LIONHEART – Hot Tonight (1984 CBS, 2008 Kreshendo reissue)
Are you fan of Iron Maiden? The early stuff, circa their first LP? If so, read on — but don’t get your hopes up.
If you’re a long-time reader, you may remember Lionheart from Record Store Tale Part 133: Die For Love. A used copy, a Japanese import, came into the store in 1996, and I stupidly passed on it. The story went:
“$20 used, but with my discount more like $15. Still, I ended up passing on it. I only really liked the one song, and I had other stuff to buy that week including the new Scorpions and King’s X. So, I made a judgement call and threw it on the shelves. I put a sticker on it that said “Dennis Stratton ex-Iron Maiden” and it sold in a couple weeks.
What I forgot to mention in that Record Store Tale was that some customer who claimed to be a “huge Iron Maiden fan”, who had “all the albums” didn’t know who Dennis Stratton was. He saw the sticker on the disc and claimed we had it wrong. Little did he know, he was shopping in the store managed by LeBrain. And LeBrain was not wrong.
Yes, Dennis Stratton was in Iron Maiden for a little while. He played on the legendary first album, and Lionheart was hyped as a “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” supergroup because the guy that was in Def Leppard before Rick Allen (Frank Noon) was also in Lionheart for a little while. There were stupid amounts of lineup changes before and after the album, which also featured Rocky Newton who later ended up in M.S.G. The singer was a hearthrob named Chad Brown who had a voice, though not a particularly unique one.
Their debut album release was a keyboard-inflected 80’s rock record with lots of attempts at concert-ready songwriting. That means lots of synth. The drums are hot, echoey samples and the keyboards are ubiquitous. It’s all very sterile and smacks of ambitions unachieved. There are attempts at Queen-like harmony vocals, but underwhelming attempts. They were clearly trying to write songs with epic qualities that would impress the musically inclined. The opening track “Wait for the Night” has shades of Phenomenon (particularly a song called “Kiss of Fire”), another “metal” supergroup from around the same time. Phenomenon however had Glenn Hughes singing. Chad Brown can sing, but his voice doesn’t have enough character. He sounds exactly like a guy singing in a Foreigner tribute band, or perhaps Coverdale-Lite.
The best song is, by far, the single “Die For Love”. The music video is legendary cheese. I love videos where bands have to embark on some kind of adventure. Remember when Queensryche had to defeat the Queen of the Reich? Or Grim Reaper vs. a man-beast in “Fear No Evil”? (For more on this subject, check out Record Store Tales Part 206: Rock Video Night.) Lionheart had something like this for their “Die For Love” clip. I know if I ever need somebody to rescue a damsel in distress from a weird creepy doctor, I’m picking the rescue team with no shirts under their jumpsuits! Look at Dennis fucking Stratton! He takes a dude out with a kick, while riffing on his guitar. Talk about multi-tasking; where do you see this kind of skill set today?
Unintentionally funny video aside, “Die For Love” wins as a song. With an unforgettable chorus, backed with a memorable riff and great performance, the track gets full marks. Just like a stopped clock must be right twice a day, everything clicked on “Die For Love”. For most people, it won’t make buying the album worthwhile. Given my history with the song, and then letting the Japanese import slip through my fingers in ’96, I don’t regret buying this album for one song.
Even the title track, the decent and hard rocking “Hot Tonight” doesn’t save the album. Ultimately, when you put the album away and try to recall how the songs went, they have completely evaporated. Only “Die For Love” and parts of “Hot Tonight” and “Nightmare” still linger in my memory banks. No focus. Everything on this disc has been done by someone else, only better. Whether it be Styx, Night Ranger, Whitesnake or any of the other bands that Lionheart sometimes sounds like, it’s all been done.