Led by Phil Lynott, a tall black Irishman who always oozed charisma (he was one of those guys who all the ladies loved and the guys wanted to hang with), Thin Lizzy (named after a robot character in a comic strip) were one of the best hard rock bands ever, and given that they're primarily remembered here in the U.S. (they had a much bigger following overseas) for "The Boys Are Back In Town" and maybe a few others, one of the most underrated as well. Formed after stints in local bands like the Black Eagles, Skid Row (where he first teamed with on/off again Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore, later also a notable solo artist), and Orphanage, the first Thin Lizzy lineup was comprised of Lynott (bass, vocals, songwriting), dynamic drummer Brian Downey, and guitarist Eric Bell, who was the band's primary attraction on stage in the early years. Musically speaking, Lynott's bass was actually the weak link, as the other two were extremely strong players, but of course Thin Lizzy was always Lynott's band, as his stellar songwriting and soulful vocals were among the band's major assets. That said, on the band's first album Lynott seems unsure exactly what type of band he wants Thin Lizzy to be, and as such the songwriting is inconsistent, with elements of Celtic folk, funk, hard rock, and even ambitious arrangements that nod to prog. It didn't help that the album was remixed without the band's consent, as they were none too pleased with the results, though it had enough high points to make influential DJs David Jensen and John Peel fans for life. In particular, "Honesty Is No Excuse" is an excellent orchestrated ballad with a heavy Van Morrison influence, while "Ray Gun" (Eric Bell's lone solo composition with the band) and "Look What The Wind Blew In" (about Lynott's then-girlfriend Gail) are muscular, funky, riff-based rockers on which Bell in particular excels. "Diddy Levine" is another highlight, this one also kinda funky but of an epic length (7:02), the better to showcase Downey's dexterous chops, some tasty soloing from Bell, and Lynott's throaty vocals (love that "over and over" ending). Sure, it meanders a bit, but it's far better than the later attempted epic, "Remembering Part I" (6:02). Elsewhere, too many songs either seem unfinished ("The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle," "Eire," "Clifton Grange Hotel"), simply aren't very memorable ("Return Of The Farmer's Son," "Saga Of The Ageing Orphan"), or both, though the passionate performances (for example, "Return Of The Farmer's Son" certainly rocks hard and "Clifton Grange Hotel" is periodically punctuated by bouts of guitar outbursts from Bell) somewhat compensate for the album's hook-deprived songwriting and the band's lack of a solid overall identity. Still, this was definitely a debut album, as the band and Lynott in particular were still feeling their way, figuring out what worked and what didn't. Fortunately, they were talented enough even at this formative stage that most of what they tried did work, at least to some degree, and the reissue tacks on four extremely worthwhile bonus tracks (the most notable being "Things Ain't Working Out Down At The Farm") that originally appeared on the New Day EP recorded soon after the debut.
Shades From A Blue Orphanage (Decca '72) Rating: B-
Thin Lizzy’s second album, named after two of their previous bands (Bell’s Shades Of Blue and Lynott/Downey’s Orphanage), was a rushed affair that’s actually a step back from the debut. For one thing, as is often the case, the band had used up all their best material for their first album, so they had trouble cobbling together enough quality material in time, as they sought to build on the buzz of their well-received if not particularly well-selling first album. Secondly, they recorded at a new studio and had all kinds of technical difficulties, and as a result the album too often falls flat, lacking the punchiness of their later work. Still, though this album is really for the truly dedicated fan, it’s not without some bright spots, the brightest being “The Rise and Dear Demise Of The Funky Nomadic Tribes” (Lynott had a propensity for long song titles), “Buffalo Girl,” and "Brought Down." Album opener “The Rise and Dear Demise Of The Funky Nomadic Tribes” is the lone full band composition (all the other songs were written solely by Lynott), which is unsurprising as it’s basically jam-based; it still has a funky hard rock foundation, but the long running time (7:06) allows the band to stretch out, often with stunning results. Continuing, "Buffalo Girl" is a relaxed, melodic, soulful (expect to see those words a lot on this page) ballad, while “Brought Down,” an oddly structured soft-to-hard rocker, is a less obvious highlight on which Downey’s creativity really makes the difference along with Lynott's ragged vocals. The rest of the album ranges from mildly enjoyable if generic hard rock (“Baby Face,” “Call The Police”), so-so lighter respites (“Chatting Today” and the title track, the former a jaunty acoustic number with some fine finger picking from Bell, the latter an atmospheric attempt at an epic that really starts to drag after awhile), and a couple of real clunkers (the silly Elvis homage “I Don’t Want To Forget How To Jive,” which at least is short, and a boring tribute to his grandmother, “Sarah (Version 1)”). All in all, there’s really no reason to own this album unless you’re a big fan of the band, as the songs are hit-and-miss, “The Rise and Dear Demise Of The Funky Nomadic Tribes” is the only truly semi-classic track, the sound is lacking, again Lynott is still searching for a proper direction and at times seems confused about which way to head, and there are many superior albums to start with before settling for this one.
