Monday, 24 September 2018

Michael Jackson






Got To Be There (1972)


Ain't No Sunshine/I Wanna Be Where You Are/Girl Don't Take Your Love From Me/In Our Small Way/Got To Be There/Rockin' Robin/Wings Of My Love/Maria (You Were The Only One)/Love Is Here And Now You're Gone/You've Got A Friend       

This was Michael Jackson's first studio album. In places it is a remarkably mature performance from Jackson, such as on the wonderful cover of Bill WithersAin't No Sunshine. His voice is still considerably in "transition", shall we say, (not quite there yet) but he has a great ability to deal with whatever song he is asked to sing.
                             
Berry Gordy brought in lots of Motown big hitters to play on the album and the backing and sound quality is excellent. At the time, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder were releasing seriously credible, socio-political and adult romantic material, but it has to remembered that Jackson was still just a twelve year-old boy and they were grown men. There was still a huge market for teen pop, and this was teen pop/soul of the highest quality.

Obviously, Ain't No Sunshine is the stand-out track, but I Wanna Be Where You Are is lively and soulful, with a great bass line and solid groove. Girl Don't Take Love From Me is a good one too. These songs are so nostalgic of those early seventies years. I was born in the same year as Michael Jackson. In Our Small Way is cheesy but simply lovely and, of course, Got To Be There is just sublime. One of his best songs, even though he was only twelve when he recorded it. Yes, Rockin' Robin is pure bubblegum, but I still love it. I guess it just takes me back to my childhood. I was twelve, Jackson was twelve. I thought both it and he were great at the time. Listening to it now, it still resonates as being a really good album. For a twelve year-old boy, it is pretty impressive.

Wings Of My Love is highly orchestrated, with sweeping strings. Perfect early seventies teen schmaltz, but nothing wrong with that. Jimmy Ruffin's Maria (You Were The Only One) is covered highly convincingly, with some funky buzzy guitar backing and a gritty soulful atmosphere. Again, Jackson proves his potential on this one. Diana Ross & The SupremesLove Is Here And Now You're Gone gets a similar, really confident treatment. It is very much the equal of the original. James Taylor's Carole King-penned You've Got A Friend is handled well by Jackson too. This lad had something.

Ben (1972)


Ben/Greatest Show On Earth/People Make The World Go Round/We've Got A Good Thing Going/Everybody's Somebody's Fool/My Girl/What Goes Around Comes Around/In Our Small Way/Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day/You Can Cry On My Shoulder      

Coming only seven months after his debut solo album, this was another age-defying offering from the only just teenage Michael Jackson. He copes with a variety of different songs with consummate ease and displays a remarkable ability to read a song's requisites.
           
Ben is incredibly cheesy, of course, but its so nostalgic for those of us who grew up at the time of its release. I was thirteen when it came out. So, I believe, was Michael Jackson. Greatest Show On Earth is a very typical early seventies, Burt Bacharach-sounding song (but not one). It has a poppy and pleasant vibe to it. A similar feel can be found on the reflective People Make You World Go Round. This was also a hit for The Stylistics.

The catchy, singalong We've Got A Good Thing Going was a reggae hit for Sugar Minott in the late seventies. Everybody's Somebody's Fool was a ballad that had been a hit for Connie Francis in 1960. The Temptations’ My Girl is given a warm, bassy, slighty dance-ish makeover. It makes a very familiar song worth listening to in this slightly different format. It is not simply a note-for-note cover. What Goes Around Comes Around is an attractive, melodic trademark early seventies Motown mid-pace ballad.

 

In Our Small Way, for some reason, was included both on this album and also on its predecessor, Got To Be There. This sometimes happened on Motown albums. Strange, it was not as if they were short of tracks. Stevie Wonder’s Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day has a clavinet-backed funky rhythm to it which again makes this cover version a worthwhile listen. It is still amazing to hear what an effortless soul Jackson had in his voice, at thirteen. Brenda Holloway’s 1965 single, You Can Cry On My Shoulder is a pleasant slow number with a nice, melodic bass line. Once more, Jackson “owns” the song.

Look, this is certainly no work of genius, no What’s Going On or Talking Book but as an enjoyable half hour spent listening to the precocious talent of a thirteen year-old Jackson it is worth your time.



Off The Wall (1979)


Don't Stop Till You Get Enough/Rock With You/Workin' Day And Night/Get On The Floor/Off The Wall/Girlfriend/She's Out Of My Life/I Can't Help It/It's The Falling In Love/Burn This Disco Out                 

This is where it started for Michael Jackson as a serious, adult, solo artist. Taking the smooth, infectious disco-soul sound that had made The Jacksons so successful in the mid-late seventies, he, together with producer Quincy Jones and underrated songwriter Rod Temperton,  put out this sumptuous album of upbeat, intoxicating disco songs and syrupy but polished ballads.

Disco had been and gone, of course, several years earlier and the fires of funk were still smoking as their embers died out. What Jackson and his team did here was blend danceable disco elements with bassy, melodic funk rhythms, a brassy punch and some sumptuous string orchestration. There was something in this music for soul fans, something for funk aficionados, something for chart pop enthusiasts and something for disco dancers. Even the drums had a mid-tempo rock beat. The formula was a winning one.

The first two tracks, Jackson's catchy Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough and Temperton's funky Rock With You were classic examples of this great music that they had hit on. The lively funk of Working Day And Night is another. The sound quality is fantastic and another thing that has appeal for me in this material, is that is played by a proper band - proper bass guitar, keyboards and, most importantly, proper drums. The amount of musicians on here is remarkable. As the eighties were not underway, the trend for enveloping everything in synthesisers hadn't arrived yet, thank goodness. This is what makes this album so refreshing, genuine and credible. For me, it is by far Jackson's best solo album.

