Greetings, Glancers! It’s time to check out another Iron Maiden related release. This one is going to take a little ‘splaining, so bear with me. Back in the early 70s before Iron Maiden was created, childhood mates Adrian Smith and Dave Murray formed a band. It was a bit crap so Murray left and began prepping for Maiden. Smith rounded up other friends and friends of friends and made a couple of singles under the name ‘Urchin’. I was planning to cover their stuff but they didn’t do much and a compilation of singles and live stuff was released in 2004. Maybe I’ll check it out too, but probably not (SPOILER ALERT – I did check out their album, and inexplicably posted my thoughts about it before publishing this post which was written much earlier. Mysteries Of The Spac Hole). More importantly, Smith went on to join Murray with Maiden and the rest is history.
In the late 80s, Smith was taking a break after the grueling Maiden touring session and decided to call up his old ‘Urchins’ to see if they wanted to try writing and recording some stuff. Silver And Gold got quite a bit of hype at the time, given that it featured a member of the biggest metal band in the world and Ringo Starr’s son on the skins. However, grunge was on the rise and the album was dismissed like so many others. The band collapsed soon after and Smith went on to form the slightly more successful Psycho Motel before re-joining Maiden at the end of the 90s. So that’s the story of Silver And Gold… but is it any good? I have no idea, because I haven’t heard a single second of it yet, but that’s what we’re here to find out. Maybe we’ll uncover a few gems, maybe it’ll be another 45 minutes of regret to add to my running tally. Life is all about taking risks though, expanding your horizons, giving something you haven’t experienced a shot. Even if you don’t like it, you’ve learned something. Maybe you even get something more.
‘The Lion‘ opens the album. Perhaps I should mention that Smith isn’t only the guitarist here, he’s the vocalist too. I’ve no idea how he sounds, beyond the odd bit of backing from Maiden. This opens, perhaps unsurprisingly, with some sort of synth. Musically it has a touch of 80s without being immediately obvious. Smith’s vocals are different – I’m not sure what I was expecting. He’s a good singer then, his voice harsher, more gruff than Bruce. It’s a similar style to a lot of 80s rock singers, but less strained, less high pitched. The approach is more rock than metal. There’s an abrupt shift from chorus back to verse but I can get behind the melodies. Harmonies provided by a series of backing vocals. It has a good, fast pace for an 80s rock song. A brief piano interlude. This style of song was probably dated by 89 but was super popular earlier. Typically fast solo with a heavy use of the whammy. The lyrics less story driven than Harris, more like a standard rock ballad lyric. Nice start.
‘Silver And Gold’ is next up. I forgot to mention that the name ASAP made me think of WASP, which isn’t good. This is starting like a more atmospheric ballad. I go on about this atmospheric feeling in 80s music – it’s a combination of synth, of chord choice, of pace, of the production, but there’s something less tangible in there that just wraps me in a warm nostalgic embrace – even if I’ve never heard the specific song before. It’s your typical verse opening, vocals and an airy synth before the drums and guitar kick in. The pre chorus and chorus are more in line with cheesy 80s rock – it’s not quite Def Leppard levels of cheese but it’s in that general vein. There’s an echo effect of some description on the vocals, given the appearance of depth and again adding to that atmosphere. The chorus is a little meh, but I can people singing along to it, there’s enough of a hook. A more extended solo this time. It’s very heavy on the harmonies throughout, highlighted in the little bridge. There are a few progressive twists, if I can call them such – just slight variations on the standard structure – a tuck here, a tug there. Not really progressive, just stretching the norms and expectations very gently or abruptly for added effect.
‘Down The Wire‘ opens with an interesting enough arpeggio, not one you hear often. Well, this is a strange verse with a melody I can’t quite grasp or catch up to, at least on first listen. A very strange rhythm, at least to me, with an odd structure and stretched backing noise. It’s like the different pieces were shoved together and don’t really work but have been left in anyway? The drums are just bordering on the 80s sound I don’t like – just enough out of it to still be good. The second verse doesn’t help me out in terms of melody – there’s something very strange going on there. The chorus is non-eventful, but the verse has this strange drum structure which moves from single thumps to doubling the beat later which seems to have caught me off guard. Interesting middle section which fades completely away then brings the single thump drums back before returning to the chorus. Some neat acoustic guitar pieces in the middle part too. The Wall Of Sound style extended backing vocals are doing a bit of a number on me – as they stretch out it’s giving me an uneasy sensation, like a not unpleasant pain in the pit of my stomach. Best I can describe it is when I’m trying to cut my toenails I get an uneasy, anxious feeling. Yeah, you’ve no clue what I’m talking about and neither do I.
‘You Could Be A King‘ seems to be going full cheese. It starts like Take My Breath Away. Then it breaks into a faster part akin to Footloose before settling on the verse. Not a lot of guitar for the verses in this one. I’m not sure I like the effects on the vocals. Some of the vocals and melodies here… there’s no way we can’t compare with Springsteen. I think that’s the style they’re going for, but I’ll leave it for you to decide how successful it is. I do like the 80s strained vocal style, even though it’s so easy to ridicule. Nice middle break which reminds me of Bryan Adams – What’s It Gonna Be specifically. I’m not paying much attention to the lyrics, but this seems to be a positive encouraging message. There’s a country twinge to it too. This was the softest song so far, as commercial MOR 80s rock as you can get. Very American too.
