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• “By the time we went into the record Fighting we had got to know each other so much better than had been the case with the previous record – we had done a lot more touring, so we each knew what the others were capable of and how we fitted together. It made such a difference to the way we now saw the band going”. – Brian Robertson
Thin Lizzy were, up until that point, one more from the enormous average 70’s blues rock acts among the British scene. Even though they scored some remarkable success with “Whiskey In The Jar”, the song neither defined their sound, nor their own personality, they were just accidental guests at the Top Of The Pops TV show. Following the resignation from Bell, whose alienation unreasonably increased as success eventually came in, the Robbo-Gorham guitar section was introduced, making clear Lynott’s intention to forge a brand new sound, as well as burning the past. Nightlife turned out to be another disappointing offering, though, stuck on the same sentimental, slow blues nonsense its predecessor Vagabonds Of The Western World had started wiping away timidly – so it was in the end, an incongruent huge step back. By 1975 however, Lizzy had been on the road long enough to improve their skills and clarify their perspective relevantly, no longer amateurs to the song-writing process. This is where Lynott & co began to cook.
They surely didn’t accidentally place “Rosalie” as the opening track here. That energized, emphatically spirited cover of one of the bands they had gigged alongside, namely Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band (sounding in its original form pretty much in the vein of Lizzy themselves’ stereotypical, plodding blues-based rock), represents their new ethos and values, starting with the harsher riff textures and the less-inanimate pulse. Downey recalls:
“We’d done a tour in America with Bachman Turner Overdrive and Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band. We watched Bob Seger every night, and Phil picked up on “Rosalie” and thought it would be a good song for us to do. But we had to do it in our own way. The original is just a little too slow for Thin Lizzy. So we had to speed it up and make it beefier (…). I think it’s fair to say that most people see this as a Lizzy song these days, rather than a cover!”
Although the real historic moment comes next, on track 2 “For Those Who Love to Live”, a kinda poppy, humbly-designed, melodically-minded, concise 3-minute piece on which the ultimate Thin Lizzy sound has definitely taken form: the lead harmonies, ladies and gentleman, are no longer a vacuous complement, but an integral element to their entire philosophy, which from now on they’ll recurrently made use of. “King’s Vengeance” and “Freedom Song” still sculpt more of those enchanting, fluffy melodies, fueled by Robbo & Scott’s twin-guitars, which become the undisputed driving force which nourishes and colors the song-bodies simplistically, frequently making way for Lynott’s more compromised, premeditated stories. That’s right, some of the songs are still fundamentally soft and delicate, something the ballad “Spirit Slips Away” with its sober pace, environmental string hues and surrounding verses confirm – along with the old style Western feel love tune a la Bell years “Wild One”, this one featuring arguably the most emotive, lyrical combination of dual-guitar harmonies this combo ever played. In contrast, the electrifying vintage blues revival on “Suicide” relies on Lynott’s inflexible, driving bass, accompanied by one crude, yet melodious interior courtesy of the 6-string section. Therefore blues principles are still the rule here, you see – think now of “Silver Bullet”, aka Robbo’s most self-indulgent contribution to the album, discovering twisting, curly riff colors and formulaic verse clichés, derived from the seminal, unsurprising blues scale – pretty much as well the same methodology Lizzy obey on “Ballad Of A Hard Man”, this time sculpting a more robust edge, painted by Scott’s effusive wah-wah effect pedal and sort of complacently-improvised soloing.
Fighting is a step forward, concerning many aspects. More relevantly, the writing has improved, relying a little less on cheesiness, tender chords and Lynott’s persuasive narrative mechanisms. Riffs are now being reiteratively accentuated, undisturbed and boosted-up, driving the structures diligently in detriment of Lynott’s less bountiful verse patterning. Harmonies, most definitely are also being highlighted, now that Gorham and Robertson have developed and adopted the right mannerism and idiosyncrasy, delivering them with much more aplomb and conviction than ever before. On Nightlife, the above-mentioned harmonies were too primitively-perpetrated and even more rudimentarily-envisioned, added like an empty complement to the equation – on the contrary, here they set resolutely the basis for song-structures, pointing the direction for those song-bodies to follow, as well as giving the music a distinguished, indelibly melodious feel. Downey saying:
“We knew Nightlife was a little bit on the soft side – now, what we needed to do was inject more heavy rock into what we did, it was clear to us all that we’d got it wrong on that album. Phil was determined to write heavier songs and told us that he had a lot of rockers ready to go”.
The rougher guitar colors the engineer provided the combo of are also determining the sonic quality and criterion of the renewed Lizzy modus-operandi. Robbo is full of praise for Harwood:
“We had a great engineer on the project called Keith Harwood. He’d worked with people like Led Zeppelin and David Bowie in the past, and also knew Olympic Studios, where we record the album, really well. He helped to ensure that we got the sounds we needed, and while he wasn’t a co-producer, he made life so much easier for all of us”.
