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Jailbreak is hailed as the highlight of Thin Lizzy's career. While it serves as their breakout moment, by no means should any self-respecting rock/metal fan stop at this point. This album should serve as more of a beginning of a long, rewarding journey. It's fucked up how Jailbreak gets passed over in metal circles in favor of Rush, Priest and others who released an album in 76. Look, I love Priest, but when you compare Sad Wings of Destiny's flimsy execution to the death march assault of "Emerald" there's no goddamn comparison. Hell this is most likely where Priest (as well as Maiden and countless others) got the idea for guitar harmonies.
This album would serve as a template for all Thin Lizzy albums to come, both in good and bad ideas. If the first album you bought by Thin Lizzy was a greatest hits comp of some kind, chances are you're already familiar with Jailbreak, Cowboy Song and The Boys Are Back In Town. Of course the test of what makes a truly great album is, can the non-hits be as sonically compelling as the hits? They can, but not all in terms of heaviness. The album is absolutely worth getting for Warriors and Emerald, which do a fine job of mixing the face smashing with the ethereal. There's a reason Mastodon chose to cover the latter; it translates well to this day.
As for the rest of the non-hits, Angel From The Coast and Romeo & The Lonely Girl have a brisk "Lessons" type of feel to them. I personally didn't care for Lessons, but then again Rush didn't have the luxury of Phil Lynott as a singer. Angel From The Coast does a fine job of maintaining the momentum created from the title track. Then there's Running Back. Phil Lynott is one of the few songwriters that could pull off not only soft, but heartache as well (best exemplified by Still In Love With You). The "love and loss" tune manages to pull off piano and saxophone without seeming schmaltzy. Of course, Phil's brilliant lyrics are what hold it all together, not just here, but throughout the entire album. I'm sure the non-familiars might be sick to death of hearing about Phil's poetic prowess, but its like complaining Eddie Van Halen plays too many notes: Who cares when it's the truth when they do it so well.
Big hits are usually the band dumbing themselves down for the masses, but The Boys are Back In Town is a business as usual statement that just happened to be selected for radio. It's one of those rare moments where the big hit is not only an album highlight, but a career highlight as well. Maybe it's the fact that the song hasn't quite been spoiled by classic rock radio yet (though I don't want any dipshits getting any ideas) Everything from the left-right alternating chorus and the bridge guitar harmonies, its one of the rare moments where the great song actually deserves its hit single status. Unfortunately, after that is where the album's momentum just deflates. Fight or Fall is filler, and would become the filler standard bearer for many a Thin Lizzy album after this. Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if its placement hadn't been so ill-conceived. Following an interminable formula of "soft ballad to follow the smash hit single" that seemed to permeate just about every album in existence (Goodbye To Romance after Crazy Train, Fever after You've Got Another Thing Comin, Beth after Shout It Out Loud), Fight or Fall is why the audio industry would create a format whence one could skip tracks. It's not as if ballads are not welcome here, and again, Phil Lynott is very good at ballads/wordplay, etc., but this song is just dull. Dull and lifeless; a nothing track. It was simply put there to halt the momentum because god forbid rock bands get sued for property destruction as a result of too many killer songs in row. Further compounding the matter is that Cowboy Song, the album's other "big hit" starts off in a quiet, country manner before revving the engine back up for more chaos. The album could have gone from The Boys Are Back In Town to Cowboy Song (ironically the opposite of how they would go on to do it live) and still had the same "dynamic" effect.
Filler or Fall aside, Jailbreak is an almost all killer, no filler rock classic that no rock fan should be without. While not the quintessential Thin Lizzy record, it's a great starting point for new fans, not to mention probably the only complete studio album you'll be able to find in stores.
The Boys Are Back In Town
1976: Robert De Niro is driving his taxi through the mean streets of New York, looking for Iris to invite her for breakfast and save her from Sport and moral decadence. In the meantime, Thin Lizzy set about recording what many would consider to be their most successful album ever, after an extensive tour. At that point, the band hadn’t forged their own sound yet – the previous records, with the Gorham-Robertson axis already taking guitar duties resolutely, was decent but didn’t offer anything really breathtaking or memorable, so Thin Lizzy knew they had to make something greater if they wanted to face the uncertain future and conquer the U.S. market. 1976 also saw Lizzy as a more mature, professional and experienced band, having completed a relentless gig schedule, during which they learnt so much from the groups they opened for, so the time was right to make something big.
