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Many years have passed since the difficult beginnings of the Irish rockers: the blue orphanage, the vagabonds, the funky junction, the Clifton Grange hotel...Thin Lizzy left behind their old-fashioned bluesy cheesy pop sound and cliches since Eric Bell’s departure to become one of the greatest classic rock bands of the decade, and by 1977, 4 albums had already been made by the famous line-up: Lynott-Gorham-Roberston-Downey. Their sound finally developed and evolved into something fresh and admirable in 1976 with “Jailbreak”, but in this album they’d get a bigger result than ever before, their masterpiece and finest hour. The relative failure of the underrated previous record “Johnny The Fox” made them aware of the need of working harder and experiment with new elements on their music to not get stuck in their mellow cheesy old sound and offer something interesting, more interesting than the bunch of mediocre 70’s lame rock bands around.
The most remarkable characteristic, since the very first beginning of this record, is the astonishing harmony between Gorham and Robertson on 3 of the tracks (which are the best you can find here); anybody did anything like this before? Well, by that time Rudolf Schenker and Uli Jon Roth, or Tipton and Downing maybe, but their sound was much more heavy and rough so Scott and Robbo were the true pioneers of that stunning synchronization of melodic lines (Iron Maiden know well). As you can listen on the title-track, “That Woman’s Gonna Break Your Heart” or “Southbound”, the riffs and harmonies are immaculately executed with precision and talent; probably those riff series aren’t difficult, complicated or impressing, but sound good and convincing enough to satisfy. The band’s distinctive song structures haven’t changed: first of all they start with a riff sequence, then vary it and introduce the chorus, afterwards they introduce a lenghty lead break, pickin’ part comes next and then they repeat it all over again. Why would they change their modus operandi if results are good? However, you can find some variety here, for example there’s slower and relaxing tunes like “Downtown Sundown” or “Dear Lord”, featuring melancholy sentimental chords and that whispering voice of Phil, along with stratospheric keyboards that reach the same atmosphere and climax you can find in a church on Sundays or in Supertramp’s “A Soapbox Opera”. We all knew Lynott was a sensitive romantic guy, so his lyrics on the dramatic “Soldier Of Fortune” or the classy elegant “Dancing In The Moonlight” might affect you; rhythm changes, a skilled riffing display, effective solos, some funky licks, keyboards, clarinet and saxophone (credits to John Helliwell) are included on those. Although verses take all attention on them: melodramatic, catchy and well-chosen, in particular Phil’s rhymes demonstrate he was inspired and motivated. The song structure of “Opium Trail” and “Killer Without A Cause” is more versatile and the arrangements more elaborated (Robbo supports Scott), so the band can introduce acoustic guitar chords, notable vocals and longer jams on which Robertson and Gorham have fun and improvisate. The final result is amusing, enjoyable and more creative and unpredictable than what we heard from these guys before.
The weak spot of this long-play is the excessive number of slow ballads, surely. The tempo is mostly quiet and calmed so there’s a critical lack of energy and power, you can fall asleep during some moments, not because the music is bad or poor, just because the sound is so mellow and relaxing, like a chill out or a Kenny G tune. Probably if they included more numbers like the title-track with that dynamic rhythm and strenghtful riffing exhibition, the result would have been completely different. Along with the lack of continuity of the songs I mentioned, the other cons are the lyrics, sometimes dumb and extremely cheesy, other times very coherent and creative. I dislike the christian propaganda on “Downtown Sundown” and the final track, which are both more like a prayer with some background music and a gospel choir, nothing you could’ve expected in a rock album, right? Well, Phil would write worst things than this (“To love God is the greatest thing, but I'm a fool and I love you so” - “A Child’s Lullaby”, 1978) but don’t get me wrong, he’s actually one of the greatest poets rock & roll ever had and I love most of his lines, but in this album he gets too emotional. Apart from those handicaps, Lynott’s sweet charming voice, the amazing guitar combo on some tracks, the talent of Scott to face his string section double-duty, and Tony Visconti’s great production and sound engineering work are splendid elements that contribute to make this record special. Thin Lizzy put their trust on the right guy: legendary producer Mr. Visconti who already contributed to make the music of people like T. Rex or Bowie sound as it should and suggested many arrangements and ideas to reach a fine result in the studio. An essential guy for the consolidation of Thin Lizzy’s glorious classic sound; his perfect job on this long-play is the proof of his abilities and competence as producer. By the way, maybe you wonder why there’s only 3 faces in the cover photograph, the reason is that Mr. Robertson got injuried in a brawl, what a surprise!
The following year would be the greatest time for the group, making a masterpiece on stage, the iconic “Live And Dangerous”; however, they didn’t perform much songs from this album, in fact only 2 (Isn’t it suspecting? Maybe they were dissatisfied with it?). Later compilations and several best of and greatest hits CDs would ignore many classics here, so it’s obvious 80% of this record is underrated and still forgotten. The next successful release with Gary Moore replacing Brian on guitar would get all the attention and recognition this one didn’t, very unfair. And nowadays, Mercury and Universal records released lately deluxe 2CD digipack editions with bonus tracks of most of Lizzy’s mid and late 70’s stuff...but not this one! It makes me wonder why...what is wrong with this long-play that you all ignore it?
If I had a buck for every time the songs herein have made my life better I’d be in a permanent blissful stupor. Seriously, for me this is where the Thin Lizzy story really hits it’s stride in every sense. Phil Lynott had honed his song craft skills so sharp they can cut without even being unsheathed, while the band’s performing skills are simply second to none. I once heard somebody say that they felt Prince was so talented that he could do whatever he wanted to musically. Hear, hear, and I must stress that in 1977, Thin Lizzy was a similar proposition.
Kicking of with the regal and visionary “Soldier Of Fortune,” it become clear Lizzy were so far ahead of their metallic time it would take everybody else years to catch up with them. With seemingly no effort, he band peel of this mournful but determined tale with the ease and posture of people so good at their métier that they barely have to try. Good enough to make you cry, this is a true classic. It’s also a tad forlorn for an album opener, and thus the band blast back with the ballsy title song next, a fast, short and tough number that warns about the perils of high living, and friends, if you’re going to listen to anyone on this subject, Thin Lizzy are the guys to pay heed to.
Lynott’s own high living and it’s price are in full frontal concern on “Opium Trail,” a terse and desperate number that reveals the tragic and twisted honesty of the man’s writing. And then…”Southbound.” This lyric of dead cities and dejected hope is another Lizzy landmark, not only due to it’s tragic lyric, but the inventive playing and arranging that fuel this one are truly moving. “Dancing In The Moonlight,” a hit for the band overseas is clever, bouncy, catchy, and so totally un-metallic that people have been caught bitching on websites that it proves Lizzy was not a metal band at all (insert expletives and harsh slang about body parts here). I must say that the album’s remainder is not quite as strong, but damn, fool! When you’ve got three of the best heavy metal songs ever written on one side of a single album, you must feel good about it.
Sad to say, the sun was setting on the band commercially at this point, and an increased reliance on drugs and drink would really start to eat away at Lizzy’s wiring in the years to come. Even more impressive then, that as these weights crushed down on the band, they would still make a few of their best albums ever. Now, that’s impressive.