Album Review: Saxon – Inspirations


Album Review: Saxon - Inspirations
Reviewed by Paul Hutchings

Where do you stand on covers? Maybe the odd one to fill a gap on an album? A classic given a new twist on occasion can be quite enjoyable. There are plenty of stellar versions that work superbly well. Hell, many metal bands have incorporated covers in their set for years. ‘Antisocial’, ‘Got the Time’, ‘Green Manalishi’ anyone? But a full album? It needs to be something special, like the posthumous Motörhead album ‘Heroes’ for example.

Saxon were the first band I saw live. I was 12 years old. You could say they mean a lot to me. Bugger that, they mean a massive amount. I have huge admiration for them. I’ve seen them more than nearly any other band. I rarely miss a tour, even if it often means getting across the bridge to Bristol. I’ve seen them at festivals, travelled to Scotland and the length and breadth of the UK. They’ve also been on a rich vein of form in the last decade or so. In fact, since 2008’s ‘Into the Labyrinth’ the Yorkshire outfit have been stunning with album after album of solid heavy metal. 2018’s ‘Thunderbolt’ was possibly their finest work since the 1980s.

When it was announced that Saxon were releasing an album full of covers, I must admit that my heart sank a little. Biff had already included ‘Scarborough Fair’ on his ‘School of Hard Knocks’ solo album last year, and if you were given the choice, surely, you’d plump for a new Saxon album. But when you think about it a little, if there was one band who deserve to choose what they release, it would have to be Saxon. Over 45 years in the business, with Biff now aged 70 (holy shit, how did that happen?) and no doubt still challenged in the cardiology department, the tea drinkers from Barnsley can do what the hell they want. Biff explains “We wanted to do an album based on our influences, the songs and bands that inspired us to write what we did and still do, and it was also interesting to see what my voice could do as I haven’t sung many of these songs before.”

The challenge in picking tracks that influenced you when you were young is of course, that they were inevitably songs from already established artists, usually those in their prime. Hence, we see elder statesman Biff trying to get close to a youthful Ian Gillan on the cover of Deep Purple’s ‘Speed King’. Thankfully, despite the odd yelp, Biff plays the lower keys, sensibly avoiding any attempt to match Gillan’s ferocious vocal power from 1970.

There’s the inevitable Rolling Stones song, in this case a decent enough ‘Paint it Black’. As Biff explains, “Loved this band since I first saw them and heard them. I liked the Beatles, but the Stones appealed to my rebel side; their iconic look… so many great songs, such a great attitude in the music!” The contrast with Lemmy’s view in the White Line Fever autobiography isn’t lost on me. “[T]he Beatles were hard men,” he wrote in his 2004 memoir. “… they were anything but sissies. They were from Liverpool, which is like Hamburg or Norfolk, Virginia – a hard, sea-farin' town, all these dockers and sailors around all the time who would beat the piss out of you if you so much as winked at them. Ringo's from the Dingle, which is like the fucking Bronx. The Rolling Stones were the mummy's boys – they were all college students from the outskirts of London. They went to starve in London, but it was by choice, to give themselves some sort of aura of disrespectability” [Source:]. Regardless, The Beatles do get involved, with a stomping version of ‘Paperback Writer’, one of the more surprising inclusions. It’s fast and furious with Biff on top form.

Talking of Motörhead, there’s a very respectful cover of ‘Bomber’ tucked nicely in amongst the 11 tracks on the album. I’m not over impressed with the version of Zep’s ‘Immigration Song’. It’s not as fast as the stupendous Dark Angel version and it’s a real challenge to do well! However, the inclusion of Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Rocker’ from 1973’s ‘Vagabonds of the Western World’ wins plaudits from me, and it’s a cracking version to boot.

Whilst picking a Sabbath song to cover isn’t a surprise, the choice is bemusing. Saxon pick ‘Evil Woman’, which isn’t a Sabbath track at all but a song by US band Crow and covered by the Sabs on their debut album. Covering a cover? Hmm.

Saxon have stated that they didn’t want to change the songs much from the originals and they’ve achieved that. They’ve put their own stamp on songs like Toto’s ‘Hold The Line’ and AC/DC’s ‘Problem Child’, but there’s not a huge difference. There’s little of the original Bon Scott style swagger on the latter track, and it’s a little bit hard rock by numbers. Maybe it’s the unity of the band, but there’s an ease about the way in which Saxon cruise through these tracks. They don’t sound stretched that much and at times it’s more of a jam, a sound check and I suppose that’s what slightly sticks in the throat. It’s just a little disappointing but in many ways, totally understandable. Saxon need to keep the income stream going, and this is something a bit different.

As a long-term fan, I’ll never knock the band. This is their decision, and it is a perfectly respectable album. It won’t be played on a regular basis and I’m unlikely to buy a hard copy with so many other releases available. But, as a line to the band’s heritage, it is a solid record and one that I’m sure many of the Mighty Saxon Army will grab with both hands.

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