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The previous album was a crushing success for the band and the culmination of years and years of hard work, specially for both Lynott and Downey, who had been together for long, trying to reach the charts and receive the recognition of everybody. It took 5 records for the group to develop their sound and find their own style, but it was worth waiting for because now they had a hit, fame, respect and admiration of the music press and fans. The next step was even tougher: keep their success alive in the following release. They had to decide between using the same formulas and make a sequel of the previous long-play, or trying something new and risky to avoid repetition. Lizzy chose the second option, unfortunately the result wasn’t so bright...
No way you can put this stuff in the same level of its predecessor; as you can listen on “Fools Gold”, “Rocky” or the opening track “Johnny”, the band’s song writing simplicity becomes evident. In those tunes, everything is hanging on basic riffs that are based on a couple or maximum 3 notes and don’t vary significantly during the whole compositions, a poor effort. The insistent vocals repeat and repeat the same main chorus endless times to make this music get as catchy and commercial as possible; again they’re using pop tactics. The commercial intentions are even more explicit in the dumb cheesy ballads “Borderline”, “Sweet Marie” and “Old Flame”, which are mellow, romantic and lame, with weak inconsistent guitars relegated to support in the background the leading voice of Lynott. Absolutely forgettable and mediocre stuff that has nothing to do with the energy and strenght of the previous album, is this the same band that recorded it? Luckily, the rest of tracks are fine enough to keep you awake: the classic “Don’t Believe A Word”, the raw “Massacre” and the hyperactive final song “Boogie Woogie Dance” are plenty of powerful riff series, killer pickin’ parts and outstanding instrumental passages that demonstrate the true potential of Thin Lizzy. Maybe they sound kinda cold and empty if you compare them with their dangerous live versions, however, they’re pure passion and talent in the studio as well. Those raging riffs and immaculate harmonies of Gorham and Robertson are splendid and solid, the solos harsh and fierce, and vocals completely inspired; the difference between these 3 cuts and the rest is unbelievable and might shock you. And the last number left to comment is “Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed”, whose funky casual sound and wah-wah pedal effect licks and hooks are an enjoyable exception from the others.
Bitter result, again the commit the same mistakes that made their early music be so vain and unbearable: too many peaceful love songs, poorly elaborated simple song writing and too much romance. We all know these guys can make it better, the total waste of instrumental potential is sad and depressing, in particular I wonder why they put so much emphasis on ballads and slow tunes when they’re able to perform a very solid hard rock exhibition like in those 3 exceptions I commented before. They are not making a proper use of Scott and Robbo’s brilliant guitar harmonies either, both wasting time with those primitive childish riffs that anybody could play. The positive characteristics of this record are the usual efficience of the rhythmic section and Lynott’s voice, that improved album after album, more mature now, loose and well-defined. Although his lyrics are still slightly absurd and silly, particularly some bad rhymes, soapbox opera lines and foolish expressions (like “In France, they've got a dance - In Brazil, they got a pill”, silly indeed!) that doesn’t let you take them seriously. Well, this is supposed to be a conceptual album about a guy called Johnny, but I guess the story of his life was really sweet and lovely, because a big percentage of the songs are ballads about love affairs and women, don’t expect no tragedy or drama like “Johnny Got His Gun” this time. And the production in these love stories is surprisingly tough and crude, the opposite of what you could have expected for mellow rock tracks like these, John Alcock’s contribution is wasted and doesn’t fit the nature of the music, bad luck!
We’d better forget about 60% of this weak long-play and focus on more enjoyable stuff these guys would make that same year. Definitely, this is the most awful release in Lizzy’s discography catalog since the 1972 orphanage of failure and the 1974 tedious night life beliefs, so that’s why I chose that title for my review. The scandalous lack of inspiration, creativity and ideas is as critical as in the unbearable Lizzy second record, although the sound is completely different, of course. Fortunately, there were better things to come and, by the late 70’s, the band would reach their greatest moment, so don’t panic because thank God this third sequel was the last from the blue orphanage horrible saga.
This album brings back so many nostalgic memories for me it is unreal. Now I know people argue whether Thin Lizzy are metal or rock or borderline, but as they are here on the metal archives, I thought I should review their shit. I was listening to Thin Lizzy before I was seriously into metal, I mean Venom would have probably made me shit my pants at this point if I'm being honest, just to give you an idea of how uninitiated I was. At the time I was listening to stuff which definitely would not give me much cred on the MA, such as Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Boston, KISS, Led Zeppelin, Queen and a bit of Hanoi Rocks I think. I was a year off of thirteen, and I was still hung up on my 70's rock heroes which I was too young to actually experience first hand at the time, so I was kind of delving back into the prior decade digging up gems which I required from the "classic" era. My points of view on the subject of what actually is and isn't classic from 70's hard rock, have changed dramatically over the years. But I can say with ease Thin Lizzy's "Johnny the fox" is as classic as any album in my collection, I wouldn't consider it a metal classic, but enough about the genre of this damned thing already! When this came out Thin Lizzy were already established with other rock defining classics such as "Fighting", "Vagabonds of the western world", "Jailbreak" and to a lesser extent "Nightlife". But after the release of "Jailbreak" (I think this was their most commercially successful, but they had a resurgance in popularity in the early 80's so I don't know.), they decided to strip things back a little. I can hardly call the predessecor watered down to cater the needs of the radio, as much rock from the era was just written this way, even the most obscured bands who were underground would still sound "soft" or "infectious" compared to much of today's undercurrent.
