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The early 80’s were tough times for the few surviving classic rock bands of the 70’s, especially because the new young NWOBHM groups offered something much fresh, exciting and memorable than the veterans, who became slow and clumsy. Although Thin Lizzy were one of the most admired essential influences for those British musicians, they showed no mercy for them and easily ate them and smiled. Lynott and co. never did a very hard rock, rather the opposite; the direction they took in the early 80’s was mistaken and wrong as their music became more sweet and softer in the new album while the whole rock scene got tougher and harder. 3 years later they would fight fire with fire, but it was a change that came too late. The right moment was then in 1980!
“Killer On The Loose” and “Chinatown” are splendid classics and I definitely put them in the same level as the mid and late 70’s glorious stuff of this band. The riffs are convincing, rough and vary during the song properly, an excellent performance that also includes the sweet harmonies of Gorham and White, so satisfaction is guaranteed. Lizzy are paying a lot of attention on the pickin’ parts, which are remarkably elaborated and skilled. “Sugar Blues”, “Having A Good Time” and “We Will Be Strong” (those lyrics could fit the 1974 Roman Polanski film) are pure fun, great melodic rock with the group’s distinctive guitar harmonies again very notable, this time taking complete control of the compositions. There’s some more outstanding inspired solos of White in state of grace that are absolutely amazing and coherent, not repetitive or predictable at all, without pedal effects nor tricks like those Robertson loved and abused so much in previous records. So the guitar work is magnificent, leading the pack in an exhibition of talent and stunning creativity, in particular by the new kid in (China)town: Mr. Snowy White. A lot of energy and brilliance can be found in these tracks, you can notice the group is having a real good time jamming together, so they could do no wrong. “Genocide” (yes, the tune Rolf Kasparek and co. covered in 1991), “Hey You” and “Sweetheart” are fine songs as well, but the vocals are more present over the instrumental display, and melody is very insistent. The main chorus is repeated thousand times, so the verses are catchy and impossible to forget, kinda annoying in these commercial AOR pop songs, the most tedious and boring moments with lack of continuity and simple song structures. The final cut “Didn’t I” is following that same pattern of vocal supremacy and song writing simplicity with a more calmed quiet tempo, cheesy dramatic verses and humble instrumental background support to let Lynott’s words take all attention. Fortunately, that’s the only slow boring love ballad of the record, so we must be grateful!
There’s great songs and forgettable songs, but one thing is clear: melody is omnipresent. The intention of the band this time is making mellow bluesy rock, away from the dynamic hard rock of previous releases. Lack of ambition and attitude, that’s the weakest spot here, along with the excessive repetition and presence of the vocals. Lizzy also seemed to have problems to give continuity to the compositions, most of the time are too lenghty and humdrum, when they could be done in half of their total lenght. There’s an explicit attempt to achieve certain complexity and technique to make their music get progressive and difficult, and that’s remarkable because the simplicity of some of their 70’s stuff was scandalous. But the guys seem to be unable to handle and define that technical rock properly, or introduce the right alterations on riffs, rhythms, breaks, etc. On other hand, the rhythm is loose and vigorous, and guitars stronger and immaculately executed in perfection. Don’t listen to those who say Snowy White never fitted the sound of the Irish rockers, totally the opposite: his synchronization with Scott Gorham is magnificent, in this album you will find the most delightful and outstanding guitar harmonies in the history of the group. Nobody ever before or later got along that well with the Californian guitarist, who finally found his alter ego. The pickin’ parts of both Snowy and Scott, but specially White’s (his are longer) are incredible and impressive, not technical or complicated, but remarkably well-performed and prepared, there’s no improvisation or chaos. The song writing and structures alternate mediocrity with skills, but as I mentioned before, melody is the most important element now, not only the riffs and hooks, so the band is trying to make something more difficult this time. Lynott’s vocals are louder and supreme, compared to the intruments most of the time, in the main chorus in particular, when his voice is overloaded, too loud and the overdubs excessive, featuring some comical lame distortion. The sound engineering job of Kit Woolven is not the best this band ever had, but at least guitars sound powerful and solid, as they should; drums and bass weak and relegated to the background, difficult to hear.
