September 29, 1986; EMI; Compass Point Studios, Bahamas and Wisseloord Studios, Netherlands
1. Is It Any Good?
Iron Maiden's golden age is often put on the same pedestal as those of Metallica, Slayer and Black Sabbath, and with very good reason. While they didn't innovate as much as those three bands, they made up for it with hair-raising, swashbuckling fun that generations of metalheads have reveled in, and these albums don't show any signs of losing relevance anytime soon. Somewhere In Time has the dubious distinction of being the album that started to move Maiden away from that golden age, and while it's maybe the weakest of their best albums, that's still an honor that a lot of bands would kill for, especially with Iron Maiden's pedigree.
One of the most controversial aspects of this album, and the one that takes the longest to get used to, is the use of synthesizers. They haven't aged particularly well, and while Iron Maiden has always excelled at making goofy music, the synths push "goofy" into "cheesy" much of the time and threaten to spoil the party.
Luckily, Maiden was smart enough to not let the synthesizers completely dominate their sound, a common sense move that many metal bands trying to move into "relevance" during the '80s didn't take into account. The title track is arguably the best song on the album: It puts the "speed" into "speed metal" and gallops with an intensity and sense of purpose that rivals some of the best material from Number of the Beast. "Wasted Years" suffers a little bit from overly-'80s production but remains a fun singalong anthem nonetheless. "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" is the closest that Maiden gets to a sincerely moving song since "Flight of Icarus" on Piece of Mind, and if "Heaven Can Wait" isn't in the running for Iron Maiden's best song, it's certainly a top contender for their most delightful.
Unfortunately, there are definite drags in Somewhere In Time that weren't present to the same extent on their earlier albums. "Sea of Madness" seems to plod along despite its jaunty pace, "Stranger in a Strange Land" has a memorable riff but fails to evoke a reaction otherwise, and "Deja Vu", without skirting the issue, blows. Three crappy songs wouldn't ordinarily be a huge deal, but this is an eight song album, and those songs take up around a third of the albums 51 minute run time. "Alexander the Great" is an appropriately theatrical epic and a great way to end the album, but by then the damage of the weak links has already been done and you're left feeling like a lot of potential was flushed down the drain.
Still, while it doesn't flow amazingly well as an album, on a song by song basis Somewhere In Time has a lot of worthwhile content and a few songs that rank as some of Iron Maiden's best. Put it on an MP3 player and hit shuffle and you'll notice the quality of the album go up significantly. It doesn't live up to past glories, but in the context of casual listening, Somewhere In Time succeeds as a fun collection of anthems.
2. Is It Influential?
It proved that a metal band could add synthesizers to its repertoire and still be considered legit. During the '80s that was no small feat, so I would say this definitely has a significance of a sort.
3. Is It A Good Starting Place For Beginners?
As an album not really, as it tends to drag in places, but songs like "Heaven Can Wait" and "Wasted Years" would definitely be very palatable for someone just starting to get into metal. Put your two or three favorite songs off of Somewhere In Time on an '80s metal mix and see how it turns out.