Vagabonds Of The Western World (Decca '73, '91) Rating: A-
The lack of success outside of local regions was getting to the band, so, strapped for cash, they recorded an album of Deep Purple cover tunes as Funky Junction; needless to say, this hard-to-find album is a big time collectible item today. Then a funny thing happened; the band recorded a rock version of an old Irish folk tune called "Whiskey In The Jar" as something of a joke (note: with its great riffs and soulful, mournful vocals I think it’s terrific) and were shocked when the single became a top 10 U.K. hit (years later Metallica had a hit with it too, though I far prefer the Lizzy version). Anyway, the success of that song was a blessing in many ways, perhaps the biggest being that it inspired Phil to prove that it was a fluke by leading the band into a more aggressive hard rock direction on Vagabonds Of The Western World, which was the album on which the original trio really hit their stride and found their collective voice. "Mama Nature Said" gets the album off to a rousing start with some wailing slide guitar from Bell, Phil's soulful rasp singing affecting "I'm so disillusioned" lyrics, and the first really notable instance of the harmonized leads that would soon become the band's trademark. The quality continues on the groovy, progressive-minded "The Hero And The Madman," which instantly has the feel of an epic. With narration by DJ David “Kid” Jensen, the song is a tad hokey at times, but I really like the haunting, harmonized chorus and Bell drops another jaw dropping solo to top it off. "Slow Blues" is slightly disappointing in that it's merely good, though it's certainly aptly titled, what with its "my baby don't love me" lyrics and a simmering low-key funk groove. Better is "The Rocker," as indeed it's among the band's signature songs, and is the lone Bell (co-)composition to last in the band's live repertoire, providing high-energy encores until the very end. True, the song stiffed as the single, but fans nevertheless appreciate the dumb macho fun, as it rocks hard and has yet another scintillating Bell solo. "Vagabond Of The Western World" kicks off side two in impressive fashion, with Downey's tribal drum pounding leading the way on what is a very Irish track that also happens to be quite atmospheric and rocking, with (surprise surprise) another hot solo from Bell (wow, did Bell come into his own on this album or what?). Then comes the albums final major highlight, "Little Girl In Bloom," which is simply a flawless ballad. I adore the way Lynott starts each "little girl in bloom" verse before the last one ends (the wonders of multi-tracking), the song lyrically is an affecting, sympathetically told tale (there was a real romantic side to the tough guy rocker that distinguished Thin Lizzy from many of their hard rock peers), and of course Bell finishes it off with (yep, you guessed it) a memorably melodic solo. Finishing out the set list, "Gonna Creep Up On You" delivers funky, flat-out cool hard rock before the album's only misstep, "A Song For While I'm Away," limply ends the album with a wimpy easily listening ballad heavy on the strings (and the clichés). Still, this is arguably the most underrated album from this most underrated of bands, and it closed out the Eric Bell era on a high, plus "Whiskey In The Jar" kicks off four bonus tracks on the reissue. P.S. Depending on who you ask, either Bell had issues with Lynott's new emphasis on hard rock or he realized that he couldn't handle the hard living lifestyle of a musician, but regardless of why, what is undeniable is that he bowed out of Thin Lizzy after his remarkable performance on this album.
