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Thin Lizzy

My motherfucker the car.

Introduction
Thin Lizzy
Shades of a Blue Orphanage
Vagabonds of the Western World
Night Life
Fighting
Jailbreak
Johnny the Fox
Bad Reputation
Live and Dangerous
Black Rose
Chinatown
Renegade
Thunder and Lightning

The Lineup Card (1971-1983)

Phil Lynott (bass, vocals)

Brian Downey (drums)

Eric Bell (guitars) until 1973

Brian Robertson (guitar) 1973-1978

Scott Gorham (guitar) 1973-1983

Gary Moore (guitar) 1973, 1979 also of Skid Row (IRE) and others

Snowy White (guitar) 1979-1982

John Sykes (guitar) 1982-1983 also of Badlands and Tygers of Pan Tang

 Ireland's best rock and roll band (Yes, even better than Them. Don't even think about mentioning U2.), Thin Lizzy were a blistering set of 70's hard rocksmen led by bassist, vocalist, and songwriter Phil Lynott best known for their dumbass hit "The Boys Are Back In Town" and little else.  Which is a complete and total shame, because Thin Lizzy (actually pronounced 'Tin Lizzy' due to the Irish's inability to say anything correctly because of their penchant for pickling themselves daily after the age of 10) is, like Blue Oyster Cult or Mountain in the US, one of those great lost rock and roll bands that released a crapload of great material but somehow never really caught on in such a way that they're worshipped 30 years later on.  It's not like their sound was in any way uncommercial or inaccessible to the average longhair denimhead rock fan - in fact, precisely those average longhairs were the only ones who really got Thin Lizzy - it's just that critics derisively lumped 'em in with Black Sabbath and Deep Purple (whom I think, as you probably well know, are pretty fucking brilliant by themselves) and anything else that wasn't the fucking El Lay pussy-music they fellated, gave them two-sentence reviews that called them crude, made fun of their fans and complained of their loudness, and shut them up in a closet as quickly as they could.  And, unlike Sabbath and (to a lesser extent) Purple,  there they stayed - Thin Lizzy's never even really gotten their due from the musicians they influenced, they never were part of the constant name-dropping that accompanied the 90's grunge/hard rock revival like Sabbath, and haven't forged a rabid cult with constant touring like Purple.

Nope, since Lynott's drug-induced death in 1986, Thin Lizzy has remained relatively obscure outside of their 1976 barroom anthem (and, nowadays, ever-present car dealer ad soundtrack) 'Boys are Back in Town', which just happens to feature their main contribution to rock and roll outside of simply being a great band, the duel lead guitar attack of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson.  The Alice Cooper band did it just as well (or better) for a few years prior to TL, and Cooper's guitar players' work in Lou Reed's 1974-era live band is mighty stunning, but Thin Lizzy was arguably the most successful proponents of the duel metal attack until Judas Priest and, later on, Iron Maiden took the idea to its logical extremes. Lizzy, however, was never really a metal band, not in the Sabbath/Purple/Priest interpretation of the word.  Their first incarnation, the single-guitar Eric Bell band, sounded a lot like Mountain's more complex work - they were a power trio more concerned with constructing cool songs than simply destroying skulls, and never really went that extra, over-the-top step to become screeching/rumbling Metal Gods. The second incarnation was harder and more melodic, but even then they were too fleet and light to really end up metallic.  Plus, and most importantly, Phil Lynott wasn't much of a metal vocalist - to me, he sounds like a cross between to Bruces - Jack and Springsteen, with a touch of Van Morrison's phrasing, rather than that sort of stoned out teenage dirtbag ala Ozzy or the urethra-blazing banshee like Ian Gillan or Rob Halford. (He also plays bass as well or better than Bruce did, and in quite the same melodic guitar-y style, no less) More important than the voice, Lynott's lyrics were as far as possible from the usual ebbil wimmens, death and war, and marauding Vikings of most heavy metal.  Lynott was sentimental, rootsy, illustrative, his songs populated by the same sorts of oddball Dublin locals getting drunk and pettily thieving, as Springsteen's Jerseyites. The man's also damn proud to be Irish, and rightfully so...there's few places in Europe quite as unpretentious, quite as right for rock and roll as that rainy-ass, gin-soaked little island. It's absolutely a crime that more great bands haven't come from there.

Anyhow, the story continues on through the Seventies as the crowds became larger, the sales became better, and the usual excess began to exact its toll on the band, slowly but surely.  Original (and best) guitarist Eric Bell left the band in 1973 after screwing up a hometown gig by getting too sloshed (too drunk to play in Dublin...think about that for a moment.  What did he do, exactly? Chug a gasoline tanker truck? Catch the Lucky Charms leprechaun, wring out his blood, ferment it, and then quaff the resulting blood liquor like some vampiric Celtic medicine man?) Guitarist Brian Robertson sustained nerve damage in his hand in 1977, rendering him unable to tour and was out of the band by a couple of years later.  Other guitarists, including the worshipped guitar god Gary Moore, came and went while Lynott got further and further up his own ass with his jabbing, snorting, and swigging and the band's fashionability waned in the face of newer and more flashy competition.  The band finally closed up shop in 1983, just three short years before Lynott succumbed to an organ-eating disease brought on by his heroin addiction in 1986. 

Thin Lizzy, however, left a surprisingly large amount of great albums in its wake, just waiting to be discovered by the diligent record hunter.  Be forewarned, however: not a goddamn bit of it sounds like Jackson Browne, so if your thoughts move in that direction you may as well kill yourself before breeding more of your kind look elsewhere.

