3.5 out of 5 Stars!
As a lifelong rock ‘n’ roll fan, I learned at a relatively young age that, when it comes to my favorite bands, life can be both cruel and play nasty tricks. Take the group British Lions for example…
Back in 1974, I was sinfully obsessed with Mott The Hoople, replaying the band’s albums continuously, especially its most recent studio effort, The Hoople. Within months, learning of the loss of guitarist Ariel Bender came as a blow, for certain, but since the band had survived without the previous guitarist Mick Ralphs, I didn’t worry too much, especially since the announcement arrived rather quickly that the group had snagged longtime David Bowie cohort Mick Ronson to replace Bender. And since I was also a huge fan of the Bowie albums on which Ronson appeared, I considered the shake-up only a mild distraction. But then, horror of all horrors, shortly afterward, the band announced its actual demise. What? Talk about a cruel rock ‘n’ roll world. Well let me tell you, I was beside myself for months.
But thankfully, the world did not come to a fiery end as my fourteen-year-old self had woefully predicted during my mourning period, but soldiered onward—like the band itself—as a name-shortened “Mott” swiftly appeared the following year with a new singer and guitarist in tow to replace the departed Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson. The world was miraculously saved from disaster, I thought, and I could also soldier onward.
But then, another devastating blow came just after the relatively new Mott released a killer sophomore album in 1976 called Shouting & Pointing when a second “death notice” arrived, claiming that Mott was also no longer in existence. But then, what did the band do? Yes, the remaining four musicians once again roared back with a brand new name this time (British Lions), another lead vocalist in the form of John Fiddler (Box of Frogs/Medicine Head), and a new lease on life.
But would British Lions still retain the same character and style as Mott The Hoople or Mott? Well, I was happy to discover that the revamped band’s debut was a better than average release. I recall cruising with my buddies, playing the album continuously on the car’s cassette player, so it was definitely a rather popular collection when it came to my group of friends. Of course, we were all Mott The Hoople devotees, so it’s no shock that we took interest in this release when it popped up in the record stores.
Granted, to us, John Fiddler was no Ian Hunter, or Nigel Benjamin (from Mott), but Fiddler had that same occasionally wild/bizarre/not-quite-accurate quality that wasn’t too dissimilar from his predecessors—in other words, we accepted him as a replacement, so this album will likely be fun material overall for most other Mott (The Hoople) fans who are still unfamiliar with this debut. Additionally, tracks such as “One More Chance to Run,” “Break This Fool,” “My Life’s in Your Hands,” “Wild in the Streets,” and “Fork Talking Man” are all Mott-like in many respects, with bassist Overend Watts and drummer Dale Griffin delivering their usual solid performances, and guitarist Ray Majors adding some particularly wicked leads. And not to be forgotten, keyboardist Morgan Fisher (in my mind, probably the most unheralded group member and its most gifted) laid down terrific grand piano accompaniment on the mammoth “Big Drift Away” and the song “International Heroes” (an anthem-like ditty not too far afield in atmosphere from MTH’s “All the Young Dudes” or Mott’s “Broadside Outcasts”), which might have been a huge hit had it been given the right promotion.
The only track that did not originally interest me was the album closer “Eat the Rich,” which I believed didn’t fit the overall style of the other tunes. But please note, an alternate/demo version of this track—a wonderfully fun “Mott-type” rendition—was finally made available as a “bonus” on an expanded edition of the album, and this version puts the original track to shame. Yet sadly, please also note, the other “bonus tracks” are, unfortunately, not even close to quality.
Regardless, British Lions went on to release a second album, 1980’s Trouble With Women, before finally splitting up. But frankly, the second album—one of those “nasty tricks” I mentioned earlier—is well below quality, completely disjointed, and one of those albums that should have never seen the light of day (indeed, in interviews throughout the years, various band members expressed a similar assessment). Nevertheless, at least the band’s eponymous debut was enjoyable enough for all of us hungry Mott (the Hoople) fans who just couldn’t face a cruel rock ‘n’ roll world devoid of one of its favorite acts.