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Classic Album Review: The Black Crowes | Lions

The Robinson brothers' sixth studio set doesn't roar as loud as you might expect.

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This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

 


Lions may not be on the endangered species list just yet, but bands like The Black Crowes seem to be. Ever since the world got taken over by the synchronized dance steps of a million teen-popsters and the sample-driven uniformity of hip-hop and rap-metal, good old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll bands — the kind that play guitars and take lots of drugs and have skinny lead singers with long hair — have been in decline, relegated to oldies radio and the classic rock circuit.

Except, it seems, for The Black Crowes. These Atlanta blues-rockers have somehow managed not only to survive but thrive in these rock-challenged days, thanks in no small part to their endearing stubbornness — we’re more than a year into the 21st century, but the Crowes still party like it’s 1969. So naturally, since I love the rock and the roll — and since I loved the choogling funk of their 1999 album By Your Side — I came to Lions with hopes held high. After all, with a title like that, this sucker really ought to roar, right?

Well, not quite. Perhaps in keeping with singer Chris Robinson’s claim that “now I’ve traded my black feathers for a crown,” Lions is a different breed of cat. Instead of the killer man-eating funk rock of By Your Side, it’s a slower, groove-oriented affair that seems more like a sequel to 1996’s Three Snakes and One Charm. For proof, look no further than the opening track Midnight From the Inside Out, a loping, midtempo blues that sets the slow-burn tempo that persists for most of this album.

Oh sure, there are some rockers in the bunch — especially the irresistibly funky first single Lickin’, whose double-entendre lyric and booty-shaking backbeat seem scientifically designed for blasting out of a cruising car stereo or beach boombox. The equally smoking Come On and the Freddy’s Dead-meets-jungle drum vibe of Young Man, Old Man also set off a few sparks. But for the most part, these songs smoulder and smoke, but seldom burst into flame.

It’s not as if Lions is a total wuss-fest, mind you. There are a couple of acoustic, get-out-the-lighter ballads like Miracle to Me — presumably inspired by Robinson’s recent marriage to Kate Hudson (believe me, Chris, that marriage seems like a miracle to the rest of us, too). But other tracks make up for their lack of speed with plenty of classic-rock oomph. In fact, the spacious 3/4 time signatures, syncopated drum lines and chunky guitar licks of No Use Lying and Greasy Grass River suggest the band’s recent stint backing up Led Zep’s Jimmy Page had a big impact on these tunes.

That, weird as it seems, might just be the problem with Lions. While it’s hard to complain about a band being influenced by Zeppelin, in The Black Crowes’ case, it just seems to get in the way of their style. These guys don’t need to sound like anybody else. They’re at their best when they sound like themselves. Lions won’t make The Black Crowes the kings of the jungle. But it’s got enough teeth to save them — and rock ’n’ roll — from extinction for a few more years.