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...or at least that's my assessment of Renegade. Considering this album's lack of commercial success and the additional lack of metal fans willing to bring this up in the same conversation as Killers, Fair Warning, The Mob Rules and other solid slabs of 81 metal, it appears I'm in the minority. I suppose one big reason was starting with this album is where Darren Wharton shows up as a keyboard player. Unfortunately for him, 1981 was the time that keyboards were seen as a sign of wimping out in metal. Another problem was that like Chinatown before it, Thin Lizzy was now in the age of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and while this album definitely has some metal moments, for the most part its standard twin guitar Thin Lizzy. Nothing wrong with that but coming up against a slew of hungrier bands, both young AND old, it needed a little bit more consistent fire.
I say consistent fire because I don't think anyone can start out with a song with more fire quite like Angel of Death. An absolute scorched earth policy General if there ever was one. There's a good reason Gamma Ray covered this 20 something years later, Angel of Death is where Gamma Ray was born. It would be intellectually dishonest to say its where power metal as a whole was born (that would be Rainbow Rising) but goddamn if this ain't a stepping stone. Diane Wharton shredding the keys to a dark and deadly galloping riff is what heavy fucken metal is all about! Does it top Slayer's Angel of Death? No, but it still fucking rocks and one could argue such a song with a title can't be topped without upping the intensity from heavy metal to thrash metal.
Other highlights include Hollywood (Down On Your Luck), which I think is the catchiest song the band has written since The Boys Are Back In Town. I'm honestly baffled as to why this bombed on the charts as its a fantastic pop gem! The singalong chorus delightfully soars into the mesosphere in a manner most bands would sell their souls for. The tempo change into guitar solo, as well as the guitar solo itself are especially delicious.
But one reason this album has a black sheep status is it delves into some really weird musical territory in the second half. Like, even for Thin Lizzy weird. The offending tracks in question are Fats and Mexican Blood. Be forewarned, these are NOT rock songs. While I could understand some punters being disgusted by Fats, I absolutely love the song, and more openminded rock fans will love it too. This is a wonderful four minute ode to Fats Domino, Louis Armstrong and other cool jazz cats of the past. It's executed with style, grace, and lots of taste, especially by Phil. This is one of his finest performances as a well rounded performer, vocally, and lyrically (Sigmund Freud, he gets very annoyed). But then there's Mexican Blood, and this is just the worst. It's a dull number about lost and dead lovers that Phil has done better a thousand times before. Especially with that clunky as hell chorus. "That little Mexican girl, That little Mexican girl, That little Mexican girl" What type of girl was she Phil? "That little Mexican girl" Are you sure she wasn't Phillipino? "That little Mexican girl" Brazilian? "That little Mexican girl" Argentinan? "That little Mexican girl" Portuguese? To say nothing of the insult to our intelligence of telling us what kind of blood she had. Mexican Blood is by far the worst Thin Lizzy song and probably the point where most metal/rock fans decided they had burnt out. It's Getting Dangerous, a dynamic uplifting rocker is a decent tune by itself that would have been fine in the middle of Johnny The Fox or Bad Reputation, but its not enough to salvage the album after that abortion.
The rest of the album is typical Thin Lizzy, which sounds pretty goddamn good despite their blades being dulled by excess and heroin. Alot of people blame Snowy White as part of the problem and to be fair, he is responsible for the more softer moments of the album, like Fats and the title track. It's been said he was more of a blues player than a rock player but I don't really hear any blues sensibilities in the album. I like Snowy's contributions to the album, particularly Renegade (with it's darkly melodic half ballad/half rocker/half Police feel), but if you're gonna say Snowy leaving and being replaced by John Sykes was the best thing to happen to Thin Lizzy, you aren't gonna get any counterarguments from me.
If Thunder & Lightning was Painkiller, Renegade is Ram It Down; an underrated and admittedly rough-edged piece of work, but still a very well crafted piece of work. Like Chinatown, in a buyer's guide I'd probably file this under "fans only" (even though its better than Bad Reputation in my opinion), but there are songs here no Thin Lizzy fan, nay, no metal fan should go without.
