Thin Lizzy: Classic Album Selection (CD, 2012)


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THIN LIZZY classic album selectionA 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.


Thin Lizzy: Wild One – The Very Best Of… (CD, 1996)


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THIN LIZZY wild oneOne of a vast number of Thin Lizzy best of’s, this is pretty much as good as any other single-disc compendium of the band. For some odd reason it omits the title track Wild One in favour of what I consider a rather throwaway Gary Moore-featuring-Phil Lynott track, Parisienne Walkways, which is a definite minus. Apart from that oddity, this contains the bare essential tracks casual listeners will want: all of those tracks played on adult rock radio stations every day, and focusing more on the rockers than on the bluesy or balladeering stuff. Naturally every fan will miss this or that track, but then again, compilations like this aren’t for fans.

The one track I am glad they’ve decided to include here, though not a Thin Lizzy track, is Gary Moore’s Out In The Fields, prominently featuring Phil Lynott on bass and shared lead vocal duties – a truly blistering 80’s style heavy metal track with an awesome chorus, tasteful synthesizers and some fine lead guitar work. My personal opinion that this is one of the high points of Lynott’s career, Thin Lizzy and solo records included.

Apart from that, this rather cheap looking compilation album is decent enough if all you want are the absolute essentials of one of the all-time greats of rock music. Odds are though, that after you’ve listened to this you’ll want to dig deeper…


Thin Lizzy: Still Dangerous (CD, 2009)


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THIN LIZZY still dangerousWith a title that’s an obvious play on the classic Lizzy live album Live And Dangerous, Still Dangerous is a live album recorded in 1977 at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia, USA, but first released over 30 years later in 2009. Being from the same tour as the live classic, this obviously features a lot of overlap in the tracklist, but also some tracks not present on Live And Dangerous. Overdubs in the studio or the authentic live recording? Beats me. Do I give a fuck? No.

With sharp, clear and powerful sound and the band in top form, this is pure gold from start to finish. Where Live And Dangerous was assembled from more than one concert, this focuses on one – although I’m not sure if this is the entire concert or if some tracks are omitted – but honestly, the difference isn’t that great. Highlights? Every single track.

An obvious fan product, Still Dangerous is far from an essential Lizzy item, but for fans of the band, this is a magnificent companion to the classic live album.

Thin Lizzy: Thunder And Lightning (CD, 1983)


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THIN LIZZY thunder and lightningFor what would turn out to be their last album, Irish hard rockers Thin Lizzy adopted a heavier, more metallic sound than ever before. Sure, the band had more than flirted with heavy metal in the past, but never quite to this degree on album length.

The title track, which opens the album, sets the tone: surprisingly fast for Thin Lizzy, with frantic vocals by legendary singer/bass player Phil Lynott, and sharp riffing. NWOBHM this ain’t, though; this is more reminiscent of the heavy metal of bands ten years prior. And it still sounds like Thin Lizzy.

Thin Lizzy were more than adequate headbangers when they decided to go that way. The highlight of the album, Cold Sweat, is ample proof of that; It’s nothing short of a classic Thin Lizzy tune with a memorable riff and a catchy though simplistic chorus, and a great vocal performance by Lynott. On the whole, though, this isn’t Thin Lizzy at their absolute best, partly because it doesn’t have those bluesy jammin’ tracks which allow the two guitarists (Scott Gorham and John Sykes on this album) to trade licks.

Still, in the end, if Lizzy realized their creative star was on the wane and decided to go out with one more album, Thunder And Lightning is a fine epitaph to one of the best hard rock bands ever. It’s not their best album, but it is a good album with some real highlights that closes their illustrious but also troubled career in good form.

Sadly, a mere three years later, leader Phil Lynott would be dead.

Thin Lizzy: Live And Dangerous (CD, 1978/1996)


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THIN LIZZY live and dangerous.jpgThin Lizzy’s first live album, Live And Dangerous from 1978, is from the classic era of the rock live album, and is a prime example of the classic live album: a good selection of tracks culled from a wide range of concerts, spirited performances with adequate sound… in essence, pretty much a “best of…” album, but with versions not available elsewhere, some even arguably better than their studio versions, eg. also a must-have for fans with all previous albums. Devious… but at least in the case of Live And Dangerous, true enough for the album to not be a rip-off.