The final result is honest, decent and acceptable. Snowy White made me forget about the extravagant egocentric Gary Moore at once, but unfortunately the material here is not strong or convincing enough to reach the great moments of the previous long-play. The guitar work is immense and brilliant, I must insist, but I’m afraid there’s too many fillers in the song-list, repetitive, uninspired and inoffensive. Just the opposite of what the NWOBHM bands were doing. Lizzy got stagnant in old-fashioned sounds like back in the early 70’s, when they were too stubborn to change their direction. Back then, the lack of success finally forced them to open their eyes and change their empty sound. The same would happen in 1983, with the poor recognition and appreciation of this long-play and its predecessor among the fans and music press that made them realize of the crucial need to modify their obsolete ways.
Thin Lizzy are truly an amazing band. Phil Lynott’s poetic and thoughtful lyrics coupled with his superb songwriting skills simply make for an outstanding musical formula that the band has repeated again and again and again to moderate success. Chinatown is simply another nearly flawless Thin Lizzy album.
The positive We Will Be Strong runs out at you with all guns blazing. This song contains some of the band’s most inspired twin guitar leads, and some of Lynott's finest lyrics. If you’ve ever had an off day and you simply don’t feel good, listen to this song. The twin leads give off a very classy positive vibe sure to shake anyone out of a downer. Phil Lynott has one of the smoothest and most reassuring voices in rock, and that causes confidence to literally radiate out of the speakers and into your heart. The title track drops this attitude, and begins to go for a more mysterious rocking feeling. Brian Downey is probably the most underrated drummer in the history of music. His playing here is refreshing, crisp, and is absolutely what ties everything together behind the scenes.
The title track also features a fairly heavy main riff. The distortion is fairly low, but who gives a shit? This is rock n’ fuckin’ roll! It just happens to be rock n’ fuckin’ roll that is borderline metal. Sweetheart is another fairly uplifting tune that yet again shows off Phil Lynott’s casual and suave finesse with the ladies. This man is a ladies’ man to end all ladies’ men. His bass playing doesn’t make its presence nearly as known, being quite content with bringing up the low end of the songs. But what you can hear is enjoyable and spunky licks. Take the intro to Sugar Blues for instance. The bass intro shows off Phil Lynott’s personality. It has a bit of a bouncy quality. Then the vocals kick in a bit later, and the womanizer goes to work. His bass also shines through on the intro to Hey You. What is it with musical atmosphere making me think I’m in a rainy dark city lately? It does that here.
Speaking of heavy, the very middle of Hey You breaks into this fuckin' funkay little speed metal riff. This band can do heavy, and they can do heavy very well! Genocide is another fairly heavy track. The riffing is very vintage 80s heavy metal. Phil Lynott continues his clever lyrical escapade and sings about people not taking kindly to killing of the buffalo. Killer on the Loose is a fast rocker dealing with Jack The Ripper-esque subject matter, while Having a Good Time is about…well, having a good time! This song completely idealizes what’s great about rock and roll.
“Everybody likes to get a little crazy, in their own particular way. But my buddies and I, we go over the top, and go over again today.”
After the first verse, Lynott shows off his poetic and throws in a bunch of wordplay involving similar sounding words. Pretty entertaining, but somewhat useless. There’s a little bit of corny, “HIT ME WITH THAT DRUM AS HARD AS YOU CAN!” type of shit going on. What adds insult to injury is that when Downey actually hits the drums…uhh…as hard as he can, it stays at the exact same volume level. It just seems a little…well, dated? I don’t know. Then again, it’s rock n’ fuckin’ roll! This shit doesn’t have to be serious. Being laid back is probably one of the best qualities a band could even have. Didn’t I is the obligatory ballad, and it rules. Yeah, I’m saying a ballad rules. What are you going to do about it? You’re going to listen to this ballad and agree with me.
Phil Lynott was such a romantic dude. Any guy would be lucky to be half as romantic as he was.
This album is textbook Lizzy. If you like any of their mid/late 70s output, you’ll like this as well. Thin Lizzy simply had some kickass mojo going for about a decade that forced them to continue throwing out great albums, and this one is no exception. No Thin Lizzy collection would be complete without this, as it is one of their MANY masterpieces.