Nightlife (Mercury ’74) Rating: B
After Bell’s departure, Gary Moore replaced Bell on a successful tour, but his tendency to overindulge due to the band’s reckless lifestyle got to him too, so he left to form his own band, Colosseum II. At this point, Lynott decided that he wanted Thin Lizzy to become a 4-piece, so he recruited John Cann (who, as John Du Cann, had previously impressed with Atomic Rooster) and Andy Gee, but the chemistry wasn’t right so it was back to the drawing board. Fortunately, Lynott got things right the next time around, bringing in 17 year old John “Robbo” Robertson and Scott Gorham, who, together with Downey and Lynott, would come to be regarded as “the classic Thin Lizzy lineup.” That said, there were definitely some major growing pains on Nightlife, which ranks as one of the band’s least essential albums. The band themselves lay much of the blame on the overly sweet touch of producer Ron Nevison, and he certainly didn’t help matters, as syrupy strings mar several songs, but truth is Lynott was again unsure of the band’s direction, perhaps overcome by all the upheaval (the band changed record labels in addition to the lineup changes) or maybe it was simply a case of over-correcting after the relative commercial failure of Vagabonds. Whatever the case may be, Lynott and co. largely abandoned hard rock on Nightlife, as “It’s Only Money” and “Sha-La-La” are the only tracks where the band really lets loose (both songs are good but not great), as they generally prefer to let their softer side shine through. There’s definitely a more deliberate soul influence as well on songs such as the pleasantly bland title track (pity about the ill-fitting strings) and the much better “Showdown,” a low-key, melodic pop number whose typical tough guy lyrics are contrasted by choice female backing vocals. Topped off by a soulful solo, “Showdown” easily could’ve been a hit with a bit of luck, as could’ve the breezy album opener “She Knows,” which trucks along on a mellow but enticingly melodic groove and contains several traded off solos, as the band’s impeccable chemistry is already apparent even though the overall album wasn’t the best showcase for their collective talents. Elsewhere, lesser efforts include “Frankie Carroll,” an overly dramatic if short (2:05) sap fest, “Banshee,” a pleasantly fluffy space filler instrumental (that’s even shorter at 1:27), “Philomena,” a more successful riff exercise that’s kinda funky if not quite rocking (it’s also a tender tribute to Lynott’s mother, with whom he shared a special closeness), and “Dear Heart,” which is almost salvaged by it’s fine solo, one of several on the album. Which leaves us with the album’s lone classic track, “Still In Love With You,” a bluesy ballad with a soulful vocal from Phil and gutsy guitar all over the place (reputedly from Moore, who had cut an early demo with the band that Robertson insisted he couldn’t improve upon, thereby giving the band their first indication of what a handful he could at times be). Anyway, Nightlife is a solid album with a few high points and little that’s not at least listenable, but clearly the newly gathered quartet were still getting their act together, and as a result I’d recommend getting Nightlife only after Vagabonds and the succeeding albums, starting with Fighting, which would be a significant step up in class as Lynott wisely stressed his macho side.
Fighting (Mercury ’75) Rating: A-
Self-produced after the Nevison fiasco, Fighting was where Thin Lizzy found, or at least solidified, their classic, harder hitting sound and is where they officially entered their prime, though the commercial payoff would have to wait for one more album. The band's sound (or "formula" as some naysaying critics would claim) was built around Robertson and Gorham’s harmonized guitars, as their dual guitar chemistry consistently coalesced into a single entity, creating one of most perfectly realized guitar tones in all of rock in the process (one that would greatly influence many later bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica, to name but two). Theirs was a form fitting style that they would alter little in succeeding years, and for good reason. A kicking cover of Bog Seger’s “Rosalie” starts things off in fine style (the band toured with and were buds with Bob) with dual riffs and a catchy pop chorus, but their harmonized guitar sound really comes to the fore on the fine “For Those Who Love To Live.” The awesome “Suicide” shows that the guys (particularly Robertson) could also solo with the best of them, while the epic fantasy number “King’s Vengeance” and the soulful “Spirit Slips Away” are other Lizzy styled winners that are rarely remembered but for the diehards. On these songs and others, one of them (usually Robertson) starts soloing while the other one (Gorham) closely follows and repeats the same guitar line, to hypnotizing effect. Not merely content to rock hard (and the band is definitely hard rock as opposed to heavy metal, relying more on a fluid alchemy as opposed to heavy distortion or bone crunching power), these songs have moody, lighter shades that show a musical depth that's rare in hard rock, though truth be told Phil's oddly death obsessed lyrics too often rely on macho clichés this time out. Still, musically speaking hard rocking anthems such as “Fighting My Way Back” (on which Phil's indomitable spirit shines through) and “Ballad Of A Hard Man” (actually written by Gorham, this one is all nasty groove and smoking guitars) really hit the spot, and only the Robertson penned "Silver Dollar," with its low-key pop funk, approaches filler status (and even that one is enticing enough). As for "Freedom Song," perhaps lyrically it's a bit corny, but Lynott's storytelling skills are still sharp, and besides, the vintage guitar harmonies and uplifting vocals are all I need, and even better are the sadly melodic guitars on "Wild One," which became (unfortunately) something of a theme song for the self-destructive Lynott (as had “The Rocker” before it). The lovely melancholic guitars are all but weeping on this one, marking it as a true Thin Lizzy classic. "Rosalie," "Suicide," and "Fighting My Way Back" definitely deserve that designation as well (I'd probably argue for "King's Vengeance," "Freedom Song, " and "Ballad Of A Hard Man" too), and though perhaps Fighting is a slight notch below their next few releases, it began in earnest a period of remarkable fecundity and creativity.
