Is the mail service slow or what? Or did it take 11 years for someone to finally step forward to take on Blue's 1991 release, The Lion's Den. In retrospect I think I may have been duped by my fellow reviewers, who all simply took a step backward. Well, the joke was on me.
"If you are hesitant, or doubt that your soul can bear the burden of this test of will, then lo, turn back your trembling caravan, and return to the place where comfort dwells. For it is not present here."
Oh me oh, my! How correct Blue was when he shared this little foreboding tidbit of welcome in the first few seconds of track one, a lengthy Lion's perspective spoken word piece who's biggest gimmick is some harmonizer shifting.
Using overwrought religious imagery of The Lion and The Lamb, the album suffers on many levels. If lapses in rhythm irk you, this is nails down a chalkboard. In all the songs with live rhythmic accompaniment there are obvious breaks where the group loses each other and fumbles for half a beat or so to get back in sync like a mediocre bar band half past one on a Thursday night.
This is a weakness in the vocals as well, where Blue's selection of syllable breaks in rhythm with the music is awkward and often shakes the listener out of any meager groove they might have been brought to. Using slides and deep-singing smooth, Blue reaches too hard to sound like Jim Morrison. This reaching is beyond subtle.
Track 4, Absent Heart, is probably the tightest and most consistent of the selections. It beats out Track 10, Fumble for the Beads. This starts out as a standout of The Lion's Den, but it ends in a slow spiral of deteriorating vocal rhythms, balanced guitar mix and restraint against being preachy.
Lizards, if you can wade through its stock-sound beginning, is the strongest. Blue softens the Morrison sound, and lets the groove drive. But of course, whenever you soften a Morrison vocal and let the groove drive, you wind up sounding like a B-side from Simple Minds. Liking Simple Minds, this is ok.
The album is weak throughout and plays like a compilation of early recording years, a hodge-podge of sounds, mixing styles, and players. This is evident in the weakness of the overall sound. The preachy and at times pretentious message of the album harken to youthful arrogance standing before the need to hone craft. The imagery of the Lion and The Lamb are carried throughout in 3 acoustic takes on the theme, which makes The Lion's Den play like bad Christian Rock (an oxymoron, I know), written by a 16-year old introvert to impress his friends on the God Squad.
The Lion's Den is peppered with breaks in rhythm. It relies too much on stock late-80's synth sounds and what appears to be a high-end Casio demo in track 13, Really Shoulda Known. On later listen track 13 sounds like Thomas Dolby backing up a bad Howard Jones English-white boy rap.
All in all the album has moments of strength, sandwiched between moments of weakness. Its lyrics tell, but forget to show.