So what is it about this thing I just like so much? It is catchy but still retains that dangerous attitude rock was primarily about and still should be. Even though it is jolly in places, I can still picture Phil Lynott in some hotel room passed out next to an empty whisky bottle, or down town in some hot shot club in Hollywood downing shots of Jäger with acquaintances from bands like Rainbow or Led Zeppelin. It is a glimpse of a lifestyle most of us could never have, the life we try and live up to on a weekend, but find ourselves semi-crouched over a toilet puking involuntarily, regretting that last beverage which clearly had trouble going down smoothly. Not to say this album is excessive and bloated, nor is it a pressure cooker like Guns N' Roses "Appetite for destruction". Hey it might even just be my over active imagination, but this album is a stream lined product of attitude perfected. The first two tracks "Johnny" and "Rockey" have some great riffs from beginning to end, and are perfect album starters as they have hooked you, and even if it was all downhill from this point on, you would persevere and listen any way. Thankfully it only gets better. "Borderline" and "Old flame" are ballads which are quite impressive in execution. Phil emits an almost macho sadness on these two tracks, and it annoys me that there are some who would call this emo. Call this emo, I fucking dare you! "Don't believe a word" is one of Thin Lizzy's most recognisable songs, and a live favourite for many years and rightly so. I actually have heard an alternate version to this, I think it is the original version which is more slow in pace, and just as good! Check it out on youtube, because I don't know what your chances of finding a physical copy are. "Massacre" has an infectious plodding chorus and "Fool's gold" has quite a heartwarming effect, but at the same time doesn't verge on cheese. "Johnny the fox meets Jimmy the weed", has a kind of funky dance vibe about it, but Phil's charisma more than redeems this track, it makes it one of the best on offer here! I'm glad I don't take myself serious enough, to not admit enjoying this song.
It almost seems bizarre that a couple of months after listening to this album, I would make a descent into metal madness, which would disturb my parents and change my outlook on the last wave of rock leading up to metal. However nothing that has passed, be it pioneering or just trend, has hindered my views on this album. It is just ace, and even though I love it so much, I'm having trouble finding reasonable words to plead my case as it were. Some here would consider this inferior. The moment I consider this inferior should be the day you should just shoot me. Honestly, if it happens just blow my fucking head right off, and spare me from the herd and the worker bees and the purists.
Having awakened the world to the strength of their music with Jailbreak earlier that same year, Lizzy stuck while the public was hot, and issued an equally stunning, and possibly more polished and mature effort as their next salvo. Johnny The Fox is something of a concept album, if only in fragmented style, a tale of desperate, righteous but hell-bent urban characters, much like mini-biographies of band leader and voice Phil Lynott himself. Lynott, like most great song writers was deeply personal in his approach, and wither his tales are bawdy, regretful or just plain cool, they always reflect some aspect of the man’s own odd place in our world. Or do most black Irishmen find it easy to fit in? Maybe it’s just me reading too much into it.
Anyway, the album punts off with “Johnny,” a tale of tragic addiction gone berserk, fueled by the newly urgent guitar interplay provided by Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. See these guys had played well on the band’s previous three albums as well, but here they’re like caged animals let lose to ravage. Robertson himself proves that on the unbelievably great “Don’t Believe A Word,” one of Lynott’s most confessional songs about his own infidelities and shame. Not only lyrically heart breaking (but honest) this track’s guitar solo is alternately bruising and healing, wielding the perfect mix of bravado and sorrow to match the lyric. Just awesome. Also similarly amazing from the guitar perspective is “Old Flame,” one of the more evocative songs on its title subject ever written. Not heavy, but just gorgeous. I defy any red-blooded lad to not relate to its charms and ability to invoke one’s lusty memory. There’s also a little terse funk on hand (“Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed”) some tribal metal (“Boogie Woogie Dance,” dumb title I know, but this the still the seventies we’re into here! Kick butt guitar work here all the same) and a genuinely beautiful cut in “Sweet Marie.”
Ever evolving, each Lizzy release we encounter adds another batch of unforgettable songs to this band’s history, and indeed to metal’s. Johnny The Fox is history as far as this writing is concerned, but why stop here? Run, don’t walk straight to 1977’s Bad Reputation, one of the true jewels in the crowded Lizzy crown.