James C.     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: An excellent review of a much-loved band of mine, Thin Lizzy are really unappreciated, though I did see a 'classic review' for them in some god-awful nu-metal magazine. They do enjoy a slightly larger amount of recognition in the UK, and Europe as a whole, but in the wildlands of the States I can imagine them being completely unmentioned. Keep goin' Cap, you are the man.

 


Thin Lizzy - Deram 1971

As one of the most intelligent albums by this more-or-less intelligent hard rock band, Thin Lizzy is surprisingly made up of funky acid rock and delicate folk rather than the duel-guitar arena rock of Jailbreak or Johnny the Fox.  It's obvious that the first incarnation of the band - the Eric Bell power-trio lineup - was intended to bring on comparisons with Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. At times, the ensemble playing between Lynott, Bell, and drummer Brian Downey can pull off some of the dextrous whomp of those bands, but most of the time the band plays it too soft (and Bell plays it too clever) to hit with the expected ka-whallop that kind of band is expected to.  Instead, Thin Lizzy forge a very buoyant sort of folk-rock/hard rock hybrid on many of these tracks, and we're not talking about 'BAyieBBB I'MA Guana LIEVVEEE YOUUU!' vulgarity, either - think of a hybrid between Astral Weeks and Nantucket Sleighride and you might, just might, get close to the idea that a song like 'The Friendly Ranger at Clontar' or 'Honesty Is No Excuse' is trying to get across.  That statement, under different circumstances, might describe a complete joke, a trainwreck of a band that can't figure out if it wants to be Blue Cheer or the Gordon Lightfoot backing band, but Thin Lizzy pull it off.  Guitarist Eric Bell spins effortless, belltone jazz lines, and Phil Lynott sings in his cool mewl with as much soul as we ever hear him command.  Listen to the way he cries out 'over and over and over and over!' on 'Diddy Levine' and tell me your soul doesn't curl up in a little ball in the corner and think of how much he misses Mommy. Then there's the true folk songs, which are almost all Phil and almost all fantastic good awesome sweettits - 'Saga of the Ageing Orphan' is one of the saddest things I've heard in the last several weeks, in fact, and 'Dublin' is even sadder than that.  Who could guess that Phil Lynott could write what should be considered one of the most heartfelt Irish folk tunes of the 20th Century.  He sings of his city as if its a woman, and sings as if she's broken his heart, simply by being away. 

If anything, the disappointment comes along on the rockers - the band just hasn't figured out how to smash faces, and would rather flutter when it's time to soar.  Plus, at least for me, the influences come from the wrong situation. 'Ray-Gun' hearkens back to Jimi's Band of Gypsys-era 'Machine Gun' not just in name, but also in its lead-footed stomp groove, falling prey to the same sort of diffuse funk aimlessness that made Buddy Miles the bane of the later Jimi's career.  'Look What the Wind Blew In' is lighter and brighter and shitloads more fun, but even in this they seem as interested in the jazzbo chords they play as in the giddy pop of the chorus hook.  Still, I'd rather listen to this than a thousand Cream live jams, same with the even-more lovably messy 'Return of the Farmer's Son', which simply hacks away until the audience either passes out or surrenders.

Simply, basically, in final analyisis, yo. Thin Lizzy frigging rules outside of the somewhat throwaway bonus tracks, except for 'Old Moon Madness', which sounds like Frank Zappa and is so irritating its interesting, and the way Phil sings 'ooww-eet' on the chorus to 'Things Ain't Working Out Down on the Farm'.  The rest of the album, however, is a strong testament and tribute to the rock and roll of the Green Island and the world as a whole, in that order of importance. 

Capn's Final Word: There are many ways of laying out 'hard rock'.  This one plays rock that isn't all that hard, and hard stuff that almost assuredly isn't rock.

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Shades of a Blue Orphanage - Deram 1972

This album title to this fall off sophomore effort has always bugged me to no end - it's nonsensical, clumsy, and sounds like Lloyd Bridges chewing on a package of outdated Mentos when you try to say it out loud.  Only recently have I fuggered out what it actually means: Shades of Blue and Orphanage were the Lizzies' previous two bands before locking into their current gig.  I guess there's a bit of looking back all over this record, a nostalgic concept piece.  You'd think that might mean they step back into the surprisingly comfortable folk and rock confines that worked so well on Thin Lizzy.  No dice. Almost as a force of spite, other than one notable tune ('Chatting Today') they ditch the Van Morrison Experience angle and decide to emphasise  then-modern (rd: surprisingly dated) boogie rock ala the Grand Funk Railroad and let the lyrics take care of themselves.  As a result, everything suffers - the songs not only fail to rock hard, the thing damn near falls apart from an overload of 'clever' riffs that end up being thin and dull ('Buffalo Gal'), or sheer rote repetition 'Baby Face'.  Only 'The Rise and Dear Demise of the Funky Nomadic Tribes' and, to a lesser degree, the sleazy 'Call the Police' justify the band's (somewhat questionable) hard rockin' credentials.  'Rise and Dear Demise' is clean funk-rock of the cool Up for the Down Stroke-era Parliament stripe, the kind of thing the Space People played when they needed a bit of an onstage uplift after 'Maggot Brain' or 'The Goose' or something like that.  This is the sort of thing that should have been second nature for this band to play with the quality of rhythm section they have, their jazzbo-flash guitarist, and Philthy Phil's smoky black man voice, but unfortunately they only give us one uncut taste on Shades of a Blue Orphanage.  Luckily, it works so well it pretty much dominates the rest of the album - no matter how mediocre a lot of the rest of it is, the residual effect of the Funky Tribes is felt the entire time it plays out.

