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• “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 on both studio and stage. A totally expert musician like Snowy, who had worked with the best and most rigorous (none other than Pink Floyd) found no pleasure on waiting up in the studio for hours and hours, usually with neither Lynott nor Gorham showing up in the end. The band was losing money, wasting time and throwing away song-writing ideas, 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 melodic, 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 usual, Lizzy prove to be much more perspicacious and discerning than their NWOBHM successors, striking a balance between sonic crudity and song-structure concordance, 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 envisioned, making way for rhythm ’n’ blues licks a la ZZ Top, giving White the chance to consummate some of his most hectic, energized solos – Uncle Ted, eat your heart out. But this is Thin Lizzy and they’re not omitting their formulaic, 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, strengthened melodies on Scott’s tune “Hollywood (Down On Your Luck)”, sequenced in astonishing amicability. Sagacity and brilliance start going off however, as B-side shows bigger predilection for Lynott’s solo stuff experimentation and lenient diversity, from the blundering, vacuous AOR attempt “No One Told Him”, to the inanimate, inexpressive lines and exhausted song-bodies on “It’s Getting Dangerous” and the indulgent, jazzy “Fats” – hitting rock bottom on that shabby, Latin soapbox opera revival, namely “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 equally robust “Renegade”, which reflects the vision and genius of the Lynott-White axis, fusing stony heavy metal with richer, melodious blues rock. 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 inject rawer, fiery riffs into their innately refined sound, sacrificing the charming lyricism and tight balance between melody and ferociousness Chinatown struck flawlessly – in detriment of their genuine identity and roots. Yet something strange happens in the B-side, the alluring aggression and fury virtually vanish, in favor of incongruently-written, lackadaisical tunes which would’ve fitted better Phil’s solo record. Snowy says:
“There were lots of tracks I really enjoyed, and they did work. I thought “Renegade”, the track, worked, that went well (I’m only talking of the ones I was involved with). There were 1 or 2 I figured that could’ve been a lot better if we just spent more time, and Phil didn’t turn up. He’s not in the studio, what can you do? So much money and time wasted”.
Certainly, the musicianship, the writing and the arranging were being affected ostensibly by the minimal effort and soul the Lynott-Gorham axis put into the process. B-side represents profusely the musical uncertainty, void and lethargy which led to these alarmingly mediocre results, hardly matching the previous attempt’s competent standards. While the rest of the band is sounding subdued and humdrum, Snowy is trying his best to push them again, playing 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 not disposing of the trademark, clean harmonies and melodiousness. Too bad Lynott started pulling in a different direction, giving in to the heavy metal fashion he once claimed no to feel identified with, as well as being self-complacent on the conception of certain songs we wish he saved for this 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, pomposity and laziness, Thin Lizzy turned into one more clumsy rock dinosaur, making way for punk and metal to occupy the headlines, alienating the one member in the pack who still took it seriously, just as it happened with producer Tony Visconti and Moore before. The long-announced departure of White thrown out the band once again, like Moore did not long ago too, making clearer their need for reinvention and change, despite having lost the battle with the NWOBHM already. Downey wondered at the time:
“I was really surprised that Renegade got slagged so much. I thought ‘Okay, there’s a slight change of direction, a bit mellower here and a bit heavier here, but what do people want?’”
Too bad they didn’t make good use of Tsangarides’s quality production either, with incompetent Kit Woolven out of the map, luckily. However, Renegade stands out from the rest of Lizzy albums, not only for including the heaviest, fastest track they ever leashed, but for including some of the greatest, neatest harmonies, predominantly fueled by Snowy’s classy touch and guitar flights. Gorham 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.