Even lesser-known tracks like Get On The Floor with its Saturday Night Fever-style string backing are good ones. Jackson's voice is excellent throughout - he is developing that hiccupy falsetto that would characterise so much of his subsequent material. The percussion on this track is excellent. It's Paulinho Da Costa, so not a surprise. This whole old "side one" is a classic of late seventies disco-funk and it pointed the direction for dance music for the next few years. My favourite from the album is the title track, which, oddly, is never mentioned quite as much as some of his other tracks. God knows why, it's superb. You could actually leave the album at this point, having feasted heartily. Jackson's hiccups are quite remarkable on this song, though. I still can't quite see how he did it. I can't do it to save my life.

Jackson's cover of Paul McCartney & WingsGirlfriend is pleasant enough, but lacks the coper-bottomed funky credibility of the previous songs. She's Out Of My Life is heartbreaking and beautifully sung by Jackson, but I prefer the upbeat tracks on the album. I know this is probably heresy, but there you go. There is a lovely bass line underpinning the song's "bridge" half way through, though. Stevie Wonder's late night, laid-back jazzy I Can't Help It is excellent, instantly recognisable as a Stevie Wonder song. Carole Bayer Sager's It's The Falling In Love sees a welcome return to that intoxicating rhythmic vibe of the first five tracks. The pumping Burn This Disco Out is an underrated Jackson classic to end this highly enjoyable, iconic album. It also has to be said that across the whole album, the remastered sound quality is simply superb, just as it should be.

  

Thriller (1982)


Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'/Baby Be Mine/The Girl Is Mine/Thriller/Beat It/Billie Jean/Human Nature/P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)/The Lady In My Life      

1979's Off The Wall had been relatively successful, but it still remained only averagely so compared with this monstrous seller. Nobody could have really expected the incredible success of it, not the producers or Jackson himself. It launched him into the pop stratosphere and he became the "king of pop" from this moment on. While Off The Wall had a myriad of styles to keep all sorts happy, Thriller had even more - there was rock guitar riffage, a harder, more "street" funk, more schmaltzy ballads and an even more polished smooth soul sound. Blending all those together proved to be guaranteed to result in massive global sales. Together with the advent of MTV, which endlessly played the many videos this album generated, Jackson conquered the world.
                    
I clearly remember the night in early December 1982 when Channel 4 showed the Thriller video for the first time, at about midnight I recall. The nation stood still. Everyone seemed to watch it, even people like myself who weren't particularly Michael Jackson fans. The next day it was all "did you see it?" from everyone you spoke to. To a certain extent, the album lost its focus as an actual album by the hype surrounding the video and, also because there were seven singles taken from the album it just seemed almost like a "greatest hits" package, and had no real "album" identity. Personally, I always preferred Off The Wall, finding it had a more authentic appeal. That is not to say this is without its obvious good points, of course. Maybe we all just know the songs so well.


As with Off The Wall, the music is immaculate, "proper" music i.e. no synthesised drums such as blighted later albums like Invincible, played by a proper band, not by a computer. My favourite track was always the Manu Dibango-inspired Wanna Be Startin' Something with its infectious AfroFunk-influenced rhythms. Billie Jean has that killer bass line intro and unforgettable hook. Beat It had rock guitar legend Eddie Van Halen supplying its iconic riff. The track is probably the rockiest thing Jackson ever did. P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) was an appealing slice of commercial funk. Rod Temperton's Baby Me Mine continued the slick, disco, funk lite sound of Off The Wall, full of the hiccupy vocals that had now become Jackson's odd, quirky trademark.

Human Nature is a sweet soul number, very silky smooth, typical of what would be now thought of as prototype "r 'n' b" soul. It is pleasant and very listenable but a little too saccharine for my taste. Immaculately played, however. The Lady In My Life falls into the same category.

The two remain tracks are the over-the-top Thriller, which I always felt to be a bit silly, although it has some classic moments, and the dreadfully cheesy duet with Paul McCartney, The Girl Is Mine, with its awful spoken parts in the outro. It wouldn't worry me if I never heard it again, being brutally honest.

You can't argue with the album's impact, though, but it suffers, like Sgt. PepperBorn In The USA and Brothers In Arms from being just too well known. If I listen to any Michael Jackson these days, there are other albums I choose before this - definitely Off The Wall, for sure.

 

Dangerous (1991)


Jam/Why You Wanna Trip On Me/In The Closet/She Drives Me Wild/Remember The Time/Can't Let Her Get Away/Heal The World/Black And White/Who Is It/Give In To Me/Will You Be There/Keep The Faith/Gone Too Soon/Dangerous      

Michael Jackson was an absolute megastar by now - the "King of Pop" and all that. This album was not, however, quite as critically well-received as the previous three. It is, for me, a sprawling affair that is, like so many of its contemporaries in the early-mid nineties and indeed beyond, far too long. It clocks in at nearly one hour and twenty minutes. Value for money? Of course, but I do have to say I prefer the succinctness of your average sixties/seventies/eighties albums, where forty minutes was considered long. The tracks are not only numerous, they all seem to go on way too long as well, individually. This would have been considered a double album in the seventies. The music is dominated by what was known as "new jack swing" - a fusion of hip/hop with r 'n' b powered by drum machine backing.
                                
Jam has a shuffling, funky beat that sort of recalls the best of the Thriller album but with an updated early nineties thumping backing. The same applies to Why You Wanna Trip On Me. There are some Prince-esque bits in here as well. In The Closet is quirkily appealing, but as with the previous track, it just goes on seemingly forever. She Drives Me Wild has those trademark Jackson vocal hiccups, a bit of rap/hip-hop backing vocal interjections and a rhythmic dance beat, but, personally, I long for the clear instrumentation and Quincy Jones production of the Off The Wall album. This nineties style, loud, crashing production tends to deaden the vitality of the songs, in my opinion anyway. Many love it, though, and it certainly was up-to-the minute. The new jack swing drum machine rhythm makes the sound homogenous through a lot of the album.