The worst moment is the band's own 'Nutrocker', a 50's rock sendup called 'I Don't Want to Forget How To' (how to what? Rock? Write interesting songs? Make sense? Too late for that, apparently) that simply makes the band look like a bunch of wooden-skulled fools 'parodying' something they can't even comprehend fully. 

Shades of a Blue Orphanage simply doesn't reward the repeat listening that Thin Lizzy or Vagabonds do - while the debut was surprisingly soft and surprisingly smart, and the third album simply displays a laser mastery of all it surveys, SOABO sounds hesitant and derivative, and the treacly closing title track ensures that one cannot bear another note be played by the time the album finally drips to a close.  It's a surprising fallback, but only a temporary one. 

Capn's Final Word: Perhaps the past is best left forgotten. Like this record.

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Vagabonds of the Western World - Deram 1973

Most times I begin my reviews with a long winded and not-always-successful attempt to put an album into the historical perspective of the band.  I mention who's come and gone, what outside influences were working for (or against) the musicians, what drugs they're using, who they're fucking, and whether any of them have been prevented from performing to their potential by a combination of either of the last two factors.  In reality, it's a quick and easy diversion tactic from stating the obvious - do I, and how much do I, enjoy the fucking record already? Then I go into a sad and clumsy attempt to explain why that is, tie it all up with a few underage sex jokes, apply a pithy and sometimes completely irrelevant summary sentence, and then I go count all the hundreds of thousands of dollars I've made writing infrequent reviews of rock and roll records, smoke a huge blunt, and give my enforcer a call to see how my personal 'neighborhood watch' program is shaking out for the day.  Then I take some time out for Yoga before commencing to bang three or four hot groupie chicks who've traveled all the way from Oslo to North Texas just to coat their tight gymnast bodies in a layer of Pam spray and tag team o Capn their Capn while listening to the first Neu! album at volcanic eruption volumes.  Then I eat steak and sleep for twelve hours before beginning the process over again tomorrow. 

Well, this time around, erm...I'm pretty much going to do the same thing despite having very little to actually talk about.  Near's I can tell, this is the exact same band that recorded the first two Then Lezzies albums, but somehow they've sprouted Popye the Sailor Man-esque musical forearms and spend the duration of this album walking around looking for puny flesh-muppets to beat up with their granite-like rock riffage.  I dunno...if there was ever steroid testing instituted in rock and roll, Vagabonds of the Western World would be first into the bathroom stall - never has this sort of musculature been developed so quickly since Jason Giambi increased his ball cap size from 8 1/2 to Andre the Giant.  But Thin Lizzy is no musclebound dope - they'd inch ever closer to that abyss over the course of their next few records, but they're still the poet laureates of heavy rock n' roll as of this disc.  They're decathletes, not clean-and-jerkers.  Anyone who can follow a song as bluntly obvious, yet impressively breathless as 'The Rocker' with something as wistful and articulate as 'Little Girl in Bloom' has far more talent than most.  This is one of those records where the dumb rockers seem like something beyond mere dumb rockers, and the excursions seem like revelations.  The Hendrix Experience emulations of the first record (which were oddly absent from the second) have now grown into something unique.  'Vagabonds' sorta sounds like Hendrix in his Cry of Love period in its guitar tone and general sense of biker bluesiness, but even Hendrix '70 never quite launched off a chorus quite as psychedelic and provocative as 'Do right...oh baby blue, I do right...' while the background chants Irish 'tu-ra-lu-rahs' and Eric melts the sky.  Or take the oddest thing on the record, and quite possibly the coolest, 'The Hero and the Madman', a dark psychedelic funk opera (no shit) that sounds like Curtis Mayfield crossed with Amon Duul II, with narration courtesy of the guy who used to announce those Superfriends cartoons in the late 70's.  The Liz take us on a creepy and highly gripping tale of a madman who climbs a 'steeple spire' above a crowd below, which goads him into climbing higher and higher.  The question is which one of the possibilities you are - hero or madman - when you're performing at the edge of reason, like in a rock show of the type Thin Lizzy was no doubt able to conjure up.  It's strong medicine, and 'The Hero and the Madman' is one damned clever way to illustrate the high-wire act that has to be performed perfectly, each time out, by a band like this one.

'Mama Nature Said' and 'Slow Blues' are about as polar opposite from 'The Hero and the Madman' and 'Vagabonds of the Western World' as the Zombies and the Troggs - here the band plays rootsy, bluesy rock almost completely without pretension, just a concentration on the interplay between the slide and the bass (on 'Mama Nature') and the snare and the guitar (on 'Slow Blues').  The result is a surprisingly solid base upon which for Phil to pull it out slowly and soulfully.  They take their time on these tracks, let the guitar solos catch some air, but the songs never escape their reign.  They're tight, and they're tense, but they're loose in a way that shows just how confident the trio has finally become.

