At this point in my indecisive life, I could really use some good time, good feeling rock and roll and Biff Byford‘s School Of Hard Knocks is the kick in the nuts the doctor ordered. The opening of “Welcome To The Show” has an almost ACDC feel, but with a touch of stained class played by a pinball wizard. Many vocalists fall by the wayside, but Biff sounds exactly the same as he ever did with just the right amount of gut-punch. Moreover, he certainly has found himself one hell of a shebang band that fires on all engines.
The title track sums it up nicely when receiving your bar tab, but this bar is far from closed. “My father was a dinking man, working all his life. Keeping it together through the trouble and the strife, I lost a lot of friends but I had to make a choice, to find another band and hear my inner voice.” I’m not quite clear on Biff’s message here, but I certainly hope his intent isn’t the fact Saxon has ended. If so, this is just as credible as any of Saxon’s past releases and who can go without a double shot of Schenker vs Yngwie fretwork fireworks brought to you by Fredrik Akesson from Opeth and Arch Enemy? One can not overlook the orchestration of this band. Well played lads… well played.
“Scarborough Fair” needs fair attention with its openly renaissance feel. A Yorkshire folk song done quite classically Saxonesque. The white and grey of this man’s grace collects his thoughts as he sings about his motherland, and if that’s not patriotic or poetic enough I don’t know what is. Again, this has Saxon written all over it but I’m starting to recognize Mr. Byford is the true crusader of one of the greatest metal bands of all time, so while we’re at it, why “Throw Down The Sword”? “Leave the glory, a story time can never change. To walk the road, the load I had to carry. Journeys end, a wounded soul.” No man, I don’t believe in this, or you wouldn’t have been carrying the realms of metal on your back for this many years. I’ve been with you since ‘84 and I’ll ride with you forevermore.
“Me And You” has a rain shower compromised of Skid Row’s “I Remember You” romanced with a Springsteen horn section finale. You can only rewrite history so many times, and I don’t necessarily think Biff is singing about summers long gone. Hopefully, within my mind’s grey’s anatomy, this will be a projection of the fall and winters forthcoming. The E Street band outro is warm and rewarding while still recollecting, “that’s why I wrote this song about me and you.”
Getting down to the bottom of the barrel with “Black And White,” it’s a perfect crescendo with a late-night cruise without a specific location or place in mind. Be that home, the bar or the freaking grocery store, you decide. Do what you want, when you want, how you want and with whom you want… even if alone. “This is my life, this is me. Nothing’s easy, nothing’s free. Complicated, count on me, but if you’re looking for answers nothings ever going away.”
With a big bang theory on the heavy metal highway of thunder and lightning, I pull over, kill the ignition and headlights. I soak into the comfort of the leather interior and light up the night’s remembrance. I wonder to myself, should I turn this thing around? So, I pull into the closest fast food joint and think, this is not an album to be overlooked. It’s not Saxon outtakes thrown inside a Burger King bag and tossed along the roadside like a bunch of napkins and ketchup packets. This stands on its own, and thank god I took the time to slip on my Burger King crown, equipped with my plastic knife and fork before I charge forward towards my bed and dragon-like pillows with this golden nugget clenched within my teeth… dreaming of becoming a crusader.
School of Hard Knocks Track Listing:
1. Welcome To The Show
2. School Of Hard Knocks
4. The Pit And The Pendulum
5. Worlds Collide
6. Pedal To The Metal
7. Hearts Of Steel
8. Throw Down The Sword
9. Me And You
10. Black And White
Run Time: 51:42
Release Date: February 21, 2020
Record Label: Silver Lining Music