Remember The Time has a bit of an Earth, Wind & Fire vocal feel to it and a more understated, bassy beat. The problem has been that the previous few tracks have been, to an extent, petty indistinguishable from each other. That was certainly not the case with the songs on Off The Wall, Thriller or some of Bad. Like all Michael Jackson albums, there were numerous singles taken from this one - an incredible NINE singles out of fourteen tracks. Trouble is, I can't remember too many of them.


The Prince-influenced groove of I Can't Let Her Get Away was not a single, but it is one of the album's catchier tracks, but it does sound a lot like many of the others in its synth drum/synth backing and the generally somewhat soulless approach from Jackson. I cannot help but feel he goes through the motions a bit on some of the tracks, in comparison to the verve and vigour of earlier material. You can't deny his commitment on the earnest Heal The World, however. Despite its obvious cheesiness, it is a melodic relief after what seemed like ages of synthy dance grooves. Jackson's voice is warm and beautiful on here. The best track on the album is Black And White, a glorious, riffy anthem, with a worthy message. I love the "kid in the bedroom" intro before it launches into that classic riff. Vocal hiccups all over the place, great bass, full of charisma, this is the killer Jackson track the album has been crying out for. At last. Despite the professional competence of much of the previous songs on the album, this is the one that really grabs you by the whatever. Love it.

Who Is It has a lot of atmosphere, I have to say, and a yearning, soulful vocal from Jackson. Give In To Me is a low-key grower, which has some understated hidden depths and a great guitar solo (from Slash of Guns 'n' Roses). Will You Be There has a ghostly, classical-influenced extended opening, which is all very nice, but a little incongruous when the drum machines kick in. It is an odd song, slightly gospel-influenced and also reminiscent of a Christmas carol. It is different though.

 

By now, the album should have finished, so Keep The Faith just sort of passes me by, although it's harmless enough. The plaintive Gone Too Soon sounds like something from a musical. Dangerous ends the album on a high note, though, with a brooding, mysterious groove. Its spoken vocal intro leads into some more high-pitched yelping and a catchy refrain. Surprisingly, this one wasn't a single. Maybe it should have been.

Ok, I've spent long enough listening to this and certainly long enough writing about it...it does have an appeal, though, for all its (admittedly a little bit nit-picking) flaws.

Michael Jackson: Gold


This excellently remastered compilation in the Motown “Gold” series includes a fine selection of tracks from Michael’s early solo career in the first few years of the seventies. It also contains seven Jackson 5 tracks, not all the obvious ones either. Overall, however, it is as a recollection of his first steps as a solo artist that it functions best.



                            MICHAEL JACKSON

                                     1958-2009

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Thin Lizzy




Thin Lizzy (1971)


The Friendly Ranger At Clontarf Castle/Honesty Is No Excuse/Diddy Levine/Ray-Gun/Look What The Wind Blew In/Eire/Return Of The Farmer's Son/Clifton Grange Hotel/Saga Of The Ageing Orphan/Remembering Part 1                              

Like the debut albums from quite a few seventies rock bands (Alice Cooper and Nazareth spring to mind), this is, to an extent, a comparatively undercooked, somewhat directionless first offering from a band who went on to be one the decade's most powerful, energising rock bands. It is actually quite folky and acoustic in many places, probably taking its cue from the country rock genre and Led Zeppelin III, and there is precious little trademark Thin Lizzy rock to be found on it. That said, I have always quite liked the album and it does have some hidden depths, just don't expect any Boys Are Back In Town-style material. There is, though, a winsome Celtic folkiness to it and Phil Lynott's deceptively sensitive and poetic lyrics are beginning to take shape. Surprisingly, considering its Irishness, the album was recorded in London.

The intriguingly-titled The Friendly Ranger At Clontarf Castle (who was he, I wonder?) is a funky, soulful opener with a great sound quality to it. It has great percussion and wah-wah guitar. Personally, I think this is an unusual, underrated track, despite it not quite reaching its full potential. Honesty Is No Excuse is an acoustic and bass ballad that sounds nothing like Thin Lizzy as the world would come to know them, but again, it breaks out into some interesting, melodic rock passages. Many commentators have criticised this album for being all over the place, and I sort of understand that, but I also feel there is more to it than meets the eye. I really feel it is quite underrated.


Diddy Levine is the first example of those extended narrative Celtic-style legend songs that Phil Lynott would come to write quite a lot. It has some beguiling percussion, drums and bass on it, with impressive guitar too. It is very early seventies in its rambling proggy, psychedelic-ish style, but again, I can't help but like it and reiterate once more how great the sound is on this latest remaster. For those who think there is no rock on the album, however, there is a few minutes of Hendrix-influenced stuff with Ray-Gun. This is very much a track of the early seventies, again, as indeed is Look What The Wind Blew In, probably the rockiest number on the album.

Eire is a haunting, obviously Celtic-influenced slow tempo folk rock number. Return Of The Farmer's Son also rocks quite a bit, in an early seventies, guitar-driven sort of way, featuring some pretty searing guitar and a strong, dominating vocal from Lynott. Clifton Grange Hotel is a song with potential that ends a bit too soon, while Saga Of The Ageing Orphan, even on this first album, is an example of the sort of tender song Lynott would come up with over the next two or three albums. Remembering Part 1 closes the original album with a rambling piece of guitar-driven doodling that is pretty directionless, but also quite enjoyable, as indeed all of this album has been. Yes, it is full of rough edges and a feeling that there is better to come, but taken for what it is, it is certainly not a bad first offering.

