Thin Lizzy - Black Rose (1979)

Credits:

  • Phil Lynott - Bass, Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitars
  • Scott Gorham - Lead Guitars
  • Gary Moore - Lead Guitars, Backing Vocals
  • Brian Downey - Drums and percussion -
  • Produced by Tony Visconti
  • Good Earth Studio in England, EMI Studios in Paris

Background

For a variety of reasons, Thin Lizzy never gained widescale success in the U.S. They flirted with success in 1976 when they had their only U.S. hit single The Boys are Back in Town and the album it appeared on, Jailbreak, actually did pretty well on the U.S. charts. They seemed poised to break big, but trouble always followed Thin Lizzy. More often than not, the trouble was of their own making, but in this case, fate stepped in. On the eve of what would have been Lizzy's most important tour, playing for a U.S. audience primed by Jailbreak, Lynott contracted hepatitis. The tour was cancelled, and by the time Lynott was well, much of the interest in Thin Lizzy in the U.S. had died and never returned. So what does this have to do with Black Rose three years later? Lots. In a sense, Lizzy never mentally and emotionally recovered from failing to break through in the U.S. Always huge indulgers in drink and drugs anyway, it was around the time of Black Rose that Lynott and Gorham began using heroin in an attempt to ease the pain of this perceived failure in the U.S. What appeared to make matters worse, was that long-time lead guitarist Brain Robertson also left the band/was fired in the period between 1977s Bad Reputation and 1979's Black Rose. While this split up the Robertson/Gorham team that had become Thin Lizzy's classic lineup, it wasn't the first time Lynott had been left without a guitarist. So Lynott did what he always did: he called his old buddy Gary Moore to fill in once again. This time, despite the drugs and difficulties, the musical results were spectacular. Gary Moore had always been a hot player, but he was fresh off a stint with Colosseum II, a progressive rock band known for a very technique-demanding brand of music. The experience pushed Moore's playing to a much higher level, and he was really coming into his own at the time he rejoined Lizzy. Black Rose would reap the benefits. I've read stuff that suggests that Gary Moore was almost too explosive for Thin Lizzy. That Moore's playing upset the balance Lizzy had attained with Robertson/Gorham — two fairly equal guitarists. Sorry, I'm not buying it — it was fucking marvelous! In fact, an unexpected side-effect of Moore joining the band was that Gary's playing really kicked Scott Gorham in the ass. Gorham has stated in interviews that working with Moore forced him out of complacency, and to take his own playing to a higher level. Indeed, the improvement in Gorham's playing is VERY evident on Black Rose compared to the albums that preceeded it. And Gorham remained a much better guitarist on the albums that followed Black Rose.

Ultimately, however, a great album — even a great Dinosaur Rock Guitar album — is about more than just great playing. It's about great songs. Black Rose is filled with them. Despite an often volatile personal relationship, Lynott/Moore musical collaborations always had a magic about them each man was hard-pressed to capture individually. This was something both men admitted freely. Black Rose was their collaborative peak. In fact, as brilliant a player as Moore was becoming and later became, he probably never played on any better set of songs than these. Black Rose is filled with Lynott's typically vast array of unusual themes and brilliant lyrics that are far deeper than your typical rock-and-roll fare. Here you find songs about self determination, tough street life, kinky sexual fetishes, compulsive gambling, Lynott's baby daughter, drug and alcohol addiction, relationships breaking up, and Lynott's would-be alter ego, the mythical Irish hero, Cuchulain. Perhaps more improtantly, the album totally rocks! So let's take a listen.

Track By Track (vocal cues in parentheses)

Do Anything you Want to (3:51) A shuffle beat, fueled by Lizzy's familiar twin guitar harmonies and Lynott's simple but driving bass line. As with The Boys are Back in Town, there's no true guitar solo on this one, just Gary and Scott playing harmonies for the song.

Toughest Street in Town (3:59) A hard-hitting, fast rocker with one of those chord progressions that only Lizzy seemed to make work. If there is any place where Gary Moore is almost too explosive for Thin Lizzy it's on this cut. Gary rips off a positively incendiary lead that must have made Scott Gorham shit his pants. I love it. It tears your fucking head off! It is hotter than anything that had previously appeared on a Thin Lizzy album, and nothing this hot would appear again until John Sykes joined the band in the early 80s.

