Review Summary: Their worst album by far, "Lions" contains one gem amid a sea of muck that would be improved by mediocrity.4 of 4 thought this review was well written
By 2001, the Black Crowes had lost a great deal of luster. Their early career was the personification of commercial and critical success for a Hard Rock band, crafting two timeless and high charting albums while maintaining credibility even among elitists. Following the initial success of “Shake Your Moneymaker” and “The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion,” the Crowes released the musically strong but commercial flop “Amorica,” the directionless “Three Snakes and One Charm,” and the almost unnoticed “By Your Side,” resulting in their once promising legacy slowly descending into irrelevance.
The new decade was supposed to bring a sense of newness and revitalization. After being dropped by a record company that wanted the band to return to their roots and write focused songs, Chris and Rich Robinson signed on with a lesser known outfit who promised “total creative control” to the artist. Promises were made that the upcoming album, “Lions,” would be a tour de force, a creative whirlwind that would be the best Black Crowes record in years. A seemingly revitalized Chris Robinson, despite sporting a look and image that made 60’s era Neil Young look like an upper crust conservative Yale blue blood, managed to snare Katie Holmes around this time, and indicated that her intoxicating influence over him would drench the upcoming record in soul and passion. The stage was set for redemption and a huge comeback. Unfortunately for their fans, the disastrous result was a record so poor and uninspired it sent the band into hiatus for seven years.
To say that “Lions” is the worst Black Crowes album would be a colossal understatement. While “Three Snakes and One Charm” lacked a signature song, it was somewhat, although barely, redeemed by tight instrumentation and promising moments in most songs. The best efforts of their early career were hard rock clinics built around tight grooves, mammoth hooks, and successful infusions of gospel and soul. The worst, up to this point, was mired and unfocused jamming that lacked stylistic focus, but still managed to front a sense of passion and effort. “Lions” is neither.
Abandoning almost every influence that vaulted them to stardom, “Lions” is a poorly presented, uninspired fusion of lazy jamming, droning bluegrass, and poor lyricism. Once called “sh/t that Hendrix could put together in 10 minutes despite being dead,” “Lions” is a collection of “worsts” for the Black Crowes. Lead single “Lickin,” which resembles something Aerosmith would have released at the height of their “we don’t give a damn if we’re mailing it in, we’re Aerosmith” period, is by far the worst single the band ever stamped. The foursome of “Ozone Mama,” “Greasy Grass River,” “Young Man, Old Man,” and “Cosmic Friend” are all in the running for worst song in the history of their catalog. Combining a horrific combination of Chris incessently howling “y’all,” sound effects of babies crying and flies buzzing, badly droning musicianship, and lyricism that made the Backstreet Boys look like the second coming of Bob Dylan, these four tracks are nothing short of shameful in consideration of the band's talent. There is little redemption elsewhere; from the lazy muck of “Cypress Tree,” the attempted tough sounding but toothless chorus of “No Use Lying,” the failed bombast of “Midnight From the Inside Out,” and the phoned in “I love you/I hate you” lyrical duality of “Losing My Mind,” this collection represents the definition of underperformance, and induces a furrowing cringe in the place of musical admiration.
While over three quarters of the album is unlistenable, through the darkness are small pieces of redemption. Although the Hudson dedicated “Miracle to Me” and album closer “Lay it All On Me” are average ballads that probably wouldn’t have made their first two records, they stand out highly in comparison to the rest of the album. Both have their moments, although neither ever truly takes off. The one redeemer here, and the only true winner, is second single “Soul Singing.” A bright sounding, groove saturated display of guitar hammering and fills, “Soul Singing” is the only inspired piece on the album. The chorus and hook, complete with the return of the gospel singers of yore, are positively monstrous. “Soul Singing” is easily one of the better tracks in the band’s discography, and is almost shamefully wasted and out of place in comparison to the rest of the album. Its greatness is almost a tease to the listener; showcasing the feeling the band still had one last gasping breath despite a fleeting sense of being on life support.
Being a recrod that would have actually benefited from mediocrity, “Lions” stands today as an abject failure. Aside from one standout and two average tracks, the album was a colossal disappointment that would take the Crowes years to overcome. The promise of passion was belied by a trenchant atmosphere of clouded and directionless disarray. The album name and hype falsely implied the band was going to roar into the 21st century. Unfortunately for The Black Crowes, the uninspired and often insipid songwriting made them resemble a group of tree dwelling sloths rather than kings of the jungle. One of Chris Robinson’s worst lyrics from the album indicated the band “really like to stick it to you.” That is precisely what they did to anyone that bought the album. Download "Soul Singing" and possibly "Lay it all on Me" and stay away from the rest.