Shades Of A Blue Orphanage (1972)


The Rise And Dear Demise Of The Funky Nomadic Tribes/Buffalo Gal/I Don't Want To Forget How To Jive/Sarah (Version 1)/Brought Down/Baby Face/Chatting Today/Call The Police/Shades Of A Blue Orphanage/Whiskey In The Jar/Black Boys On The Corner    
                      
While Thin Lizzy were still not the full-on rock band they became, this was still a quite impressive, quality sounding album of folky and at times rhythmic rock, with some stunning guitar work from what was still a three-piece of bassist Phil Lynott, guitarist Eric Bell and drummer Brian Downey.

The Rise And Dear Demise Of The Funky Nomadic Tribes is an odd, pretentiously-titled opener with a quirky drum sound, and some excellent guitar in an extended instrumental intro. It is a difficult song to categorise. It is lengthy and instrumentally diverse, as in progressive rock but in other ways it is pure rock, with a few jazz and funk rhythms in there somewhere, plus a “heavy rock” drum solo at the end. It served to exemplify a band who didn’t quite know which direction they wanted to go in as yet. Thin Lizzy’s first two albums were rather like those of Scottish rockers Nazareth, a bit folky, a bit “prog”, a bit Celtic, a bit acoustic. For both bands, the third album saw them go “hard rock”.


Buffalo Gal is a lovely piece of soulful, tuneful rock with Lynott in fine seductive voice. Despite something of a lack of defined direction, this album is immaculately played, and this remastering sounds great too. This is such a fine laid-back tune. There is something down-home and appealing about these early Thin Lizzy albums - a sort of loveable wide-eyed, honest innocence.

 I Don't Want To Forget How To Jive is, however, a strange late 50s Elvis-style spoof, that is pretty pointless and a bit of a mess. Thankfully, it is over in less than two minutes and we then get the sparsely-backed ballad, Sarah (Version 1). Lynott’s voice is a bit shaky on this one. It is ok, but it feels a little incomplete, particularly vocally. The folky rock of Brought Down has a vocal delivery more of the kind we have come to expect. Nice to get a bit more power in a song again after the last two. There is some excellent guitar in it from Eric Bell too.


Baby Face is a welcome piece of upbeat, driving rock, with some heavy overtones. Chatting Today is acoustically-driven and very folk-rocky song about working on the railway but is none the worse for it. A bit of an Astral Weeks feel to it, in that Cyprus Avenue and Ballerina type of acoustic guitar sound. Call The Police is probably the rockiest track on the album but with a slightly funky feel to it, funnily enough, rather similar in places to a track of the same name by Hot Chocolate from a year or so later.

Shades Of A Blue Orphanage is a lengthy, almost David Bowie-like lyrically adventurous mournful remembrance of Lynott’s childhood. It has slight hints of some of Bowie’s Man Who Sold The World and lengthier Hunky Dory material. Mix that with Lynott’s Wild West lyrical fascination, and you have a bit of a concoction. It is a bit rambling, to be honest, though, I have to admit.

The non-album single, Whiskey In The Jar and its ‘b’ side, Black Boys On The Corner are both excellent.

A certainly interesting album of a band in progress, but not essential.

Vagabonds Of The Western World (1973)


Mama Nature Said/The Hero And The Madman/Slow Blues/The Rocker/Vagabond Of The Western World/Little Girl In Bloom/Gonna Creep Up On You/A Song For While I'm Away         

I have always quite liked the first two Thin Lizzy albums (Thin Lizzy and Shades Of A Blue Orphanage) but I understand the criticisms of them as being a little patchy and indicative of a band not quite sure of their image or direction - country-ish Celtic folk rockers or full-on rockers. By this album, in 1973 they had firmly come down in the rock side and this was their first album to really showcase the band's "heavy rock" credentials.
              
The opener, Mama Nature Said, with its Status Quo-like introductory riff and some searing lead guitar licks and Phil Lynott finally finding that trademark Irish rock voice set their stall out. Lynott's Western movie and imagery fascination introduced the next track, The Hero And The Madman which predated the type of material that would appear on their classic Jailbreak album in 1976. It was some delicious wah-wah guitar, some funky bass lines too and again, some of those slightly menacing vocals from Lynott. The spoken parts could be dispensed with, to be honest, but do not let that detract from what is a good rocker. Some great guitar at the end. A few of Thin Lizzy's rock tracks on this and on Night Life betrayed an appealing funkiness not often associated with them.


Remember, the band were still just a three-piece at this time - Lynott on bass, Eric Bell on lead guitar (sadly on what would be his last Lizzy album before leaving in a huff at the end of 1973) and Brian Downey on drums. That considered, they produced a massive sound, as indeed did The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, two of the biggest influences. The Hendrix influence is clear on the rumbling, powerful Slow Blues, but, there again, so is Lizzy's funky guitar sound too, putting their stamp on it. Some have criticised this song for being somewhat tepid. I disagree. There is some stunning guitar in it and a genuine blues rock feel to it, in a Led Zeppelin first two albums sort of way. I have always thought this to be one of Lizzy's best earlier tracks.

Next up is a true Lizzy classic - The Rocker - with Bell's storming opening riff, Downey's thumping drums and Lynott's vaguely threatening, leering vocal. Always another of my favourites, particularly in its extended album incarnation. I remember hearing this for the first time at fourteen years old on Radio Luxembourg via my tinny little transistor and, although I had really liked the band's Celtic rock hit single from 1972, Whiskey In The Jar, this just blew me away and I thought that they could rock more than I had previously thought. So, there must have been a bit of a change if a fourteen year-old boy could detect it!

