British Lion, Steve Harris, EMI, 2012
I love Iron Maiden with a passion -maybe a little too much even- and Steve Harris has been the driving force of the band since its inception. More than anyone else, Maiden is Steve’s baby. For all intents and purposes, Steve Harris is Iron Maiden. Now that’s out of the way let’s proceed with British Lion.
When Harris announced a solo project I thought it was great for him, it was an opportunity to flex his musical muscles outside of the beast that is Iron Maiden and that he could do whatever else he wanted with this one record. In fact I was kind of surprised that he hadn’t done this sooner as Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith had, but at the same time Maiden was his reason to live all along.
In 2012 came Steve Harris’ first solo album, British Lion. Actually it’s more of a side project than a solo record really. The origins of British Lion for further than we’d think. Harris mentored the band of the same name in the early 1990’s and nothing happened, stayed in touch with some of the musicians and years later they worked out some music and release this.
At first I thought the title was a little bland and generic. Then it hit me that music is exactly like the title, bland. It’s generic and doesn’t really go anywhere, yet doesn’t exactly play it safe either. It ends up being quite boring and dull.
One thing Iron Maiden brought forward with their music was power and passion, none of which is to be found on British Lion. In fact, it seems to be the exact opposite. It sounds more like a mainstream and commercial rock album than anything else, and I think outside of hardcore Iron Maiden fans supporting Harris there isn’t much of a market at all for it.
“This Is My God” opens the album and from the start you get a sense that it’s going to be different than Steve Harris’ usual work and it indicates much of the sound of the album and the direction they were going with. I just find this first song inconclusive, it doesn’t do a great job at putting the listener in any mood and it’s not effective and a little disappointing to start British Lion with.
“Lost Words” is much better and paints a nice imagery and feature strong lyrics it picks up the pace a little.
“Karma Killer” isn’t bad and it’s almost catchy and I say almost because the vocals just don’t go to that next level to bring out the catchiness of the song although it has a nice chorus and feel.
“Us Again The World” is one of the songs that works, it’s one that I could almost picture Bruce singing and Iron Maiden performing, but again the vocals aren’t there to take it places, they don’t soar, they don’t do anything and aren’t pleasant, remarkable or passionate.. etc and the list goes on. It’s a big problem on the album and it fails to excite the listener.
“The Chosen Ones” and “A World Without Heaven” are to me the best tracks on British Lion and they’re side by side incidentally. Those are the songs that got me thinking “well this is interesting, maybe it’s not so bad…” and after listening back found myself thinking that the rest of the album should have sounded a little more like that. Musically they go farther than the rest of album (except perhaps the closing piece “The Lesson” which could fit just below that category) and they’re catchy and got me rocking and kept my hopes up for the rest of the album.
“Judas” is one of the better songs here it has a two minute slow breakdown piece and shows traces of prog and is overall a good song and one that I found myself listening to more often.
“Eyes of the Young” is boring generic radio rock and doesn’t go anywhere really, it’s just a very plain song with no feel musically or otherwise I nominate that one the worst track on BL.
“These Are The Hands” doesn’t do it for me, it lacks in the chorus and as a result never arrives or get started.
“The Lesson” is not a ballad, but it’s definitely a soft song and it features strings and piano and while I actually find myself enjoying it, it just seems out of place on this album as a closing piece especially (but then again it doesn’t really fit between any two songs so where else to put it?).
I’m obviously a fan of Steve Harris both for his bass playing and work with Iron Maiden, but I won’t bow down to everything that he releases with or without Maiden. I don’t think British Lion is close to be an outstanding album that’s all. I think most of the problem is the vocals aren’t quite up to par. They’re not strong but they’re not weak yet they hardly do anything even if they don’t sound bad, which I realize may be an odd description but it’s exactly what they sound like to me.
There’s very little energy in the songs too, as I said it sounds very blank at times music is playing but it’s just… empty. Is it utterly unlistenable? No. There are even some good tracks like “The Chosen Ones” but the album and ultimately this whole project falls flat unfortunately and we’re left with an album where not much stands out unfortunately. Again not dissing on anyone, they tried but it just doesn’t seem to work. I wonder what Dickinson could have brought to some of those songs because some of the lyrics and themes that they had here had more potential than the final product shows.
In my eyes, British Lion was Harris doing a side project and not a solo album it was great for him that for the first time he did something besides Iron Maiden. It was a way for him to do stuff more akin to that of bands he idolized in the 1970’s like Thin Lizzy and although it doesn’t sound much like his influences it sounds more like 70’s and particularly 80’s rock than Heavy Metal (even the songs are considerably shorter than some of what Maiden has being doing with their last four albums.
I don’t hate British Lion, but I don’t love it. The album could have benefited greatly from better production too. To me it’s not totally a throwaway and it’s not gold either, I’m definitely on the fence about this one and I remember it as more of a novelty, an experiment, something outside of Maiden for Harris than a good, rock album. The main problem is the vocals aren’t strong enough nor do they stand out to bring out the music and make it stand, in fact it’s the opposite it brings it down. I tried, but it’s just not my cup of tea I’m afraid 2 1/2*/5.