‘After The Storm‘ starts with a lot of synth and is just begging me to shout ‘I! I JUST DIED IN YOUR ARMS TONIGHT!’ Jeepers, then it does another bit of Bryan Adams rhythm thievery as this verse sounds exactly like Can’t Stop This Thing We’ve Started. That is bizarre. Actually, that song came a couple of years after. I wonder if Adams or Mutt Lange heard this. Unfortunately the album is getting more cheesy as it goes along, at least so far. Some of these backing vocals sound like a Southern Gospel choir. Good solo though and those tiny progressive elements remain; like after the solo we get a plaintive quieter vocal with gospel backing. Going back to the chorus is less exciting, but those backing vocals keep the chorus interesting. WTF. Hold on a sec – as the song has an extended coda with more of those backing vocals, I had to google the singer as there’s no way that’s Smith. And the name is Stevie LANGE. Could it be? Stevie Lange for those in the know, is Stevie Vann, a famous backing vocalist on many 70s and 80s hits and appeared in one of my favourite movies The Monster Club. But most importantly here, she was married to Mutt Lange, who I mentioned above, and has worked with Bryan Adams. Have I just uncovered some previously unknown case of theft, imitation, flattery, Illuminati bullshit? Almost certainly.
‘Misunderstood‘ plays the same trick again – intro goes one way, then threatens that the verse will go in another direction, then flips the switch and instead goes in a third direction. It’s a very cheesy first part of the intro, the second part is much more interesting, Alice Cooper-esque, then the verse is fair enough. The chorus is unfortunate cheese. I do like the middle, goes in on the minor key and holds that for the solo.
‘Kid Gone Astray‘ gives me instead Journey or Springsteen vibes. Similar tone. The verse does the minor to major shift thing I life, better melodies on this one. The chorus doesn’t stay in the minor so falls a little foul of my own tastes. But that’s fine. They’re going for another positive anthem and the chorus certainly allows a certain listener to get pumped up. There are some funny vocal twitches and twerks in later verses, the solo is okay, I don’t like the echo on the backing vocals and think it’s unnecessary and makes the melody more irritating by constantly reminding us of it.
‘Fallen Heroes‘ starts with overlapping synth bass and drum sounds before the verse explodes through. It’s similar enough to where the last song left off, then I get excited as there are a few minor notes, then the chorus does something completely different. Is it the chorus? It’s where the chorus should be anyway – basically all the backing instruments withdraw leaving Smith’s vocals and some dweeby synth before another abrupt return to the verse. Very odd. I’ll give the album credit for trying to be different – credit for making those choices, not necessarily credit to the results.
‘Wishing Your Life Away‘ starts out ALLLL wrong, way too much like a 70s crooner trying to make an 80s rock song. Those brass synths are awful. The vocals are very late 80s, early 90s Pink Floyd here, melodies, riffs all hackneyed and silly. The middle section tries to be different, pulling back certain instruments again, and the solo doesn’t add anything – just thrown in for the sake of it. Probably, definitely the least interesting song here and doesn’t give any indication to the talent involved.
‘Blood On The Ocean’ closes the album, lets hope it’s a good one. Starts out okay, has (I’m sure they have a name, not a xylophone but something like that) that synth percussion which always reminds me of Commando or something summery. The verse is slow, piano led, lyrics about war or about people dying or some such, melodies a little bland and overly open and free form, but that’s fine if it leads somewhere interesting. The chorus melody is better, but hardly memorable. I think they’ve tried to make an epic here but haven’t really started with a good base or strong central idea. The middle section is divided into several parts – the first is chaotic and aimless, the second being a solo played over the verse structure, the third simply the solo continuing over the chorus backing. It’s a decent solo but it misses scratching that epic itch.
It started out well. A few good songs which made me hope things would progress. Instead the best was in the first half and the ideas and quality has all but drained away by the time we reach the end. It’s not bad – none of the songs are terrible and I can see hair metal and less discerning rock and 80s fans digging it. It simply lacks the smarts, the punch, the ideas, of Iron Maiden. I know this isn’t remotely trying to be Maiden, but that’s the inevitable comparison. I’m not comparing them in terms of their genres or approach, more what both bands do within those labels. Maiden make fantastic metal music, ASAP make uneventful, MOR rock which no amount of mid-song fiddling can improve. I like Smith’s vocals – he doesn’t have the character of Dickinson or of a wealth of other 80s vocalists, but he doesn’t go into screechy territory which ruined many a decent singer of that period. I can’t recall a single strong riff or truly memorable solo after this single listen – generally after one listen the truly great stuff does stay in my mind, while it takes another couple of listens for the more subtle stuff to take route. So based on this one listen there are a handful of songs I’d like to hear again – some for regular enjoyment, and that strange one which freaked me out with its drums and structure. I can’t say many Maiden fans loving it too much, but I think it deserves a shot – it’s certainly more appealing than many other bands from that period who had massive success.
Let us know in the comments what you thought of Silver And Gold!