The Celtic influence does return, however, for the "too-ra-loo-ra" vocal intro to Vagabond Of The Western World but then it launches in to some seriously heavy rock. Beautiful. Big, booming, thumping bass on this excellent remaster (the "deluxe edition" from 2010"). More impressive vocals, guitar and drums. An awesome, mighty track.

Little Girl In Bloom is a remarkably and surprisingly sensitive song sung from the perspective of a young girl, pregnant, and unable to tell her father. The girl watches from the loneliness of her room, idly watching the men playing cricket, feeling sad yet at the same time fulfilled but worried about the "secret in her womb". Some great guitar in the song and some suitably low-key vocals from Lynott. For some reason, I feel this is such a "Dublin" track.

Gonna Creep Up On You is an industrial, potent rocker with an insistent, shuffling beat. A Song For While I'm Away is probably the least rocking, or indeed impressive song on the album, harking back to the first two albums in its laid-back style. It is not without appeal though. One thing that was a shame is just how short seventies albums worth. A couple more tracks, like those mentioned below, would have made this an even better album.

The "deluxe edition" has some excellent bonus material such as the chunky, infectious SitamoiaLittle Darling, the slightly Latin-influenced Randolph's Tango and some excellent performances from BBC studio sessions, which always tended to be of a high quality.

The cover was awful though!



Nightlife (1974)


She Knows/Night Life/It's Only Money/Still In Love With You/Frankie Carroll/Showdown/Banshee/Philomena/Sha La La/Dear Heart       

1974’s Nightlife it’s a much underrated and often forgotten album in Thin Lizzy’s catalogue. After 1973’s Vagabonds Of The Western World had seen them move from Celtic-influenced folky rock to a more full-on heavy rock style, this album was strangely a somewhat gentle-paced, soulful album with a few hints of funk here and there. The general ambience was a late-night laid-back one. The impressive cover fits the mood, too.

It was also the first album, since the departure of guitarist Eric Bell, to feature the new twin-guitar attack of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. They wouldn’t get to really rock out until the next album, 1975’s Fighting, however.

                                      
Tracks that fitted that description were the lovely rock ballad She Knows; Phil Lynott’s touching melodic rock song to his mother, Philomena; the gentle, short instrumental Banshee; the touching Dear Heart and another great rock ballad in the concert favourite Still In Love With You.

There is slow-paced semi-funky rock in the excellent, sort of addictive title track, Night Life (spelled as two words, as opposed to the album's one word title) and also in the jazzy wah-wah funk-influenced Showdown.

Some “real rock” still prevails, however in the grumbling, solid funk-rock of It's Only Money and the vibrant, choppy guitars of the rhythmic Sha-La-La. There is also a nod to Celtic folk in the short, breezy Frankie Carroll.

Not a typical Thin Lizzy album, for sure, but a good one and an enjoyable one. Excellent sound quality on the latest remaster and some worthwhile bonus material, including some excellent BBC live session cuts.



Fighting (1975)


Rosalie/For Those Who Love To Live/Suicide/Wild One/Fighting My Way Back/King's Vengeance/Spirit Slips Away/Silver Dollar/Freedom Song/Ballad Of The Hard Man     

After the laid-back, late night rock of Nightlife, that at times had an almost funky edge, Thin Lizzy's next offering was far more seriously rocking with what would become a trademark two lead guitar attack of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson to the fore, on fire on every track. From those early folky-influenced, Celtic-influenced albums to the slightly low-key predecessor, this was the album that saw Thin Lizzy become a proper hard rocking band, end of story.
                     
They turn Bob Seger's Rosalie into their own iconic song, it just sounds so good, every time I hear it, while For Those Who Love To Live has that Springsteen-esque air of some of the subsequent Jailbreak album to it. Suicide is just classic Thin Lizzy rock, (it actually dates back to 1972), with excellent guitar all over it and Phil Lynott's menacing vocals on top form. Top quality rock, this.

Just to show they hadn't quite left that wistful Celtic feel completely in the past, Wild One had some Irish-sounding refrains and guitar and another convincing vocal, strong but soulful. Fighting My Way Back continues the all-out rock attack, with a slightly wah-wah riff at the beginning and some impressive drum rock. The pace hasn't really let up at all, as yet.

King's Vengeance has a melodic tone to it, and some dual high-pitched guitar riffs, but it still rocks. As you listen to this, you think just what an underrated album it is. Personally I prefer it to the more commercially successful Jailbreak. Spirit Slips Away finally sees the tempo slow down, giving us one of those classic Thin Lizzy tuneful but powerful, bassy rock ballads. Lynott's voice is yearning and seductive on here. Silver Dollar is a bit more laid-back too, although it has its big crashing guitar moments, despite its slightly less visceral passages in comparison to the first half of the album.

Freedom Song has some of those classic Lizzy guitar runs that immediately identify it as a Thin Lizzy song. I forgot to say earlier that the remastered sound on the album is excellent too. It has only been a relatively short, ten track album (that's fine by me, actually). It ends with the rocking but slightly more ordinary Ballad Of The Hard Man. It has some searing guitar interplay half way through, though. Overall, it has been an impressive album, and one that confirmed Thin Lizzy as the real thing.



Jailbreak (1976)


Jailbreak/Angel From The Coast/Running Back/Romeo And The Lonely Girl/Warriors/The Boys Are Back In Town/Fight Or Fall/Cowboy Song/Emerald                    

In many ways, this is Thin Lizzy's equivalent of Rod Stewart's Atlantic Crossing. It was the one that broke them big in both the UK and, more importantly, in the USA. In doing so, however, it loses some of the heart, soul and appeal of the earlier albums.