Jailbreak (Mercury ‘76) Rating: A+
This classic release, the bands sixth, was the first Thin Lizzy album I ever heard way back when, and I instantly got hooked on the elusive Thin Lizzy magic. With their best of many lineups firmly in place, the group gives us a wonderful mixture of meaty hard rockers and mellower excursions, almost all of which are centered around their by now trademark harmonized guitars and the soulful vocals of Lynott. “The Boys Are Back In Town” was an all-time great radio anthem that simply couldn't be denied, what with it's heady mix of explosive yet melodic music, nostalgic yet cocksure lyrics including memorable characters (including the soon to be everywhere Johnny), locations (who can forget Dino's Bar & Grill?), and even some pragmatic if poorly worded advice ("if that chick don't wanna know forget her"). It became the band’s lone major U.S. hit (though success would continue overseas), while the fantastic take-no-prisoners title track and the suitably romantic yet effortlessly singable “Cowboy Song” are other well-known rockers that were boosted by Gorham and Robertson’s lush guitar harmonies and ever-melodic riffs and solos, not to mention Lynott's increasingly evocative and Americanized lyrics (it must have hurt him a great deal not to have the continued U.S. success that his band deserved). As per usual, understated but brilliant drummer Brian Downey chips in with perfectly placed fills and an effortless groove (for example, his playing really elevates the solid album track "Angel From The Coast"), while Lynott writes a nothing fancy batch of simply great rock tunes. The band's mellower side comes to the fore on the gentle "Running Back," which brought Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison to mind, the oddly catchy if lyrically clumsy ("oh poor Romeo, sitting out on his own-ee-o") “Romeo And The Lonely Girl” (a terrific “grower track” reputedly about Gary Moore), and the low-key yet firm message song “Fight Or Fall,” while the band charges hard and heavy on “Warriors” and especially “Emerald,” the latter a scorching metalfest highlighted by some magnificent guitar dueling. Though Lynott continues to revel in somewhat clichéd warrior outlaw images and stories (making this a great "male bonding" album, especially in situations where "the drinks will flow"), his lyrics are well-worth paying attention to, as samples such as “I never thought you’d go ‘till you did” and “never judge lovers by good looking covers” attest. Ever an underrated ensemble, in part due to Lynott’s fantastical lyrical focus, poor record company promotion (particularly in the U.S.), the band’s shifting lineups, and some flat-out bad luck (Lynott got seriously ill during the crucial tour in support of this album, causing it to be cancelled), Jailbreak was the band’s commercial, and arguably, artistic peak, and it's probably their lone studio release that is given its proper props.
Johnny The Fox (Mercury ‘76) Rating: A-
Aiming to strike while the iron was hot, this one was maybe rushed a bit, but it's still another set of high quality Phil Lynott penned tunes (with some help from his bandmates, who co-wrote half of the songs). Alas, the album lacked a signature hit single a la "The Boys Are Back In Town" and was consequently all but ignored in America, though truth be told several of these songs sound like they could've been hit singles. Around this time drug problems and serious health issues (liver problems in this case) began to plague Lynott, perhaps causing the album's promotion to suffer, but in any event I have no problems proclaiming it a minor classic, despite being something of a musical rehash of the admittedly superior Jailbreak. Maybe I'm partial to the album since my youngest son is named Jonny, or maybe its simply that I don't care all that much about originality or chance taking so long as the tunes are really good (and rest assured they are), but I thoroughly enjoy this album. Like Jailbreak, Johnny The Fox is something of a concept album, but both concepts are so incidental that I'm merely going to mention that they exist (you can explore the common themes of these songs further if you so wish), as it's the individual songs themselves that really count in both cases. Right away I dig the slinky riffs of "Johnny," plus Phil's vocal delivery and Downey's drum fills on the chorus simply rule. "Rocky" also rocks hard but seems average - until the harmonized guitars (a little before the 2-minute mark) and subsequent blistering solo kicks in, that is. The sad, soulful, moody "Borderline" is the first of several ballads on the album, and it's a good one, but an even better song is "Don't Believe A Word," one of my absolute favorite Lizzy rockers, what with its tightly synchronized music (Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson were simply one of the all-time great guitar tandems) and memorable womanizer lyrics ("don't believe me if I tell you, that I wrote this song for you, there just might be some other silly pretty girl, I'm singing to"). Too cool. The lightly melodic pop of "Fools Gold" again sees Lynott in historical storyteller mode (he also regrettably brings back the spoken word intro), and though perhaps the song will seem overly generic to some, I find it pleasurably catchy and melodic, and “Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed” continues with a funky, strutting rocker that's quite unlike anything else in the Lizzy catalogue and is all the better for it. Although they both could be described as "schlocky soft rock", "Old Flame" (a lyrical look back at one who got away) and "Sweet Marie" (this one may be a bit too adult contemporary) are both heartfelt and pretty, while "Massacre," sandwiched between the two, is another first class heavy rocker notable for its tribal beats, chugging groove, and Lynott's hauntingly echoed vocals (naturally all three of these songs, even the ballads, have great guitar playing as well). Alas, unlike Jailbreak, which ended on a high with "Emerald," "Boogie Woogie Dance" returns the band to their dubious habit of ending their albums on an anti-climactic note (the song is about as silly as you’d expect given its title, despite Downey’s best efforts to make it interesting). Still, though its best tracks and the overall album itself don’t quite scale the heights of Jailbreak, helped not one iota by its forced and muddled storyline, Johnny The Fox nevertheless is chock full of really good and occasionally even great tunes. Why these guys never made it bigger here in the United States is one of rock’s greatest mysteries to me, though a substantial cult does acknowledge their legacy, remembering an amazing live act in addition to the classy albums like Johnny The Fox that they left behind.
