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• “We went to Paris in ’79 to record the Black Rose album. And that was the beginning of all the drug problems right there. We’d go out to the clubs at night, we’d meet these drug dealers, and before you know it these people are in the studio while we’re cutting the album. It was a hell of a lot of fun” – Scott Gorham.
1979, an uncertain period for British classic rock, saw the dissolution and demise of 70’s hard rock big boys, in favor of punk and disco – while underground, then-unknown heavy metal kids were inconspicuously setting the basis for the forthcoming NWOBHM revolution. Despite being derided by punks, 2 bands by the name of Pink Floyd and Thin Lizzy had still much to offer musically. In the case of Waters & co., moving to another level, reinventing the definition of conceptual album with the pharaonic masterwork The Wall, while Lynott & co.’s increasingly ambiguous sound on Black Rose put Lizzy fans on the defensive, as the band was slowly tuning into one decrepit rock dinosaur. They had encouraged, one more time, Gary Moore to occupy the guitar vacancy Robertson left and resigned to, marking the end of Lizzy’s golden mid-70’s era and the beginning of the end, as Lynott and Gorham started descending further and further into rock ‘n’ roll excess. Downey recalls:
“We had some great songs, but when people are doing smack, that’s when everything slows down. A lot of time was lost with Phil and Scott going out of the studio and not coming back for hours (…). I wanted to get rid of these fellas that were supplying the guys, but what can you do? You either leave the band or you get on and play. I had no control over what Phil and Scott were doing, and they didn’t want to know. To be honest, they seemed to be able to work under the influence of dope. But with this album, it was Gary who really lifted the band”.
Certainly, Moore’s untamed, fiery imprint provided Lizzy’s sound of a fresher feel and vivacity, so noticeably on “Waiting For An Alibi” and “Do Anything You Want To”, both formulaically-sculpted, making use of the reiterative lead harmonies and melodies – still punctuating sing-along verse-choruses and plodding structures, yet being professionally-driven and perpetrated with palpable chemistry and effectiveness. Their formulas haven’t improved or evolved, but haven’t diminished either, as the taste and instinct concerning the conception of those underlined melodies, as well as their graceful texture and body confirm. Pushing away subtly the classic 70’s blues rock ethos, Lynott & co. start nodding towards fashionable American AOR sounds on “Toughest Street In Town” and “S & M”, setting some lightweight pulses and lines a la US-styled funk too, serving with humility and minimalism Lynott’s wordplay, making way for growingly overproduced interiors and sound effects. Structures are obeying now less-thorough schemes, by any means forged with neither sumptuous technicality nor resourceful thoughts. “Sarah” and “With Love” rarely require any serious effort or perspiration from the complacent musicians, with the guitar combo again relegated to the background in favor of Lynott’s accentuated, verbose poetry. Even the heaviest, more dynamic cut on the album, namely “Get Out Of Here” succumbs to overproduced catchphrase choruses and strained arrangements, deliberately turning it into one emphatically commercial-edge output. Fortunately, a more haunting, prophetically-disturbing climax is recreated on “Got To Give It Up” – the darkest tune here, giving off a smell of tragedy and clairvoyance, derived from Lynott’s tortured words on heroin addiction and Moore-Gorham’s crude, melancholy riff tone and incendiary soloing. Saying Gorham:
“I questioned the subject matter on that one. It was the unwritten rule: We tried to hide the whole drug thing, because if you got busted you couldn’t work in a lot of countries. But Phil said “It’s a cool lyric, I dig what I’m saying here and I really believe it”. That was Phil”.
Not to mention the monumental title-track, which evocates Celtic fantasy and imagination, accompanied flawlessly by the guitar combo’s baroque-sounding licks and lyrical, thoughtfully-premeditated, extended pickin’ sequences with Gorham and Moore fighting a duel to see who plays the finest solo…and both win. Gorham declares:
“It was Gary’s idea to bring the Irishness back into Thin Lizzy. Especially with the band being mainly Irish again”.
The Irish-born player proved to be the right guy for the job, maybe not helping out the band on the song-writing that professedly, which actually got perceptibly simpler and too direct, but bringing a fresher breeze to the performance in the form of agitated, energized solos and more frenzied textures and intense colors. Gorham has to say:
“Gary came in at the right time for us. He was great to work with. He had a lot of ideas, and obviously his playing spoke for himself. His style of playing pushed everybody to become better players, to tighten up a little. Having a guy like Gary coming in, it got me up on my feet”.
“Gary just pretty flawlessly stepped in. We didn’t miss a beat. And I don’t think Gary needed much persuading. This time, he really wanted to be in the band”.
Downey agrees, saying:
“Gary really wanted to put his stamp on the album, and in the studio his personality really shone through. He and Phil really gelled. They worked hand in glove and it really paid off”.
