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The abrupt departure of Bell, followed by the quick resignation of his replacements (guitar players Gary Moore from Irish Skid Row, Andy Gee and John Du Cann, formerly of Atomic Rooster), not to mention the recording contract termination with Decca, could’ve perfectly meant the end for Thin Lizzy. The band had recently experienced the sweet smell of success with the traditional Irish, drinking song “Whiskey In The Jar” cover, against all odds, being invited to the Top Of The Pops programme, which only commercially-profitable rock acts were allowed to perform at – yet by 1974, future couldn’t look more uncertain for them. With a couple of new teenage guitarists, namely Californian Scott Gorham and Glaswegian Brian Robertson, the band embarked on tortuous recording sessions at the Trident, the Olympic and the Saturn Studios. The pressure from the new record company they signed with, as well as the serious disagreements with producer Ron Nevison sure didn’t help either…
Gorham recalls from his first encounter with the band: “This mean looking black guy with a young punk-looking guitarist (Brian Robertson) standing behind him. Up on the stage, hidden by his drums was Brian Downey, who didn’t say a word to me!” – though he might have needed to be reminded of the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”, for Lynott’s musical conceptions were back then anything but menacing. Kicking off with the acoustic gem “She Knows”, featuring one of the front-man’s most enduring performances, backed by newbies Gorham & Robertson’s ornamental playing and melodious sensitivity, forging a sound bare of the inability and insecurity of the Bell years. However, soon that little spark of inspiration and grace runs through their fingers, with the dreariness and sluggishness of prior efforts reappearing on the title-track and “It’s Only Money”, which alternate predictable, explicit blues and funk connotations, devoid of an own, uncharacteristic musical mindset. The writing on “Showdown” is similarly-conceived, but fortunately a bit deeper, even though structures remain sonically dull and inoperative; featuring on other hand a soulful, mid-70’s Gloria Jones-led T.Rex vibe, enriched graciously with a background black choir. As you might noticed, the pace is all along solemn, hardly-agitated also on the bare piano ballad “Frankie Carroll” and the Barry White-reminiscent “Dear Heart” too, whose clean guitars and whispering, story-telling verses turn away from rock values intentionally. “Still In Love With You” is one more sedate tune, but special and dissimilarly-envisioned in that soloing isn’t a banal complement to the emotive talkativeness, with prolonged instrumental fragments serving as a vehicle for Moore’s prominence specially, giving him the chance to prove himself worthy of the job that he had recently declined. And when you less expect it, exception occurs in the form of “Sha-La-La” and its unusual arranging and sprightly groove, but more importantly unveiling the memorable, signature twin-guitar harmonies that are subdued, yet equally exquisitely-delivered on the serene “Philomena” and “Banshee” – an historic moment that Scott describes this way:
“You get so many people saying: “Wow, it’s really cool you and Brian invented the twin-guitar”; well, we didn’t invent it. The Allman Brothers were there, Les Paul was doing it for God’s sake, Wishbone Ash, The Eagles…a lot of people were doing it. We just happened to do it in a different way, in a real sure rock sense – we beefed up the sound and put it up against a different landscape. And it was really never a premeditated thing, it was more of an accident; we were in the studio and I think it was Brian Robertson, he was doing up a line and somebody hit the echo (the delay button), which delayed it by maybe like a half second, so as he was going down he was harmonizing with himself all the way down the scale and it got printed, and that was pretty cool with us on that back and it fit beautifully – then we decided: “Well, I’ll figure out what those notes are, we’ll take the echo bit off and I’ll just lay that harmony, laying down there”. And we never even really thought about it being a ‘sound’, it was just like ‘that’s a pretty cool thing’ (…). We got a review in NME or Melody Maker or something, reviewer said there “patented-Thin Lizzy twin-guitar harmony sound”. I called up Brian and said: “Hey, Brian we got a fucking sound!” (laughs)”.
