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Slowly fighting their way back.... - 82%

TrooperEd, January 27th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2006, CD, Universal Music (Japan)

...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.