But don’t forget this is 1975, blues stereotypes are still supreme and as fashionable as bell-bottom jeans and psychedelic high-heel boots. Much too many times, Lynott & co. abuse of the formulaic blues scale phrasing, unoriginally delineating licks and fills they stole blatantly from blues icons, as well as their wordiness – which at the time, even the major copycats of American blues, namely Led Zeppelin, realized they needed to be brought up to date. So Thin Lizzy still needed to dispose of such archetypical, exhausted elements to pristinely forge their characteristic formula. But the topical cheesiness and delicateness Lynott is coming up with has actually its moments of fun – “Wild One” particularly, along with the oneiric atmosphere on “Spirit Slips Away” are unforgettable moments, which would soon be overshadowed gradually by harder, cocky powerhouse rock on following attempts, making these titles a more valuable testament. Downey insists:
“I like what we did on Fighting. It took us in a totally different direction to where we were with Nightlife. We’d all become very familiar with each other’s playing, and it’s definitely a vibrant album. Everything sounds very natural, and although it was a quick process, nonetheless we rushed nothing. We took our time. Our reputation was on the up, and we were getting there. All of us knew that eventually something was gonna lick, and Fighting was the album that proved us we were now heading the right way”.
A huge step up in terms of inspiration, perspective and musicianship is what Fighting meant to Thin Lizzy. Even though too many songs are still drenched in typical blues platitude, even though Lynott is still generally obsessed with romantic wordplay and melancholy love fantasies, now the band is more determined than ever to play heavier, tighter and briefer rock, shyly eluding the progressive early-70’s tendencies and the 6-minute solos a la “The Rocker”, as well as disposing of the sonic stillness of the previous effort. Fueled by a growing spark of vision and originality, their methodology and habits are leading not only to musically superior and richer standards, but to some humble chart success, with the album peaking at no.60 in the UK. Robbo recently declared:
“For me, Fighting set things up for Jailbreak. What you hear on this album, though, is the fact that we all now knew how to work together. Being on the road for so long as we had been by the time we got into Olympic Studios gave us a feel for what we should be doing, and the four of us were pulling in the same direction”.
Now to continue my one man quest to get you to put down your Viking metal albums and other silly things from Scandinavia and get you to listen to some Thin Lizzy! This is for your own good! Anyway, yes no reviews for this one either but than can be expected as ‘Fighting’ is one of the lesser known Lizzy albums which always struck me as odd as it’s a fucking corker.
‘Fighting’ is perhaps most significant as it’s the album where Brian ‘Robbo’ Robertson and Scott ‘Joni Mitchell’ Gorham discovered their signature twin guitar sound, meaning guitar harmonies a plenty. Also ‘Fighting’ can be considered the first truly focused and more importantly hard rocking Lizzy album, as previous albums weren’t really too consistent and showed a band trying and often failing to find their own identity.
Song wise Fighting shows a band truly hitting their stride, of course most will have you believe that ‘Jailbreak’ was the bands turning point, commercially this is true but ‘Fighting’ is a excellent collection of melodic hard rock songs that I must stress shouldn’t be overlooked. Bob Seger’s ‘Rosalie’ kicks things off and it’s a nice little rocking number, however when compared with the ‘Live and Dangerous’ version it sounds a tad weedy, but that minor gripe aside (‘Live and Dangerous’ absolutely destroys! Listen to it now!) it’s a still a classic fat slice of Thin Lizzy (Alan Partridge? Answers on a postcard). ‘For Those Who Love to Live’ is an overlooked masterpiece, and dedicated to another dead Irish legend George ‘Pist’ Best (an alcoholic football player, to those of you who don’t know), this is the first Lizzy song to display the twin guitar harmony sound that would prove so influential. ‘Suicide’ is the hardest rocking song on this album and well flat out rocks, Robbo’s guitar solo is one of my favourites especially the lick where he plays a double stop and then slides it up an octave, simply magic! ‘Wild One’ is simply one of the finest ballads the band, or anyone else for that matter has ever done. It’s steeped in Irish history and is sentimental and romantic without being sappy, something very few could pull off, but Phillip Lynott being god, of course could. Also take note guitar fans, the harmonised lead is absolutely magnificent it sends shivers down my spine, see I told you this was better than Viking metal! ‘Fighting My Way Back’ is another overlooked yet masterful Thin Lizzy track, upbeat and hard rocking. ‘King’s Vengeance’ yet again is exceptionally good, yet no ones heard the thing! Please, rock fans give this album a listen. ‘Spirit Slips Away’ is strangely ominous and during the songs recording Scott and Robbo supposedly discovered their guitar harmony sound but its one of the albums weaker moments. ‘Silver Dollar’ is just a bit of filler really, nothing too offensive but it doesn’t really warrant repeated listens. ‘Freedom Song’, sentimental and overtly romanticised but Phil and the boys pull it off in style, some lovely guitar harmonies and a story of a man being hung and shouting freedom (sounds like a Mel Gibson film!). ‘Ballad of a Hard Man’ is a funky hard rocker, but Lizzy could do funky quite well as Phil was black, however this rule doesn’t always work, for instance I don’t think Entombed could do funk…….but I digress.
This is without doubt the classic Thin Lizzy line up, the whole band shine and not a single note is out of place. Phil Lynott is not only the consummate songwriter but also a impossibly tight bassist with an instantly recognisable fat bass sound. Brian Downey, is one of the most underrated drummers in rock, hard hitting, neat and tight with a distinctive style. Now, at this point I must stress that Brian Robertson was actually better on guitar than Scott Gorham, but still Scott is still excellent although his playing is not quite as jaw dropping as on say ‘Bad Reputation’ or ‘Black Rose’. So Brian Robertson was the best guitar player in Thin Lizzy at this point, I can put this down to the fact that his playing is more balls out, than Scott’s, but then he was a whiskey drinking Scottish mentalist whereas Scott just looked like Joni Mitchell, so there you go.
Well if you want an excellent 70’s Rock ‘n’ Roll album look no further. ‘Fighting’ has it all great songs, exceptional playing and even a touch of romance, well what more could you possibly want?