When looking at the title of Saxon’s latest album you may think that Barnsley’s Big Teasers have done a Nirvana and recorded an acoustic set. Well, you’d be wrong because “Unplugged and Strung Up” isn’t a full acoustic album but re-workings of several Saxon songs into different forms, mainly orchestral but with a few acoustic twists.
But that said, the opening track is an up-to-date re-recorded version of ‘Stallions of the Highway’, a track originally from their 1979 self-titled debut, and the beefed-up modern production doesn’t do it any harm at all. Two other tracks from that debut album make an appearance, with ‘Metal Militia’ being a straight re-record and ‘Frozen Rainbow’ getting the full acoustic treatment, with Biff Byford’s weightier vocals adding a nice emotional depth.
The orchestral versions that appear are appropriately pompy enough to differ from their original studio counterparts, the likes of ‘Crusader’ sounding like Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds” in scope. The emotional pull of ‘Call to Arms’ is heightened by some stirring strings and in a live setting would prove to be quite a spectacle, much like the live acoustic version of ‘Iron Wheels’ that is included here.
However, like a decent compilation by an established band, it isn’t necessarily the quality of the music on offer that is in question but the slightly haphazard notion of putting all of these musical patterns onto one flowing – or not flowing – album tracklisting. The inclusion of 2002’s “Heavy Metal Thunder” album of re-recorded classics as a bonus disc on the special edition makes the whole package feel more complete, but taken on its own “Unplugged and Strung Up” is an interesting document for hardcore fans but unlikely to draw in anybody not already invested in the band.