The first half of the record ends with one of the band's clearest emotional statements, and yet another about face from the likes of the blues and psychedelic tunes that we've had so far.  Hearing this  song instrumentally, with its echo slaps and shifty expansiveness, you might mistake it for a sci-fi song, but when Phil applies his lyrics about a scared, pregnant teenager facing her loss of childhood, the effect is unmistakable - you envision a summer scene, this young thing watching the kids playing cricket, trying, desperately, to envision how her father will react when she tells him her little girl ain't a girl no more.  Honestly, I'm riveted whenever I hear this song, especially when Bell's long-sustain howls begin to begin to morph into solo lines of the tastiest sort.  Only the most perverse would follow up something as sacred and heartwrenching as 'Little Girl in Bloom' with something as visceral and naaaasty as the highly funkadelic rape-fantasy 'Gonna Creep Up On You', and then turn the corner once again with 'Song While I'm Away', a near doo-wop folk ballad that features Phil's inimitably chamelonic voice.  For a guy with a very recognizable and not-necessarily-beautiful-on-paper voice, he sure gets every last bit of emotion and tone out of the thing.  Never once do I feel like something on this album would be better sung by somebody with a 'better' set of pipes.  In fact, I can't imagine anyone else singing it period, and that includes the Cro-Magnons in Metallica covering Lizzy's cover of 'Whiskey in the Jar', a trad outlaw folk epic which has since become some sort of modern anthem for Irish pride.  The lyrics are suitably bloody, thrilling, and full of swagger, but Phil once again marries the thing to a sort of regretful, tired tone that makes it, well...human. He's had his chances to be a superhuman cartoon ('The Hero and the Madman', 'Gonna Creep Up On You'), and he just as readily shows that blood runs through his veins with classics like this one. 

'Whiskey' is the last of the classics on this record, and while the three closing tracks are nice, they're not nearly as interesting as every other track on this record. 'Black Boys on the Corner' is a raging metal charger with a jittery, not-quite-comfortable riff that fails to connect, 'Randolph's Tango' is a sweet little summer-evening Spanish folk rocker that's pleasant as hell, and 'Broken Dreams' is a draggy blues rocker that ain't got nothin' on 'Slow Blues', but hell...we're splitting hairs here now.  Now, I can't say that Vagabonds is the best thing Lizzy ever had in them - their two guitar incarnation was slicker and more goal-oriented than the jammy Bell lineup - but it does show the breadth of their domination.  Once again, this is a smart band who knows how (and when) to play dumb...and I'm damned thankful it ain't the other way 'round.

Capn's Final Word: A marvelous way to kick off an afternoon of surveying my record reviewing empire - strong, expansive, rocking, with just the right amount of humility to keep me in good with, you know...all you people.

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Night Life - Mercury 1974

It may be a bit too early in the Thick Lezzies career to begin sounding like a bunch of weary road warriors trundling out reliable but unspectacular hard rock, but despite the complete and utter rejiggering of the guitar lineup following Bell's departure to include the two-headed monster guitar attack of Gorham and Robertson.  Well, that 'monster' is still a hatchling as of this record, which seems to have positioned itself halfway between the cushiony boogie wasteland of the mid-70's Allman Brothers and, well, the drugged-out orchestrated soul of a mid-70's Gregg Allman solo album.  Instead of the surprisingly tough rock grooves of the Vagabonds trio, the new marque Thin Lizzy seems bent on relaxing into the groove, delivering hooks like a veteran jam band, a soft springtime sniper bullet between the shoulder blades rather than the harrowing twists and turns and folk implosions of the old band.  I guess this is an obvious maneuver prior to the evolution into the stripped-down crunchtone cock rock 'n' rollers of the next several albums, but that doesn't necessarily make for a particularly resilient listening experience now.  Not that there's anything wrong with something like 'She Knows', it's eminently tasteful and has that positive, good timey vibe of so much Southern Rock, it just kind of blows past like a nice spring breeze...pleasant, but it's simply not rockin' the front porch swing, if you Lindsay Lohan my firecrotch, and I think you do.  The half cover of Willie Nelson's 'Night Life' represents the dilemma behind this album even more - again, it's easy, soulful, and kind, but compared to the blues on Vagabonds, it's bloodless.  Even Phil's ready-made exhausted delivery fails to push this thing out of lounge lizard territory and into something a bit more authentic.  They sound like they're spending their Night Life playing the Pink Flamingo room down at the Davenport, Iowa Best Western, not cranking out rippin' rock riffs in the dank basement dungeon rock clubs of Dublin. 

Still, though, I can't rip Night Life too deeply for being a bit lazy, lightweight, and hesistant to blow the head gasket like the last record was so keen to do. At least it's not Shades of a Blue Orphanage again...that dingy bit of nowhere was a flat dead end, this is at least a mere detour from the golden path.  'It's Only Money' is basic but tough as carpet nails, though it'd be nice if the two guitarists actually played in dead unison a bit less often, so they would sound like a harmonizing guitar machine and not a clever overdub. The twin guitar attack just simply hasn't shown up yet, so if you're hoping for a proto-Iron Maiden to come howling out of your speakers when you put on Night Life, you'll be more disappointed than a Plaster Caster at a Freddie Mercury concert.  There's far more of that orchestrated ballad stuff here than you might expect, but it's as good as they've ever put together - 'Frankie Carroll' is another one of those heart-rending Irishy folk ballads that make me think of families wailing drunkenly at a wake, and 'Dear Heart' is most defiNightly as nice an homage to Gregg Allman's ballad sound as I could possibly imagine someone putting together.  The references to 'the man with the golden arm' may not (yet) be self-referential for Phil, but knowing what we know know, they hold just as much weight as if they did.  Phil Lynott was one of those rare singers that not only saw the humanity around him, but was probably also very well aware of his own fade into darkness as it was happening.  It's impossible not to hear 'Dear Heart' as a foreshadowing of dark times to come.

The rockers that dominate the rest of side 2, however, have to be lumped more in the 'dumb' category than the 'humane' one - not that 'Showdown' or 'Sha-La-La' are necessarily lunkheaded, but they seem a bit too easy, a bit too obvious, especially coming from this band.  Lyrics about 'jelly rolls' don't buy Phil any toughness or rocker cred that he couldn't get singing about pregnant teenagers or space travel or whatever.  Still, I never regret hearing the twin guitars finally strike sparks on the tear down the fretboard right before the chorus of 'Sha La La', and 'Banshee' sure is a great fucking time for a minute and a half.  Sounds like Eric Bell's last gasps, it does....or maybe a tribute to the melodic old guitar player.  It's probably just a ripoff of the Allman's Brothers and Sisters sound, but I don't care.

