When they first formed in the early 1970s, Aussie rockers The Saints proudly proclaimed themselves “The Most Primitive Band In The World”. By the time their first single, “(I’m) Stranded”, lit up England a few years later, they were one of the most incendiary punk rock bands on the circuit. Their first album was pure aggression, louder and faster than any of their more famous punk brothers. The change began on their masterful second album, Eternally Yours, with the addition of a horn section on some songs. The horns didn’t dilute their sound, they added power to it. The opening track, “Know Your Product”, is one of the greatest of all punk rock songs, though few have heard it. After “(I’m) Stranded” faded from the charts, The Saints began their march to obscurity despite releasing better music. After their third album, Prehistoric Sounds, guitarist Ed Kuepper left the band in the control of singer Chris Bailey.
By 1987, punk was relegated to back alleys and dive bars, and The Saints of All Fools Day sound almost nothing like the band that torched the scene in 1977. Chris Bailey’s bluesy wail, sounding like Van Morrison after chain smoking a few packs of Camels and drinking a few pints of whiskey, is the sole thread connecting the band to their earliest days. So as a point of order, All Fools Day is not a punk rock album. It is, however, a thrilling guitar rock album, with strings and horns punctuating several of the songs. As with their earlier material, the horns don’t swing so much as punch in short jabs, acting as punctuation and counterpoint to the wall of acoustic and electric guitars that drive the songs. The songs themselves, from the magnificent opener, “Just Like Fire Would” (later covered by Bruce Springsteen on his High Hopes album) to the elegiac closer “All Fools Day”, The Saints fire off one grand statement after another, slowing things down for the beautiful “Celtic Ballad”, the mournful “Blues On My Mind”, and the title track, but otherwise rocking with more conviction and more heart than the majority of their 1987 peers.
Of particular note are “The First Time” and “Temple of the Lord”, two hard-charging rock tunes swimming in hooks and melody. In many ways these are the definitive Saints songs from this era, when the punk rock kids inside them were still alive and well but had learned to temper their most aggressive and primitive instincts with genuine songcraft and thoughtfulness.