• “I was standing right on the precipice and so was Phil. We were both pretty gone. Phil knew what he was doing to himself and he knew he had to give that shit up. Heroin is the Cadillac of drugs, but if you do enough of it, at some point you’re gonna have to pay the piper. And you’re gonna have to pay him in big-ass way”. – Scott Gorham
1981 was a turbulent year for Thin Lizzy. Despite its noteworthy success, Chinatown didn’t satisfy most of the fans, who thought its music might be getting too outworn and outmoded, in contrast with the unstoppable NWOBHM explosion. The once-smooth musical relationship between Snowy White and Lynott started turning sour as well, due to the front-man’s uncontrolled heroin addiction and subsequent lack of professional clarity in the studio and on the stage. A totally expert musician like Snowy, who had worked with the best and most rigorous (none other than Pink Floyd) found no pleasure in waiting in the studio for hours and hours, usually with neither Lynott nor Gorham turning up in the end. The band had lost their way by this point, as hard drugs and rock ‘n’ roll star debauchery took their toll on their musical and physical health. In such stormy weather, Lizzy set about recording the album which many would consider to be the representation of their downfall.
Regardless of being infamously known among fans for its emphatically tender edge, Renegade features some of the most metallic rockers the band ever came up with. “Angel Of Death” stands for itself, a monumental heavy metal piece, nourished by a feverish pace and galloping, thunderous riffs deriving a masterful, hammering string technique, nodding towards Scorpions’ “Lovedrive”. There’s staggering fire and vileness, provided by Lynott’s controversial verses and stratospheric, dark synth textures by Wharton, sounding so much like Tony Carey, Rising era. Lynott explains:
“I was reading the predictions of Nostradamus and I guess the song just came out. I’m not a great believer in star signs or the occult of the UFOs, but I believe there is a great unknown. That’s why there’s that line that goes: ‘Now I ask you – do you believe this to be true?’ That’s my saving grace”.
As expected, Lizzy turn out to be much more perspicacious and discerning than a majority of their NWOBHM successors, striking a proportional balance between sonic crudity and song-structure concordance, sophistication and delicacy – adding in lots of fluctuating dynamics and one hefty, mid-paced bridge with canny soloing. Song-bodies remain equally dynamic and vehement on “Leave This Town”, though being more traditionally formulated, opting for rhythm ’n’ blues licks a la ZZ Top, giving White the chance to consummate some of his most rampaging solos. But this is Thin Lizzy and they’re not omitting their penchant for delightfully-designed twin-guitar harmony patterns, on “The Pressure Will Blow” fused with crunchy, serrated riffs which prelude that lyrical, most enchanting, brief mid-section harmony phrasing, with the peerless guitar combo White-Gorham on a high, delivering more of those touching, emotionally-charged melodies on Scott’s tune “Hollywood (Down On Your Luck)”, sequenced in astonishing amicability. Sagacity and brilliance decrease exponentially however, as B-side shows bigger affection for Lynott’s solo stuff experimentation and lenient diversity, from the blundering AOR misstep “No One Told Him”, to the mundane lines and exhausted song-bodies on “It’s Getting Dangerous”, not to mention the indulgent jazzy “Fats” – hitting rock bottom on that shabby, Latin soapbox opera revival named “Mexican Blood”. Saying Lynott:
“It’s every cowboy plot you’ve ever seen rolled into one. The Mexican girl is going out with the Mexican boy who’s on the run, and she’s seeing the Marshall’s son at the same time, so the whole thing ends up in one great big shoot-out, and the girl throws herself in front of the boy and gets killed. All the clichés”.
A-side is pretty punchy actually, unveiling some of the heaviest, most anxious riffs in the group’s prolific discography. You got “Angel Of Death”, which may be the darkest, most vile piece here, along with the more genteel, yet nearly equally robust “Renegade”, which showcases the vision and genius of the creative tandem Lynott-White, fusing heavy rock thuggery with deeply-expressive blues references. Lynott declared on the above-mentioned title-track:
“Initially, I was thinking of a real strong, heavy and hard rock sound, because that’s what the title “Renegade” sounds like. But then Snowy came up with this melody (...). I was reading The Rebel by Albert Camus, which suggested the idea of being a rebel from the inside. And it came to me in a blinding flash: the idea of there being a rebel in us all”.
Now it becomes clear to anyone that Lizzy had been listening and paying attention to the NWOBHM young lions. Lynott specially seems determined to take the band in a battering, leather-clad riffery direction, sacrificing their innately-refined sound and charming lyricism, moving away from the reasonably-observed balance between melody and ferociousness on Chinatown – in detriment of their genuine identity and roots. Yet something strange happens on the B-side, the breathtaking aggression and fury virtually vanish, yielding to incongruently-written, lackadaisical tunes which would’ve fitted better on Phil’s solo record.
