Thin Lizzy - 'Bad Reputation' / 'Black Rose' / 'Chinatown' (Deluxe Editions)

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Thin Lizzy - 'Bad Reputation' / 'Black Rose' / 'Chinatown' (Deluxe Editions)

New expanded 'Deluxe' versions of classic Thin Lizzy albums.

Only a matter of months ago the expanded 'Deluxe' versions of 'Jailbreak', 'Johnny The Fox' and 'Live And Dangerous' were released (click here to read the Rocktopia review), coinciding with a short UK tour of the new line-up, so it's quite an expensive time for Thin Lizzy fans. The latest batch of re-issues includes the 'Chinatown' album that first got me interested in the band back in 1980 (courtesy of the 'Killer On The Loose' single). 'Bad Reputation' and 'Black Rose' have been available in a re-mastered format for some time but the bonus content was an incentive to add them to my collection, despite the fact I owned versions of them on CD already. This is the first time 'Chinatown' has been re-mastered for CD release.

When it came time to record the 'Bad Reputation' album in 1977, Thin Lizzy found themselves down to a three piece for the first time since Eric Bell was still the guitarist in the band. Brian Robertson's fiery temperament and knack for finding trouble meant he lost out on a prestigious tour of the U.S. supporting Queen, his place taken by Gary Moore to rave reviews. Moore declined to take part in the 'Bad Reputation' sessions so, much to his apprehension, Scott Gorham had the unenviable task of playing all the guitar parts himself. Though Robertson would return to add some overdubs and one or two solos, by then the record was pretty much done. He was essentially welcomed back to bolster the ranks in time to take to the road once more. The songs on 'Bad Reputation' would prove to be some of Lizzy's best despite no writing input from Robertson. The blistering title track and rampant 'Opium Trail' pull no punches in terms of musical aggression and hard edged lyrics, but are complimented nicely by the laid back 'Southbound' and melancholic 'Downtown Sundown'. The mini epic 'Soldier Of Fortune' features some trademark Lynott lyrics, projecting a romantic picture of war, whilst the poppy overtones of 'Dancing In The Moonlight' had so much commercial quality it would be selected as the first single.

The bonus material on this expanded edition is rather weak to be honest, and will only really have any sort of appeal to fans or completists. We get five of the album's songs recorded for a BBC session, which add little to the existing studio versions, and a sound-check run through of 'Me And The Boys'. 'Bad Reputation' was released during a time when the British musical climate was going through something of an identity crisis. The punk movement was in full flow (much to Lynott's joy), competing for air time against some of the more established pop artists such as Abba, meaning that a Top Five UK position for Lizzy was no mean achievement. The seminal 'Live And Dangerous' double LP made its appearance in 1978 but when it was time to hit the studio again (if they didn't spend time in the studio for the live album!) an enforced personnel change actually dictated the direction the new material would take.

Gary Moore's return to the ranks tilted the balance back in an Irish direction and shaped the 'Black Rose' songs accordingly. It was a very busy period in the band's career (both Lynott and Moore were also in the process of creating solo albums) yet this increased activity hindered the production of the new album very little. The most serious problem during that time was the extensive use of drugs by both Lynott and Gorham, and though the Californian would eventually kick his habit, it would be an issue with the enigmatic frontman during the rest of his life. In terms of chart position 'Black Rose' would be the most successful Thin Lizzy album (reaching the dizzy heights of #2) yet would be the only one that Moore would record with the band. His tenure would last a mere 9 months, but his contribution, both as a songwriter and guitarist, is undeniable and helped maintain a period of success that started several years earlier with the 'Jailbreak' LP.