There seem to have been endless disputes about the sound of the album, from its various members, over the years and similar to-ing and fro-ing from fans about what is the best remastering of it, and complaining about the 2010 "remastering" farce.  The 2010 "remastered edition" actually only remastered the bonus material. The original album is still the 1996 remastering. Why? Who knows? It is definitely not up to the standard of, say, Vagabonds Of The Western World's remastering. Not by a long way, but its ok. I can certainly still enjoy the album. To a certain extent it sounds better than the 1996 remastering, to my ears anyway! There is still a bit of a tinniness to it, however, which can be off-putting. Just imagine how great it would sound with a fuller bass sound. I fully understand people's gripes about it. The same mess-up occurred with the follow-up album, Johnny The Fox. (Strangely, though, that album sounds better than this one). Five tracks from Jailbreak appear on the box set Vagabonds, Kings, Warriors & Angels, though, and they appear to have a fuller more bassy sound.

At the time of the album's recording, and subsequently, guitarists Scott Gorham and particularly Brian Robertson stated they were not happy with its sound quality or the speed in which it was played, they felt it was slowed down too much, repressing their guitar parts.

                                  
The album is supposedly a concept album, loosely based around "warriors" in a futuristic city, but it doesn't ever really convince. Anyway, on to the tracks. The opener, Jailbreak, is powerful and you can sort of see the "slowed down" argument. Personally I have no problem with it, but I didn't play on it. Angel From The Coast is a solid, riffy rocker, with a fine trademark Lynott vocal, as indeed is the melodic Romeo And The Lonely Girl. Lyrically, the latter is influenced by Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run album and some of his earlier material, I am sure.

Running Back caused some rows within the band over the changing by Lynott of the sound and the hiring of a session keyboardist to play what became its distinct hook. By Lynott's own admittance, it is influenced by Van Morrison. It does stick out a bit from the rest of the album's material. Lynott liked it but the others didn't, and it stayed on the album.

Warriors is an excellent rocker that would again benefit from a richer sound. Again, it sounds too tinny. Then there is the massive global hit single, the iconic The Boys Are Back In Town. We've all heard it a million times, so there is not much need for too much comment from me, other than that, despite its familiarity, it is still one of the band's finest rockers, if not the finest.

Fight Or Fall is a laid-back slow rock number that would not have sounded out of place on 1974's Night Life album. Cowboy Song is a magnificent, atmospheric rocker expressing Lynott's Western fascination once again. Starting off with a slow, quiet vocal, it launches into a great, pulsating riff-driven rocker.  That introductory riff is addictive. The guitar on it is just superb throughout. One of my favourite Lizzy rockers. The whole Western imagery is quite convincing, although it doesn't fit in with the supposed "concept" in any way. Emerald is a growling, heavy rocker to finish off. A good album, but in need of a more bassy remastering.



Johnny The Fox (1976)


Johnny/Rocky/Borderline/Don't Believe A Word/Fool's Gold/Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed/Old Flame/Massacre/Sweet Marie/Boogie Woogie Dance             

Released only seven months after Jailbreak had really pushed Thin Lizzy up high in the rock credibility lists, this followed the same pattern - an album of very loosely related songs (not really related at all, if one is honest), and the now impressive dual guitar attack from Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson that make it rock real hard. Phil Lynott's charismatic vocal and leadership of the band is now well established. Although it is said to be the inferior album to Jailbreak, for me, I prefer this one. One reason for that is the sound, which is much better in its remastering* and also I feel there are some really good songs on here. As I alluded to earlier, though, it is not really a "concept" album at all, just as Jailbreak wasn't. Characters come and go in the songs, but in a Springsteen-esque street-style way, song by song, as opposed to having any continuity. Yes, the character of "Johnny" comes into a couple of songs, but the appearance don't really seem connected to me, past the obvious nomenclature.

 

The album's recording is said to have been fraught with inter-band disagreements - those old "musical differences" again. Guitarist Brian Robertson was sacked by Lynott, reinstated, then sacked again. Listening to it, however, you cannot tell. It sounds great from beginning to end.

* The remasterings listed on the 2010 "remastered" edition only cover the bonus material, not the original album, which remains as the 1996 remaster. This has been a problem for many, but not for me as I am perfectly satisfied with the 1996 remaster, which sounds excellent to my ears.

Johnny is a bassy typical piece of Thin Lizzy slightly menacing rock, featuring some impressive rolling drum work and guitar soloing. There are great hooks throughout the song. Rocky is also packed full of archetypal Lizzy riffery too and it rocks just as had.

Borderline is one of those Lizzy rock ballads, with its souful and seductive feel. There is a bit of a laid-back slightly country rock sound to the song, although there is still a great rock guitar solo in the middle. Don't Believe A Word was the album's hit single. It is a riffy, chugging track with a convincing hook.

Fool's Gold is a magnificent, grinding, atmospheric rock song with wonderful guitar and yet another intoxicating vocal from Lynott. Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed is a classic slice of Lizzy funk/rock. The drums are superb, as is the bass and infectious "chinka-chinka" guitar sound. Great stuff. Old Flame is one of those Phil Lynott laid-back romantic rock numbers, in the "Sarah" style. He did this sort of thing so well.

Massacre is an insistent, grinding mid-pace rocker. Sweet Marie continues in the same vein. Boogie Woogie Dance was apparently not considered good enough for the original album but eventually ended up on it, as it should, for it is a fine, guitar-driven rocker. It has to be said, though, that the first six or seven tracks are the album's best ones, and, funnily enough, those are the ones that contain the best sound. Still a good album though.



Bad Reputation (1977)


Soldier Of Fortune/Bad Reputation/Opium Trail/Southbound/Dancing In The Moonlight/Killer Without A Cause/Downtown Sundown/That Woman's Gonna Break Your Heart/Dear Lord            
Oblivious to punk's fires burning all around them, Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy put out another album of solid Celtic-influenced catchy but at times heavy rock with a poppy edge. Lizzy seemed to appeal to punks, however, largely due to Lynott's clenched-fist, leather-clad don't give a whatever "attitude" and their often irresistible, melodic, singalong riff-laden songs. There was no indulgent soloing or progginess about Thin Lizzy, so they rode the storm pretty well. They were hard and honest and won the respect of most, including the often cynical punks.

