We know now, thanks to Spinal Tap, Metallica, Anvil, The Darkness and the rest, that heavy rock is no more than a joke, full of tight pants, split ends, an endless trail of drunken musicians swigging bottles of scotch while throwing a television out a hotel window and vomiting on a groupie. But once upon a time, these dinosaurs roamed the earth. They owned the earth. Nowadays we’re all post modernists with lacquered, angular hair and argyle socks, thick glasses and shoegazing, and an utter lack of posture and ineffably dull for it. Picture Interpol in leather pants, cowboy boots astride the monitor, pointing the stock of their guitar at the crowd, or in-unison rocking, hair flailing in concert, spotlights glinting off bullet belts. Imagine John Stainer’s floor tom throwing up a hail of confetti every time it was thumped. Imagine men were men, and if they want to fight, you better let them.
The three albums here are being released in “redux” format, put together by Lizzy hair product advertisement and half mahogany guitar hunk Scott Gorham with help from none other than vaunted tax fugitive Joe Elliot. (As an aside it took five years for Def Leppard to produce Hysteria, whereas Jailbreak and Johnny The Fox were both released in the same year. One wonders that if instead of the frantic, constant touring and recording in order to stay solvent, that kind of luxury were afforded to Thin Lizzy and Phil Lynott way back when, if Philo wouldn’t still be with us. )
The studio albums are augmented with some unreleased fodder, and various sessions of album tracks, including a few instrumental run throughs, where, pressure off, the band merely play. In this unproduced format you can hear the quality of the musicianship coming through. Not, of course, that it was ever in question. As extras, it makes for reasonably slim pickings, as, for example, over the three albums there are five versions of ‘Jailbreak’, and numerous versions of other Lizzy classics which have barely perceptible differences. The BBC session may have a slightly different guitar solo, or a rougher sound, but here was a band so well drilled in what they did that each version clocks in an identical duration, almost to the second. It belies the controversy surrounding Live and Dangerous, the infamous “live” album. Debonair, neatly tailored Tony Visconti, who produced the record, claims that most of the guitars were redone in the studio and hardly any of it is actually live. Brian Robertson, who looks half melted and has boasted of having drunk a bottle of whiskey per gig, claims that’s rubbish. It all seems moot, as the evidence is here that the Lizzy were an exceptionally tight bunch of performers, perfectionists, even. It’s forgivable that they may have had to record the odd line here and there if they were so off their tits they couldn’t remember the bit. There’s nothing quite as rock and roll as being off your tits.
This is the apex of classic, twin guitar Thin Lizzy, the band that played their part in the evolution of rock music and changed the course of Irish music forever. One hopes that this mania for re-releasing classic Lizzy albums extends beyond just the ones that Scott Gorham played on (he clearly needs to pay his mortgage or something), because Phil’s songwriting in the first three Thin Lizzy records is at its most inventive and lyrical, and it’s a kind of inverse maturity to have gone from ‘The Friendly Ranger At Clontarf Castle’ or ‘Little Girl In Bloom’ or ‘The Hero And The Madman’ to warning us about Jailbreaks and the like (knowing that there will be a jailbreak, but not where? The jail, possibly?), but it would be reductive to suggest it’s easier to write stone cold rawk classics, because if the inclusion of the previously (and correctly) unreleased ditty that is ‘Scott’s Tune’ (again, included just for royalties? Is he really that skint?) tells us anything it’s that it’s not easy. Not at all. And as for the lyrics, is this perhaps rock’s greatest rejoinder: “hey, good looking female. C’mere”? Are we not men, we are Lizzy.