Bad Reputation (Mercury ’77) Rating: A
When hothead Robertson badly hurt his hand in a bar fight, Gary Moore temporarily stepped in during a high profile tour opening up for Queen, against whom they more than held their own. Moore was still committed to Colosseum II, however, so when sessions started with legendary David Bowie/T. Rex producer Tony Visconti, it was up to Scott Gorham to step up to the plate and pick up the slack (Robertson is credited on only three tracks, though he insists that he contributed numerous uncredited overdubs), and boy did he ever, with help from Visconti, who multi-tracked his guitar parts to create Lizzy’s harmonic dual guitar sound. Although Visconti slicks up the sound somewhat, by and large Thin Lizzy don’t mess with their tried and true formula, a good thing as (along with Jailbreak) Bad Reputation has arguably Lynott’s most accessible and best batch of songs (p.s. actually four were co-writes), with several rip-snorting rockers nestled beside pop nuggets that should’ve been massive hits. Actually, the album was a big hit in the U.K., peaking at #4 (the band subsequently headlined sold out shows at Wembley Stadium), even if the U.S. again turned a cold shoulder. Bad Reputation is both a romantic and a spiritual record, albeit at times a very dark one as Phil thematically addresses personal foibles while thinking about starting over and changing his errant ways (i.e. too much drugs and too many women). The album starts with “Soldier Of Fortune,” which, some cheesy moments aside (spoken word intro, power ballad-like guitar solo), is a first rate album opener, with a memorable anti-war message delivered via emotional vocals from Phil (that “I am your soldier of fortune” chorus really sticks with me), and how can you not love those glorious guitar harmonies at the 50 second mark? The raging title track then takes over, as Phil takes a hard look at himself as his bandmates lay down a fierce, relentless groove (Downey is a truly great drummer). “Opium Trail” is another deliciously dark metallic assault on which Phil’s drug-obsessed lyrics (“it clears all pain, but your soul is claimed”) and multi-tracked vocals (he duets with himself a la “Little Girl In Bloom”) are topped only by the world class drumming of Downey, while Robertson caps off this classic with a rip-roaring guitar solo. Likewise, the smokin’ “Killer Without A Cause” is all nasty attitude and tough guy adrenaline, though it has its lighter, more melodic moments as well; it basically goes from ferocious to delicate to ferocious again, with a predictably great guitar solo to close it out. Contrarily, those melodic moments make up the bulk of “Southbound,” “Dancing In The Moonlight,” and “Downtown Sundown,” all of which are extremely accessible and sport soothing, relaxed melodies and catchy vocals. “Dancing In The Moonlight” was even a peppy pop hit, a r&b flavored, Bruce Springsteen-influenced track with jazzy saxophone (courtesy of Supertramp’s John Helliwell) interspersed throughout, while “Southbound,” which brings both Bruce and The Allman Brothers to mind, has flawlessly harmonized guitars dripping with melancholic overtones and is one of their most singably seductive songs. On the extremely laid back and equally seductive “Downtown Sundown,” Phil capably duets with himself to alluring effect, while “That Woman’s Gonna Break Your Heart” overcomes its somewhat generic nature (it sounds like a rehash but I can’t pinpoint its previous source) by virtue of its catchy mid-tempo melody and tribal beats. Last but not least, “Dear Lord” sees a pleading Lynott, heart on his sleeves, asking for a way out of his current predicament, with a suitably dramatic if perhaps slightly overdone arrangement; nevertheless it works very well due to Lynott’s obvious sincerity and the sheer likeability of the prime Thin Lizzy sound. Anyway, that’s Bad Reputation’s nine songs, and damn if I don’t like and in several cases love all of them. Sometimes it can be a little uncomfortable listening to Lynott describe his demons, at other times the music is softer than some will like, but I feel that the whole mix works together wonderfully, and quite frankly Thin Lizzy’s fourth great album in a mere three years should embarrass latter day bands who take years between releases. Note: The album cover, which pictured only Gorham, Downey, and Lynott, was a pointed dig by Thin Lizzy management at Robertson, who they hoped would be suitably humbled enough to get his act together. Alas, he rejoined Thin Lizzy for their subsequent tour and live album (see the next review), but the good times were to be short lived and something had to give...