Capn's Final Word: A transitional album that, pardon our dust, distracts from the retooling by stepping back and taking it a bit easy.  Not that that isn't deserved. 

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Fighting - Mercury 1975

Now, to really enjoy mid-period, twin-guitar, hook-factory Thin Lizzy, you'll have to do some internal reconciliation if you've already experienced scaling the high points of the Eric Bell band.  As of Fighting, not this lineup's peak by any respectable critical measure, Thin Lizzy trade out gaining reliable hooks and well-constructed rocking by becoming a less versatile band.  They're like a former road car that's been devoted to drag racing - they're less clever, less emotional, more musically narrow, and there ain't no room to carry no groceries, but at their best, they're fast, exciting, and could most likely explode with absolutely no warning.  It's just that as of Fighting, the hooks just ain't all here yet...oh, one or two come dribbling in, but the floodgates are far from being breached.  Therefore, we once again get an album of pleasantries, slightly heavier and far less distractingly orchestrated than Night Life, but...you know, not real memorable, either. 

At times, though you have to just say good goddamn at how they've matured in their use of the twin guitar since Night Life...if the coda to 'For Those Who Love to Live' is like nothing the band's been able to spark up before - the guitars rise and build, bulldozing their way over Phil's desperately overmatched vocals.  The Allman Brothers studies of the last album apparently didn't go to waste, because they've grown up and sprouted metal horns on Fighting.  Lizzy's cover of Bob Seger's 'Rosalie' is about sixteen gazillion times better than any song by that fat truck-driver lookin' boor ever was, and 'Fighting My Way Back' is actually as exciting and motivating as that title advertises 

That said, I'm not convinced by 6 minutes of 'Suicide', the purported classic from this disc, which has great lyrics but is driven by half a hook at most, and seems to begin boring me surprisingly early on. 'Spirit Slips Away' seems to ache out for the much more expressive playing style of Eric Bell - you can tell Phil intended it to be one of those folk-rock excursions like what fleshed out Vagabonds of the Western World, but it ends up sorta lifeless and blah instead.  The entire second side falters under the weight of their blunt hooks and/or languid tempos.  'Freedom Song' is killed by the latter, as the populist sloganeering of Lynott and the pinpoint riffage are good enough to have created a killer song if they'd just punched it up a bit.  This, I'm sad to say, is the kind of mistake you make when the wrong kind of drugs are working their black magic against you in the studio - the creativity is there, but somehow the hands are not able to move quite fast enough to kick the thing over.  I'm sure it sounded dangerously fast on whatever powder was fuelling the band in 1975, but to 2006 ears it's too slow to sell.  Not so for 'Ballad of Hard Man', however, which turns the light off on the album in a killer Sin After Sin-era Judas Priest bit of proto NWOBHM crunch, reminding us that progress is being made on the reliability front.  Some time, man...some time every song on a Thin Lizzy album's gonna crank it like 'For Those to Love to Live' or 'Hard Man', and until then I'm willing to keep giving the band the benefit of the doubt.

Capn's Final Word: It sounds like they've got the engine turned over, but the idle's still too slow and it's filling the garage up with suspicious-looking black smoke. You just know this ride's gonna start humming again soon, though...you just know it.

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Jailbreak - Mercury 1976

Was I asking for consistency? Was I asking for power? Was I asking that Thin Lizzy finally get back on the track they careened off of back after Vanguards of the Western World? Wait, where am I again? Who are all you people? Why are there so few of you? Why is that guy Pedro over there hallucinating about the girl from Small Wonder and chewing pieces out of the ABBA page? Thin Lizzy reviews, huh? Far out...I wnder what drug I was on when I decided to review this

Nah, Thin Lizzy rule.  It's your reviewer that sucks and takes at least a week between reviews to come back and tell you what you already know, which is that Jailbreak, the band's best-seller and home of their biggest hit 'The Back is Town in Boys', which is now being used to sell Lee Relaxed Fit (read: you need to run around the block, tubbo) jeans on the radio.  Except I wouldn't know that because I'm too busy running down the latest and greatest acoustic indie orchestral pop and 'post-rock emo mathcore hybrid mope disco' albums and listening to them until I turn into a steaming puddle of sophomoric swarm.  Then I put on an album like Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak and I'm glad I'm alive - this is the point when Thin Lizzy becomes a cross between River-era Bruce Springsteen and, I dunno, Wishbone Ash or somebody, pumping out these pub-thumping anthems about the folks down at the corner and their lost dreams.  Everyone's got a romantic sorta Rebel Without a Cause name in these kinds of songs - Romeo, Johnny.  Things take place in mytical West Texas border towns or in the dank streets of Dublin, never, you know...Indianapolis or something.  Nobody had anything romantic happen there, ever. Indianapolis is so bereft, you give a girl a plastic daisy and she automatically thinks you're Don Juan.  Even John Mellencamp doesn't give Nap Town any respect in his songs. Nope...in the Jailbreak world, everyone's either fighting, fucking, getting wasted, or getting busted.  Sure, it's theatrical...'The Boys Are Back In Town' might as well be from West Side Story (visualize the jazz-hand action that accompanies 'the boys are back! the boys are back!'), but it's also anthemic and glorious.  The guitars are tuned perfectly never to overpower the song, but to provide the thrust necessary to maintain the 'rock' artifice.  Funnily enough, the songs that truly rock are the opening title track and the closing 'Emerald', which you might mistake for one of those quiet, lilting Lynott ballads about the spirits of Eire in the mist or whatever.  Well...nope! It's pretty much Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song' heaved out to a minitature 4 minute epic of Norse beheadings and grinding proto-thrash.  It has nothing on the compact ka-whollop of 'Immigrant Song', but it sure pounds bloated pieces of whale snot like Zep's own 'Achilles' Last Stand' into a fine powder.  'Jailbreak' takes a far different, albeit no less tough, tack...the leatherhead motorcycle gang song, taking a tight, tick-tock riff, an explosive chorus, and lots of undercover boogie to keep the wenches happy.  'Angel from the Coast' follows 'Jailbreak' with a frenetic tempo but a clearly less metal-intensive sound.  Parts of 'Angel' hit almost like 2112-era Rush crossed with the Doobie Brothers, if that makes any sense. 

