Archive for September, 2012

Live and Dangerous

In my series of ‘albums that are great but you never read about’ I have broken my own rules by writing about ‘Metal Box’ which is a bona-fide and acknowledged classic. Why am I pointing this out? Well I am going to break my own rule again by writing about one of my favourite albums of all time: Live and Dangerous by Thin Lizzy. Now if I am being honest with myself I am only kind of breaking my own rules as this album is featured in many greatest album lists but usually in the greatest rock albums list. There is the rub my friends, heavy rock and metal are rarely ever in mainstream ‘best of’ lists. Why? Metal and rock are ghettoised and mocked at best and at worst ignored. Right now in Ireland there are metal bands selling out venues but the press ignores them. Again, you have to ask why? Well there is a certain snobbishness that exists that goes: metal is for kids, good for head banging or singing along to after a few beers but as a serious art-form? No, we have to go to bands that pore their hearts out when they feel a quiver of emotion and all for their art. Anyway, I digress but only slightly for what I am trying to say is: Live and Dangerous is a masterpiece and one of my favourite albums, it is more important to me than Sgt Pepper’s, Astral Weeks, Dark Side of the Moon, OK Computer and all the other albums that frequently make up the top-ten lists in music magazines etc (I love all the aforementioned albums too, well besides Radiohead, a band I just never got).

‘Tell us about the album!’ you all cry (by all I mean the two people that read my blog). Well, in many ways this album has been part of my life,in some form or other, for as long as I remember. My older brother had it in his record collection and I would stare at the cover and as covers for live albums go it is a classic. Phil Lynott, the lead singer and bass player is in the centre, on his knees, right hand raised, wearing leather trousers with spotlights beaming down on him. He is flanked stage right by the Scottish wonderkid Brian Robertson and on the left by the laid back American Scott Gorham. A simple enough image but it encapsulates Lizzy, lean and muscular –no frills- what you see is what you get and if you don’t like it then bugger off.  Now, when I say lean and muscular I don’t want you to get the idea that the band were just sturm und drang Lizzy were more than that, a lot more. Their harmony guitar lines remain as legendary now as they were in their hay-day and beautifully fluid and melodic, they mixed up the pace of their songs, Brian Downey (the drummer) added heavy beats with jazzy fills and Philo’s lyrical themes gave the band an extra depth that very few of their contemporaries ever matched.  Ah, and I nearly forgot to say it is a double album and therefore very 1970s.

It all kicks off with the crowd chanting ‘Lizzy’ and you can feel the anticipation building just before it breaks into the absolute belter that is ‘Jailbreak’, the stop start riff, the exquisite climb of the mid section and the smooth vocal style of the main man, anchoring it all and made this one of the most exciting openings to an album that the eleven year old me had ever heard.  It rapidly moves into ‘Emerald’, Phil delivers the immortal line: ‘Has anyone got a little Irish in them? Are there any girls who’d like a little more Irish in them?’ A Celtic rock epic, Lynott draws on his knowledge of Irish history to deliver a true Irish classic. This is only the second song in but the guitars are incendiary, the interplay between both men is spot on and Phil’s bass and Brian’s drums tie down the groove.  Things slow down a bit with the gem of a tune that is ‘Southbound’. Here we find Philo falling into drifter mode as he sings about packing up his bags and leaving it all behind. To my mind he is, hands down, one of best lyricists this country has ever produced: his narrative style is cinematic in scope and is both simple yet profound. A cover of Bob Seger’s ‘Rosalie’ intermingled with ‘Cowgirl Song’ finishes off side one perfectly.

‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ opens up side two, one of Phil’s slinkiest and most enduring basslines. Add to it the note perfect lyric of teen longing and a wailing sax solo and you have a song that is a blueprint for how to write a hit that screams summertime. ‘Massacre’ follows with an intricate little riff that fizzes along and highlights the energy  Lizzy brought to their stage shows. However, it is the albums ode to a love not yet forgotten that really steals the show. ‘Still in Love with You’ is an epic in all senses of the word. Phil can’t forget the woman that has left him and the guitars ache in empathy. ‘I think I’ll fall to pieces, if I don’t find something else to do’ who hasn’t been there? Phil was a master of making the local universal, which is a craft that the truly great songwriters bring to the table.  How do you follow it? Answer: with ‘Johnny the Fox’! It is a low down dirty funky tune that channels the street punk characters so beloved of the frontman.  Side three reads thusly:  ‘Cowboy Song’, ‘The Boys are Back in Town’, ‘Don’t Believe A Word’, ‘Warriors’ and ‘Are You Ready?’ The pace is relentless and the songs hit you hard not unlike a sledgehammer battering you in the solar plexus. Side four sees the album draw to a close with ‘Suicide’ (all solid runs and groove), ‘Sha La La’ (which has that most 70s of things: a drum solo), ‘Baby Drives Me Crazy’ (which has one of the best call and response sections between band and audience ever, and shows the close connection that existed between both) and it ends on ‘The Rocker’ (a nod back to the three piece Lizzy of Eric Bell) reminding us that we all love to rock n roll.

The album (and in particular the vinyl version!) was a cornerstone of my youth. This was the band I played air-guitar to and the one that made me want to play to massive audiences. Damn it, the gigs that the tracks were taken from just sounded so exciting. Now, a frequent complaint made by the Punk Rock fraternity was that the rock bands that preceded them became bloated and complacent. Live and Dangerous was the opposite it was lean and streetwise with an edge that said ‘don’t fuck with us!’. It reminds me that Lynott was a songwriter par excellence and unlike the preening, posturing and ever so earnest ‘folkies’ that litter the present day Irish musical landscape he let the music do the talking. He was also one of Ireland’s true rock stars (unlike Bono who just wears the clothes of one) and it is a shame we lost him to drugs as things are a bit duller without his charisma and charm. Listening to it here in my room today I can feel that the album isn’t some testimony to stasis but, like all good works of art, keeps on revealing something new about ourselves.  I had the privilege a few years ago to play at the annual Vibe for Philo in Dublin and I heard a band play this in its entirety and it still sounds good. It is a classic and deserves to be in your collection.

Note: I am aware that there are overdubs on this album and some argue that they make up 25% to 75% of the album. Either way I don’t care.