If there’s one positive thing to draw from this pandemic, it’s the fact that bands were driven to be even more creative to keep fans entertained. Live broadcasts, side projects which had been in the back burner for many years, new merch items and other initiatives are all by-products of this unique time in human history. While certain bands decided to bite the bullet and release original material anyway (Accept, Soen, Steven Wilson), others resorted to live albums (Voivod, Dream Theater, Kreator) to keep the boat afloat.
Another idea adopted by a few bands is to do covers, and obviously that type of project is prone to yielding remarkably different results. Fortunately for Saxon fans, they hit the nail on the head with “Inspirations”, an album where they pay homage to bands that had an influence on them in their formative years, but also tackle songs from some of their contemporaries.
Coming off of a successful album/tour cycle with their previous effort “Thunderbolt”, Biff Byford & Co. reportedly already have new original material in final stages of production to be released. Understandably though, presenting this now would be shooting blanks for a band that has become such a staple in the live circuits under normal circumstances. Hence the idea to buy some time with “Inspirations”. But rest assured, this is not something hastily put together – Saxon clearly put a lot of thought into this release, starting with its cover – a black and white drawing with the classic formations of the bands they’re covering.
Kickstarting this album we have the heaviest version of the Stones’ “Paint it Black” you’ll ever hear, with Biff capturing Mick Jagger’s melancholic delivery of the original and taking it a step further. The bleakness of the lyrics is in contrast with the razor-sharp guitars, creating an unsettling feeling. “Immigrant Song” is next, with the throbbing Jimmy Page riff getting an extra dose of heaviness, and the back end masterfully handled by Nibbs Carter’s tasteful bass licks. Biff does his own version of Robert Plant’s wail at the beginning, and sounds more like a maniac out of a psychiatric ward than a Nordic god, which gives their version an extra charm.
“Paperback Writer” is another classic tackled here, and with Saxon being one of the forefathers of heavy metal, it’s no wonder it sounds much heavier than the original, which came out in more innocent times. Black Sabbath’s “Evil Woman” comes in next. Our readers may point out that “Evil Woman” was originally from Minneapolis-based band Crow, but based on the arrangement here, it’s clear that Saxon is covering Sabbath’s own version, from the Brummies’ debut.
The idea of choosing a non-obvious song from bands that were important in the band members’ musical upbringing continues with Jimi Hendrix’ “Stone Free”, where the riffs hit you like a ton of bricks, and the backing vocals give it a carefree attitude. For a band with so many albums under their belt, it’s hard to believe that any of these songs will make it onto the setlist when shows are given the go ahead again, but if I was to choose one track from “Inspirations” to make it onto their set, “Stone Free” would be it.
Another high point of this release is their take on Motorhead’s “Bomber”, where Nigel Glockler is instrumental in keeping the intense pace of the original. Nibbs and Nigel sound as tight here as Lemmy and Phil “Animal” Taylor must be sounding right at this moment in their jams in hell, and Paul Quinn and Doug Scarrat more than do justice to “Fast Eddie” Clark’s original arrangement. “Speed King” comes next with a jam kind of feel, and it’s played at a speed that Deep Purple hasn’t managed to achieve in ages.
Thin Lizzy’s “The Rocker” is another fun number with an arrangement not unlike the original, and a crushing sound that would make Phil Lynott proud. Coming up next is perhaps the boldest choice of this release, Toto’s “Hold the Line”. I must confess I had serious reservations about how Saxon would tackle this one, and they had more to lose than to win by covering such a singular piece, but surprisingly, it works rather well. Props to Biff for picking this one, and for imprinting his own style on the vocals. Piano gives way to guitars on this version, and the image of a fifty-year-old fan banging to this song got stuck in my head maybe a little bit longer than it should.
The band still finds time to cover AC/DC’s “Problem Child” – another rather unconventional choice. “Let There Be Rock”, the album where “Problem Child” is drawn from, is arguably the one with Angus’ and Malcolm’s grittiest tones ever, and Doug and Paul honor the intention of the original. The Kinks’ “See My Friends” seals the deal, and is presented here without a hint of the innocence of the original, but again, with Saxon’s own twist.
The bottom line: can we consider “Inspirations” an essential release? I’d be lying if I said that’s the case, and I challenge our readers to point out a covers album by any band which as relevant as their albums of original material. I would much rather listen to the follow up of “Thunderbolt,” especially since Saxon has been on a roll with their output in the past decade or so. It’s all about perspective though: if you look at this release from the point of view of maintaining the fanbase engaged and their legacy alive, Saxon deserves all compliments under the sun, and then some. While the definitive versions of these classics are in the studio albums where they came from, Saxon‘s takes more than do them justice, while instilling their own flavor and personality into these memorable numbers.
Released By: Silver Lining Music
Release Date: March 19th, 2021
Genre: Hard Rock
- Biff Byford / vocals
- Paul Quinn / guitars
- Nibbs Carter / bass
- Doug Scarratt / guitars
- Nigel Glockler / drums
“Inspirations” track listing:
- Paint It Black
- Immigrant Song
- Paperback Writer
- Evil Woman
- Stone Free
- Speed King
- The Rocker
- Hold the Line
- Problem Child
- See My Friends