So much touring, so much rehearsing, so much partying together...these guys had got to know each other so well at the time that they could do no wrong, as far as writing and gelling along musically is concerned. Think of “Jailbreak” (taking inspiration from Charles Bronson and Robert Duvalls’s 1975 movie Breakout?) and “Warrior”, 2 classics that stand for themselves, during which the roughest, choppiest riffs Gorham & Robbo ever did paint indelibly minimalistic, yet cogently-driven structures, which may not evolve or underlie substantial difficulty, but manage to give the music proper rationality and cohesion. Lynott’s fantasy and imagination color the songs with street life, urban poetry, as well as design some technically-modest arrangements that contribute to make song-bodies less-reiterative. Lizzy is sounding here more aggressive than ever – on the iconic “The Boys Are Back In Town” and “Cowboy Song” though, going for a more melodious edge, accentuating the distinctive harmonies and the melancholy feel on verses, with Lynott’s vocals in prime form. The combination of the front-man’s impassionate, soulful singing with the combo’s classy, honeyed twin-guitar sound is terrific; setting the basis for their ultimately crystallized melodic blues rock. “Emerald”, placed last intelligently in the set, represents the culmination of Lizzy’s achieved sonic splendor and song-writing grace, with the Irish, Celtic imagery and history added to their electrifying riff-patterns, the edgy transitions and the unrepentant, overlong solos. Ostensibly smoother melodies take over emphatically on “Angel From The Coast” and “Running Back”, with sprightly lines, frisky acoustic and piano arrangements, and calmer, homogeneous paces deriving kinda poppy AOR colors and stories Lynott always felt associated with. Even a touch of black soul and unequivocally bluesy tendencies enrich the equation on “Fight Or Fall”, confirming Lizzy’s sympathy for 60’s vintage influences.
The trademark dual-guitar, tender harmony policy was defined on Fighting already, though on that record it still served a predominantly-softer, stilled musical concept, stuck on unmistakably blues habits. Here, the above-mentioned melodies have been tightened and accelerated, conceived by a sharper, slightly metallic guitar texture which certainly made Lizzy sound considerably innovative. Of course, it ain’t Rainbow Rising speed/power metal but the beats remain noticeably looser and less-restrained than before, during most of the album, forging an animated, hectic hard rock edge. But it’s not all heavy rockers here, as Lynott just can’t help getting romantic and sentimental, giving in to love words, neat guitar arrangements, gentle pulses and interiors, with saxes and pianos coming into the picture. His fantasies and visions are taking shape with the invaluable help of both Robertson and Gorham, who’re capable of shifting raw and impeccably-clean textures with striking versatility, in order to fit the changeable essence and context of the tunes. The chemistry between those 2 players has exploded here, providing the sound of so much contrast, hue and detail, as their style of playing and approach diverge from each other perceptibly. While Gorham’s technique is stylish, serene and laidback, Robbo’s is distressed, more sonically fiery and tenacious, making guitar lines so distinguishable and singular from one another. In the meantime, Lynott is rediscovering his voice, now with a warmer, touchy tone and ardent modulation pushing away the dodgy, frequently low-tone from the Bell years. Downey completes the professional line-up, now being given the chance to try out some adventurous fills and daring rolls with lengthier transitions, on “Emerald” more notably, but staying mostly disciplined and sober, just as the character and mood of the music required him to.
This is where Thin Lizzy began to cook, where their ideas and conceptions started to work out fluidly, being the result of a process, a tough effort. The faith, determination and hard work led to results, to a much more enlightened sound which is no longer a repetition of what somebody else did before. The singularity and distinction is here to stay, based undoubtedly on blues values, yet not being so nostalgically-envisioned. It says so much for this album’s uniqueness and enduringness that 4 of these songs frequently remained in the band’s concert repertoire, up until the group’s last gig by late-summer 1983. Certainly, “Running Back” and “Romeo And The Lonely Girl” may not be that unforgettable, but they contribute to make the album less one-dimensional and monothematic, adding some charm and variety to the pack. Therefore objectives have been accomplished, creative process has been completed, and job is done.
If I, one day, ask people about great hard rock bands, they will probably tell me that the greatest bands of that genre are, for example, Deep Purple, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Scorpions, etc. I'm pretty sure they will, unfortunately, never answer “Hard rock bands? Check out Thin Lizzy!”. Meh, world's unfair.
Indeed, this band shows a perfect blend of Irish folk music and country (check out the beginning of Cowboy Song) with the pure hard rock of the 70's. What a mix, isn't it? And, in the end, this mixture works very well, as this album turns out to be pretty good.
Phil Lynott's voice is very similar to the voice of Jimi Hendrix, probably because they are both black persons. So, if you are one of those that think that Hendrix is a fantastic guitar player but an annoying vocalist, forget this record, as you certainly won't enjoy it. Lynott is also the biggest songwriter of the band, as he penned almost every song of the record.
About the guitar work, wow, it's amazing. Unforgettable riffs and solos are present on almost every song; there is also a good use of acoustic guitars here and there, proving the folk edge of the album. The main riff of Angel from the Coast is catchy and one of my favourite riffs ever and, hey boy, that's saying something!