Live And Dangerous (Warner Bros. ‘78) Rating: A+
Simply put, this is one of the best live albums of all time, as Live And Dangerous captures the classic Thin Lizzy lineup running through many of their best songs. Many people, yours truly included, consider this the Thin Lizzy album, and certainly it’s a great place to start for those of you who are unfamiliar with the band or only know their bare handful of hits. Often relegated to opening act status, the band’s ultra-cool motto was “leave the stage covered in blood and watch the headliners slip all over it,” and these scorching performances document what a fine touring unit the band had become while working as an excellent “best of” their years together up until 1978 (most of these performances were actually captured at London's Hammersmith Odeon between November 14-16, 1976). Best of all is that some songs that were originally rendered with a tad too much tameness in the studio are beefed up and energized here, boosted by the live ambiance under which the band always thrived. "Emerald" and "Massacre" absolutely rage (I always chuckle at the tongue in cheek intro to the former song as well), “Rosalie/Cowgirl’s Song” was a definite improvement, “Still In Love With You” is the album’s epic centerpiece, and side three (“Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed,” “Cowboy Song,” “The Boys Are Back In Town,” “Don’t Believe A Word,” “Warrior”) is an especially impressive and hard rocking sequence. If I could make some minor complaints, I’d note that I prefer some studio renditions (not many, though; “The Boys Are Back In Town” being the most obvious example) and that side four slips somewhat with the song selection (the two new songs, "Are You Ready" and "She Drives Me Crazy," are fairly generic but feature high energy performances and hot soloing). Still, even the drum solo and band introductions are entertaining, and the album fittingly ends with their usual anthemic finale with a fiery rendition of “The Rocker.” Produced with verve by Tony Visconti, who deserves much credit for the album’s robust sound (like most “live” albums, this one was “touched up” in the studio, though accounts differ as to how much), Live And Dangerous was a major success (#2 in the U.K.), even in the U.S., perhaps in part because they again switched record labels and benefited from a more aggressive promotional push. Sure, these song versions don’t differ markedly from their studio counterparts in that there’s little of the extended instrumental improvisations that marks many live albums, but by and large this album greatly improves upon its source material; isn’t that what live albums are (or should be) all about? Even the album’s title and packaging are great; some neat photos are enclosed within, and you’ve just gotta love the classic pose captured on the cover, which features a pumped up, leather clad Lynott in all his rock star glory.
Black Rose: A Rock Legend (Warner Bros. ’79) Rating: A
When Robertson's volatile behavior and overall unreliability became too much to bear, he had to go so him and Thin Lizzy parted ways and Lynott simply brought Gary Moore back for the third time. Robertson went on to play a major role in one of Motorhead's most underrated and best albums (Another Perfect Day) before getting sacked (image and personality-wise he didn't fit the band at all, though Lemmy acknowledged he was a great player) and basically disappearing from the international scene. Thin Lizzy barely missed a beat with Moore, however, despite more drama when Downey briefly left the band during an Australian tour due to either burnout, the need to tend to his sick son, or (likely) both. Anyway, he returned in time for Black Rose: A Rock Legend, another excellent album that was one of the band's most successful, hitting #2 on the U.K. charts (with middling success in the U.S., as per usual). “Do Anything You Want To” begins the album with an accessible pop rocker that was an obvious attempt at a hit. Even so, with interesting lyrics that are both cynical and optimistic, those harmonious guitars (though in truth Moore was never as in sync with Gorham as was Robertson), a big whomping beat and a catchy chorus, this one's a winner. “Toughest Street In Town” is a good anthemic hard rocker that shows how Phil was increasingly embracing the seedy side of life, though he again remembers to write a catchy chorus and Moore's singing ability enhances their backing harmonies (Moore adds a ferocious solo as well). Alas, the forced funk and desperate to offend (Phil was into the shock value of the punk scene, and indeed his Greedy Bastards side project included former Sex Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones, a smart move actually as it gave Thin Lizzy points with the hipsters) lyrics of "S&M" makes it the band's weakest effort in some time, though it still has some fine playing by the band’s first rate instrumentalists. Besides, the ship gets righted on “Waiting For An Alibi,” one of the band’s very best pop rockers and an example of how this album contains some of their poppiest and hardest rocking material. "Sarah," their second song so named, is the albums lone ballad, as Phil gets out of the gutter to pen a lightly melodic, sentimental love song to his infant daughter that's quite innocent and touching. With so much to live for, Lynott attempts to stare his demons down on the harrowing blues-based heavy rocker “Got To Give It Up” (if only he had heeded his own warning) before “Get Out Of Here” delivers another tough guy anthem notable for its bitter kiss off lyrics, Phil's echoed vocals (a trick they'd tried before but which remains effective nevertheless) and yet another chorus that all but dares you not to shout along to it (as such, the song is strangely uplifting despite its nastiness). On "With Love," the soon to be married Lynott acknowledges that he's looking for true love at last (“this Casanova’s roving days are over more or less”), and though this melodic mid-tempo number isn't quite an album highlight, it is a real grower, with Gorham and especially Moore (technically speaking the band's best guitarist yet) both shining as their guitars are gloriously in sync. Simply put, this song, especially its catchy chorus, has soul, a quality that elevates even their more mundane material; also, no matter how dire his situation (and his excessive drug use was pretty out of control), Lynott remained a dreamer at heart who was all but impossible not to root for. Anyway, the album ends with "Róisín Dubh (Black Rose) A Rock Legend," which has its strengths and weaknesses. On the down side, the song could use a few more hooks and probably didn't need to be 7 minutes long, but on the plus side I've always liked Phil in mythical storyteller mode, and the song, which, like many before it pays tribute to Lynott's rich Irish heritage, has an epic sweep and a sense of grandeur not seen since the best days of Eric Bell. All in all, I'd give this song and the album itself a hearty thumbs up, as Lynott writes some of his best tunes and Moore integrates himself within the band quite nicely, delivering an extremely impressive performance. Alas, after a disastrous tour (Moore: "I couldn't stand there watching Phil blow it night after night") that may have been their last chance to score big in the U.S., Moore acrimoniously left Thin Lizzy (again, his subsequent solo career is well worth checking out), who again were without a lead guitarist (although capable of leading man status, Gorham was seemingly more comfortable as a second banana). I'm starting to realize why they never made it big in the U.S...
