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Thin Lizzy’s own sound was at last taking shape, as well as scoring some chart success, making a name for itself in the fruitful British 70’s rock elite. As the big daddies of the early-70’s hit rock-bottom, punk, new wave and fresher rocker acts in the likes of UFO, AC/DC and Scorpions emerged in the charts – in the case of Lizzy, their commercial success had been modest up until that point, but when Jailbreak and specially Bad Reputation were unleashed, a wider range of listeners eventually gave them the long-deserved recognition and big applause for their own work – which hadn’t been exactly the case with the popularity which came as a by-product from doing that one traditional, drinking-song, way back in 1973. Credits should also be given to Tony Visconti, who didn’t just provide the Irish band sound of the adequate presence and aplomb, but also brought out the best from Lynott emphatically, whose top-notch song-writing thoughts hit new peaks here. Not even the absence of Robbo during most of the recording could stop Lizzy – this is a band at the top of its game.
The trio of tracks here featuring the Scottish-born, teen guitar hero, represent lavishly the improvement, accomplished maturity and grace of the long creative process the group had been through since the late-60’s. Now, not only the formula and direction of the music is ultimately defined, but its personality, soul and flamboyance. Think of “That Woman Is Gonna Break Your Heart”, which is executed by musicians who do know each other, who pull in the same direction and speak the same musical language, more fluently than ever. Harmonies nourished by the contrasting touch and texture of such alternative from each other talents, namely Gorham and Robertson, sound here more natural, operational and fluidly-driven than ever too. Not to mention Lynott’s deeper, nearly tortured, melancholy tone and lyrical mischievousness, persuading the listener to sing-along with a bang – recreating during the record stories of somber romance, night gambling and religious mysticism. The sentiment and tragic feel which made the Bell years stuff so disturbing and touching reappears on “Soldier Of Fortune”, with that tense, melodious guitar phrasing evocating some military march disconsolate climax, while “Dear Lord” adds to the equation atmospheric synth effects and interiors, along with Visconti’s wife unbelievably sweet, angelical backing vocals, enriched with Helliwell’s finespun wind-section fills. Quietness and moody colors also determine a context alike on the ballad “Downtown Sundown”, introducing acoustic chords and twisting, distorted licks that support more of Lynott’s singular singing/talking. So the band is choosing and designing the arrangements very thoughtfully this time, to great effect – think now of “Dancing In The Moonlight (It’s Caught Me In Its Spotlight)”, which is wisely relying on driving sax lines to give the music a bold touch of cabaret rock elegance and sensuality, derived from Gorham’s handy riff-basis, pointing the direction for structures to follow. The Californian guitarist sounds particularly motivated and spirited when his partner in crime, Robbo, reappears on the vivacious title-track and its blatantly-minimalist, yet pushy riff-series; both shaping uplifting song-bodies too on “Killer Without A Cause”, whose underlying aggression and sensitive mood prove the sagacity of Lizzy, concerning the writing, the timing and the fluctuation of dynamics and the music’s sonic balance.
The experimentation Johnny The Fox started continues here, in the form of mingled string effect-pedal textures, exquisite saxophone and clarinet fills, female sensuality courtesy of Mary Hopkin, along with reflective synth climaxes and echoey, harmony vocals which make verses gain depth and range. On the contrary, the absence of Robbo’s more hectic, vehement lines makes guitars sound unavoidably less-versatile and spicy. Gorham faces his string double-duties with remarkable efficiency and decisiveness, lacking on other hand the fire, much more agitated blues touch and rebelliousness of his partner. He possessed a calmer, more laidback style which suits the feel of most of these chill-out, Kenny G-like cuts enchantingly, while the heaviest pieces crave for a more vicious sort of playing. Tightness and professionalism here is still compelling though, not only as far as Gorham’s accomplished, burdensome responsibilities and work is concerned, yet also highlighting Lynott-Downey’s rhythm bases. Their playing hasn’t improved or got more intricate by any means, but the cleverly boosted-up bass and drum decibels make the listener pay bigger attention to them, and that’s not only what Visconti helped out with. The insightful production also accentuates better-strengthened harmony verses, alternatively-envisioned arrangements and a copious amount of eloquently-distorted and sequenced guitar texture tracks. While Johnny The Fox eluded clumsily perspective and focus, Bad Reputation is an album on which experience, musicianship and genius are serving a more specific purpose, with the producer taking a completely active interest and involvement in the conception and recording of the music. Song-writing is more thought out also, arrangements more detail-oriented, while chemistry explodes – even though the usual Lizzy parameters, methodology and schemes haven’t evolved noticeably. But the previous record flaws, fragility and incomprehension are gone.
Bad Reputation should be acclaimed for its musical extent, tolerance and predisposition to make way intelligently for more wide-ranging instrumental varieties, ticking melodies and embellished studio tricks – making the initially inanimate, Cream/Hendrix-ish musical concept of the band evolve to another level. The blue orphanage, the vagabonds, the funky junction, the Clifton Grange hotel were long gone. And not just Scott should be merited for its magnificent job here, also Supertramp’s charismatic saxophonist and Mary Visconti, as well as Tony for his vision and guidance, which at that point had fueled none other than T. Rex and David Bowie’s sound to reach higher peaks. No wonder Bowie himself counted on him on every single album he did, up until his recent demise. Visconti proved to be more than a producer, and Lizzy proved to be more than some rock ‘n’ roll star-wannabe, eventually turning into one of the best-selling acts in the UK. This is nothing less than a victory for Thin Lizzy.
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.