Iron Maiden & Repetitiveness vs. Creativity
Duane G. Aubin
A musical group is not unlike a painter or any other artist. They create a body of work
that communicates their ideas using a language of symbols and vocabulary that their
critics ("followers") understand and interpret for the masses. For Iron Maiden,
"that galloping 'Run to the Hills'/'Trooper'" sound etc, as well as
"Eddie", the shadowy Grim Reaper and other visual cues on the
album covers, and other such things are all a part of – not the sum total,
but a part of – their language of vocabulary and symbol. Iron Maiden
has continuously returned to themes of manipulation (and sub themes of manipulation
in religion, politics, war), religion (both inquring as to meaning of life as well as different
views of "god", life, death, etc)... and has thereby developed a body
of literature that requires a consistent musical language that complements
their thematic tone.
The body of work itself will be creative vs. other bodies of works by other artists.
But the body of work will also be repetitive, as it continues to employ the same symbols
and vocabulary that are characteristic of the group.
Consider those who can instantly recognize a Picasso or Dali painting, or can recognize
the drumming of style of Neil Peart or Alex Van Halen. I've found that one can actually
identify a "code" by which a group puts a song together. Even if the band
is unaware they follow this code, nonetheless, this code can be extracted and applied
to many songs within their body of work. In fact, a cover band is excellent for not only
doing the songs of their heroes, but of writing "original" songs in the
"mold" of their heroes. I've done it myself, writing songs that clearly
betray the influence of Rush, or Iron Maiden, or Van Halen. I say "code"
but, truth be told, a band may employ a palette of codes as an artist may employ
various colours, or colour at all, or the lack thereof. On a 10 song album, there may
be 3 songs following one code, 2 following another, one following a code from a
previous album (eg. the "epic" pieces), and a song that stands
on its own, and may or may not be followed up on another album, whether
in theme, content, or in code.
Thus, it is not fair to expect a group to create a "totally new sound"
on each album. They will (or, perhaps should) continue to be recognizable.
Consider when a teen's voice changes. Although it may get deeper or whatever,
yet the voice is still recognizable as that of the particular person. In other words,
even as a band does evolve, even as the sound does shift or migrate a little, chances
are it will (or, perhaps should) be recognizable.
I remember when I first got the Seventh Son album – the first
song began, and I vocally hummed right on count how it would progress.
My friend (who actually bought it for me as a gift) asked if I'd heard the song
before, and I said "no, but I know Maiden!"
Just like a friend who phones with a totally new topic of conversation, I will still
recognize it's him immediately after hearing his "hey man,"
knowing that the voice could only be theirs.
Funny thing about change is, when a band does change, people complain.
When they don't change, people complain. Artists are not stupid for deciding
early to "do what they're going to do and be who they're going to be,"
because no one can please everyone all the time.
I don't listen to a lot of Rush post Moving Pictures. Not to say they aren't as musially
talented as they've ever been, but the music just doesn't speak to me as the earlier
and mid career stuff did. But, play a Rush tune and I can still recognize it as distinctly
Rush. I loved Kiss back in the 70s, and I even appreciated albums most real Kiss fans
did not (Dynasty, Unmasked, The Elder!). I did not follow them
into their metal stuff, although a couple of their songs were ok, but the bottom line is,
I can still recognize their sound, their voice (even if Kiss has little substance to
I don't think any artist should change their voice. I should always be able to recognize
"a Van Gogh", or "a Rembrandt", or a song by Maiden.
From a critic's point of view (which we all are when we break down, analyse and
interpret a group, a piece, etc), an artist who is forever "coming up with
something new" is still not ready to put their work on display... hmmm...
mentioning this demands that I correct myself...
"Early works" by an artist are a part of the artist's body of work, but
often are not considered when discussing an artist's overall lifetime contributions.
Many people who instantly identify Picasso as the father of Cubism might not be aware
that he was a remarkable representational artist (bowls of fruit, vases of flowers,
portraits of posing subjects, etc). His early works are available for viewing, but
that early work is used by the artist to "find their way", deal
with how their thoughts and feelings may or may not change as their work
gains a following, as well as deal with their own preferences for how they will
ultimately package their presentation of themselves and their work.
And, there may be "periods of experimentation", or a temporary
break up to get some fresh perspective. This is perhaps why artists become
eccentric, as they struggle with their identity (remember, unlike other professions
wherein a person can leave their personal life at home, an artist must bring their
personal life to work, for indeed their personal life is their work, insofar as they
express deep feelings and are judged by them daily in the media and among
their followers and detractors); it is then understandable that an artist goes
through change, at least in their products.
So, yes, there will often be a distinct juncture between early works, definitive works,
and experimentation or decline works. And, even within each period in an artist's career,
there may be different feels, moods, etc. But, for the most part, again, it's of value for us
to appreciate that a voice, an identity, should be repetitive, insofar as it develops
the language of vocabulary and symbols that convey meanings for the critics
("followers") to understand and interpret for the masses.
Duane G. Aubin
10th October 2001
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