Chinatown (Warner Bros. ’80) Rating: B+
After Moore checked out, the band’s tour lineup briefly consisted of guitarist/keyboardist Midge Ure (also of Ultravox (!!)) and guitarist Dave Flett (best known for his classic solo on Manfred Mann’s “Blinded By The Light”) before the band settled on a lineup of session guitarist Snowy White (best known as a touring guitarist for Pink Floyd) and teenage keyboard virtuoso Darren Wharton (entering the ‘80s, Lynott was looking to expand the band’s sound). Alas, although a fine musician, White was a poor choice to replace Robertson and Moore, who were far superior stage performers (White just basically stood there), and their live shows (still the band’s bread and butter) really suffered as a result. In the studio White felt comfortable so it wasn’t a problem; the problem here is that Lynott, again overindulging with drugs and perhaps preoccupied with his solo album (Solo In Soho was also released in 1980), wrote his weakest batch of songs since Nightlife. Plus, Visconti wasn’t around to give the boys a kick in the butt when needed, and due to his absence the sound on this hard rocking album is more sterile than in the immediate past. Still, those criticisms aside, this lightly regarded transitional album is actually quite good, it’s just not as good as their previous albums or what I’ve come to expect from this remarkably consistent and prolific band. Side 1 is actually pretty ace, starting with “We Will Be Strong,” a real “let’s band together” anthem with a soulful, throaty lead vocal from Phil plus those glorious guitar harmonies and a cool solo as per usual. The title track is simply one of the band’s very best songs, as it’s a nasty (that’s a good thing), intense, groove-based heavy rocker on which the guitars absolutely rage, while “Sweetheart” is another (less impressive) winner that juxtaposes wailing guitars (harmonized, of course) with a sweetly singable power pop chorus. The ZZ Top-ish “Sugar Blues” is a boogie rocker with strong work from Snowy, Scott, and especially Brian, before the first single “Killer On The Loose” ends side 1 with an enjoyable if controversial hard rocker, but regardless of how tasteless you think the lyrics are, how can you not dig that groove or sing along to its catchy chorus? Anyway, side 2 starts just fine with the aptly titled “Having A Good Time”; it sure sounds like they are, and the way Lynott’s raps introduce each soloist is too cool (even if Downey misses his grand entrance). Alas, the rest of the album fails to measure up due to some heavy handed social commentary (the hard rocking "Genocide (The Killing Of The Buffalo)"), recycled lyrics (the pleasantly pretty if nothing special "Didn't I," the album's lone ballad, actually repeats lyrics from a song on Lynott's solo album, proof positive that inspiration was waning and Lynott was getting lazy or was simply too out of it to even notice), and a rather nondescript finale ("Hey You") that’s still salvaged by some hot soloing. Still, despite having a much lesser second half, Chinatown is too easily dismissed, since it has its fair share of fine songs, even if it is one of the band's weaker albums overall. The fans, perhaps distracted by Phil's solo album or maybe dismayed by the band's increasingly formulaic tendency to rehash former glories, agreed, staying away for the most part as Thin Lizzy started to slide commercially as well as artistically
Renegade (Warner Bros. ’81) Rating: A-
My first impression of this album was that Thin Lizzy was but a ghost of the great band they once were, but this underrated album has really grown on me over time, since even when ravaged by drugs Phil Lynott could still pen some stellar songs. Again, journeyman guitarist Snowy White is no Robertson or Moore (or Bell for that matter), and the album occasionally suffers from slick ‘80s production (Chris Tsangarides); for example, the melodramatic album opener “Angel Of Death,” arguably the closest the band has come thus far to heavy metal, features a cheesy Darth Vader-like voice straight out of Spinal Tap, and the band’s signature guitar harmonies appear only sporadically throughout the album. Still, you just gotta love the intense gallop and apocalyptic imagery of the song, which is a real grower, as is the album itself. I like this album for several reasons; for one thing, Renegade ranges wider than usual as the band tinkers with their tried and true formula. Furthermore, Wharton further integrates himself within the band nicely, as he co-writes “Angel Of Death” and his keyboards add color and texture to melodic, often quite pretty songs such as the title track (which at times somewhat recalls