It's funny, though, because for an album supposedly as one-dimensional and unchallenging as this one, there sure are a lot of flavors to be had.  'Running Back' will never be considered one of Thin Lizzy's best, but what it does do is make a connection back to the Thin Lizzy-era three piece as it hits for a bit of electric soul ala Van Morrison and a smoother, less lockstep roll that's as refreshing as it is easy.  'Cowboy Song' reminds me of some of that old Mountain boogie they used to put on albums like Climbing! or Nantucket Sleighride, escapist fantasies of the west and those whip-crack Aerosmith Rocks guitar sounds, except in that inimitable Thin Lizzy laid-back way that contains no discernable cock-rock bullshit, no Big Black Blues Man posturing, nothing but a little sound of truth between those familiar-sounding dual guitar lines.  No, it's not necessarily set-the-world-ablaze sort of stuff - these guys weren't Judas Priest or Deep Purple, and they weren't really interested in bowling you over.  What it is, though, is Thin Lizzy finally mapping out their territory and defining a little bit of their mythology.  I feel like I can walk around in Jailbreak, like it has space and a population, like somewhere it may still be happening, that juke box will still be playing, and summer may be here again. 

Then I go back to my Sufjan Stephens records and worry about whether my Ironic Tie goes with my Ironic Too-Small Dress Shirt and my Thick Emo Glasses or not.  And wish I would be hit by a truck and reduced to a small, sticky streak on the ground.

Capn's Final Word: Real, yo.

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Johnny the Fox - Mercury 1976

Docked a notch for unoriginality, but what's good for Jailbreak is good for Johnny the Fox, by which I mostly mean gruelling duelling guitar chunk and evocative lyrics about drug dealing street urchins, unchecked violence, and other lovely sorts of death.  The Johnny in the title is evidently the same Johnny that received the drink in the face on 'The Boys are Back in Town', though is allegedly not the same one that used to sit next to the fat old guy on late night TV, nor is he the same Johnny who started out Cougar, then Cougar Mellencamp, then Mellencamp, then simply going by the unpronounceable symbol that resembles nothing more than a Mercator projection of Cape Cod crossed with a Jack in the Box Spicy Chicken Sandwich.  Just like other recurring fictional rock 'n' roll characters like Suzie Creamcheese, Mr. Pink Floyd, or this 'John Denver' I keep hearing so much about, Johnny obviously represents a certain facet of Phil Lynott's personality - the tragic, drug-addled, depressive side.  He spends most of his time trying to get himself to Yeltsonian levels of intoxication to forget the pains of his life, getting in trouble and generally being a disgusting pox on human society the rest of the time.  Yup - the plot of this album is simply riveting...at least the drug-descent melodrama Berlin had some wife-beating and neglected children for added fun times...this one has, well...no story whatsoever.  Johnny the Fox also introduced Rocky, a Big Rock Star that is no doubt, you know...something about Lynott, too.  So, in sum, I suppose we can assume Phil Lynott thinks of himself as a famous rock god who gets high and depressed all the time.  Pete Townshend and Ray Davies should both sue. 

Of course, that doesn't explain the songs about the hordes of Irish who immigrated to the US and became crooked police officers who talked funny ('Fool's Gold'), or the wartime nightmare scene ('Massacre') or the cool backhanded love song ('Don't Believe a Word'), or the lame straightforward love songs ('Old Flame', 'Sweet Marie'). So, you know, like most concept albums it meanders like a drunken Finn with an inner-ear infection, and renders the story almost completely incoherent.  There.  Jethro Tull fans should keep trying to figure out what the 14th movement of Passion Play is all about...there's no 'here' here thematically.

But what is here is some whomp-heiny good rock and roll music.  The opening 'Johnny' is just as acid of a groove as 'Jailbreak' was last time, and 'Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed' is as sleazy and mean as you can imagine Thin Lizzy getting, and that's righteously raunchy, let me remind you.  Sounds like the Temptations backed by Foghat or something.  'Massacre', by the way, forms the entire road map for Iron Maiden prior to about 1984 - everything came from this song right here...gallumphing tempo, violent/historic theme, the duelling guitars, everything...even the FOOKING RULES part. The guitar solos on Johnny somehow don't sound as immediately slugworthy as on Jailbreak, which I suppose could be attributed to guitarist Brian Robertson's strained relationship with Phil that apparently made the recording of this album a living hell, but the band sound is as heavy as it ever was.  Dig how 'Boogie Woogie', on paper an obviously ridiculous piece of shit ('boogie woogie day-ance! boogie woogie dance!' intoned in a 'I AM THE GAWD OF HELL-FIAH!!' crawk) turns so fucking great as the foursome create a jarring unison riff that sounds like the earth is opening up a fissure to swallow all of the liars and thieves. 

