BMG [Release date 10.08.18]
BMG complete their run of the CD remasters from Saxon and take in the mid to late 80s. This trio of albums by the NWoBHM legends are often overlooked, and looking back now they are far better than they were considered at the time.
Formed in the late 70s, Saxon were at the forefront of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, but by the mid 80s trends had changed, and so had the band. By 1985 Saxon had left Carrere, following a falling out over the unofficial compilation Strong Arm Metal, and the then manager wanting to take the band to a bigger stage. This led to signing to EMI subsidiary Parlophone, and a more commercial direction.
1985’s Innocence Is No Excuse is a personal favourite (I first saw the band on this tour, at London Hammersmith). Yes it is more commercial but there’s some cracking songs here. Opener ‘Rockin’ Again’ is just encapsulating (a song that got a standing ovation live back in the day), and ‘Call Of The Wild’ has a minor chord or two, reminiscent of ‘Midnight Rider’. There’s lots of big songs here, anthemic, catchy, big vocals, and the powerful ballad ‘Broken Heroes’ is a big stand-out too.
Biff Byford’s vocals are spot on, and the rest of the band (guitarists Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver, bassist Steve Dawson and drummer Nigel Glockler) work seamlessly throughout. Much of the album was written by Byford and Dawson, and given the quality of the songs it’s sad and surprising that Dawson would leave after the tour.
Like the previous CDs in the series, it’s a good package with lyrics and a lot of pics, but seriously lacking in sleevenotes, and the bonus tracks add 2 B-sides and the Chapel Studio demos at the expense of additional B-sides and live material added to previous releases (so fans need two copies of the album). That said, this is the Saxon album I wish they’d play more tracks live. ****1/2
The following year’s Rock The Nation was far more a mixed bag; recorded without a bass player (the credited Paul Johnson joined shortly before the album’s release), the bass parts were played by vocalist Byford, who had played bass in his pre-Saxon band Coast. Going for commercial songs but with a rougher sound, and the loss of chemistry in the band (not just the song writing), the album doesn’t flow.
The title track opens and is actually a very decent song, a good feel, slightly anthemic, but the lengthy guitar solo intro is unnecessary and annoying. There are a couple (a couple too many?) power ballads, including the single ‘Northern Lady’, that are worth checking out. Many will know of Elton John’s involvement; recording in the studio next door, he sat in on a playback and played along, and was recorded and added to the song.
He also appeared on the rock ’n’ roll ‘Party ‘Till You Puke’. During the recording of one of the songs Elton John broke a nail and can be heard swearing (you have to listen carefully). Some excellent moments and a lot of worthy listening, do not dismiss this album. Another good package again lacking sleevenotes; the bonus tracks also mirror those of the previous remaster. ***1/2
With a definite push in the commercial FM and big hair direction (just look at the publicity pics of the era), 1988’s Destiny is far from classic Saxon. Just because it’s one of Saxon’s weakest doesn’t make it a weak album though. The cover of the Christopher Cross track ‘Ride Like The Wind’ is one of the best versions of the song, with a great guitar solo. Some great tracks follow, including ‘Where The Lightning Strikes’, ‘Red Alert’ and ‘For Whom The Bell Tol’l. This is the only album to feature bassist Paul Johnson and drummer Nigel Durham. Much like Nazareth’s ‘Snakes’n’Ladders’ of the era, it’s a good album on its own, but a dip in an otherwise strong catalogue. ***
Saxon have been on the crest of a wave for the last 18 years, and for much of that time the back catalogue has not been available. So issues aside (notes, bonus tracks), the packaging is excellent and it makes some fantastic music available again.
Review by Joe Geesin
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