Lionheart’s 1984 debut, Hot Tonight, is the single greatest British pomp rock/AOR album of all time. This is an immutable fact, not open to debate or question. Had the band been American, instead of the first ever NWoBHM ‘supergroup’, I’m certain that they would have gone on to be one of the biggest names in eighties hard rock.
But you know how these things turn out. Despite making waves in Japan (I have a pristine, Japanese import vinyl copy of Hot Tonight – smug Ed), the market for sleek hookiness in their homeland was small, and Lionheart withered on the vine after that one, superb album…
Fast forward thirty five years and Lionheart are on the verge of releasing their third full-length album of all new material, having returned to the fray in 2017 with comeback record Second Nature. The original gang is all here save for drummer Bob Jenkins (later seen sessioning for names like Chris Norman and Barbara Dickson) and vocalist Chad Brown, who disappeared off of most radars after failing to become the UK ‘s representative at the 1986 Eurovision Song Contest. Former Shy frontman Lee Small fills the vocal role again for The Reality of Miracles, reprising his performance on Second Nature.
Whilst it would be hard to top that storied debut, the first thing to note about this new record is how it exceeds its predecessor on almost every level. Small has made the mic his own, his soulful, Glenn Hughes-styled vocals fitting the varied styles of Lionheart music in superb manner. It’s debatable, for instance, whether Brown would have been able to handle heavier material such as Five Tribes as effortlessly as Small; Euro-styled power metal holds no fear for the diminutive frontman, who, whilst clearly happier on epic balladry – closing track Still It Rains on Planet Earth (Lacrimosae) is eaten up whole and delivered with the sort of star quality few really possess – never flinches when offered meatier vocal roles. Drummer Clive Edwards also ups his game here, battering the kit with power, finesse and no little agility, ably supported in the engine room by Rocky Newton, who once again offers world-class backing vocals to augment his adroit four string skills.
Head honcho Steve Mann has come up with some fine material here, with tracks like the jaunty High Plains Drifter (which sounds like a titanic mashup of Go West and FM) and Outlaws of the Western World right up there among the best songs he’s ever written, and his guitar partnership with Dennis Stratton, as often incendiary as it is enduring, is once again a thing to marvel at throughout the album. Stratton’s characteristic, some might say mannered backing vocals also bring punch to the tracks come chorus time, giving a unique feel to many of the tracks; when he shares lead vocals with Small on the paean to the band’s Japanese fans, Kingdom of the East, a whole new dynamic to the band’s sound opens up.
At their heart Lionheart remain an old fashioned pomp rock band, albeit a resolutely British one, but their ability to tweak and mutate their own sound without surrendering identity or disappointing their fan base means that they’ve been able to come up with an album in The Reality of Miracles that both tips the hat to the past whilst still achieving a gleaming, modern sound that won’t fail to bring new fans flocking to their standard – more power to them!
The Reality of Miracles releases on July 31st.