Capn's Final Word: Scattered and smothered like a Waffle House hash brown, but covered all over in that sweet, sweet Thin Lizzy crunch.

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Bad Reputation - Mercury 1977

Now, if you thought Johnny the Fox was a bummer of an album, get a load o' this bag of giggles.  Of course, it's not like Thin Lizzy's ever been the Lenny and Squiggy of hard rockers (remember Shades of a Blue Orphanage? Wotta laugh riot that was.) but this one is harsh. Songs about war. Songs about death. Songs about being on a drug-fuelled downward spiral.  Songs about that time they wouldn't let Tina Yothers do a book report on Huckleberry Finn on Family Ties. You, having already heard Johnny the Fox, say right about now 'so what? That's what he wrote about last time. And the time before that.  Phil Lynott's obsessed with death and drugs.  Haven't you figured that out yet, you chowder-headed goon? And quit rifling through my mail box when you think I'm not looking'.

Here's the dealy-o, daddy-o - before it was easy to think Phil was singing about someone else when he wrote all those fun-timey songs.  This time he doesn't even bother to put up a concept album facade.  There's no Johnny or Rocky or Bullwinkle anywhere to be found on this record to act out his inner struggles. This time, there's no one talking by Phil himself.  When he says he's stuck somewhere and 'depression days are near', and that furthermore he's ready to go 'southbound', you know he ain't talking about heading down to Miami Beach for a little fun in the sun. He's ready to fucking jack in the biggest hit of smack he's ever cooked up in his life and spend the rest of the week semiconscious in his hotel room bed.  He ruminates on his addictions ('Opium Trail') and the ever-pressing need to redeem himself ('Bad Reputation'), but never sounds too interested in it.  In the end, he seems to leave his faith in a happy ending for himself in the hands of God instead, and we all know how that ended up. 

It's not a fun story, but it's real, and it resonates far better than it ever did when presented as a parable on the Jailbreak or Johnny the Fox albums...and it points out how dumb songs like the metal-by-numbers 'Killer Without a Cause'.  Not 'Soldier of Fortune', though...it's not too difficult to see the soldier who, though the 'battle is over and the war is won', continues to struggle on indefinitely for no good reason, might just be the band itself.  What, exactly, was Thin Lizzy looking forward to in 1977, exactly? It had lost its second guitar player, Phil was on an express train to Dirt Nap City, and they'd reached the obvious height of their success.  To continue on from here, well, it would be just due to the same sort of delusion our fictional warrior faced.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, exactly...and I think it's pretty astute that Phil would have put this kind of thinly-veiled plea out there shows his deep courage once again.  'Soldier of Fortune' is a parable that works.

As admittedly powerful and honest as so much of the lyrical content of Bad Reputation is, musically it's an absolute step down from the last two albums.  Scott Gorham had to take care of most of the guitar work himself, and in the process makes clear that not only does double-tracking one guitarist not equal two different guitarists playing in unison, he was decidedly not the one playing all of those cool-butt solos on the last few albums.  The riffs are dumber, less funky and more show-tuney.  It seems that Robertson was the one who wanted to sound like Black Sabbath and Gorham's the one who likes Molly Hatchett, if that makes any more sense.  This lame-riff syndrome is exacerbated by glam-rock hired gun Tony Visconti's big-gloss production - he cleans up some of the sludge, but ends up with this big-hair, heavily anthemized, tastelessly sound-effected Bob Ezrin Light sound that fits this band like a Siamese twins' negligee.  Bad Reputation somehow mistakes Thin Lizzy for Kiss or Welcome to My Nightmare-era Alice Cooper, and results in the album, which in more competent and serious hands could've crossed the line into becoming a true depression classic like Tonight's the Night, constantly tries to remind you that hey! This is just a good-timey rock and roll band! Forget the fact that the lead singer and songwriter is spending  the entirety of 'Dear Lord' pleading for the salvation of his soul, let's turn it into a cornball Queen ripoff with a bunch of overblown Mellotron choirs and phased gong hits...YEAH, BABY!!!! RAWK ONN WIT YER BAD SELF!!! It's like going on a date with Heidi Klum and she shows up wearing a mangy old fur coat, some Garfield slippers, and a Richard Nixon mask. 

Bad Reputation also has 'Dancin' in the Moonlight' on it, a straight up soul tune that reminisces about the old days running around wild as a kid.  It's super fucking snappy and swings like a motherfucker, and fits in with the rest of the album like William F. Buckley at the Burning Man Festival.

Capn's Final Word: Too often the real Thin Lizzy is being dressed up and paraded around according to the direction of the 'popular' Thin Lizzy on this disc - you just have to listen past all the bullshit, is all.

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Live and Dangerous - Warner Bros. 1978

Dangerous, maybe, but not Live, and I think by now you know how much I respect 'live' albums that were born in a studio booth somewhere in El Lay.  Producer Tony Visconti has gone on record stating that 75% of this album is a studio creation, leaving only the drums and some of the crowd noise as authentic artifacts of the original performances.  Yup...only part of the crowd noise, as evidently they didn't always scream in the right places.  Now, when you're sitting in a studio and you're editing together your live album...and you start finding yourself moving bits of tape with crowd cheers around, you really need to stand on up, walk out on the street, and ask the first passerby you see to kick your ass.  Hard.  Like Drago on Carl Weathers bad.  Make them use a piece of iron pipe or a fencepost if necessary.  Whatever you do, your sins must be cleansed in your own blood, and your screams will be your confession.  Until then, you are no longer a Rock and Roller in my eyes.  I turn my back upon you, sinner. You may as well be a cut-and-paste electronica act as far as I'm concerned. 

