Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak Music Album Reviews

Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit Thin Lizzy’s greatest album, one that embodies the myth and grandeur of classic rock.

You don’t have to be a boy to be one of the boys. All you need are good times, good friends, and the kind of self-acceptance that comes with looking around knowingly and nodding in appreciation. When you hang with the boys, there’s a bunch that gets said, but there’s a bunch more that goes without saying—that you’re leaving your worries behind, that this right here, being with the boys, this is the real living, and everything else is what you navigate to get here. It feels good to be with the boys. You lose yourself a little bit, sitting in your camp chair or at some wooden picnic table or in the corner booth of your local bar and grill. You feel a little bit bigger, too.
Thin Lizzy singer Phil Lynott seemed like he felt this way even when nobody was around. He always believed he was a superstar, and on the song that finally proved it, he swells with the feeling of what’s coming. “The Boys Are Back in Town” is a romantic proclamation, Lynott the grinning town crier with a pack of cigs tucked into his shirt sleeve who sings with the pluck of someone who thinks this time, he might join them. Guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson crack open the song with a thunderous chord and they sign their names to the chorus in battery acid, twin-tagging it with a heroic pride and triumphant humor that makes them sound like John Williams scoring Woody Woodpecker. The danger is totally theatrical, mostly theoretical. The boys want to fight each other for the girls, the girls aren’t all that impressed, and this is all happening where? A place called Dino’s Bar and Grill. It’s pure romance, pure bullshit, exactly the kind of story you tell over a pint, knowing and not caring how stupid it sounds. It’s a perfect rock’n’roll song.

Like many songs of its era, “The Boys Are Back in Town” evangelizes the poseur myth of rock’n’roll: It wants you to believe that the music can whisk you away from who you actually are. On Jailbreak—their most focused, most confident album—Thin Lizzy’s unwavering belief in their power as a band and the simple joy they get from playing together is so strong, it nearly makes the legend feel like it’s worth believing in, no matter if you know how all of these stories pan out. Who wouldn’t want to feel this free, even if the freedom dies the moment the record’s over?

Despite the persistence of “The Boys Are Back in Town,” the reputation of Thin Lizzy in the U.S. is that they don’t have a reputation. While they stayed on the UK charts longer, reaching their highest mark with 1979’s Black Rose: A Rock Legend, they flamed out in 1983; Lynott himself passed away three years later, his body severely ravaged by a heroin addiction. He and Lizzy left behind an uneven but greatly rewarding discography whose fingerprints can be seen in the needling harmonies of everyone from Prince to Iron Maiden to 311 to Ratatat. Nick Lowe not only aped Thin Lizzy in “So It Goes,” he set the song’s first verse at one of their gigs. Henry Rollins claimed they were “streetwise as any punk could hope to be,” which made Lynott, Gorham, and drummer Brian Downey the most authentically punk members of their short-lived supergroup the Greedies with Paul Cook and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols. They’re probably the only band to have the same song covered by Titus Andronicus, Belle and Sebastian, the Cardigans, and Huey Lewis and the News. And in their home country of Ireland, Lynott is revered as a poet and cherished son. He is beloved in a way that perhaps no other Irish rock star has ever been. They built a statue of him in the middle of Dublin. There are no statues of Bono anywhere.

Lynott and Downey began Thin Lizzy in 1969 as a power trio that also included guitarist Eric Bell, an alum of Van Morrison’s Them. Together they put out three strong but poorly selling records in the early 1970s and had a novelty hit with their version of the traditional Irish song “Whiskey in the Jar.” From the age of 7, Lynott had been raised by his grandmother in Dublin while his mother lived in Manchester, and when Bell and his successor Gary Moore left the band in rapid succession in 1974, he hired Gorham and Robertson partly to appease his fear of abandonment.

This is not speculation. Lynott was explicit about his reasons for bringing on the two guitarists: “The next time one of those cunts walks out there will be another one there,” he told the band’s former manager Brian Tuite, as related to Graeme Thomson in his biography of Lynott, Cowboy Song. In addition to the added security, the twin-guitar attack brought a new sense of purpose to Thin Lizzy’s songwriting. While recording Fighting in 1975, the two guitarists—one a laid- back Californian, the other a hard-drinking Scotsman—would figure out how to braid their disparate styles together. Robertson and an engineer had been playing around with super-short delays in the studio, allowing the guitarist to accompany himself. Gorham overheard and they began experimenting with playing in tandem. While the Allman Brothers had been knitting tight harmonies for years, the stripped-down simplicity of Lynott’s hard rock songs put Gorham and Robertson’s playing in the center of the frame. The metallic glint of the guitars gave the new Thin Lizzy a sparkling chrome finish.

