School, Brigitte, Bruce Dickinson Insights (Book Review)

Spread the metal:

Author: Shon, Brigitte
Title: Bruce Dickinson Insights
Date Published:  2015
Publisher: Matador
Reviewed:  Aug,  2018
Reviewer: JP
Rating  4/5

As I write this review in July of 2018, there has been a lot of activity in Bruce Dickinson’s world lately.  There is his new TV program, yet another one, about aviation, currently airing on TV.  I’m beginning to think he has more TV shows about airplanes than Iron Maiden albums.   Next, the DVD/Blu-Ray of the recent documentary SCREAM FOR ME SAREJEVO has been issued in North America.  I reviewed that for as well in case you are interested.   Lastly, Iron Maiden is once again rampaging across Europe in yet another retro-themed tour. Everyone is happy so I thought this would be as good a time as any to review a very neat book about his solo albums.

Matador Books published INSIGHTS-AN INTERPRETATION OF HIS SOLO ALBUMS in 2015.  If you do decide to buy and read INSIGHTS, start on page 150 with a section called ‘About The Book’. It is a helpful explanation of how this book came into being.  Follow it up with page 152 ‘About The Author’.  We meet the author, Brigette Schon a German academic who is a Bruce fan, author, educator and by my estimation, a deep-thinker.

The book as one might surmise from the title is just that, an interpretation of his solo albums, focused on lyrics, not a musical analysis, although there is a little bit of that as well.  Schon discuss all of his solo albums and is very thorough but not completely comprehensive as for some reason Disc Two of THE BEST OF BRUCE DICKINSON is not discussed.  The two ‘new’ (at the time) tracks on Disc One, ‘Broken’ and ‘Silver Wings’ are analyzed,  but none of the other songs on Disc Two. Perhaps Schon felt songs like ‘ The Ballad Of Mutt’,  ‘Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter’ and the timeless classic, ‘I’m In A Band With An Italian Drummer’ were not worthy of her elegant and sophisticated analysis!  There are a few pictures scattered around, lots of quotes, a discography, acknowledgments and a very serious looking Bruce on the book cover.

Starting with TATTOOED MILLIONARE Schon goes through song-by-song and analyses the lyrics of each and every one and does a superb job.  She takes a very analytical, methodical and meticulous approach.  Everything is carefully referenced.  The language is most certainly academic and it can be a long read if you are not keen on Blake, Crowley, Shakespeare, Hobbs, Locke, Marx etc.  I had to go to my dictionary to remind myself what a metonym was!  Bruce really is a very insightful and thoughtful lyricist and there is a whole universe to explore…history, science, philosophy, theology, physics, alchemy, war and peace, love and hate, space exploration and more….as developed by his own words.  Dickinson, like Schon, is a deep thinker, and perhaps this is the connection between them and source of her drive to write this book.

I’m going to divert slightly from the main body of the book review to interject my own opinion of the Bruce solo albums.  I’m a Metal fan first, a Bruce fan second.  So, some of his solo albums were just not to my taste. BALLS TO PICASSO was a really weak exploration of alt/grunge and SKUNKWORKS is so bad I didn’t even buy it.  It seemed like after Maiden he was trying too hard, like standing on top of a hill waving his arms and shouting, ‘Look at me!  I’m NOT Metal!” much to the chagrin of his assembled Metal fans.  I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who really likes those albums.

My point being is that because I essentially ignored those records based on musical merit, I learned a huge amount about them after reading INSIGHTS.  I guess the title lived up to it’s name! I am going to revisit those albums, maybe even buy SKUNKWORKS to complete the discography and keep Schons interpretations in mind and book close at hand.   Moving on, ACCIDENT OF BIRTH was way better.  Another chapter where I learned a huge amount was her analysis of THE CHEMICAL WEDDING.   Despite being widely considered to be Dickinson’s masterwork I am in the tiny minority who did not like it, and I fully recognize that.  I felt the modern, grungy, murky, production job by Roy Z was so botched it made it virtually un-listenable.  Accordingly, I didn’t spend much time with THE CHEMICAL WEDDING, a huge let down after the comeback of ACCIDENT OF BIRTH and I didn’t bother with the lyrics, which are, in reality, incredibly deep and sophisticated.   I knew it was a concept about alchemy but I stopped caring at that point. I haven’t listened to that album in about a decade.  Again, I learned a phenomenal amount about the concept behind the album, it’s actually quite brilliant.

My final opinion of INSIGHTS is mixed.  At times I felt that on occasion Schon over-analyzed and even over-interpreted some of the songs. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar…but I certainly bow to her expertise and research and if push came to shove, I would agree with her assessments!  So I enjoyed the book, I learned a lot, maybe more than I wanted to know about alchemy and philosophy and I’m not sure I would read it again for pleasure, but I certainly would use it for a reference guide.   In terms of presentation and content, this is a flawless, detailed and amazingly well researched analysis of the songs; top marks all around.  Die hard Bruce fans will love this book and despite my own bias and reservations I have to rate it very highly.  I’d even pair INSIGHTS with Meller’s new book IRON MAIDEN-A JOURNEY THROUGH HISTORY (which I also reviewed this month) where he interprets Iron Maiden lyrics.  A pair pairing and some nice symmetry in Maiden related book reviews don’t ya think?