Friday, September 21, 2012

Steve Harris British Lion - A Very Nice Surprise

I came to this album carefully, almost gently. I decided to forget who Steve Harris was, what he meant to me, and listen to a group I'd never before heard. It's an excellent record - one of the year's best, and I suspect if you give it a few listens you will enthusiastically agree.

Having read many of the comments given on this record's Facebook page, I'm astounded by how many listeners took to task Harris's choice for a singer on the disc. Richard Taylor is a fine vocalist - if this wasn't an album by a man associated with histrionic metal vocalists (whom I adore, mind you), the same people would be gleefully comparing this to Muse and Radiohead. The songs are top notch, the playing and singing are fabulous, and the arrangements and production are as perfect as one would expect from a man who's been making records for over thirty years.

Steve Harris championed a band called British Lion back in the early 90s, but as you'll remember, that was not a time that was kind to melodic hard rock. He's brought back guitarist Graham Leslie, and vocalist Richard Taylor, who not just sing and play, they also wrote a good many of the songs with Harris. Joined by guitarist David Hawkins and session drummer/producer Simon Dawson (Airrace, The Outfield), this lot sounds like a band, and given that Harris could have called most anyone in the world to join him, these gentleman have my full respect.

If you come to this with Maiden ears, you'll walk away unhappy - why would Harris do a second rate Maiden when he drives the finest in the world? This is a classic hard rock outfit, that sounds like they've heard everything that has happened for the last couple of decades, and kept the good bits. Harris gets to indulge himself in emotions, words, and melodies that would fit in Eddie's costume, and we are the richer for it.

This Is My God enters with a wah drenched guitar that reminds me of Iommi circa 1980 meets The Muse. Harris's bass has never sounded better - this album should serve as a primer, if not a complete lesson on rock bass guitar. Harris's playing and tone are simply superb, and when he's not competing with Maiden's great wall of guitars, you suddenly find yourself thinking that this guy is right there with Geezer, Entwistle, Bruce, among the best of the British bottom enders. Singer Taylor has a smooth, smokey tenor that nicely updates Harris's sound. Perhaps even more than the difference in vocal styles, Taylor serves up lyrics that just wouldn't set easy with the more molten metal crowd. The spiritualized side of a metal god - who'd of thought?

One of the great questions here is just how Taylor and Leslie have remained hidden from the mainstream all these years. This material reminds me that I wasn't wrong about Seattle and Grunge - if that scene had had finer musicianship and this much craft, I would have been on board. Lost Worlds is modern and contemporary, but with none of the banal repetition I tend to find in most new rock.

Bass bravado meets melodic metal for Karma Killer - had Harris not found millions with Maiden, he'd have been superb next to Michael Schenker after UFO let the mad axeman walk away. This evokes a slight sense of Maiden, but it swings in a way in which Eddie could never dance. I love the fact that Graham Leslie knows he's not here to be a virtuoso - not that he doesn't have chops aplenty, he does - but he plays for the songs, he plays like a grown man with nothing to prove. He tasty as hell on every song, and he sounds like no one more than himself.

Harmony guitars and a galloping rhythm section (sound familiar?) rushes in Up Against The World, but quickly give way to a rather romantic rock tune that wouldn't sound strange coming from the mouth of Phil Mogg. The guitar solo on this tune sounds like it could have been lifted off the first IM album, as does several instrumental interludes - I wonder how long this one lived in Harris's song folder? It's great to hear a gifted rock writer getting the chance to indulge some early influences, and step outside his comfort zone - this is a great example of why solo albums can be so wonderful.

The Chosen Ones has a bit of The Who's DNA, along with a huge nod of the Harris hat to Boston. Boston? Yup, Boston. This is poppy and peppy in the best sense. No, Conley hasn't gotten into the poppies, this is the first song I have ever compared to Scholz and Delp. Wait until you here the guitars in the coda - you'll see. Very cool - very, very cool.

A World Without Heaven is another great tune that wouldn't rest easy on an Iron Maiden record. More melodic metal, this sounds fantastic - I would love for this band to do some shows, or a festival or two. Throw us a bone, rock and roll. After the Black Country Communion debacle over the last few weeks we could sure use one.

Going back to a day when metal could still raise a goosebump, Judas is majestic and beautiful rock. This stripped down approach gives Harris room to be fully heard, and I might say that along with Glenn Hughes's virtuosic display with the aforementioned BCC on their swan song album, Afterglow, that this is one of the finest records for bass fans in a very long time. Harris's tone is in your face and his articulation and note choices are sterling perfection.

Eyes of the Young and These Are The Hands are both fine rockers, but not quite up to the rest of the album in uniqueness, or excitement. In fact, Eyes of the Young is almost Springsteen-esque - it's very Americanized, and only Harris's bass reminds us that this is the voice of the UK speaking.

The Lesson is a lovely way to wrap up the record with it's brit-folk acoustic guitars, lilting strings, and piano arrangement. This is another piece that would find no home on a Maiden release, and shows yet another side of Harris that I hope we get to see more of in the future.

British Lion is a fairly fantastic record - if I didn't know it came from Harris, I would say that something new and brilliant has been raised in the British Isles, but then again, I guess it has. Give this one a few listens and forget about Iron Maiden for a moment. You'll most likely dig what you find, and this one will give you many, many hours of listening entertainment. Hats off to you, Steve - job well done.

Oh yeah - this record was mixed by the golden touch of Kevin Shirley. No one in rock is on more of a roll, and his skills are a valuable part of this fine outing.

1 comment:

Martin Rec said...

I completely agree with you. If Steve wasn't in Iron Maiden this album would be loved. Ppl expect to listen to the Maiden sound, I just find that idiotic! there's no point in Steve making a solo album if he'll make the same stuff he does in Iron Maiden. Same goes for Adrian Smith (with ASAP and Psycho Motel), those albums didn't get their deserved credit and they were AMAZING!