Sunday, 14 February 2010

SAXON - Rock The Nations

The release of Saxon’s live LP ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ in 1982 effectively closed the door on the first part of their career. It was the first year in which the band hadn’t been extremely busy: they’d already released four studio albums in three years, backed by constant touring. The release of the live album afforded them some breathing space.

By the release of 1983’s ‘Power and the Glory’, changes were in evidence. Nigel Glockler was settled in the drum stool, having replaced Pete Gill for the ‘Denim and Leather’ tour; the band’s sound began to move away from its NWOBHM roots, becoming slightly Americanized (partly due to being recorded in Atlanta with producer Jeff Glixman, I suspect). This slightly more commercial approach was evident again on 1984’s ‘Crusader’, but was less effective due to a lot of weak material. 1985’s ‘Innocence Is No Excuse’ showed a most dramatic shift, presenting Saxon in the mould of an American sounding radio-friendly hard rock outfit. One of the album’s singles, ‘Back On The Streets’, should be regarded as a classic piece of British AOR. It certainly would be, had it been recorded by a band with stronger connections to melodic rock.

Although harder in places, 1986’s ‘Rock The Nations’ embraces the commercial side Saxon explored on ‘Innocence...’ The opening number - and title track - has an anthemic quality (as you’d expect) driven by Glockler’s drumming and a solid guitar riff courtesy of Graham Oliver and Paul Quinn. One of the album’s more ‘classic rock’ efforts, this could sit happily alongside the band’s pre-’83 works. ‘Battle Cry’ takes the power and pushes it up a notch, offering another of the album's more traditionally Saxon sounding numbers.

The lead single ‘Waiting For The Night’ revisits the pop-metal style of the previous album’s ‘Back on the Streets’. It’s obvious, looking back, Saxon fancied sharing a bit of the MTV limelight with Whitesnake. Although musically this is pure mid 80s, it’s lost none of its sparkle. It’s likely that if they’d sold the song on to a more “traditional” big-hair band, it would have been a big hit. [Saxon would get their time in the MTV spotlight a couple of years later with an unlikely cover of Christopher Cross’s ‘Ride Like The Wind’.]

‘We Came Here To Rock’ recalls the anthemic style of the opening number, this time around, with an American hard rock style similar to Keel. Another mid-paced rocker ‘You Ain’t No Angel’ represents a similar styled stomp to Motley Crue’s slower, heavier numbers from ‘Theater of Pain’. Musically, it’s okay, but a female voice-over midway lowers the tone and is slightly cringeworthy.

Even when there are songs on offer which are top notch, Saxon were always prone to delivering an absolute clunker. On ‘Rock The Nations’, it’s a mystery how a band capable of turning in something as classy as ‘Waiting For The Night’ or as enjoyably clichéd as ‘We Came Here To Rock’ would consider ‘Party Til You Puke’ worthy of inclusion. Not even Elton John guesting on rinky-dinky pub-rock piano saves this track from embarrassment.

The album closes with the softer ‘Northern Lady’ (again featuring Elton at the piano). Biff is in slightly better voice than usual here and the band is more generally more restrained. I’d be hard pushed to call it a ballad, since Glockler’s drum sound is so loud – possibly the loudest studio drum sound I’ve heard since the Reggie Knighton Band LP. Gary Lyons’s production work throughout this album is superb, but on this track, the sound he was aiming to achieve is obvious...and it sounds brilliant.

‘Rock The Nations’ was reissued in January 2010 with eight bonus tracks, all of which have been previously available elsewhere: The 7” edits of ‘Waiting For The Night’ and ‘Northern Lady’ are easily obtainable on the ‘Very Best of: 1979-88’ 3CD anthology, as is the instrumental b-side ‘Chase The Fade’ and the live performance ‘Everybody Up’. The three tracks culled from the band’s Reading ’86 performance were originally issued as part of the ‘BBC Sessions’ CD. The storming live performance of ‘Dallas 1 PM’ (originally on the b-side of the ‘Northern Lady’ 12” single) was previously the hardest to find of the bonus tracks – it’s great to have that on CD. Although the bonus tracks aren't essential and we've not been treated to any unreleased nuggets, you may want to upgrade your CD anyway as the remaster sounds great.

Like ‘Innocence Is No Excuse’ previously, ‘Rock The Nations’ represents an album with an undeniably eighties approach. It’s still very enjoyable, despite its faults.

February 2010

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