During the recording Guitarist Brian Robertson fell out with the rest of the band and barely appears on the album. Scott Gorham does most of the guitar work himself, but, despite the inter-band disharmony, the album flows together effectively. The trademark double guitar sound is recorded by adding Robertson's guitar parts after he had been persuaded to lay them down separately.

The album was produced by Tony Visconti (David Bowie and T. Rex) and he does a great job, as always. The album packs a real heavy rock punch, but still carrying that lovable Lizzy lilt to it. The album is quite short, however, and you somehow get the impression that it was completed pretty quickly and that, at the time, they were just glad to get it over with.

  
                                                  
Soldier Of Fortune is similar to the material on Jailbreak - an appealing, melodic but hard-hitting lyrically heroic and Celtically romantic number. Lynott always liked to evoke the spirits of old soldiers returning from some mythical, unnamed war and the character of the soldier of fortune suited his lyrical conceits so well. It changes pace half way through and some military marching-style drums back some excellent guitar.

Bad Reputation is a dark, chugging number with a deep, atmospheric Lynott vocal. If anything, the track ends a bit too soon. The drumming from Brian Downey is rollingly outstanding. He was a true powerhouse and rarely mentioned when the lists of great rock drummers are being trotted out. Opium Trail gives a sort of romantic feeling to chasing drugs against an exhilarating rock backing. Lynott's own drug dependency at the time gives it a sorry undercurrent. Gorham's guitar work on the track is superb. Lynott liked a bit of "travelling to the mysterious East" stuff in his lyrics too - all those references to China and heroin.


Southbound is a typical mid-pace Lynott rock ballad, similar to those found on Fighting or Night Life, full of yearning, romantic but dramatic lyrics - "drifting like a drover.." and more references to the Wild West. Check out the bass on it too.

The album's big hit single was the gently infectious, slightly jazzy Dancing In The Moonlight, a track which uses some saxophone too, something unusual for Lizzy. Another fabulous bass introduces the song. I always wondered what that line about "chocolate stains on my pants" was all about, though.

I have to say that Lynott had such a knack in his songwriting, finding hooks so very easy to come by.

Killer Without A Cause is an excellent, powerful rocker with some suitably killer guitar passages while Downtown Sundown has a thumping but tuneful drum backing to its honeyed tones while That Woman's Gonna Break Your Heart has some big electric riffs merging with acoustic ones backing another vagabond vocal from Lynott. Dear Lord is full of quality heavy guitar, throbbing bass and some buzzy, spacey sound effects swirling around. Once again, the vocal is most impressive.

Some critics have nit-picked a bit between all the Lizzy albums from the seventies as to which are better than others. Not me. I like them all. This was an album of what was was so attractive about Thin Lizzy - wild, gypsy, vibrant and rocking but with a warm soul underneath and Phil Lynott's evocative vocals and songwriting always to the fore. He has been so missed over the years.

Black Rose (1979)


Do Anything You Want To/Toughest Street In Town/S & M/Waiting For An Alibi/Sarah/Got To Give It Up/Get Out Of Here/With Love/Róisín Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend      

This was arguably Thin Lizzy's last really great album. It features their by now familiar crashing two guitar attack, but also their popular themes of Irish folkiness, mythology and legend mixed with an appealing sad melancholy. Phil Lynott always liked a bit of troubador-inspired romance too, so, as often on their albums, a genuine hard rock edge is mixed with the charismatic ear-ringed outpourings of a Celtic gypsy soul. They were really quite special in this respect and there was no-one quite like them.

Do Anything You Want To starts with a jaunty, almost glam rock-ish drum beat and continues as a very catchy guitar-driven rocker. It was a hit single, unsurprisingly. It features a very typical Thin Lizzy guitar break in the middle and Lynott's strong and reassuring vocals carry it along effortlessly.

Toughest Street In Town is even more in the archetypal Lizzy style. It would have fitted well on Jailbreak or Johnny The Fox although its chorus is decidedly punk/new wave influenced. the guitar break is superb too, and the lyrics touch on Lynott's increased drug use. He seems to acknowledge that drugs are not a good thing in many street life and substance abuse-themed songs, yet obviously he didn't cut back himself.

  

S & M is a deep, shuffling, rhythmic rocker, full of menace and seedy atmosphere. Its lyrics are about the sado-masochism scene and are very tongue-in-cheek cynical but vaguely amusing in places. There is a funky feel to it, something that Lizzy had often been able to conjure up as far back as 1974's NightlifeWaiting For An Alibi was another single and is standard Lizzy commercial rock fare, with great riffs and an infectious hook. Lizzy were like Status Quo in that, as well as being able to rock hard, they knew the value of a classic piece of pop rock.

Lynott gets all sentimental on the album's other big hit - the lovely, laid-back strains of Sarah, written for his recently-arrived young daughter. He is soon back on the ultimately fruitless anti-drug message on the appealingly riffy Got To Give It Up. The song, unfortunately, becomes sadly prophetic for Lynott.

The frantic rock of Get Out Of Here has some sparkling guitar interplay, Despite punk being all over the place in 1979, Lizzy seemed to ride the waves and their brand of no-nonsense rock always had something punk in its spirit so they remained respected, even by the slash and burn "no more old school rock" punks.

