Steve Harris’s place in the rock history books is more than secure. As founder and driving force behind Iron Maiden, he has written more classic hard rock/melodic metal songs than most. With that in mind, it is a pity that about seventy percent of his solo debut ‘British Lion’ fails to raise above mediocre. With a bunch of previously unknown musicians in tow – including a couple of guys he mentored back in the nineties – this first outing under his own name is, frankly, not worth making a fuss about. …And indeed, had ‘British Lion’ been the debut from a hitherto unknown band, EMI wouldn’t have given it the time of day.
The opening number ‘This Is My God’ has a strong musical foundation with an old-fashioned classic rock riff, slightly bluesy and heavy on the wah-wah. As predicted, and somewhat comforting, Harris’s bass is quite high in the mix, and although he’s not tempted to launch into his trademark gallop, his rattling bass strings are more than audible. Beyond that, there are some serious flaws: Simon Dawson’s drums don’t come with anywhere near the amount of oomph such music requires, while throughout the track – and most of the rest of the LP – vocalist Richard Taylor feebly delivers his lines in a manner which is best likened to any number of unprofessional pub rock vocalists.
Moving on, as the second track ‘Lost Worlds’ finds its feet, it becomes apparent that ‘British Lion’s second biggest fault is its overall mix. Engineer Kevin Shirley (much beloved by many fans of classic rock) has given the album a very fudgy, almost woolly sound – similar to the mix he gave Joe Bonamassa’s ‘Black Rock’ – and as a result, there’s no real punch; just rumbling fuzziness with Harris’s bass leading the way and Taylor whining a bit. ‘Karma Killer’ is clearer, thanks to some top end on the lead guitars, but it still carries the general mood of a demo recording, far removed from the kind of perfection you’d associate with a member of one of the world’s best-loved metal bands. On the plus side, during the verses of this number, Harris’s basslines are terrific. Such a pity he or his chosen band couldn’t back them up with anything else vaguely memorable.
…And so, on goes the catalogue of disasters: ‘Judas’ is meat-headed rock where Richard Taylor’s vocals get swamped in a mulch of bass, while ‘Us Against The World’ has the charm of a poorly performed, poorly recorded Maiden reject with all the (lacking) fidelity range of Strangeways’ ‘Perfect World’. These Are the Hands’, meanwhile, is dirgy mid-paced affair that sounds like a second rate alt-rock band trying their hand at something in the classic rock genre. Possibly worse, ‘The Lesson’ is a piano and strings power ballad that could have been good, but without a hook of any sort and a vocalist that’s hopelessly out of his depth, it represents the kind of tune that you’re not likely to return to after the first couple of cursory listens.
Although most of ‘British Lion’ hovers between average and terrible, there are three enjoyable tunes included – and it is probably not a coincidence that these aren’t of the dirgy hard rock style which forms a large proportion of the album. The upbeat ‘The Chosen Ones’ offers a reasonable chorus, some nifty lead bass work and some pleasing ringing leads. The strong AOR influence is very welcome, as is the brief moment of twin lead guitar evoking UFO, thus paying tribute to one of Harris’s favourite bands. At six and a half minutes it is a little on the long side for such frivolous melodic rock, but there are some enjoyable moments en route. ‘Eyes of the Young’, is a crisp sounding affair – again influenced by AOR. Between a pumping bass and lovely clean-toned guitars, even Taylor sounds better, though his slightly flat delivery still struggles a little, especially with the bigger notes on the chorus. ‘British Lion’ desperately needs more upbeat, shiny material such as this, but even then, this has the makings of a tune that would have been a hundred times better, if only Harris had Adrian Smith on hand to help make the hook bigger. As history has proven with material such as ‘Wasted Years’, Smith is a dab hand at an AOR chorus. More melodic rock fist pumping drives ‘A World Without Heaven’, a well-rounded tune with some enjoyable staccato guitar lines and classic sounding twin leads. While it had the potential to be as strong as those AOR influenced numbers previously mentioned, it eventually winds up the weakest of the three due to Harris’s ability to over-egg the pudding. At just over seven minutes, this would have been far superior clocking in at just over half that time.
Prior to the release, fans expected something delving further into progressive rock, but Harris quickly stated that ‘British Lion’ was to be more in keeping with classic seventies rock, with influences from UFO et al. Those three more melodic numbers aside, this is all too half-arsed and muddy to be considered in the same league as any classic rock fare, seventies or otherwise. If this were a demo by an unknown band it would show a little promise, perhaps, but from a musician of Harris’s calibre, it is mostly forgettable. ‘British Lion’ is one for the obsessive Maiden completists only.