Primed by the experience of Fighting and ready to record again, Lynott honed in on the core of what he was experiencing on stage, where he found himself in command of huge crowds of teenage boys who were ready to rumble at his command. He had always composed songs about dashing loners scheming on the outskirts of society, but he was now making a conscious effort to dress his characters in black leather and chains. “When you reach the age of 14 or 18, you suddenly find strength that you’ve never had before,” he explained to an interviewer. The lifelong devotee of Van Morrison and Jimi Hendrix was now in search of something to do with the power he received on stage, something greasier than his idols, something less transcendent and more connected to the crusty highway life Steppenwolf touted in “Born to Be Wild.”

Despite his efforts and the atomic thrust of Gorham and Robertson, Lynott never quite gets there on Jailbreak, to the album’s tremendous benefit. The band is simply too happy, too taken by how much they enjoy what they’re doing—both the music they were making and the way it allowed them to see themselves—for the power and aggression of these songs to come across as truly dangerous or liberating. When the band added Gorham and Robertson and changed their direction, Thomson writes, “[there] was a tenderness, a starry-eyed innocence and adventurism that did not wholly survive.” This is true, but what did survive of that original sweetness makes Jailbreak a hard rock album like no other. In effect, it turned the band into something like professional wrestlers working the circuit—the muscles they flex are real, the fights themselves aren’t, and they can still feel the humming in their bodies for days afterward.

They knew how to use this to their artistic advantage. On its surface, the title track serves as a warning shot, the cry before the battle: “Tonight there’s gonna be trouble,” Lynott promises. It’s tough-guy shit, but it’s impossible to believe. All four of them are strutting, making a show of how easily they can control their power. This swagger—the knowingness of it, how plainly they telegraph their pleasure—is absurd; escaping prison has never sounded less risky. The original Thin Lizzy played with David Bowie and Slade, and Lynott’s experience observing expert showmen up close, as well as the band’s own connection with their audience, let them embrace the absurdity of living one’s life as a rock star. It’s a trait they shared with ZZ Top, and it’s what makes Lynott as irresistible on “Jailbreak” as Billy Gibbons is on “La Grange.” He’s clearly having a ball, savoring the posture of the chorus as he leans deep into the words “Don’t you be around,” practically cooing for the listener in a way that is anything but threatening. He obviously wants you to be around.

American critics ignorant of Lizzy’s back catalog heard Lynott’s alternately yawping and dewy vocals and assumed they were stolen from Bruce Springsteen, who had released Born to Run only months before Jailbreak. In reality, they were simply drawing from the same source. Both singers nicked their style from Van Morrison, who approached both a song’s meter and its melody as something he could drape his voice across and twirl around. You can hear it as Lynott rounds into the second verse of “Romeo and the Lonely Girl,” when he suddenly belts himself off track, his voice nearly breaking as he vamps near the high end of his range. It’s as though what he’s singing means so much to him that the restrictions of a rock song, even a loose Celtic boogie like this one, can’t contain it; he simply has to break the rules to make you understand how he feels. When he’s at his hammiest—rhyming “Romeo” with “out on his own-ee-oh,” say—you still feel close to him.

Lynott pulls this trick over and over again on Jailbreak, and it works every time, especially when he clearly doesn’t believe what he’s saying. Whether he’s reassuring a former lover on the sax-laced power-pop of “Running Back” or throttling the word “Lord” as “Cowboy Song” rises to a canter and he ruminates on “a certain female,” he flat-out refuses to sound lonely or contrite. He sings with relish, soaking in the intensity of the memories while keeping his eyes on whatever’s next. It’s consequence-free music, total fantasy, and he knows you’re OK with that.

Lynott enjoyed a reputation as a poetic lyricist, and his rakishness has an air about it that is popularly associated with poetry, or maybe just with poets: He implies a self-contained sensuality, a somewhat tragic devotion to love, a presumed dedication to deeper things. Put another way: He was a little pretentious. It’s certainly a way of saying that his lyrics were usually decent at best, but that pretension makes him a compelling figure; it gives these songs a charge they would lack in hands that weren’t so silky.