S & M (4:04) Listen to the drums on this track, and you may get an idea about why Brian Downey is my favorite living drummer. He's so inventive. The syncopated beat he uses here is just brilliant. It's a fast, upbeat track in a major scale feel that tonally belies the lyrical subject matter. The guitar solo is terrific. It's Gorham and it's one of his best ever. There's so much elasticity in his playing on this album. Listen for it. He's much improved over past Lizzy albums.

Waiting for an Alibi (3:29) This song was the album's hit (outside of the U.S.) and it became a staple of Lizzy's live show. I've even seen a cheesy video. It's got all the classic Lizzy trademarks. Solo one is Gorham. Again, excellent, very much better than what I'd heard from him previously. Gary comes in with a fast harmony lead just as Gorham finishes — live, they played that part together, along with the outro harmonies. Old Marshalls feeding back on the last notes end the song.

Sarah (3:30) This is a Lynott/Moore ballad written for Lynott's just-born daughter. Gary sings the high vocal harmony as the song unfolds. Gary plays a guitar synth on this track, so the sound is a little unusual, but the actual guitar parts are beautiful. The solo is wonderfully melodic.

Got to Give it Up (4:23) Ahh, Phil's desperate cry for help . . . hard to believe no one heard it. A very sad song in retrospect. It has an impassioned vocal. Another one of those classic Lizzy chord progressions. Listen to what Downey's doing with the beat. Scott's solo is up first. Another compositional gem with a beginning, a middle, and an end. They bring the song down for the bridge and the last chorus, and Gary's solo comes in for the outro and builds from melodic to ripping.

Get out of Here (3:35) Another uptempo rocker with a chugging, phased bass line and ringing, ballsy, power chords. If you play guitar, this song is a blast to jam on. Unusual song construction. The progression creates tension all the way through what vocally feels like the chorus (Get out of here, get out of here) but underneath the vocal, it's still the verse part. The feel then changes for the real chorus (Get out! . . . Do I make myself clear?) Verse repeats, they move the figure up a whole step on the neck (building tension again) before Gary's solo. It's another real ripper. Brilliantly-constructed and it just oozes attitude. As it ends, Gary's guitar is still sustaining the last notes of his solo, even though the song has moved several bars into the next verse! A very ballsy effect.

With Love (4:38) Sort of an uptempo ballad with a sad feel. There's an acoustic rhythm guitar strumming throughout. Brief guitar harmonies after the verse. Scott again on the middle solo. Just as tasty as the rest of his solos on this record. Gary on the outro, melodic and emotional.

Roisin Dubh (Black Rose) A Rock Legend (7:06) The album's epic, focal piece about Cuchulain picks up where songs like Emerald left off. Downey creates a rollicking jig beat for Moore's fiddle-inspired Celtic melodies. The song blends seamlessly from it's own melody in to that of Danny Boy and a few less-familiar Irish folk tunes. There are call-and-response guitar melodies that intertwine throughout the middle of the song. Toward the end, the song breaks down into a part that evokes the image of a ripping, fiddle-duel in an Irish pub, but it's all Les Pauls and Marshalls! Producer Tony Visconti stated that Gary wrote all of the song's guitar parts, and could have played them all on the album, but he patiently taught the harmony parts to Scott who, to his credit, played them and kept right up with Moore on the fast bits. The song returns to it's original melody at the end and Gary plays an outro solo in the background while Lynott pays vocal homage to a laundry list of his heroes including George Best, Van Morrison, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats and JM Synge.

Summary

I love Thin Lizzy. They were such a totally unique band. To me, Black Rose is their best album. Gary Moore was becoming a total fucking monster on guitar. He injected new life into the band, and pushed them to new creative heights that despite Lynott's downward spiral, turned out to be the band's musical peak. Even so, this album largely remains an overlooked gem, because many Americans only exposure to Thin Lizzy was The Boys are Back in Town and the Jailbreak album.

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By Dinosaur David B. Copyright ©2001 All rights reserved.