Saxon – Innocence Is No Excuse

Saxon - Innocence Is No Excuse (1985)
Saxon – Innocence Is No Excuse (1985)

Innocence Is No Excuse was Saxon’s major-label debut, their first album under EMI/Parlophone. The band had left their indie label Carrere acrimoniously, suing over unpaid royalties. The case took months but meant vocalist Biff Byford and bassist Steve Dawson had plenty of time to prepare new Saxon material. Their last album Crusader had been a patchy, tired effort and, with contemporaries like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard leaving them in the dust, they would have to do better.

Produced by Simon Hanhart, 1985’s Innocence was a more cohesive and consistent album than its predecessor but it was also a controversial reinvention of the band’s style. It has a very commercial sound: smooth chorused guitars, gated drums and extra keyboards. And the band put a Pop-Metal spin on their material too. The opening track, the moody and windswept Rockin’ Again sets the stall out clearly: this is not going to be your typical Saxon album. With Byford and Dawson hogging the writing chores, the focus is firmly on melodies and anthems with very little guitar-riffing Heavy Metal Thunder. The more radio-friendly side of the band, demonstrated on previous songs like the power ballad Nightmare and simplistic singalong rockers like Just Let Me Rock, dominates here. The lyrics are simpler too. There are no songs about transportation: this band just wants to rock, shout, rock and shout again.

The coulda-shoulda-been hits
The coulda-shoulda-been hits

The focus on hooks and melodic anthems results in impressive coulda-shoulda-been-hits like Back on the Streets and Rock N Roll Gypsy but means there’s a lack of variety in style and dynamics in the album overall. Call of the Wild and Devil Rides Out stand out with some rare money riffs from guitarists Quinn and Oliver. Gonna Shout and Everybody Up are pleasingly dumb energetic crowd-participation numbers. While Saxon’s take on poppier material tended to sound limp on previous albums, here they sound bold and confident in their direction.

None of the songs are bolder or more confident than the Side 2 opener Broken Heroes. An elegiac ode to history’s war fallen, it’s the only true Saxon classic here, combining tragic sadness with fist-clenching pomp to sublime effect. It’s a triumph and, like Crusader on the album before, the best song on here by a mile. That both Crusader and Innocence… are most successful in their lone epic boy’s-own moments indicates that Saxon were losing sight of the blokey grit, depth and heart that were important parts of their charm.

With their major label behind the album, Saxon enjoyed their highest US chart placing yet and bagged some MTV exposure but found themselves falling out of favour in the UK. A narrative took hold that they were trying too hard to crack America. Ultimately, on both sides of the Atlantic, the glossy sheen and perceived lack of integrity would make Innocence Is No Excuse a forbidden fruit in the Saxon catalogue. But if you fancy some cheese with your apple, it’s worth taking a bite out of this one. It’s an underdog pleasure. Saxon were too talented to put out a total dud and their talent is still very much in evidence here, if misdirected. By the time the next record arrived, there would be one less talent in the band.

[Saxon – Call of the Wild]

Mah copy - never quite sure if she was eating the apple or just dribbling on it
Mah copy – never quite sure if she was eating the apple or just dribbling on it
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41 thoughts on “Saxon – Innocence Is No Excuse”

  1. Hmmm. Y’know, I’ve still to give this one a listen all the way through – the first couple of songs didn’t rock my socks. I’ll maybe hook this up for some listening time over the next few days and try stick with it.

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    1. Fair dos. Hope it comes across in the review that I’m kind of in-between on this one. There’s times when I just can’t get into but then there’s times when think it’s awesome. It’s definitely not their best. You have to be in the mood for it and you have to like that 80s style. There’s not a bad song on it but there’s just something missing. Other bands did this stuff a little better.

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      1. It does, aye. I think I struggled to get into this one cause it didn’t have the same grit and power of the albums I really dug. It just didn’t click. I think I gave it a listen after Crusader too (which I like), so maybe I’d had my fill of Saxon that day? But I’ll go back to it and let you know my thoughts!