Still, Lynott’s suavity sometimes failed him. The son of an Irish mother and an Afro-Guyanese father, he strongly identified as an Irishman—Jailbreak’s “Emerald” is but one of the many odes to ancient Celtic lore that dot Thin Lizzy’s discography—but in 1976 he seemed unsure of what it meant to be a Black person in a very white rock’n’roll context. “American Black artists all seem to be rolling their eyes and wearing suits,” he told Rolling Stone’s Patrick Snyder before lamenting the apparent dearth of “rebellious ones.” “I’d like them to feel they can play rock and roll if they want to,” he added.

His attempts to write about his Blackness were similarly ambivalent. “Fight or Fall,” which already has the unfortunate luck of being stuck between “The Boys Are Back in Town” and the bucking “Cowboy Song,” oscillates between a need to stand together with Black folks and Lynott’s insistence that he’s “not that way inclined.” It’s the quietest song on Jailbreak, and while the closing shout of “Brothers, we gotta fight for one another!” could be read as pat, it comes across as an authentic attempt by the singer to navigate between his identities as a Black man and an Irishman. “I’m very proud of being a Brother. Don’t get me wrong,” he told NME in 1977. “But I think that there are a lot of people like Stevie Wonder [who are] more apt than me to put it across.” By staying true to that reticence, “Fight or Fall” is probably the closest Lynott gets to exposing himself on this record.

Disclosure, social responsibility, idealism: These are not Jailbreak’s values. But the album does speak clearly about who Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy were, what they desired, and how they felt. Put aside the swashbuckling lyric and the serrated guitars, and “The Boys Are Back in Town” is Jailbreak at its most tender. Downey serves up a soft shuffle in the verses, while Robertson and Gorham fill the song with minor-key chords that turn the action back in on itself, their regret and vulnerability complicating the good cheer of Lynott’s vocal. The lyrics obviously aren’t sincere in their violence, but the boys’ battle royale isn’t quite camp, either; yes, he sings like he knows he’ll be running off soon, but there’s something sad in the sundown way Lynott emphasizes the word “again” when he sings the chorus for the last time. It makes you wonder what life was like when the boys weren’t around.

Lynott was attempting to write an American song—it started life as “Here in Dallas,” then became “G.I. Joe Is Back”—and he was struck by the bar and grills he saw on tour the way an American in Ireland might be struck by the pubs. Though Thomson suggests it may have been influenced by the legitimate scumminess of the Rainbow Bar and Grill on the Sunset Strip, the reference to Dino’s Bar and Grill nevertheless makes it sound like this song takes place in a Chili’s. And that one quirk does make it feel American to its core, though not in the way that Lynott intended. Coupled with the guitarists’ trick chords, it softens the song, makes it more palatable. It lets us all in on the joke: that rebellion isn’t really rebellion when it’s this agreeable. It’s not a hard rock song; it’s simply pretending to be one. And in that way, “The Boys Are Back in Town” has become the kind of song that could be played ad nauseam in any suburban bar and grill in the U.S., just another small part of the American experience.

This is the rock’n’roll life for most people who survive it: cashing checks for songs you wrote decades ago, struggling to balance adulthood with the demands of your livelihood. It becomes a job like any other job, defined by decisions you made before you were old enough to be trusted to make them well. Lynott lived long enough to see his star begin to fade as the punks who embraced him gave way to new wavers who didn’t. Thin Lizzy’s influence on metal and hard rock was already apparent, but his days at the center of the culture were over even before the band broke up. For a time, he was reduced to playing pubs and hotels back in Ireland, often to minuscule crowds.

Jailbreak did prove that Lynott was right to think of himself as a superstar, at least for a little while. But the smoke and lightning and leather that got him there eventually overtook him. “He got wrapped up in the suit you’re supposed to wear as a rock star,” former bandmate Midge Ure said. In his finest moment, though, just before he was overtaken by the version of himself that had swelled in the spotlight, he and his boys managed to capture everything that’s beautiful and good about rock’n’roll, and none of its ugly truth.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak Music Album Reviews Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on January 17, 2021 Rating: 5


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