It is also a prime example of the classic live album in the sense that there’s no telling how much of the album is actually live. It’s no secret that various bits and pieces of the album were later overdubbed in the studio, additional tracks recorded and the original live recording tampered with in general to improve the experience. Some say this is basically a studio album in the guise of a live album, whilst others claim the live recordings were tampered with minimally, only to eliminate some flaws resulting from fluctuating recording quality and/or playing errors and that it is still primarily live.

Who knows. But does it matter?

Maybe it did upon release. Maybe back in 1978, people had a right to demand a recording that was as live as possible, an authentic live recording. Maybe not. Today, 40 years later, it doesn’t matter at all. Live And Dangerous is classic as it is, studio overdubs and all. More than a testament of Thin Lizzy live, it is a testament of that era of rock music, of the classic live album, and of one of the best hard rock bands of the time. It’s become a staple and icon of rock music partially because of the “controversy” surrounding the authenticity of its live content.

But above all, its a blistering recording. In retrospect, it’s quite easy to say that whatever amount of studio overdubs were made, they were justified when the result is an album filled to the brim with this kind of energy. This really captures Thin Lizzy at their rip roaring best – whether it was achieved on stage or in studio. There’s the heavy rocking of  Jailbreak and The Rocker, but there’s also the laid back, relaxed rocking of Southbound and the semi-balladeering of Dancing In The Moonlight, one of Lizzy’s best songs ever. The album is reminder of that Thin Lizzy were not just hard rockers, they were capable of a wide range of expression.

Thin Lizzy were one of the coolest bands ever, at least during their best albums (you have to admit, there’s more than a few less-than-stellar albums in their discography), and Live And Dangerous captures them at their prime. Who gives a fuck if the recordings were retouched and recreated in the studio to capture that moment in time?


Thergothon: Stream From The Heavens (CD, 1994/2000)


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THERGOTHON stream from the heavensFuneral Doom. Now there’s a tough nut of a genre to crack. I once went to a doom metal festival in Helsinki, Finland, and there was a funeral doom band playing. This was a Friday evening after work, and I was after some good music, good company and a couple of beers. I have to tell you, I have rarely felt as claustrophobic and isolated from everything in the world as I was there, in that crowded, dark, hot club with that band playing. One chord seemed to take hours to finish, and it felt like every time the drum hit, I had downed a beer and ordered the next one. It was not a bad trip, it was a horrible trip. Funeral doom is not the kind of music you listen to because it’s nice, because it’s fun. Regular doom fits that, sure, even death/doom in its own rotten manner. But funeral doom… no. It’s the kind of music you listen to in bouts of alienation, isolation and exile.

The above has actually very little to do with Thergothon, because of course it wasn’t Thergothon who were playing. This gig was in 2009, and Thergothon split up in 1993. So short-lived and brief was the Finnish funeral doom pioneers’ career, that by the time their seminal debut (and sole) album was released, the band was no more. Band leader Jori Sjöroos would go on to greater commercial success with indie band Magenta Skycode and writing material for Finnish chart toppers PMMP.

But brief though their career was, and short their discography, the reverberations can still be felt in the extreme metal scene today. By 1994, doom-infused death (or the other way around) was nothing unheard of, but taking it to the extremes Thergothon did… that was. The drum beat is lurching at best, and the notes are painfully pulled from the guitar, allowed to linger and languish until they fade away, apparently with heavy use of a slow flanger/phaser effect to make them sound even muddier and more obscure. Laden with horror synths and wistful, demented guttural croaking (and the occasional not-too-on-key clean vocals), this does not make easy listening. Kind of like US doom/death pioneers Winter at 1/4 speed. This is the kind of music that can be excruciating to concentrate upon, but is somehow far too disturbing to have playing in the background. I return to the first paragraph: this is not something you listen to because it’s nice or fun or you enjoy it. In fact, I don’t think I really got this music before I went through depression and the self-isolation, alienation and emotional exile that leads to, the total mental estrangement from all things human. That’s what Thergothon sounds like.

Stream From The Heavens is not the music of doomsday or the apocalypse. It’s not the funeral dirge of a dragged-out burial. It’s not the despairing wailing of a mind falling apart. Stream From The Heavens is what comes after. The desolation after the end of everything, the nothingness that remains when you have lost everything. As uneasy and discomforting as that is, there is an unfamiliar sense of peace in it. Like there is in the dark bottom of the pits of depression, amid all the pain.