Dire Straits) and "Mexican Blood." Additionally, though the wonderfully melodic “It’s Getting Dangerous” (featuring one of my all-time favorite Phil vocals) nostalgically looks back at the best of times"Renegade" feature Phil's most cynical lyrics, as he sounds genuinely pissed off on some songs. The album is still flawed, as a weak chorus somewhat undermines the otherwise excellent "The Pressure Will Blow" (the track that most effectively recalls their classic harmonized guitar sound), the catchy but cheesy chorus of (the still very good) "Hollywood (Down On Your Luck)" could've just as easily been good Bon Jovi or Loverboy (yes such a thing does exist!), and the jazzy "Fats" is a largely unsuccessful attempt at a low-key curveball a la "Dancing In The Moonlight.” Elsewhere, "Leave This Town" is another successful attempt at a supercharged ZZ Top styled boogie rocker a la the prior "Sugar Blues," while "No One Told Him" is an easily singible if somewhat generic and repetitive rocker. Lyrically, that Lynott knows he's self-destructing and speaks so frankly about it ("I gotta stop taking care of business, start taking care of my health") gives this album an added emotional resonance, but alas, Renegade tanked by Thin Lizzy's standards, even in the U.K., so Snowy and the band amicably agreed to sever a relationship that (commercially and live) simply wasn't working.
Thunder And Lightning (Warner Bros. ’83) Rating: A-
After releasing his second solo album, The Philip Lynott Album, in 1982, Lynott regrouped Thin Lizzy around ex-Tygers Of Pan Tang guitar wunderkind John Sykes, whose fast fingers and highly energized playing rejuvenated the band. That said, on the songwriting front it was Wharton who had become Lynott's primary collaborator, as most of this album was actually written before Sykes came on board. Musically, what turned out to be Thin Lizzy’s swan song saw the band fully embracing heavy metal (the gorgeous guitar harmonies are pretty much gone for good), and unfortunately this results in an emphasis on more style and less substance. Still, what style! Tracks like “Thunder And Lightning,” "The Holy War," and “Cold Sweat” rock like demons, and Sykes lends exciting, flashy solos to every song, though he shows some restraint on “The Sun Goes Down,” the album’s lone mellow attempt that's good but again perhaps shows too much of a Mark Knopfler influence (he had contributed to Phil's solo albums). And though the band occasionally relies on tired metal tropes (just look at the cheesy album cover art) and sounds more like a heavier Night Ranger than the Thin Lizzy I’ve come to know and love, by and large these hard-hitting, bullshit-free songs greatly satisfy the headbanger in me. Hey, a change was needed, and this album is definitely different; a song such as "Some Day She's Going To Hit Back" is highly unusual (due to its strange intermeshing of synths and guitars) and is unlike anything else they've ever done. They don't stray that far from their familiar course, though (the band's biggest fault has always been that they were never the most adventurous band around, but as they say if it 'aint broke...), as "This Is The One" and "Baby Please Don't Go" add singable choruses and their customary soul to the band's newly unbridled fire (Tsangarides again produces, but this time the album has a real pop and sizzle to the sound). "Bad Habits" is a solid if unremarkable pop oriented offering, but the album’s enduring image occurs on the final track, “Heart Attack,” on which Lynott’s lyrics (“mama I’m dying”) prophetically foretells of his soon to be passing. But before that Thin Lizzy went on a carefully constructed "farewell tour" to boost sluggish ticket sales (it worked but that turned out to be the end of the band). Sykes took a big money offer to join Whitesnake (he later fronted Blue Murder), with whom he had massive worldwide success the likes of which had always eluded Lizzy (though he was unceremoniously sacked after their breakthrough album). Lynott formed a new band, Grand Slam, but an official album never materialized (though two live albums and a studio-outtakes album surfaced much later), in large part due to Lynott's ongoing "bad reputation" as an unreliable drug addict (Gorham battled a serious heroin problem as well but unlike Phil he ended up conquering his demons). Lynott was considering reforming Thin Lizzy and was working on some solo stuff when his 36 year old body finally shut down after years of abuse living the hard partying rock star lifestyle. Hendrix. Morrison. Bon. Janis. Bonham. Moon. Lynott. Damn right he belongs among the greats.
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