Another year, another Iron Maiden career retrospective collection

Look, I love Iron Maiden. Totally, completely, almost unconditionally. Almost because I can’t justify the Blaze Bayley era for even a second. Horrible, horrible choice for a lead singer, guys.

Anyway, as much as I love this band and even have grudgingly gone along with them on this progressive, epic metal they’re onto now, and have long celebrated their catalog, even I realize they are the masters of the cash grab. I have an entire section of CDs on my shelf filled with Maiden discs, and maybe only half of those are essential. “Number of the Beast,” “Powerslave,” “Killers,” “Piece of Mind,” “Brave New World” all are records every metal fan should own. For anyone furrowing a brow over “Brave New World,” give it another listen. Great record, one of the best of their catalog, one I listen to pretty regularly to this day (plus Decibel magazine named it the No. 4 metal record of the 2000s). When it came out I thought I dug it simply because Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith had returned to the fold, but no, it’s pretty excellent.

OK, but for all of those albums, there a ton of others I own simply because it says Iron Maiden on the spine: “A Real Live One,” “A Real Dead One,” “Ed Hunter,” “Live at Donnington.” Some others still are not exactly crucial but I at least can see a reason for their existence. “The Essential Iron Maiden” is one in a series that includes a ton of various artists, and if you’re one who doesn’t have the band’s catalog but wants the key songs, this is on OK historical document (sequencing and some of the song choices aside). I have the one that features The Clash and get a lot of mileage out of it. “Somewhere Back in Time – The Best of 1980-1989” is probably useless to classic era fans who have all the albums they culled from to make this, but it came out at a time when Maiden’s profile had risen again and they were taking on U.S. venues playing their classic songs (including that ill-fated Ozzfest stint, where Sharon “The Asshole” Osbourne egged the band, even after they filled headlining slots for her ailing husband how many times). And if any career retro deserves two discs, it was this one! But no. One disc.

This all leads us to the new two-CD collection “From Fear to Eternity: The Best of 1990-2010,” yet another gathering of period pieces for Maiden, but one I’d argue the world doesn’t really need. Their albums in that period didn’t exactly burn up the sales charts in America (though they did better since their 2000 Dickinson/Smith comeback), though the band remained steady in Europe and other parts of the world, so those folks probably will get even less out of this. But they didn’t really have any hits, per se, and while they released singles and made some videos, they didn’t have the same level of landmark cuts that they did in the 1980s. Best-of is subjective, really. This album feels like a way for the band to grab some money from their loyal fans (admittedly, I bought the damn thing, only because I feel like I need to have every piece of Maiden plastic on the market) and doesn’t feel like a crucial document.

The track listing is a mess. It is all over the map, with disc one opening with “The Wicker Man,” probably their most successful song in the past decade or so, then leading into “Holy Smoke,” from 1990’s terrible “No Prayer for the Dying.” From there, the track list bounces from album to album, with no coherent reason why the disc is put together this way. Disc two opens with “Be Quick or Be Dead,” a song from 1992’s “Fear of the Dark,” a record a little bit better than “Dying.” From there, it’s the same all-over-the-map sequencing, going to “Tailgunner” from “Dying” to “No More Lies” from “Dance of Death,” a record that’s sounds like a retread of “Brave,” to “Coming Home,” from their latest record “The Final Frontier.” Listeners not particularly aware of the band’s last two decades will be hearing a mish-mash of cuts, with no real historical perspective whatsoever. Why not set these tracks chronologically to make the collection make more sense? That way you’d be able to hear the band grow and develop into their middle-age years (personally, certainly not band-wise) and get an idea of the form the band takes now.

Something that amuses me about this collection is the erasing of Bayley from Maiden’s history. The songs that included him on the studio versions are replaced by live takes featuring Dickinson. That’s probably for the better, because Bayley, as noted, was a horrible choice to replace Dicksinson. I’m also morbidly entertained that “Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter,” originally a Dickinson solo track for one of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies, is here in its “No Prayer for the Dying” form. No matter who tries this song – whole band, just Bruce – it sucks. Just a terrible, horrible song. Really, really bad and quite awful. They should not be proud of this song.

I want to make clear that the actual music on this collection, for the most part, is good. While it took me a while to adjust to the last two Maiden records and their turn toward much longer, more epic songs, I can listen to those discs and enjoy them. Certainly they’re not up to par with Maiden’s classic material, but for a band that’s been around more than three decades now, they’re notable achievements. I just don’t think we needed two damn CDs (or three vinyl picture discs!) in order to mark it. One might have been tough because the songs are so much longer, but did we even need this project at all? Is it only here because it was deemed necessary to follow up “Somewhere Back in Time”? If you’re a completest like I am, certainly you’ll have to buy this for catalog reasons (I got it for $9.99, so I’m not really sweating it). If you’re not a diehard, download the good tracks from their first two ’90s works (legally, of course), buy “Brave New World,” and proceed a bit cautiously with everything else that followed. This collection maybe can help you navigate that process, but you can save some cash by finding a friend who owns the band’s collection and having that person make you a mix. It is the ’10s after all. As far as it being something every metal fan must have, it just simply isn’t that.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.ironmaiden.com/

To buy “From Fear to Eternity: The Best of 1990-2010,” go here: http://www.ironmaiden.com/fromfeartoeternity/