Wow, it is great to have Bruce back in the band. The Blaze Bayley albums (X-Factor and Virtual Xi) were somewhat depressing, although in my opinion, still a step up from “Fear of the Dark” and “No Prayer for the Dying.” With Bruce and Adrian rejoining the band, the band is capable of playing at a more genuine, vintage pace and timbre. “Rock in Rio” is a return, to some degree, of the olden days (though this album is a far cry from “Live After Death”).
On the plus side, it is a treat to hear Bruce singing the Bayley songs “Clansman” and “Sign of the Cross.” Both are played exceptionally well and Bruce actually adds to the songs what Bayley lacked. In fact, even the crowd makes “The Clansman” much more entertaining — you can almost picture William Wallace with his sword aloft as he charges the field of Bannockburn yelling “Freedom!!!” Gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.
On the down side, IM doesn’t need a third guitarist. Why are they still clinging to Jannick Gers? From a guitar-player’s standpoint, he tremolo picks every solo (that is, he picks the string as fast as he can, whether it’s in time with the song or not), and his fret-work is sloppy. Is he drunk in concert? He doesn’t have this problem on the studio albums, and the songs that he writes are decent. When he plays live, he stinks. His on-stage antics are unbearable. I laughed out loud when I saw him strumming his guitar windmill-style during “2 Minutes to Midnight” on the DVD version of this album. Janick, leave the windmilling to Pete Townsend! And if you think about it, he looks and acts a lot like Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple) did while playing live. The guitar-spinning, hoisting, knelt-down poses and wannabe 80s hair-band style of guitar playing is CHEESY! Janick is a good guitarist (although Murray and Smith are better, IMO)—he should just stick to playing guitar and stop the show-boating. It’s embarrassing.
Another point — if you’ve got Adrian Smith back, then play some of his stuff! We haven’t heard “Stranger in a Strange Land” (one of his best compositions) in nearly 20 years, and “Wasted Years” (a crowd favorite) is all but gone. “Infinite Dreams” was another great song that featured Adrian that is played no more. This was understandable while Smith was gone. But now that he’s back, they need to exploit his abilities like the used to.
Another problem (to me) is the crowd. Sometimes, as I stated above for the song “The Clansman,” they are helpful, but most of the time they are too loud and quite often they come across as annoying. I know IM’s biggest fan base is in Brazil, but sometimes they sing along with the guitar melody (“The Evil that Men Do” for instance) or sing over and on top of Bruce (most songs) at very high volume. I don’t blame the crowd per se, but perhaps I blame the sound mixing. Either way, it does get in the way of the music, so if you’re new to IM, you may want to pick up the studio releases to supplement this CD so that you can understand better what is being played/sung.
My biggest hang-up, as a bassist myself, is Steve Harris’ (lack of) presence on this album. I have to strain in order to hear his bass-playing, which shouldn’t be the case with IM. He just sounds quiet to me, whereas even in the studio recording of “Brave New World,” (from which the majority of the songs on this CD were chosen) Steve’s presence is unmistakable.
All in all, this is a pretty good set of songs (even the vintage “Sanctuary” makes a come-back!) and it is played well. I would pick it up, along with “Live After Death” as essential live recordings of IM.