It's a terrible shame really, because what they put together as a performance in the studio is pretty fucking great.  This is essentially the Fighting-Jailbreak-Johnny the Fox-Bad Reputation Greatest Hits package that never got made.  They throw more into songs like 'Rosalie' and 'Cowboy Song' than the originals ever dreamed of, and capture all the duck's asshole tightness of a 'Jailbreak' or a 'Rocker'. The guitars have never sounded fiercer, growling like crazed tigers prowling the left and right speakers looking for flesh to consume, and the solos are flat out insane. Here's the thing - if this album is almost completely a studio creation, and everyone agrees that it is, then why the fuck couldn't they have sounded like this on their actual studio records? Now, I'm not saying their studio albums sounded bad necessarily (well, Shades was pretty awful, Fighting was unforgivably sludgy, and Bad Reputation was nearly massaged to death, but these guys weren't exactly Uriah Heep, either) but this stuff, well...it's really something else, isn't it? They play as if they believe all those hoary old rock cliches ('play like you mean it', 'play like your life depends on it'). There's not a duff song here, there's not a duff performance...if this is anything close to what Thin Lizzy actually sounded like in 1977, then they were one of the special live bands of all time. I'd put this with Judas Priest's Unleashed in the East (which, as far as I've heard, is actually live) and Rainbow's Live in Germany as must have heavy metal live albums from this period. 

Except this isn't live.  It's a ruse.  If you can forget that and enjoy, well, great.  Visconti, on his website, says the following as a conclusion for his short description of the recording and re-recording of Live and Dangerous:

Despite the necessary trickery this album is very real. It represents electrifying moments before an audience and fabulous second chances to get it right in the studio.

This may sound old fashioned/rockist/fascist/unrealistic to you, but real rock and rollers don't get second chances, much less 'fabulous' ones.  It happens in the moment. If you can't live with the fact that you've sung a bum note, or missed a cue, or your audience doesn't yell exactly when you figure they should have, well...perhaps you need a bit of boot-to-rear therapy.

Capn's Final Word: It's a damned shame that they didn't have the balls to do this thing the right way. Unforgiveable.

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Black Rose - Warner Bros 1979

By all means, this album should be pretty great.  Longtime butthole guitarist Brian Robertson finally jumped and was replaced for this album by hard rock wankmaster guitarist Gary Moore, who actually filled in the last time a guitarist bailed from Thin Lizzy, back in 1974 following the departure of Bell.  Phil is also somewhat over his Bad Reputation doldrums - only one of these songs could be seriously considered to be a downer autobiographical pastiche about jamming needles filled with hot junk into your veins ('Got to Give It Up', not the Marvin Gaye disco classic of the same name).  Nope - outside of that one track, Black Rose, despite its teaser subtitle A Rock Legend, isn't obsessed with impending doom or lost soldiers or anything like that.  I guess Robertson's departure lifted the cloud that had been hanging around the proceedings, because this album is about as carefree as Thin Lizzy's ever been.  You know they're in a good mood when they start writing cock rock smut songs like 'S & M' and doofy macho Fighting style rockers like 'The Toughest Street in Town'.  'Waiting for an Alibi' was the pseudo-hit (it never played in America, as far as I can remember), and it's a good one - the Cheap Trick-y chorus lifts the roof off the paranoid, dark verse in a neat little trick. The rest, well...it is a Thin Lizzy record, so how far do you think it might stray from the comfort zone, exactly? The unison guitar stuff sounds just as hackneyed and flouncy as it did on Bad Reputation (Scott Gorham still hasn't figured out what made the same idea on Jailbreak work like so much hot nitroglycerin), but the riffs are okay for the most part, and sometimes a real killer breaks out ('Got to Give It Up' deserves another mention here).  'Do Anything You Want To' is a pretty sad way to open an album, though - not only does it rip off Dylan's 'All I Really Want to Do', it's pretty much just a rewrite of 'The Boys Are Back in Town'...now, what, the 37th they've done? And 'Black Rose' is the umpteenth epic trip to the Magically Delicious Island of Eire for another heroic tale of another Celtic champion who probably ended up having a brewery named after him.  It's a guaranteed bore - the tone of the songs doesn't vary enough to give it much to keep the attention, and before long you're thinking that maybe Ireland might be the most irritatingly self-mythologizing place in the world.  You'd be correct. 

Well, Black Rose is just kinda enh....Lynott kicks ass vocally and bass-ically just about the entire time, but the songs are really not all there, and Gary Moore never quite detonates as much as fans might have wanted him to.  I still suspect that Scott Gorham is the weak link here - it seems like he's the one that keeps dragging Lizzy back to Jailbreak over and over again, except without the genuine toughness and intelligence of that record.  Considering that Black Rose apparently marks the point when people couldn't deny Lynott's march towards disaster anymore (that same Visconti website I mentioned above says something about Lynott drinking himself to near permanent oblivion during this period, on at least one occasion), it's strange that they kept the reins pulled back as far as they did.  It's as if they kept telling themselves that people liked stupid arena rock songs, and if Phill wanted to write about his pain and fear, he'd have to keep it camoulflaged under a coat of metal banality. 

Capn's Final Word:   If success taught Phil Lynott one thing, it was that people like the dumb hard rock.  If success taught Phil Lynott a second thing, it was that you should keep yourself as profoundly fucked up as you can as often as you can until you die.  Success fucking sucks.

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