Fittingly, a lot of Thergothons’ lyrics dealt with the Lovecraftian Cthulhu Mythos. There’s not much cosmic horror here, no, but the estrangement and utterly alien nature of the world Lovecraft painted at his most poetic is contained here.

Stream From The Heavens is a classic, one of the foundations of funeral doom. Rightly so. It is a pretty unique and extremely powerful album, essential for anyone who has an interest in extreme metal. But it’s not something you’ll want to play every day or even every year. Maybe almost never. But it’s something that cannot be denied; when you’ve heard it, it’ll keep on reverberating.

Teddy And The Tigers: Golden Years – 42 Great Rockabilly Hits! (CD, 2005)


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TEDDY TIGERS golden yearsTeddy And The Tigers were a rather short-lived Finnish phenomenon, who were active for only a few years during the late 70’s, but during that time became one of the absolutely biggest Finnish bands of the time, who spearheaded the rockabilly revival boom that was sweeping the land alongside with punk rock – sometimes with quite violent results, as teddyboys and punks didn’t get along!

As on this two disc set, most of Teddy And The Tigers’ material consisted of rockabilly standards, with only a few original compositions thrown in for good measure. Their style is also quite true to the classic rockabilly sound, without any of the new wave or punk elements later groups, who moved into neobilly and psychobilly, would embrace. The most noticeable deviation from the standard recipe is the electric bass, which means there’s none of that sharp slapping, driving tone here.

In retrospect, it’s easy to say that there must have been a lot of being in the right place in the right time and getting the attention of the right people, because, frankly, on a purely musical level the trio led by Aikka Hakala weren’t quite fabulous. Some of the time they nail their stuff, at other times it sounds amateurishly clumsy. Especially singer-guitarist Hakala has considerable trouble staying in tune, resulting in a pretty bad mess here and there. And even when he stays on note, he’s not exactly the Elvis Presley of his generation.

But on the other hand, where Teddy and his Tigers might have been lacking in musical qualities here and there, they were undeniably two steps ahead of the (Finnish) competition when starting out: rockabilly was heavily coming into style, and here was a band that sounded, well, if not totally professional, then at least professional enough, with a set full of rockabilly classics the kids wanted to hear, and who could at least halfway emulate the hickuping singing of their idols. And if Aikka Hakala wasn’t quite Elvis Presley in levels of poster boy charisma, either, he looked good enough. So it’s really no wonder they hit it big, even if only for a few years.

Listening to this 42-track compilation, one can understand why the band became a national sensation in their time, but also why there wasn’t a chance in Hell they’d make it internationally – remember, the competition was artists like Crazy Cavan and Matchbox, far more professional and ambitious guys! – and why their career was bound to be short. Their style is rather narrowly defined to auld style pop-tinged rockabilly, and not much more. And indeed, when they tried their hand at a more r’n’b style sound on what was to be their final album before a short comeback in the 2000’s, it didn’t sell nearly as much as previous albums.

For those who were there, and have lost their original vinyls, this release is probably 100 minutes of pure nostalgia. For the rest of us, this is an interesting piece of Finnish rockabilly history, endearing in its clumsiness and important because of the people it inspired.

Skyclad: Jonah’s Ark (CD, 1993)


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skyclad-jonahs-arkBy the time British folk metallers Skyclad had come to their third album, the thrash roots of the band were but a memory, whilst the initially sparsely used folk elements were rising to ever greater prominence in the sound; they had even added a full time violin/keyboard player to the line-up. So now the band had become what they are most famous as: one of the, if not the first folk metal band in the world.

In other aspects the band had also matured to be what they are most known and loved as; for one, vocalist Martin Walkyier’s lyrics tackled more directly socio-political themes with his trademark acerbic wit and clever wordplay. One cannot really stress how integral the intelligent and witty yet also memorable and catchy lyrics are/were to the charm of Skyclad. And all delivered with Walkyier’s equally trademark hoarse, slightly lisping voice, although the shouted thrash stylings were a thing of the past here.

However, as with quite many of their albums, Skyclad have padded the good songs with fillers and far less interesting tracks, and on Jonah’s Ark, there’s a filler for every memorable track, and as such it has no place among their best albums. Still, when Skyclad hit the sweet spot, like on opener Thinking Allowed and the hight point of the album, Earth Mother, The Sun And The Furious Host, the results are nothing short of classic.

A decent album, but one that pales in comparison to what would follow in the next years…