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By 1980, Thin Lizzy slumped into decline completely, not only in musical terms. Moore had left dissatisfied with the decreasing quality standards of the band’s stage act, mostly due to Lynott’s but also Gorham’s alarming hard drug addiction, leading to a total of 3 different players, including new addition Snowy White, stepping into Robbo’s shoes in one year – needless to say the Scottish-born guitarist departure was cataclysmic musically for the group. Concurrently with the new Lizzy album Chinatown sessions, Lynott pursued a solo career for the first time, making even clearer for everybody that the band’s future was getting more and more ambiguous. For his solo debut Solo In Soho, the front-man surrounded himself with friends and acquaintances, which completed a memorable line-up that included none other than Mark Knopfler, Jimmy Bain, Bob Siebenberg, Huey Lewis…besides the familiar personnel: Gorham, Downey and Moore themselves.
It becomes obvious from the first couple of tracks that Lynott is letting himself go, implementing his music taste and influences on “King’s Call”, back to his old tricks in the form of preeminent verbosity, backed by delicate licks courtesy of Knopfler, relying still on inimitable Lizzy melodic rock simplicity and minimalist chord sequence – while “Dear Miss Lonely Hearts” underlines more prominently the trademark twin-guitar sound of White & Gorham’s delicious harmonies, a track that would’ve fitted in Chinatown comfortably. But Phil’s even more aware of the need of not self-plagiarizing his own band on “Tattoo (Giving It All Up For Love)”, a piece which conveniently amalgams the harmonic licks with a lively horn section and orchestral strings – on “A Child Lullaby” making use of sweet flute arrangements too, combined with oversentimental verses (“To love God is the greatest thing, but I'm a fool and I love you so”) with no rhythm section to be found, making it sound warmer and more touching to great effect. But inevitably, most hardcore fans will get alienated here, specially when Midge Ure’s despicable dance-disco-pop preferences take over with ridiculously-distorted vocal effects, futuristic synthesizers and robotic, sequence grooves which deny totally the classic rock rules in favor of more radio-friendly and at the time commercially-profitable sounds on “Yellow Pearl”. Hard to believe it might be former heavy/power/speed metal pioneers Rainbow bassist Jimmy Bain who’s behind the keyboards on “Girls”…With the funky “Talk In ‘79” and most noticeably on “Ode To A Black Man”, Lynott fortunately comes to his senses and embraces classic rock elements again, not only deriving guitar lines from the archetypical blues scale, yet also using rougher textures and cool harmonica fills – lyrically (not musically) with references to Johnson, Wonder, Hendrix…nodding towards reggae licks and exotic percussion on the title-track, as well as adding a folk-sounding acoustic guitar accompaniment to “Jamaica Rum”.
It starts off as a traditionally-envisioned rock album, but it turns into an eclectic mix of sounds, taking inspiration from many distinct sources, from funk on “Talk In ‘79” to the folk-oriented orchestration on “A Child’s Lullaby”; experimenting with disco/electronic arranging on the infamous “Yellow Pearl”, not to mention the sun-kissed, reggae approach on “Solo In Soho”. Overall, it pushes away determinedly the dual-guitar harmonies, the presumptuous soloing and the strictly-bluesy basis of the Thin Lizzy philosophy, making the songs even shorter, devoid of instrumental effort of any kind, mostly highlighting Lynott’s vocals and self-indulgent thoughts (like the addition of underlying female voices), and less-restrained lyrical melodrama. All the above-mentioned talents are at the service of his self-indulgence, with Knopfler providing “King’s Call” of magical, ethereal guitar flights but not being given room however for more than embellishing inconspicuously Phil’s driving verses; while Bain, despite being credited for writing a couple of titles here, is conceiving AOR structures and playing unusually cheesy synths that would hardly fit in any of mid-70’s Rainbow, White Horses or Dio productions. The Irish legend also seems undecided on which tunes should he pick up for Chinatown and which should he leave for his solo record, occasionally self-plagiarizing himself unconsciously, apparently: “Ode To A Black Man” steals some lyrics from Lizzy’s “Didn't I”. And instrumentally, songs are sluggishly-cooked, insisting on leaving the lengthy solos and juicy riff series for Chinatown, concentrated on the variety, orchestration and richness of the instrumentation instead, introducing unexpected stuff like a wind section, steel drums, laughable keyboards, acoustic guitars…unlike Johnny The Fox, being here adventurously and explicitly presented and arranged at the forefront, ahead of electric guitars in the mix even. But Phil’s voice is the main factor on the equation, gifted with much more glamour, feeling and heart than usual – less-subdued and unashamed when it comes to writing about feelings and romanticism.
Solo In Soho is the perfect album for those who may find Lizzy too heavy (anybody ever did?), but on other hand an unsatisfactory record musically, as far as the writing and the performance are concerned – sounding excessively-radio friendly and overproduced on certain songs, wasting away not only Lynott’s potency but each of these all-star line-up members’, too bad…No wonder why the kids hated it, don’t come here expecting Lizzy rock, it’s just a collection of diverse, brave and risky tracks serving the front-man’s musical roots and fantasies; by any means laboriously-conceived, but done with heart and soul.