The Eagle Has Landed

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After recording four fine studio albums in three years, Saxon had catapulted to the top of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal heap alongside Iron Maiden and Def Leppard, neither of which had released their American breakthroughs yet (The Number of the Beast and Pyromania), putting all three bands on pretty much even footing. Certainly, the release of Saxon's first live album -- named The Eagle Has Landed after the gigantic eagle-shaped lighting truss that illuminated the band on-stage -- should have been a crowning achievement for the hard-working quintet from Barnsley. Instead, it signaled the end of their golden era, opening the door for lukewarm reviews from the jaded British rock press, always eager to tear down what they'd only recently built up. Their knives immediately came out when faced with The Eagle Has Landed‘s merely serviceable greatest-hits set, marred by a few iffy performances ("Heavy Metal Thunder" distinctly lacked the, err, "thunder" of its studio version) and several ill-chosen selections from Saxon's then-recent Denim and Leather album ("Never Surrender," "Fire in the Sky," but no sign of the anthemic title track?). Saxon's signature first hit, "Stallions of the Highway," was also conspicuously absent, leaving even die-hard fans a little miffed, although these no doubt found solace in positively crackling performances of other all-time classics like "Motorcycle Man," "747 (Strangers in the Night)," "Princess of the Night," and the epic "Wheels of Steel," captured here in arguably its definitive, audience-participating version. All things considered, though, The Eagle Has Landed definitely fell well short of perhaps unfairly lofty expectations, and was simply not the caliber of live album which children of the '70s had grown accustomed to receiving. [EMI's 2006 expanded reissue of The Eagle Has Landed retains the original album's mixed qualities but adds a generous six tracks (and thus gets an additional half a star to this review) that were supposedly culled from the same 1981-1982 time frame but don't necessarily address the missing essentials listed above. Still, aging Saxon fans will likely all agree that the hour's grown late for quibbling over such details, and will gladly embrace heartwarmingly resurrected nuggets like "And the Bands Played On," "Frozen Rainbow," "Midnight Rider," and "Dallas 1PM," none of which were mixed to match the original program precisely, but perhaps wisely so.

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