Album review: PRIDE OF LIONS – Lion Heart

Pride Of Lions- Lionheart

Frontiers Records [Release Date 09.10.20]

Approaching 70, maestro songwriter and Survivor founder member Jim Peterik is showing no signs of slowing down. After last year’s World Stage release with a star studded casts of guest vocalists, and co-writing much of Dennis De Young’s excellent album earlier this year, he is back in more familiar territory with Pride of Lions, on a sixth album and their first since 2017’s ‘Fearless’.

The adage of ‘stick to what you know’ applies here with a continuation of the PoL formula of Jim’s sonorous baritone and the soaring vocal dramatics of Toby Hitchcock trading lines throughout, and indeed he utilises the same production team and seasoned Chicago area musicians that he has worked with through most of the band’s career. As ever, the songs are beautifully constructed and arranged in old school fashion, as you would expect from the man chosen to share his songwriting tips in the well-known ‘for Dummies’ series.

However there are a few differences of emphasis this time. At times their last two releases saw Jim and Toby veer too far in a theatrical direction better suited to Broadway musicals- on this occasion there seems a conscious effort to  steer the band back towards more conventional melodic rock roots.

Naturally the Survivor comparisons come through strongly, none more so than on the glorious intro to second song ‘We Play For Free’. Who cares that the stabbing keys that open the song before a guitar power chord and are repeated later are oh so familiar, having heralded ‘Jackie Don’t Go’ and ‘Popular Girl’ and possibly other Survivor songs?

The title cut and opening track celebrates the unselfishness of everyday heroes, which is a suitable message for these troubled times, while the very Survivor-esque ‘Heart Of The Warrior’ is a similar lyrical tribute to those who put themselves in harm’s way. ‘Carry Me Back’ is a brilliant period piece, with lyrics about the ‘summer of 83’. The musical backing matches that era and it is easy to imagine one of those actors turned singers such as Jack Wagner delivering it on an American TV theme tune or film soundtrack.

‘Flagship’ also has a classic eighties feel with a superbly constructed chorus and a typical Peterik nautical metaphor, while throughout the album strikes the right balance between keyboard and guitars, with some fluid solos from Mike Aquino making their mark at various points and giving the songs a rockier edge.  Toby’s ever superb vocals are delivered with a little more control and restraint and it is not until seven songs in that a rare ballad in ‘Unfinished Heart’ gives reign to those Broadway tendencies.

‘Sleeping with a Memory’ has a classic Pride of Lions vibe, but the keyboard melody of Foreigner’s ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’ is shamelessly lifted! And while there are  no clunkers, a couple of songs are more average by his songwriter standards in ‘Good Thing Gone’ and ‘Give It Away’, the latter with another blatant lift, this time the keyboard intro to Bon Jovi’s ‘Wild In The Streets’.

Possibly the most interesting number is ‘Rock & Roll Boomtown’ a cautionary tale of sixties Hollywood and the end of the hippie dream which it is easy to conceive Dennis De Young singing. The pace is slowed to bring out the lyrical message and strength of the chorus, though it then unexpectedly diverts in very pomp rock style to a more complex instrumental section and bridge.

The last two songs are also a slight departure – ‘You’re Not A Prisoner’ is a more direct, hard hitting rocker out of the songbook of Foreigner or Brian Howe-era Bad Company while ‘Now’ is a real grower – not so much an out and out ballad but a mid tempo track with all the Peterik writing hallmarks, with an unusual baroque feel to the instrumentation and a winding solo from Mike as an outro.

After a slight dip in quality with their last two albums, this is the closest Pride of Lions have come to matching the glory of their opening trio of releases in the 2000’s. It is unlikely to win any new fans but rejoice in the old-school craft of an AOR master at work.   **** 1/4

Review by Andy Nathan

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