About the drum work... fantastic. I would even say that the drummer (called Downey) delivers the best performance of the record. His style is pretty original if you bear in mind that the majority of the hard rock drummers of the times were robots unable to play other drum pattern than the annoying kick-snare-kick-snare-kick-snare. Downey surely doesn't play complex beats all the time, but he sometimes adds unexpected accents or ghost notes (ghost notes RULE, bear that in mind) that keep the listener interested in the drumming. The best performance is the one on Angel From the Coast, probably - very dynamic and energetic.
So, highlights? The title track is a classic that influenced lots of metal (most notably heavy metal) bands out there. The guitar work is amazing (that main riff, oh my God...) and so is the chorus, which is catchy as hell. Well, in fact, EVERY track contains a good chorus, which shows that Lynott was a skilled songwriter and will keep you listening to the songs again and again and again.
Angel From the Coast is another highlight, perhaps the best song of the album. Boys are Back in Town, one of the biggest hit singles of the band (probably the biggest along the classic Whiskey in the Jar), is also an excellent rocker.
Those three are the best of the more aggressive tunes of the record, since this piece also contains some ballads and calmer songs. Flight or Fall is probably the best soft song of the album, being, again, very catchy and featuring some good instrumental passages.
The album ends with the consistent Emerald, a very good rocker, very much in the vein of the first two tracks.
About the production, wow, it's AMAZING; I don't think that there are albums out there, produced in 1976, that sound better than this one. Yes, it's that great!
This record is also a concept album about some futuristic subject, but I confess that I still don't understand the meaning of it. Anyway, every song stands out in its own way, so don't worry if you don't understand the concept too.
Concluding, this album is a true hard rock classic; although there are no “WOOO FANTASTIC MIND-BLOWING!” songs, every track is competent. The album is also pretty varied, so don't expect an unidimensional piece. Definitely recommended, if you like hard rock/early heavy metal.
Best moments of the CD:
-the beginning of Jailbreak and Angel From the Coast;
-the first vocal lines of Warrior;
-the solos of Emerald.
Pretty nice record, but, although every song is good, it lacks a real amazing track to keep things going. Anyways, good work, Thin Lizzy!
Whenever the metal community discusses the origin of the harmonized melody riff, the innovation is generally ascribed to Iron Maiden. Whether one of these riffs appear on some obscure Swedish death metal demo or as the main part of the latest metalcore favorite, childish accusations usually arise that the band ripped off those gods of British heavy metal. Some dissenters might say they ripped off Judas Priest; still others might say Blue Oyster Cult or Scorpions. But only the truly astute listener will have the foresight to say that they really ripped off Thin Lizzy. But this isn’t about who ripped off who (it’s not like anyone has those i-VI-VII progressions patented anyway) or even about who did it first. It’s about who did it best; an honor reserved for the finest band ever to come out of Ireland, the mighty Thin Lizzy. Fuck U2; they never stood a chance.
Jailbreak is the band’s most well-known album, but I also believe it to be their best. Sure these guys weren’t quite as heavy as some of the other 70’s metal acts at the time, particularly Priest, Sabbath, and Scorpions, but they were just as talented. Guitarists Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham both possess immaculate lead phrasing and a knack for ear-pleasing riffage, not to mention a silky smooth guitar tone. And of course, there’re those trademark harmony riffs that set this band apart from their peers. Phil Lynott’s bass rolls right along with them, but it’s his signature singing style that has earned him renown. His carefree, bluesy delivery and unique voice rule; he presents each song like he was just reminiscing out loud. Drummer Brian Downey rounds out the lineup with his half-classic rock, half-jazzy style. Alright, so they can play well together, but can they write well? A quick run through the album reveals this to be true beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Things kick off with the title track, a crunchy rocker about, what do you know, breaking out of jail. Lyrically, the song is based off the science fiction prologue in the album sleeve and the album itself seems to stick to this running plot, kind of a loose concept album. The song is fairly simple, but it rocks hard and serves as a nice prelude for things to come. “Angel from the Coast” is the first highlight, kicking forth some classic 70’s style rock in the vein of Eddie Money but way heavier. Note one of those trademark harmony riffs in the middle there. How these guys didn’t get as big as Deep Purple or Zeppelin is anyone’s guess. “Running Back” is a bluesier number, showcasing the kind of class these guys put into their songwriting. “Romeo and the Lonely Girl” is another good example of this, being no more than an upbeat acoustic rocker with a fiery guitar solo. “Warriors” could have been an early Motorhead track, as it sounds like it wouldn’t have been too out of place on “On Parole.” Then there’s the band’s biggest hit single “The Boys are Back in Town.” This features their most well known harmony passage between verses (with a great bass line underneath) as well as serving as yet another example of these guys talented songwriting. “Fight or Fall” is the mellowest one on here, but doesn’t feel at all out of place. “Cowboy Song” opens up like a story told around a campfire before busting into more upbeat rock. Overall, not a bad song in the bunch.
