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Thin Lizzy’s debut made a little impression on the early-70’s British rock fanbase and the big-time business men from Decca, in a fruitful time for the genre, when people like The Osmonds, Al Green or Three Dog Night were at the top of the charts, doing something completely different from Lynott & co. They still had a long way to go, a characteristic sound to forge, in need of so much experience, something tangible on their second record Shades Of A Blue Orphanage, on which the creative process seemed to take one step back. The influences of folk, soul and blues are taking over more noticeably this time, with the Irish rockers being still unable to define their identity, rather implementing their musical taste, making Decca even more dissatisfied – that’s no surprise, the album didn’t only get stuck in the same ineffective strategies of the prior effort, but failed to make the charts miserably.
Actually, most of these cuts could be thought of as sequels of preceding recordings – take “Sarah”, an indisputably touching display of delicacy and sentimentality, pretty much in the spirit of “Dublin”, equally stripped-down of any electric gadgets, relying on Lynott’s emotionally-charged voice and Simonds’ timid background piano, instead of Bell’s fingers, which are subdued on it; or “Chatting Today”, which is on more of the power trio’s acoustic folk exercises, vocal-based as expected as instrumentation serves the profuse verses without complication or perspiration, though the ability of Bell’s pickin’ should be highlighted. Besides the foreseeable folk and ballady gestures, Lynott & the boys expose more of their solemn, soulful blues tendencies on “Buffalo Gal”, on which both instrumental section and voice restrict themselves to whisper the notes shyly and mold lethargic, repetitive song-bodies. So there’s lyricism, simplicity, but no serious effort or challenge, even though “Brought Down” might introduce more prolific dynamics, but remaining monochromatic and spiritless on its execution, nonetheless – at least, Bell’s phrasing is more sinuous and lucid than usual. No riff-based rock parameters to be found either, the closest thing to that style you may find here are “Baby Face” and “Call The Police”, which don’t go full-throttle but present notably more dynamic grooves and animated lines than the rest of tunes, still backing the foreground vocals, which are undoubtedly the main attraction, featuring some of Lynott’s earliest story-telling representations. You might as well notice an underlying funky essence to the songs, which is more explicit on “The Rise and Dear Demise of the Funky Nomadic Tribes”, based on effervescent guitar licks and one casual, rhythmic groove, discovering the finest instrumental work and arranging on the album. But the mood and feel that dominates the record is overall dark, somber – even though “I Don’t Want To Forget How To Jive” might sound sarcastic and sprightly for a second (or should I say, for a minute), the climax is predominantly joyless and melancholy as the title-track confirms, a scandalously-hollow, instrumentally banal and lyrically-insipid 7-minute musical void.
Shades Of A Blue Orphanage offers more of the same bereft of inspiration blues/folk rock conceptions on the previous album, but even more shiftless on the arranging, and specially more indolently-designed instrumentally. Not only the slow-motion pace that dominates the performance might bore the listener, but the nearly inexistent interaction between the players, as well as the absence of instrumental cogency and shape on a collection of inexpressive, anemic songs. Of course, the opening track might be a decent exception, and Lynott’s catalogue of verses despite not being utterly-enlightened might save some titles from vacuity, but the sameness, stubbornness, lack of fire and more importantly, shortage of direction are making the nadir of Lizzy’s short career. Each of the members are in fact, sounding worryingly inanimate and flat – Bells’ playing is not being given room to breathe, as his lines strictly-support the vocals, remaining in the background lazily, in order to not interfere with the lyrics, while his soloing is way too succinct and compact to impress the listener. As for Lynott’s leadership, it surely isn’t getting any better; his voice is insecure, characterless, while his wordiness is devoid of the imagination, glamour and originality that would turn him into one of rock’s greatest icons in future attempts. The topics and clichés of blues and folk, represented on the scales, textures and structures are too predictable also, unveiling no own ideas from the band, making them sound like a cover band, like a continuation of Funky Junction. Downey’s drum work might not be so unmemorable, but the quietness, sloth and dullness of the album’s general pace is relegating him to perform easy, random grooves which hardly require no technique or skill – think of the title-track, during which he remains virtually rigid and torpid for 7 eternal minutes.
It’s not that Bell, Downey and Lynott weren’t good musicians at the time, they just lacked focus and musical orientation, not competency or potency as players and song-writers – yet the early phase of Thin Lizzy’s creative process turned out to be burdensome, tortuous and fruitless for them and the record label. The results of Shades Of A Blue Orphanage speak for themselves. These are 3 promising Irish rockers going on the wrong path.
I thought I’d be able to venture anywhere in Thin Lizzy’s discography and enjoy an album to a standard created by Lizzy themselves. This expectation is surely met with full-lengths in the popular era and even with the tail end of Eric Bell’s era on Vagabonds Of The Western World. Checking this one out, I can see why it isn’t exactly a popular one (not that I always adhere to popular opinion), even for core Lizzy fans. At this point it was still Eric Bell’s band, with Lynott only beginning to show his influences and Downey strutting what was on paper rather than what he felt (he does get his own drum solo on the first track, though).
Of course it’s normal for bands starting out to find a sound they’re comfortable with. Looking at bands like Neurosis or Katatonia (I know, nowhere near traditional heavy metal or hard rock), it takes a few releases to make something of a band’s sound. Well this one I was expecting hard rock since Lizzy only got harder as the years went by, but in fact this is lighter than hard rock. The heaviest tracks are the utterly funky “The Rise And Dear Demise...” and the two short punches of “Baby Face” and “Call The Police”. From most perspectives, these tracks are consistent in mid-paced rhythm with bluesy showmanship by Bell. Downey never strikes the kit with a ton of power, since Shades Of A Blue Orphanage is very laid-back, Americana in atmosphere, and warmhearted in attitude. This isn’t an aggressive album, and Lizzy is sticking within the small boundary of what they know how to play.
Lynott weaves between his thick, trademark yelling (“Chatting Today”) and soft-spoken croons (“Sarah (Version 1)”); both sides are rich in texture and true to his character. When I first heard this album, it sounded like his vocals were improperly recorded or mixed, as they sounded much louder and in front of the other instruments. This is most apparent on the overly long title track, but for the other songs it isn’t so bad. I assumed it was an issue with recordings from that era, but I have a couple Doors albums and of course Black Sabbath and Deep Purple had no problem, so that idea went crashing and burning. For an Irishman, Lynott’s singing doesn’t come across as that accented at all to me; that organic graininess this early in the game throws it off, I guess. On the throwaway track “I Don’t Want To Forget…”, Lynott’s doing a really crummy Elvis impression over some lame ‘50s rock & roll ultra-light rhythm.
So while a decent offering, this kind of music isn’t that appealing to me. It’s nice, but for me it’s too nice, and for non-hard rock kind of rock music, I can’t even measure it within its own genre because I don’t listen to anything else this light. The production’s warm and clear (Lynott’s bass lines are fat and bubbly), and that’s the kind of vibe it rubs on you – slow, humble, and carefree, especially for the time period it came from.