Released at probably the highest point of Maiden's popularity, Somewhere In Time has a quite different feel than the previous albums. It represents a change of direction for the band, which was beginning to explore different sounds and styles. Perhaps the most immediately noticeable difference is the addition of guitar and bass synths. The synth sound is not overpowering, compared to Judas Priest's 'Turbo' for instance, and in most cases it is more of a background filler.Many fans have mixed feelings about the addition of the synths. The effect doesn't seem to hurt the songs, but it doesn't seem to make them better than they would have been without it. Faith No More comes to mind as a band that based its entire sound on the unique combination of synthesizer and metal guitar, with brilliant results. But Maiden had already carved a different niche, so why fix something that isn't broken? Still, one has to respect an artist's right to experiment and innovate. Although it is not a concept album, Somewhere In Time has a bit of a futuristic theme, which begins with the album cover. It is by far the most complex and detailed of Maiden's album covers, reminiscent of the sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner, and contains almost 40 references to other Maiden songs and trivia.
I've read people on the net who consider this to be Maiden's best album, but to me it isn't quite as good as the previous three. Still, this is a very good album, containing some classic material.
The first thing one notices about 'Caught Somewhere In Time' is the guitar synth, which is heavily applied in the song's intro. However, once the song gets going the synth pretty much disappears.
Some argue that this song was somehow inspired by the 1979 film Time After Time in which H.G. Wells, the famous Science-Fiction author, invents a time machine incidentally, Wells actually wrote a novel called The Time Machine, published in 1895, which inspired le cinema industry since the mid-20th Century. The story relates how Wells pursues one of his friends, who turns out to be Jack the Ripper, into the late 1970s where Jack has found refuge in a world of violence that he considers his "natural habitat".
The song is about someone who is apparently being urged to sell their soul, although what is being offered in exchange remains unclear. This is one of the few songs where Dickinson 's singing is not quite so palatable, mainly in the chorus where it seems like he is trying to sing too loudly. The result is something that is almost shouting and borderline out of tune. Otherwise, it is a decent song.
'Wasted Years' was the first single from the album, and is one of Maiden's most accessible and mainstream-sounding songs. It is probably about as close as they can get to the mainstream and still retain their unique Maiden sound. There is a long and very melodic chorus by Maiden standards, and an excellent instrumental and guitar solos.
It seems to be some sort of an admonition to appreciate the present and not take things for granted. It could also be a reflection on the World Slavery Tour, that really burned out the musicians of Iron Maiden to the point that a split of the band was feared at the time. It's obvious, though, that all that time was certainly not wasted, and that those were indeed Maiden's "Golden Years".
Sea Of Madness' is another psychological sort of song, which might be about someone who is slowly slipping into madness, although the lyrics are fairly ambiguous. Its start is a little rocky, but the great chorus and guitar solos rescue it and make it another excellent song.
It seems that the "Sea of Madness" is some sort of metaphor of the current state of Mankind, although it can be argued that things have always been like this since the dawn of humanity and that they will quite unfortunately remain this way for many centuries to come. Fires are burning, people cry, and the character describing all this simply turns his back and leaves. Confronted to so much violence and misery, it is sometimes hard to do anything at all and the best is sometimes quite simply to walk away from it all...
This song has always reminded me of Hieronymus Bosch's painting called The Ship Of Fools, which is also an allegory of Mankind's often appalling condition. This seems to indicate that, already in the late 15th Century, when the painting was made, artists were representing our civilisation as a ship with a crew of fools set adrift on a sea of madness.
'Heaven Can Wait' is a song about a near-death experience. It is a fairly long song, and its highlight is the sing-along section just before the guitar solos, which is practically custom-made for live concerts. This sing-along also has the unusual feature of vocal support by some guys they found in a place called Tehe's Bar. This explains the reference to Tehe's Bar on the album cover.
Near-Death Experiences, or NDE for short, are these strange reports by people who have been declared clinically dead, but who managed somehow to come back to life. Although it is difficult to assert that these impressions are purely physiological and only due to the neurons of a dying brain firing wildly as a defensive response to the stress caused by the situation, NDEs do not in any way constitute an evidence for an afterlife. Not all subjects reported dead and subsequently revived have experienced an NDE, and each NDE seems to be unique. The "vision" of a tunnel of light, as mentioned in the song, appears to be common, however, and Bosch's illustration of The Last Judgement indicates that this phenomenon has been reported already some five centuries ago.
Heaven Can Wait The 1943 Film Heaven Can Wait The 1978 Film The topic of the afterlife and that some people may get there a bit too early has also been exploited by Hollywood and, to date, two films have been released with the title Heaven Can Wait. The 1943 Ernst Lubitsch comedy tells us the story of a man who has to justify himself in order to gain access to Hell, whereas the 1978 version, directed by Warren Beatty who is also playing the main character, relates the tale of a young American footballer who meets an untimely death and finds himself reincarnated into the body of a millionaire who wants to buy Los Angeles Rams in order to once again quarterback them into the Superbowl. Life after death seems to be a popular topic indeed!
This song is based on the short story by Alan Sillitoe, which was also made into a 1962 film of the same name, about a young runner who defies his juvenile detention centre warden by throwing a race that he is expected to win. It is another song with a good chorus and instrumental, and it also appears to have the longest title of any Maiden song.
The story relates the inner thoughts of a young offender who's in borstal, but who is allowed to train for a long-distance race. The local authorities hope to gain some prestige from the race, but the young man is aware that he is being manipulated and, while he is running, we can follow his reflections. Why should he follow rules that are forced onto him and win a race for those who put him in prison? This is a brilliant story about hypocrisy.
Although the song title and picture for the single are reminiscent of Robert Heinlein's novel of the same name, it is actually unrelated. 'Stranger In A Strange Land' is about a man trapped in the arctic and whose frozen body was eventually discovered years later. It is apparently based on a real expedition, and Adrian Smith was inspired to write the song after talking to one of the survivors (who ended up becoming an Iron Maiden fan). This is a great single and is one of the best songs from the Somewhere In Time album. It is a little more laid-back, and it has the great guitar solos that we have come to expect.
As the title suggests, this song describes the feeling of deja-vu, which is the strange feeling one sometimes gets that they have experienced the exact same situation already. The lyrics are somewhat shallower than the usual, but its catchy tune makes up for it.
Another of Maiden's historical epics, 'Alexander The Great' is the best song on the album. It details the history of the military genius Alexander of Macedon (356323 BC), who conquered the Persian empire and may be the only general in history to have never lost a single battle.
The song contains one unfortunate historical inaccuracy, suggesting that Alexander's army wouldn't follow him to India . In fact, they did enter India and went as far as the Indus river in what is now modern-day Pakistan . Plutarch's account describes Alexander's final battle in India , where he faced and defeated an army which included mounted elephants. Some will argue that such inaccuracies are irrelevant, or forgivable due to "artistic license". I disagree. If the entire purpose of a song is to inform of historical events, then these events should at least be as accurate as possible. Otherwise, it's an inspired song in the same vein as 'To Tame A Land' and 'Rime Of The Ancient Mariner'.