Certainly, the musicianship, the writing and the arranging were being affected ostensibly by the minimal effort and soul the Lynott-Gorham team put into the process. B-side represents profusely the musical uncertainty and creative lethargy which led to these alarmingly mediocre results, hardly matching the previous attempt’s competent standards. In addition, the band may seem to sound progressively subdued and humdrum, at times struggling to find common ground – while Snowy on the contrary comes up occasionally with some unbelievably tasteful riffs and licks, increasing the flamboyance and neatness to dual-guitar riff textures, taking into greater consideration the writing phase, insisting on displaying the inherent bluesy side of the band, but soon giving up to the flatness of the entire structure. Lynott’s sudden change of heart surely made him pull in a different direction than his companion, giving in to the heavy metal fashion he once claimed not to feel identified with, as well as being self-complacent on the conception of certain songs we wish he saved for his solo album. Downey says:
“I remember a few times asking Phil: Is this one for your album or the Lizzy album?’ When we did “Mexican Blood”, I knew we were in a session as Lizzy, but I thought this could easily end up as a Phil solo track”.
While Gorham responds:
“Whatever Phil or anyone else wrote, if it feel good and sounded right, it went to the Thin Lizzy album. And if a song wasn’t right for Thin Lizzy, Phil didn’t mind – that just added more ammo to his solo album. And I never thought he was spreading himself too thin. We all knew that Thin Lizzy was Phil’s first love”.
Lady Chance didn’t dance. Victim of so much excesses and vagueness, Thin Lizzy turned into an incohesive unit, undoubtedly not because of their lack of talent at all, but due to the diverging ideas and ways of working within the quintet – alienating the most recent member of the Lizzy family, just as it happened with producer Tony Visconti and Moore before. The long-announced departure of White threw out the band once again, while Lynott and Gorham drug addictions went on…However, Renegade stands out from the rest of their albums, not only for including that thunderous momentum, in the form of the heaviest track they ever leashed, but also for including some of their greatest, neatest harmonies, fueled by Snowy’s guitar flights and Gorham’s classy touch. The later claims:
“It was really a tough time. But there were lots of great tracks that came out of that album. It just shows that no matter what state of mind we were in at the time, we could still come up with pretty cool songs”.
Ok, there are several factors that don't concern music that led to this album being sub-par in contrast to the slew of classics that preceded to it. Granted they are KINDA related to music, but still beyond anyone's control:
-the production. Flatter than an anorexic 5th grader. There was a new producer on board who obviously had NO idea how to handle the Lizzy sound. The reliance of keyboards and how they sound doesn't help either. All together the guitars sound TERRIBLE. A weak hum in the background when they should have been ballsy and up front.
-Phil addicted to everything. He is out of it. Most of the album he is partially flat in his peformance, and you can tell he is struggling. You can tell he isn't all there because this cd doesn't seem to have a drug song on it. Usually he sings about warning himself. Apparently he has lost control. Though this is only a minor part of the cd. The song writing is still solid. Which just proves Lynott was god.
-Snowy White should have never been involved with Lizzy. You could hear his weaknesses on Chinatown, and now they are even more apparent. Any other Lizzy guitarist would have made this album classic.
Alright now the cd. Remember, all songs suffer production. "Angel of Death" starts out with haunting keyboards and driving gallop that carries the whole song. Good epic here. Vader even covered this tune.
Renegade is really weak. It has potential, but it never goes anywhere, and the circles its runs in aren't very engaging. Its too long as well.
Pressure Will Blow. VERY SIMPLE. VERY EFFECTIVE. Production kills it, but this is a solid hard rocker that could be on any Lizzy affair.
Leave This Town. Catchy and rocking. Nothing annoying here except the spoken part at the end. Keeps the tempo up.
Hollywood. CLASSIC TUNE.
No One Told Him. Filler. But good catchy filler. Lynott's poetry really picks up an otherwise dead song musically.
Fats. Filler. Jazzy filler. Its good for experimental sake. If you like that sort of thing...
Mexican Blood. I love this song, a nice little tale of a mexican girl and her criminal boyfriend. Very enchanting. Weak part is again, production.
Its Getting Dangerous. Good tune. I guess this is kinda the "warning" song of the album, but it doesn't really pick up and do anything noteworthy.
Overall the album is fine. For Lizzy fans it is definitely a must, but thats a give in. For casual hard rock fans, it has some of that Lizzy charm, but of course you are much more suited for Jailbreak.