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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"