This song is Steve's response to the outrage of the current situation in the United Kingdom (and probably elsewhere), where the official figures of the crime rate are supposedly decreasing as compared to the last century, although other more independent surveys seem to show the contrary. Reports indicate that, whereas the average criminality is on the decline, violent crime is however on the rise. And, last but not least, England and Wales have been shown to be the highest-ranking areas for criminality in a survey covering 17 industrialised countries around the world, including the United States, a country that has usually a bad reputation when it comes to this subject.
A lot of controversy has arisen following the discussion of the song's lyrics and they have been a particularly hot topic even on the official Iron Maiden bulletin board. The band have been accused of dishing out "bad Tory tabloid nonsense", but is someone's revolt regarding the state of the country he lives in so shameful? Times have changed and there is here a longing for the so-called "good old days", as they where according to Maiden the "age of innocence". Let's bear in mind, though, that Steve Harris and Dave Murray, to name but only these two, have grown up in a pretty though area where the East End mafia, an organised criminal institution in which by the infamous Kray brothers were heavily involved, was still very active and up to no good. Could we call this a safer time than now? It is doubtful although there was at the time some sense of honour among these structured organisations and they would seldom if ever strike blindly at innocent people.
In our current society, crime has become almost exclusively a "spur of the moment" type of thing and anyone can become a victim, should the potential villain(s) see the right opportunity. Elderly people as well as younger ones are constantly at risk of being mugged, "even in [their] own home". Opportunist crime is probably nowadays the most widespread and the most dangerous, as the attackers do not have any specific plans in mind and simply violently lash out at their victims. Most are young and their inexperience often leads them to panic and to become extremely aggressive.
The case of Tony Martin comes to mind when listening to the lyrics of the song, notably with the lines stating that no-one is safe, even at home, and that the "judicial system lets them do it". Tony Martin, a Norfolk farmer, has been tried for killing a 16-year-old and wounding another with a shotgun blast during an attempted burglary by the two teenagers back in August 1999. In The Guardian's words an independent and fairly impartial newspaper in the UK "[Tony Martin] was depicted as the ordinary man who, plagued by burglars and let down by the police, had struck back but was now being persecuted for his actions", but he was also "always an odd kind of hero [who] thought of himself and few contradicted him as an 'eccentric' who preferred the company of the three rottweiler dogs he lived with on his dilapidated farm, Bleak House". Some see Martin as a victim who had suffered repeated burglaries and who, before the lack of an adequate response from the law, decided to do justice himself and to defend his property. Support associations have even been created to demand his release from prison and stronger laws that would allow every citizen to defend himself as he sees fit. On the other hand, Martin has also been depicted as a strange loner whose misanthropy had led him to lead a secluded life in a booby-trapped farm guarded by three Rottweilers. The accusations went as far as to pretend that he had embushed the two boys and that his act was not one of a panicked old person, but that of a mentally-disturbed man whose hatred had led him to murder.
In any case, whoever Martin is, can we take the law into our hands and punish so severely those that are not properly penalised by the justice? I do not necessarily think that "A life of petty crime gets punished with a holiday", although it is sad to see that the justice is sometimes slack and that some "Assailants know just how much further they can go". The whole judicial system would need a good clean-up and a revision in order to satisfy the victims' claims to compensation for their ordeal. Some crimes are punished, others are not, and it is this last category that is intolerable and that sometimes push otherwise law-abiding citizens to unlawful action. On the other hand, wrong or unnecessarily harsh convictions can also make things worse. For those who know the famous BBC soap opera EastEnders, the case of Martin Fowler comes to mind. Martin was a pretty decent young man who did time for manslaughter and who for a long time after his release despised work and the working people. He was making somewhat "easy" money with dodgy deals and burglary, his petty crimes extending to lies and deceit of his own family. Sometimes, the remedy can be worse than the disease itself.
Repression is one thing, education is another. These so-called petty crimes would not occur if people were educated in the respect of others and of their property. As the whole society seems nowadays assisted by some unclear "higher instances" that provide them with easy pre-digested information, easy fast food, easy welfare state money, and the like, some take the easy way and steal the property they would like to own but are too lazy to work for (or simply destroy it if it cannot be stolen "if I can't have it, no-one else will"). This pathetic mentality, sustained by the lack of proper guidance, leads to the civilisation of mugging, rape and burglary that we currently live in. This state of our society will not change unless people learn to respect each other and recognise that work, as hard as it may sometimes be, is often rewarded by the ability to eventually own what you wished for. I cannot believe that there is more satisfaction in stealing something than in actually earning it.
Musically, 'Age Of Innocence' is a very good piece that starts softly to explode into a blinding riff and heavy rhythm. The instrumental part is Maiden at their best, following a brilliant solo by Dave Murray. The rapped part ("You can't protect yourselves...") is at first a bit surprising and unusual for a Maiden song, but after a few listens you'll realise that it is an integral part of the song and that it blends in quite nicely with the rest. The song ends softly, as it had started, in a melancholic statement that the "age of innocence" whatever that may be "is fading like an old dream")