Despite being brutally simplistically-envisioned (most of the tunes are based at best on 3-chord bases), Lizzy manage to make the sluggish patterning work out. The title-track and “Got To Give It Up” should be thought of as exceptions most definitely, in a pack during which Thin Lizzy go soft in detriment of the rebellious, riffy, up-tempo blues mindset Robbo enthusiastically suggested – giving in to radio-friendly, polite and technically-lazy habits. The emphasis they put on the stubbornly-persisting choruses, as well as on the decibels they provided those of in the mix confirm Lynott & co.’s intentions to hit the charts and occupy FM radio playlists. Visconti, whose production was an integral element to strengthen and consolidate the sonic clarity of Lizzy’s sound on Bad Reputation, is now being pushed to make the music sound more poppy, commercially-attractive and decidedly sweetened. With Lynott also threatening a possible future as a solo artists, the rock values are now less-intransigent and strictly-traditional, welcoming the addition of explicit funky licks, above-mentioned pop tricks (specially noticeable on the absurd repetition of catchphrases) and predominantly-reduced, more concise solo sections and briefer instrumental passages (with the title-track being the memorable exception). It seems now the guys are obeying faithfully the suggestions from punk (Lynott and Gorham were hanging out with Steve Jones and Paul Cook at the time) and 80’s new wave pop to elude the so-called rock dinosaur rock mannerisms, concerning the instrumental level and ambitious proficiency of the 70’s, as well as the blues scale phrasing and the plodding beats.
Thin Lizzy said goodbye to the memorable 70’s with a great record, although it was clear and predictable the unstoppable changes in the rock scene were about to affect their success and reputation soon. They had to dispose of the old clichés in their music if they wanted to survive and compete with the new, raw 80’s NWOBHM groups. Too bad they were too stubborn to admit their mistakes, avoiding introducing substantial changes, rather abusing of poppy arrangements. But in 1979, their future didn’t seem so uncertain yet, as they could be proud and satisfied with this decent output: a classic hard rock album any 70’s music fan must have. While Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep were drowning in mediocrity, these Irish rockers were still having fun with his old formulas. But not for long...Gorham declares:
“You can’t say that drugs aren’t fun, because they are. But when you start to have a problem with drugs, that’s when the fun stops. And when you’re doing heroin, you’ve got a big-ass problem in your hands…”
It’s a heavier approach we find Ireland’s finest (sorry, U2) rock band swathed in on this effort, having since dispatched guitarist Brian Robertson (injured in a bar fight, he’d later gone to rattle cages briefly with Motorhead) in favor of Gary Moore. The man’s speed, weight and general all around breathtaking guitar abilities could never be anything but a boon to any band, and this wasn’t the first time Phil Lynott and company had called on him to pinch hit. He’d stepped into the breach on the Bad Reputation tour, and here he is as a full-blown member of the Lizzy lineup proper.
Material wise, it’s another straight shooting collection of material that continues the band’s ever upward spiraling legacy, although fewer and fewer dollars were forthcoming despite the overflowing art on display. A much thicker guitar tone than previous is immediately evident on “Do Anything You Want To,” a rumbling, bass driven number that’s fun, but a shade formulaic by Lizzy’s usually mould-busting standards. The real heat arrives with “Toughest Street In Town,” a tale of rough stuff in the city, fueled by Lynott’s visceral visions, and Moore’s relentless shredding. “Waiting For An Alibi” is a great twin-guitar motivated number; featuring some of the band’s most impressive six string layering ever. “My Sarah” is a lovely tune Lynott wrote for his young daughter, which is hardly appropriate for snarling rock, so Lizzy appropriately perform this one at half-mast, with melodious solos aplenty.
By this time it must be admitted that the man (Lynott) and the band’s drug addiction was on the brink of seriously addling their collective futures. Thus, the frankness with which said addiction is confronted in “Got To Give It Up” is startling, and would be downright morose, if not for boasting some of the band’s toughest riffs ever. It’s clear that whereas most rock stars saw drug ‘n booze excess as their right, Lynott saw it for what it was; a yoke he was sadly not able to walk away from, right up until his death. The far punchier and terse “Get Out Of Here” is a humorous detour, and a real relief, while “Roisin Dubh (Black Rose)” is metal greatness galore. Lyrically recalling “Emerald” from the band’s own Jailbreak, it’s another journey into Lynott’s learned Gaelic mind, and boasts some staggering incendiary guitar work from both Moore and longtime Lizzy accomplice Scott Gorham.
And so the Lizzy rampage rolls on, bloodied, intoxicated and still in search of a sizable audience. From here, there would be two more albums (Chinatown and Renegade) of varying quality and varying lineups (Moore would split, not being able to handle the heroin, whilst Snowy White and Midge Ure would have brief and odd tenures with the band). But just as the skies were darkest, the heavens crashed and suddenly there was Thunder And Lightning. Go directly to 1983, if you please, for Lizzy’s crushing coda.