But just before the album wraps up, we’re treated to its masterpiece. If none of the other tracks screamed heavy metal to you, closer “Emerald” more than makes up for them. This is as proto-power metal as anything Priest or Scorpions were doing at the time and it’s only outshined by its live counterparts. One of the 70’s finest metal tunes.
Fans of the old-school would do well to add this to their collection. To say that it’s essential would be an understatement.
Highlights: “Emerald,” “Angel from the Coast,” “Warriors,” "The Boys are Back in Town"
Quick Editorial Note: I can't believe how few Thin Lizzy reviews are on this site. We need to fix this pronto!!! Editoral over.
An international conglomeration of musical visionaries, it took even geniuses like Thin Lizzy to find their way in every sense, not the least crucial aspect of their search being the very decision to perform the classy and instrumentally vivid metal that had become their trademark. Because the fact of the matter is that Jailbreak was no less than the band’s sixth studio album, most of their prior work being of a less than hard rockin’ quality, but quality all the same.
But with their sound verging into heavier, harder realms, Lizzy found their sound and meaning, and in only seven years they’d create one of the loudest and proudest legacies in metal ever. Spearheaded by Phil Lynott, bassist/vocalist/song writer/black man/Irishman/poet and all around butt-kicking tough guy, Lizzy had already sent original guitarist Eric Bell packing from the intensity of their ambition. His contributions to the band’s first three albums (Thin Lizzy, Shades Of A Blue Orphanage, Vagabonds Of The Western World) are fine indeed, and it’s with him that Lizzy scored their first hit single, a fiery version of the old Irish folk tune “Whiskey In The Jar.” But with his departure came the addition of two guitar slingers (American Scott Gorham and fellow Irish lad Brian Robertson) and the beginning of what would become Lizzy’s ever-popular often awe-inspiring twin guitar assault. Said forging began with 1974’s Nightlife, an album too mellow to be seriously considered in this volume, but it’s successor Fighting began to push the energy levels up, and Jailbreak was the obvious next puzzle piece in the band’s evolution.
Despite kicking off with it’s incendiary and unforgettable title cut, the album actually still has more mellow matters on it’s mind, as most of it’s first side can hardly be considered hard. Still “Jailbreak” is a classic, and features the band’s first real metal science at work. Also the album contains the band’s only American hit, “The Boys Are Back In Town, a song which never fails to bring a smile to my forlorn face. While it is a tragedy that this is the only Lizzy number the USA saw fit to fall in love with, we have to be grateful for it’s mere existence, as it’s one of the most joyful, exuberant hard rock songs ever, not to mention the song’s mesmerizing volley of dual guitar fire. The horny, sad and longing “Cowboy Song” has the tendency to sound a touch hokey at first, but just wait till that rhythm gets cookin’, and the aforementioned guitar heroes begin firing off solos to die for. Oh yeah, Lynott, he sounds good too, his soulful pipes bringing a world weary tone to even the most ribald of tales. But the real metallic glory is reserved for Lynott’s Irish was history lesson “Emerald.” A keen student of Irish folklore and history, it would be far from the last time Lynott would invoke this imagery to make his bands metal ever more keen.
While strong to the finish, it would be unfair of me not to stress that this is really the first of Thin Lizzy’s big back catalog for metalhead to pay heed to, and I promise things will only get harder, heavier and better as we follow the comet-like trail the band spread with all the strength the could muster. It’s a story of determination, but also ultimately one of chaos and collapse. But don’t sweat the bad stuff now. Think this: it’s ’76, the band is touring the world as heroes armed with a huge hit, and all is well. For now…
Some notes: Although Thin Lizzy’s early work is hardly metal, there are snatches of stuff within its grooves that need mentioning. Most of all, there exists (or existed) and album issued by Decca records called Rocker (1971-1974), which does a good job of squishing the harder material of Lizzy’s pre-breakthrough years together. “Whiskey In The Jar” is in attendance, as is a single version of “The Rocker,” a killer raw, early Lizzy snarl, as well as the almost punk blast of “Little Darling,” a track by Lynott but one that has Gary Moore’s guitar stamp all over it. Finally (whew!) you Lizzy newbies may want to pick up a good compilation of the band’s work before investing a week or month’s lunch money on the whole damn catalog. If so, hunt down a copy of the CD Dedication: The Best Of Thin Lizzy. It’s your best bet, trust me.