A few years ago, when CD sales were in a state of free fall and supermarkets were cutting back on, or completely phasing out their music departments, the major labels tried all kinds of solutions to fight the inevitable. One of the things they tried was repackaging albums by classic bands in budget boxes available for the price of a single full-price CD. Often these came in simple cardboard boxes with little to no extras such as liner notes or bonus tracks – mere repackagings of albums already available standalone as mid price releases.
Mercury’s “Classic Album Selection” series was slightly more luxurious; there certainly wasn’t anything extra on the albums, but at least they came in a thick (instead of paper thin) cardboard box and the albums were individually packaged in CD-sized gatefold covers mimicking gatefold vinyls. So a few points for the extra effort to this line of releases.
Compiling together the six studio albums Thin Lizzy released between 1974 and 1979, this box captures the Irish hard rockers in their prime. The first album of the selection, Nightlife, is the last of Lizzy’s “early” albums, still featuring a less amplified, softer and more bluesy sound – the title track is pure blues – and honestly doesn’t have much going for it, except for the impressive cover art. After that album, however, the band led by legendary Phil Lynott truly realized the benefits of plugging in, applying distortion and in general going for a harder, tougher and more rocking sound. Fighting is an instant and impressive improvement on its predecessor, but it is on the last four albums of the box set that Lizzy really hit their stride: from the celtic stylings of Johnny The Fox and Black Rose to the straighter rocking of Bad Reputation and their most iconic studio album, Jailbreak, the albums released between 1976 and 1979 are when Lizzy truly staked their claim as stalwart icons and eternal heroes of rock music.
Unlike adult rock radio listeners might believe, Thin Lizzy was never just about rocking hard. There was always a considerable breadth of stylistic variety in their sound, from hard rockers verging on heavy metal to power ballads to jamming blues rock, not forgetting a few choice moments of flirting with celtic folk stylings. The songs range from epic and majestic to aggressive, from confrontational to introspective, from tender to tough. For every The Boys Are Back In Town and Jailbreak there’s a song like That Woman’s Gonna Break Your Heart or Dancing In The Moonlight – of which I consider the latter to be one of the finest tracks in Thin Lizzy’s entire catalog. Still, it is of course the twin-guitar led rockers that are what Lizzy are most famous for, and not without reason. Whilst Lynott, handling bass and vocals, was undeniably the front man of the band, when it came to the music, he never had any trouble stepping back and letting the guitars take the limelight. And how they do! I can certainly imagine the guys in Iron Maiden were inspired by the twin-guitar duelling and memorable riffage of Thin Lizzy, as is proven by Maiden covering Lizzy’s Massacre on the b-side of a single.
Whilst none of the albums consist of iconic classics from start to end, there’s an impressive amount of memorable tracks on each of the albums, save for the aforementioned Nightlife. During the heyday of classic rock, it was not unusual for a band to release a new album yearly, two on a good year, but few bands could create so many great albums in such a short time. This is testament to the songwriting skills of Lynott, drummer Brian Downey and whoever their guitarists for the record were – Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson for the most part, with Gary Moore replacing Robertson on Black Rose.
Their reputation too often reduced to rock radio mainstays Whisky In The Jar, The Boys Are Back In Town and Jailbreak, Thin Lizzy were a surprisingly versatile and multifacetous rock band during the age of the classic, guitar-driven rock band, and not only one of the best bands in their own time, but one of those bands whose music truly has stood the test of time and sounds as timeless and vital today as it did more than 40 years ago. This box is ample proof of that and, if you can still find it for its original price (the asking price on Discogs can currently run up to 100e!), a cheap way to get their most essential albums in one go.