I really wanted to hate this album. Pandemonium Circus, a compilation of sorts featuring 16 previously unreleased songs from Saxon's founding bassist Steve Dawson, reeks of desperation. Shoddy production. Typo-ridden and self-indulgent (yet still informative) liner notes. Songs that stylistically sound more like Eighties-era David Lee Roth than New Wave of British Heavy Metal-era Saxon.
But after considering the timeframe in which these songs were recorded -- between 1986 and 1989 after Dawson's ouster from Saxon – tracks like "Join Hands," "More Foolin'," "Where Can I Hide" and "All I Want" make a little more sense. Apparently, Dawson went into several studios with several players during that time to lay down tracks he'd written with various people, even recording a song John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote for singer Cilla Black – the second best-selling artist from Liverpool after The Beatles – called "Step Inside Love," which is easily one of this collection's highlights. There are also five live songs recorded at a rare gig in 1987 at Sheffield's Ranmoor College. Dawson throws Saxon fans a bone with a live rendition of "Motorcycle Man" and a little bit of "Dallas 1 p.m." inserted into "We're Giving It Up." (For what it's worth, Dawson also was reportedly the inspiration for Harry Shearer's character, Derek Smalls, in the classic cult film This Is Spinal Tap.)
All that said, I'm still amazed when veteran artists well past their prime go out of their way to prove that they're either still relevant musically or an even better person than they were back in the day – or, in the case of Dawson, both. The liner notes remind readers that Kerrang! magazine named Dawson the 10th-best bass player in the world -- 20 freakin' years ago -- and go on to state that Dawson "displays no obvious signs of bitterness towards his former colleagues." But at the end of Dawson's thank-you list, he adds a bitter P.S.: "It's a shit business!" He also throws down the gauntlet in the liner notes (I told you they were informative) by challenging original and current Saxon singer Biff Byford to a joint tour featuring Byford's band and Dawson's band. Just let it go, Steve. If it makes you feel any better, I'll spin Pandemonium Circus again before I play Saxon's latest batch of retreads on Heavy Metal Thunder.