of Birth reviewed by Goat and quoted 92 / 100
Bruce Dickinson - Tattooed Millionaire reviewed by Ben and quoted 69 / 100
Bruce Dickinson - Anthology (3 DVDs) reviewed by Marty and quoted no quote
Bruce Dickinson - Tyranny Of Souls reviewed by Marty and quoted 88 / 100
To see all 8 reviews click here
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