After watching Kid Rock debut “Forever” from Cocky on MTV, I became convinced that the only things separating him from Brit bangers-and-mash hard rock of the early ’80s is a (conspicuously diminished) hip-hop influence, a video producer, one monster truck, and the hat. The recent despicable American showbiz habit of employing dancing hypopituitary cases as props was also missing by death and default (pray the Kid never bumps into a stripper with global vitiligo), making it easier to watch for the duration of the number, and in doing so I noticed that his guitarists were playing watered-down white-boy-blues fills and Bros. Young licks in front of stacks that suggested Castle Donnington more than Detroit.
Though one has to cede the gasbag TV stagecraft to the Kid, the riffing of Donnington alumni Saxon in “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got” from their new Killing Ground (SPV) does better than Kid’s in “Forever.” Saxon’s guitars are more charred and better played, the lyrics about the same, and the drummers dead even—differing only by gender. Saxon’s frontman, Biff, would have fit into Kid’s trousers in 1983; today he resembles an admiral in command of the Russian Northern Fleet—a more dignified look, if somewhat less rock pig.
It should come as no surprise that Saxon have already done a good number of albums equivalent to Killing Ground. And that’s no liability, either: Art, growth, and originality are overrated when it comes to building a hard rock rep with a lineage longer than a decade. No one who loves the genre well into middle age wants his hot dog served with paprika.
Back around 1980, Saxon owned the biker-rock and pigeon-shoot audience in England—the same class Kid Rock puts in front of cameras in Michigan. Saxon had a semi-anthem, “Denim and Leather,” featuring a cornball sing-song rap fit for the Kid, too. (“Denim and leather! Brought us all together!”—rhymes with “Forever.”) Import editions of Killing Ground include a revisited version, a wise stroke that should have been duplicated in our market. If one plans on hanging around for more than 20 years, there’s a good chance that a statistically notable portion of the original fan base, particularly in the lower middle class and down, will have either died or been rendered moribund, justifying revision and republication of the catalog for the benefit of the newly arrived.
Toilers in the machine shop of their trade, Saxon have gained through experience psychic intimacy with the leather vest Bund. A cover of “The Court of the Crimson King” on Killing Ground has Biff delivering his damnedest Greg Lake impersonation. It’s a very good one—and, if it came at the right time, just the invocation to ignite overserved bikers in a free-for-all featuring loose chopper parts and festival chairs at the county fair.