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      2. Grit is a word that kept coming up in my mind too. I think, if you can get round the style of it, this is maybe a stronger album than Crusader but… it’s the first time that I’ve got fed up with a Saxon album while I’ve been doing a review which is telling!

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      1. Crusaders and Strong Arm of the Law which I found through you. The only thing I really knew previous was Power & the Glory

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  2. Tbone bought this on cassette and I borrowed it but I was buried in so much music that this one got forgotten about! Call of the Wild I do recall thoug was good but man I kind of always went back to Eagle,Power and Glory and believe it or not Crusader…..
    I have been enjoying your Reviews on Saxon Great flashbacks!

    Keep it up HMO!

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    1. It’s a good, solid album Deke but I go back to the earlier albums more too. This one’s good for a change of mood when you’ve been listening to the classics a lot but it’s never going to be my go-to Saxon album. It’s a bit better than Crusader though!

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  3. So it’s 1985 and Saxon put a girl on an album cover! But I think I like the sounds of this, honestly. Kinda like listening to the 80’s albums by Rush or Jethro Tull, I enjoy those kinds of departures.

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      1. Turbo did spring to mind a lot but it’s been so long since I’ve listened to that, so I didn’t want to go there. And the next Saxon album is a bit “back to basics but not as good” so maybe it’s their Ram it Down?

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  4. SAXON! When I read that name, I think of two things:

    1) MAJESTY
    2) our HMO

    Since I don’t know much about this, I’m gonna take your word for all of it and say what I always say – one of these days I’ll hear this stuff!

    As for the apple, I thought two things as well:

    1) Yes, I have accepted cheeses into my life.
    2) PIE, (apple), with a nice sharp cheddar on the port side, and real vanilla ice cream on the starboard. Oh, and a black coffee as well, thank you very much.

    Dammit now I’m hungry. SAXON!

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    1. Absolutely. And any Saxon song about sex or women is always going to struggle. It’s just not right! And actually there’s not many (I can only think of one or two at a push) songs about women/sex on this album so I’ve got no idea why they went with that Scorpions reject of a cover. The songs are all mostly rocking and shouting. And no songs about transport on this… simply not good enough!

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      1. Can you imagine a Saxon song about a brave woman on a moped? That would just be the ultimate! It would give Biff a chance to break out the old underused pedals/medals rhyme scheme.

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  5. I haven’t heard this one in years but I think this was the tour I saw them. It was October 1986 and the first ever concert I attended at the Hammersmith Odeon, (now called LeBatt’s). They rocked that night so trivia alone will entice me to give this another listen.

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    1. That’s awesome! Funnily enough, I’ve got a recording of a Hammersmith show coming up soon from the Innocence tour. The one I have is from Sep 1985 so if you saw them in 1986 it might have been the ‘Rock the Nations’ tour?

      It’s actually amazing how often bands hammered out albums and tours back then…

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  6. I remember chatting to Graham about this album some years ago, and I think he felt it was underrated. It was, as you say, a risky change of direction, but ‘Back on the Streets’ really should have flown and justified the risk. ‘Broken Heroes’ was one I performed live with ODS, a brilliant song, and very, very popular with the denim clad hordes! 🙂

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    1. That’s interesting to hear Graham’s take on it, Kev. I think the album could have maybe done with more of his input? I agree it is under-rated but it’s not as good as their classic stuff. I can get fed up with it more than their earlier albums. I really need to be in the mood for it. But Broken Heroes is incredible! I think it might be in my Top 10 Saxon tunes but… it’s got a lot of competition!

      P.S. just bought my first bass so I might be hitting you up for some pro tips! 😉

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      1. Excellent my friend, welcome to the low register! 🙂 I agree re: Innocence, it would have benefited from more of Graham’s monster riffage!
        He’s recently done a session for Jenny Darren and I on a forthcoming album – sounds awesome! 🙂

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