With Love slows down the pace a little, but only a little, on a melodious but strong thwarted love-themed number. The final number, the bloated Roísín Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend, is a medley of traditional Irish folk songs mixed with some classic Lizzy rock. It is a romantic view of Ireland, something Lynott has always liked (no Stiff Little Fingers-style anger about contemporary issues here) and fair enough, he makes no bones about it. For many, it is the jewel in the album's crown. However, for me it is the opposite. I find it a bit of a mess, lacking true cohesion, despite not being in any way unlistenable. It just sort of rambles on, albeit in a fine rocking style. The bonus track, the 'b' side Just The Two Of Us returns to the sort of thing I prefer. This is a bit of a nit-picking opinion on my behalf though, I have to admit, as this is a fine album overall.



Chinatown (1980)


We Will Be Strong/Chinatown/Sweetheart/Sugar Blues/Killer On The Loose/Having A Good Time/Genocide/Didn't I/Hey You           

Thin Lizzy continued into the eighties to put out albums oblivious to current musical trends. Despite punk, new wave, ska, new romantic, whatever, their brand of solid, guitar-driven, melodious but powerful Celtic-flavoured rock still held an appeal for many. The album introduced Snowy White on guitar to replace Gary Moore and on keyboards was seventeen year-old Darren Wharton joined on keyboards.

Personally, although many disagree, I find this just as strong an album as its much-vaunted predecessor, Black Rose. You knew what you were going to get from Lizzy and this collection of songs still delivered.
                                          
We Will Be Strong is a chugging but attractive mid-pace rocker that grows on you. It has a full, warm sound and a reassuring vocal from Phil Lynott. Snowy White contributes some impressive guitar. Chinatown has always been a favourite of mine - solidly heavy and menacing in an urban way. The bass is deep and resonant and the drum/guitar interplay excellent, as always. Changing guitarists did not seem to affect the quality of the music. Some critics have said that the standard had dropped but I have to say I don't agree - Lynott, Scott Gorham and Brian Downey are still there and White could clearly play. I think this was still a good album.

  

Sweetheart packs a big punch as it launches into its typical Lizzy sound. Material like this is the equal of the stuff on Black Rose, for me, anyway. Sugar Blues is a rhythmic, infectious and catchy riffy number. It is deliciously strong and bassy and features some great rolling drums from Downey. There is a nice bass solo from Lynott too. Some have said that his and Gorham's increased drug use negatively affected the album, but I don't hear it here.

Killer On The Loose was the album's hit single and is a suitably rocking piece of rock with pop sensibilities. Its pace is fast - it doesn't let up from beginning to end and has a punky energy about it which probably helped it do well at the time. Seeing that Lizzy had influenced The Boomtown Rats so much for years, Having A Good Time returned the favour and has a lot of 1978-79 era Rats about it. It is another upbeat, appealing rock song as well. Some have condemned the second half of the album as being "filler". This energetic, enjoyable rocker hardly sounds like filler to me.

Lynott revisits one of his favourite subjects on Genocide - the decline of the old US West - as he bemoans the "killing of the buffalo..". Once more, its solid rock credentials can't be questioned. Didn't I slows the pace down slightly on an archetypal Lizzy rock ballad with tuneful guitars, powerful drums and a warmly sensual Lynott vocal. The deep bass line on this is sublime as well. Hey You starts off like The Police's Walking On The Moon before pretty soon reverting to a familiar Lizzy rock sound. The Police bit returns later on, however, before the rock chorus blasts back.

This was certainly not a bad album in my eyes (or ears). The sound quality is good and the songs are all more than listenable.



Thin Lizzy At The BBC


The six CD release of Thin Lizzy At The BBC covers all the material recorded at the excellent BBC Sessions by Thin Lizzy and also some wonderful live concert recordings from both the seventies and the eighties.

Yes, there are variations in the sound quality, as is always the case with live recordings, but on the whole the BBC material is truly outstanding in sound quality, as it is for other groups who recorded at the sessions too. Most of the sound quality is, to be honest, absolutely superb. Particularly considering many of the recordings dated from the mid-seventies. There are also many duplications of tracks due to their being played at more than one session, all of which are recorded. However, there are more than enough different songs from different eras to keep most people happy. The band play solidly, bassy and loud and show just what an absolutely great live band they were.

There is an abridged two CD version also available which is more than adequate too.

Personal favourites are Fools GoldLittle Girl In Bloom, It’s Only MoneyLittle DarlingRosalie, Slow Blues, Gonna Creep Up On You, Black Boys On The Corner, Sitamoia and The Rocker. Many of these live versions are the equal of their studio versions. Indeed often the live ones are more powerful.

It is a much-appreciated live document of one hell of a band at their very best. Crank the volume up to floor-shaking levels and enjoy!

Vagabonds, Kings, Warriors, Angels

 
I have this in the impressive, large size "ear book" format, which is an actual coffee-table size book with plenty of contemporary pictures of the band and a essay from an associate.

As with all box sets (unless they are "complete works") it includes between three and five of the best tracks from each album, some live tracks and a few rarities to keep fans happy (and get them to buy material they already have, of course). The rarities here are a 1978 live "b' side, Me And The Boys (which is an absolute hard rocking, pounding classic, by the way) and Song For Jimi, which ad previously just been a magazine "flexi disc" giveaway. The other previously unreleased "b' sides have since appeared on the 2010 remasterings of all the band's albums.


Obviously, if you a fan, you will want all the albums, but, if like me, you like getting hold of different remasterings, then this has pretty decent remastered sound. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but the tracks from Jailbreak and Johnny The Fox (notoriously un-remastered on the 2010 "remasterings" where only the "bonus" material was remastered) seem to be of a better sound quality. Maybe they  different mastering, or maybe they just have more volume to them on this release. Either way, they sound better than the 1996 masterings currently on the individual album releases.

Whatever, this is an enjoyable collection of this vital rock band's finest material. Plus some Phil Lynott solo material thrown in for good measure, including the beautiful Parisienne Walkways with Gary Moore.