Nightlife should be merited for its exceptional lyricism, musical diversity and scrupulous arranging. Lynott’s poetry is hitting new levels of tenderness, soulfulness and romanticism, while his writing is contrasting multifarious inspirational sources, mostly blues as expected, as well as total funk worship, not to mention soul and folk. Instrumentation is as rich and decorative as it can be, counting on string arrangements, elegant piano lines, colorful acoustic accompaniments, which give the music so much depth and dimension. Melodies are softer too, emotionally-draining and occasionally sort of dramatic, intriguing, setting a dark-mood, twice as lyrical as the Bell’s stuff – backed instrumentally by the unique touch and feel of this newcomer double-guitar team…But all of that might be what the most strict hardcore fans derided, as all along the beat stays too sober, guitar textures too clean and neat and lyrical themes deprived of hard rock attitude and rebellion (but not of sentiment). Certainly, the record lacks aplomb, direction and confidence in general, not only as far as the writing is concerned, as the performance, despite being undeniably professional, is bare of real chemistry and fluidity between guitars and rhythm section. It may sound as if they were complete strangers to each other. Guitar tandem Robbo-Gorham does sound distant and insecure; though the divergence between one another’s distinct style and feel couldn’t be more fruitful. The memorable twin-guitar scheme however, is here conceived rudimentarily, still not being the main factor on the instrumental configuration of the songs, just a complement to the group’s traditional strategies. As for the soloing, it’s undoubtedly harmonious, although Robertson’s fire and boldness hasn’t emerged yet, while Gorham’s class and aesthetic playing is still requiring refinement and mastery. Lynott and Downey most definitely were in a different league altogether, back then.
Salvation came later by the hand of both Gorham & Robertson, but back in 1974 nobody could really predict such musically and commercially successful future. Specially on an effort which, despite including immortal classics such as “Still In Love With You” and “Sha-La-La”, sunk dramatically (not only in the charts), increasing the stress levels for the group and the pressure from Vertigo, which demanded them greedily another sell-out single in the tradition of “Whiskey In The Jar” that didn’t seem likely to ever arrive. The tension in the studio, the lack of intuitiveness and direction in the writing, as well as the bad vibes between the band and Nevison did the rest. At least, Nightlife’s poor results showed the guys what not to do on their next attempt, and Lynott & co. did learn from their mistakes.
Thin Lizzy's "Nightlife" is often underappreciated or overlooked, due to the fact it lacks in the hard rock aesthetic of other albums, or the straight up heavy metal deliverance of their 80's albums. But to say they hadn't quite found their sound would probably be quite an ignorant thing for me to say, as I always found their earlier albums quite experimental at times leaning toward the psychedelic. There is no denying that this is quite a soft album, but it works because it is just so cool and calculated. It is like going on a night out on the town, with that friend who has a lot of knowledge for his years, who gambles and drinks but never loses that magnetic aura. I have always appreciated Phil Lynott as a lyricist, and I think most metal heads appreciate Thin Lizzy's contribution in the realm of rock/metal, Vader even covered one of their songs from the "Renegade" album. Every Thin Lizzy album is a reflection of Phil's life and experiences in some way or another, and that is still the case here but it is always obtainable, you can always connect with the lyrics and exchange war stories so to speak. I was too young to listen to this album at the time of it's release, seeing it wasn't until the early 80's when I got into rock and metal, but the moment I heard this album, it already sounded timeless and you know what? You may refer to this as having Thin Lizzy's weaker songs, but even if that is true, their weaker songs are better than most bands great songs.
Phil's vocals are a bit more lucid on this album, he seems to compliment every chorus or tempo change without any difficulty. This is a man who knows what he is doing with his words, he knows how to portray them, he knows how they MUST be perceived. His years writing and enjoying poetry surely pay off, and had any other band wrote this album from the era, we might just be pretending it never happened. Thin Lizzy have that magic to experiment, and still come out richer for it, even if they would never release another album that sounded like "Nightlife". There are a couple of ballads on here, and if there is one thing I know for certain is that Thin Lizzy write a good ballad. "She knows" is probably more uplifting, where as the tear jerker "Frankie Carroll" might hit home a little too hard for some people's comfort. "Show down" is stream lined and funky, without making one cringe over what was considered "hip" in the 1970's, and Phil's vocals seem to remain exciting even when they are almost restrained. Honestly if any other singer had done this, they would not be getting away with it, this review would be tearing them to fucking pieces, but no Phil had a powerful understanding of the impact of the spoken word. "Still in love with you" is drenched in the somber bluesy scales, and if you're not a fan of this style maybe one should steer clear, but the soloing and vocal performance leave my jaw on the floor. Raw emotion is not gay...hissy fits and breakdowns of the likes of Bring Me The Horizon are gay however. "It's only money" and "Nightlife" aren't gripping affairs like "Cold sweat" or "Rockey", but still very good in their own right.
