without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
It usually happened in rock’s history that a preceding, hugely-successful single overshadowed an entire album work – Thin Lizzy’s Whiskey In The Jar may be the clearest example. The title-track cover song didn’t even make the record, whereas the band itself insisted on relegating it to the B-side, in favor of “Black Boys On The Corner”. The traditional Irish tune rock treatment by the band was in fact conceived spontaneously in the studio as a joke, with their home country friends in mind, yet it turned out to be their biggest hit so far. As for the album it mercilessly eclipsed, it was sold by the name of Vagabonds Of The Western World and featured by far the most brilliant songs from the tortuous Bell era – a record on which the original line-up eventually gelled, getting along with one another musically remarkably well, molded by a dazzling writing process and blessed with one of the strongest productions these Irish ever experienced.
This might be Thin Lizzy’s most diverse output, a pack plenty of enduring songs of distinguishable feel and background. The ineludible classic influences of the 60’s are particularly tangible on the dramatic, emotionally-shattering “Slow Blues”, which alternates delta blues themes of lost love and grief with a lighthearted, funky guitar accompaniment, enhanced with Lynott’s unequaled sentiment and charm, which may be the main factor as well on the concurrent single “Broken Dreams”, whose configuration might be less-grandiloquent, but executed with equal standards of passion. Simplicity and unexpected arrangements are also the ingredients on the racy “Gonna Creep Up On You”, which unveils some driving, thundering bass lines, followed by Bell’s picturesque wah-wah licks; or the even more unconventional design of “The Hero And The Madman” with its sort of narrative, story-telling speeches, flowing dynamics and rhythm shifts…too bad the catchphrase cartoonish voice effect spoils the climax. As you see, most of the record is conceptualized with transgression and innovation as far as the arranging is concerned – take “Black Boys On The Corner” and its kinda playful riff scheme, the mutability of tempos, the song-body contrasts; and the epic climax and hugeness of the title-track, embellished by the warmth and presence of Lynott’s polyhedral vocal lines and Downey’s percussive groove. Although there’s room for more traditional hard rock connotations too, which determine the direction and character of “The Rocker”, an allegory of the rock star lifestyle on which Bell’s robust riff and extended, kinda improvised soloing assault stands out brilliantly; in contrast with the melodious harmonies and atmospheric interiors on “Little Girl In Bloom”, which could be perfectly thought of as the embryo of the forthcoming, trademark twin-guitar harmony sound of the band but performed by one player, with Bell once again particularly inspired and providing texture, color and magic with his sophisticated phrasing.
This is without a shadow of doubt, Thin Lizzy Bell era’s greatest effort. Not only the writing, which is surprising us with lots of uncharacteristic arrangements, fresh ideas and fluid song-structure patterns, but the quality of the performance from these Irish has moved to another level. The rigidness and obduracy of the instrumental interplay between Bell and the rhythm section on prior attempts is gone for good, for the power-trio is here implementing one other, bringing out the best in each other with prominent chemistry and technical facility. Bell’s playing more noticeably has improved significantly, sounding braver, masterful and experienced, effortlessly switching between funk, blues, jazz, hard rock and even soul scales and textures – not to mention his impressive solos, fascinatingly-vibrant and perpetrated with daunting ability here. As for Lynott’s, his entire potential has also finally emerged – his vocals are now specially better-defined, no longer subdued and impersonal, as he’s forging an own style now instead of impersonating Hendrix only, while his words and rhetoric visualize scenarios and stories of uncommon fantasy, as well as crude reality and emotiveness. Think of “A Song For While I’m Away”, possibly his most accomplished ballad, special not only in the unforgettable way it is performed and sung, but in the ornamental arranging it is provided of and the melodramatic halo the orchestral string lines, the wind section and the acoustic adornment recreate. On the contrary, think of the apocalyptic visions of “Mother Nature Said”, which is complemented by one devilish slide-guitar phrasing. It becomes clearer for the listener then that the writing is refusing to rely exclusively on riff-based conceptions or blues clichés, as aesthetic melodies, literate vocals and prolific grooves are also pointing the right direction for the songs with flexibility. The prowess and enlightenment of the writing is therefore, unique.
“Whiskey In The Jar” was the band’s hit-wonder undoubtedly at the time, yet Vagabonds Of The Western World is where the real potential, capacity and musicianship of Lizzy’s original incarnation could be found. This is a collection of rich, talented and timeless songs, each one deserving to be remembered and acclaimed as much as the famous above-mentioned single. This is the result of a creative process which took no fewer than 2 bland records and 1 decent EP. Unfortunately, the pressure of success took its toll on Eric Bell, who despite playing better than ever, became alienated and antisocial – even worse, Decca eventually decided to part ways with the band…A bitter end for Lizzy’s first incarnation, for an excellent line-up that eventually gelled, though maybe too late.
The singles preceding this set the foundation for this album, and in turn this album set the foundation for future albums and for Phil Lynott to shine musically, lyrically, and as a frontman. The variety on here dunks the variety from the last album, and each member shows progression in skill with their instruments. It really feels like different members playing this time, and the slightly lopsided mixing of the last full-length meets the cleansed warmth of Vagabonds…. It didn’t solve the band’s identity crisis, but still made it out on top.
Off the bat Bell hits us with a harmonic lead tune, bending the strings and warping the melody alongside Lynott’s low, grainy singing. The track isn’t hard hitting, but it can be heavy when compared to past full-lengths; Downey hits the kit louder than before, and nothing on it is hollow or frail, either. The following track, “The Hero And The Madman,” is one out of left field: Bell continually warping the melody, the atmosphere becoming arid, Lynott singing a story / doing some really dramatic spoken word, and Downey hammering away like a true jazz club drummer. Oh yeah, this album has blues, jazz, and funk, with hard rock primarily in “The Rocker” – the tune that broke Eric Bell out of his shell completely. Bell literally plays as if he was future Lizzy guitarists Gorham or Moore; just pure aggressiveness and showmanship in speed and character.
Otherwise, the album is still a warm, soft-hearted affair that doesn’t intend to hurt anyone or anything. Unlike Shades Of A Blue Orphanage however, Vagabonds… plants itself in the guitar and in Lynott’s enhanced influence on the mic. Lynott is a man that challenges himself with a strong lead, and Bell accomplishes that in numbers with frilling riffs like on the aforementioned “The Rocker” or bass-heavy monsters like “Gonna Creep Up On You”. That’s where the creativity comes from for Lynott, and it’s with these songs that we see all three members show their capabilities in skill and cohesiveness. Since this formula is more apparent on this album, consistency is improved and the memorability factor goes up, as well as the enjoyment all around.
Fans that want balmy, slick hard rock would do well giving this one a try. It’s a great album to hear for those wanting a lighter Lizzy or one that has less straightforwardness. Vagabonds… is a jam album by a bunch of guys during an era of discovery, and for the original pressing this clocks in at around forty minutes. Other pressings include plenty of material from the singles surrounding this release, and I’d recommend getting whatever version includes those since they’re very good: “Whisky In The Jar”, “Randolph’s Tango”, “Broken Dreams” and whatever else I’m missing - they’re all worthy of your time.