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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.