I appreciate that people have different opinions and different tastes. If you prefer heavy metal then skip to "Thunder and lightning" but if you can stomach anything less heavy than "Bad reputation" or "Jailbreak" but with the same capable song writing, then I would strongly recommend you check out "Nightlife". And if it just isn't heavy enough for your friends, let them miss out and just listen to it on the ride to work or something.
If there was ever one album that truly epitomizes cool, calm, and stylish all at the same time, it would be Thin Lizzy’s Nightlife. This album is basically the final album of the old Lizzy era, before they unleashed their twin guitar attacks. This album was made to boogey, and that is just what it is going to do. Showdown, and It’s Only Money are very funk influenced tracks. These tracks are mostly what I was referring to in the opening sentence of this review. There are plenty of tasty leads and solos, despite the lack of another guitarist going note for note in another octave.
This album can kick out some rockin’ acoustic stuff too. Hard rock with acoustic guitar thrown in is great, no? Yeah it is, fuck you. The performer of the song She Knows is Phil Lynott, of course (But when isn’t he? There are some occurrences I’ll get to later in the review). Here he belts out one of his most passionate vocal performances from any album. Nightlife is essentially a sequel to She Knows, as it contains the same acoustic driven force, and it features some more of Phil’s most passionate vocals. Unfortunately, they picked it as a pretty calm tune to end the album. Oh well, it’s classic Lizzy. If there’s one thing you can truly count on from the early Thin Lizzy albums, it’s that they’ll still have the same driving force that is Phil Lynott. This man’s heart is in his goddamn vocal chords, I swear.
The riffing on this album seems more loose and more unrestrained than on later albums. The entire thing really is more laid back than what Lizzy would do later. It’s Only Money throws in a lot of progressive drum beats underneath Phil’s almost rapping of the verse. No, it’s not really rapping. It’s like rapid catchy singing.
Songs like Philomena sort of bring out the best in Phil. It’s a song named after his mom, and his Irish accent is heavy as shit on this one. I don’t know if it was done on purpose, but it adds a special flair to the song. You can tell Phil’s heart is firing on all gears during this song. It also features a little bit of twin guitar action, but with a single guitar and the bass following suit. Pretty cool, really. There are a couple songs that simply don’t deliver in balls, and I’ll have to take some points away for that. Still In Love With You is a classic song. It’s great live. It features Gary Moore sharing vocal duties, and he is at times better than Phil. They’re both phenomenal singers, any way you cut it. It wasn’t made for a studio environment, unfortunately. Dear Heart is a heartfelt piano driven ballad, but it’s kind of lame. Banshee is a slow twin guitar tune. It actually sounds like the predecessor to their amazing Cowboy Song. It has a very western/cowboy type feel to it. Makes me want to go eat some nachos and bang some senioritas, que?
Holy shit is all I can say about Sha-La-La. Despite the title, this song is in no way, shape, or form pussy. This song is really funky. Like really fucking funky. It also features twin guitar leads! The drumming is total speed metal! This song is simply a sign of things to come. This is the type of stuff the band would put out later into the mid to late 70s, and this early prototype is just as good as any other Thin Lizzy song you could pick. Oh, and remember when I said Phil wasn’t the top performer on all songs? Yeah, here that goes to Brian Downey. About 2 and a half minutes in, he breaks into this great drum solo. The only sucky thing is, the drum solo is a lot better (and longer) on Live and Dangerous. After switching back to some guitar leads for a second, the song fades out on another kickass drum solo.
This album contains shades of what would become Thin Lizzy. All of the elements are in the cooking pot, and Phil just had yet to stir them until they were completely mixed. He’ll get that done on the next album….and the 8 that follow!