The record contains such a diverse collection of songs, yet when analysed as a whole everything seems to flow nicely and several tracks were selected to be released as singles. 'Do Anything You Want To' is a great opener (complete with Lynott's Elvis Presley impersonation and Brian Downey's kettle drum intro), and 'Waiting For An Alibi' contains a jaw dropping Moore solo. 'Sarah' would probably have been more suited to Lynott's solo album but still finishes what would have been the original side one of the LP with an impassioned vocal performance. To this day I still rate the likes of 'Toughest Street In Town', 'S&M' and 'Get Out Of Here' as the 'Black Rose' weak links, but that is simply due to the high quality of the rest of the material. 'Got To Give It Up', a Gorham/Lynott composition, could almost be regarded as a cry for help, but the powerful subject matter is wrapped up in a well crafted song and would prove to be a live favourite for years to come. The lengthy title track stands out on first listen and is an ode to Moore & Lynott's Irish heritage. The singer's ad-libs reference everything from Oscar Wilde and James Joyce to Van Morrison and George Best during a lengthy running time, and the lead guitar interplay is stunning, comparable at times to Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Freebird'.

This deluxe edition contains a bonus disc (10 tracks) and though some of the material has been available for many years, it makes a fine album simply essential. The Nassau sessions sound very laid back and the extensive use of harmonica gives the likes of 'With Love' and 'Black Rose' an added dimension. 'Rockula a.k.a (Rock Your Love)' is a previously unreleased track, and 'Cold Black Night' from the sessions is also something of a rarity. 'A Night In The Life Of A Blues Singer' simply drips with emotion and contains some excellent lead breaks and fills. 'Just The Two Of Us' was the original b-side to the 'Do Anything You Want To' single, whilst the great slow version of 'Don't Believe a Word', featuring both Moore and Lynott on vocals, could have gone on so much longer for me. Paul Elliott's extensive sleeve notes enhance this package further, paying tribute to Moore himself and detailing the making of the record with some Gorham asides. Gary Moore would travel to America with Thin Lizzy for a new tour to promote 'Black Rose', but halfway through simply decided to leave the band in light of the increasing drug demands of both Gorham and primarily Lynott.

Though Midge Ure filled in on guitar for the rest of the U.S. tour, with Manfred Mann's Dave Flett completing the 1979 schedule, 1980 dawned with yet another Lizzy guitarist........Snowy White from the Pink Floyd touring band. In fact Snowy White wasn't the only addition. During the recording of the 'Chinatown' LP seventeen year old Darren Wharton became a full time member, his keyboards becoming an integral part of the Lizzy sound for the final few years of the band's existence. Back in 1980 many rock bands seemed to be enjoying levels of success. Rainbow, Whitesnake and Gillan all seemed to have songs in the singles charts, so I guess it was no real surprise that Thin Lizzy would follow suit. They'd already made several appearances on Top Of The Pops, but when 'Killer On The Loose' was released and found it's way into the charts, I think eyebrows were raised, mainly because it was such a powerful driving rock song with an infectious riff, but also due to the controversial subject matter of the lyrics. Though I was familiar with some of the older material (who didn't know 'Boys Are Back In Town' or 'Don't Believe A Word') I wasn't what you'd call a fan. Rainbow and Deep Purple formed my staple musical diet (along with Abba) so when I first heard 'Killer On The Loose' I just had to investigate further. The double pack 7" single also contained the song 'Don't Play Around' (a non-album track) as well as live versions of 'Chinatown' and 'Got To Give It Up'. I still have that single pack but all the aforementioned songs are included here on the bonus disc. In fact the bonus disc on this expanded deluxe edition is a veritable treasure trove of previously released live material gathered together for the first time. 

Snowy White's natural blues/jazz style actually suited the 'new' Lizzy sound, and though he could possibly be regarded as less charismatic than Robertson or Moore, it was a good idea to have a more reliable player alongside Gorham, especially since the drug issues were still a major concern. Some would regard the 'Chinatown' LP as weak when compared with the likes of 'Jailbreak' or even the previous year's 'Black Rose', but being my first full length purchase I have a real soft spot for it, and since its arrival through my door I've played it far more than the other two re-issues. Once more light and shade is provided by the likes of the atmospheric title track, the boogie shuffle of 'Sugar Blues' (both tracks containing some blistering guitar work), the sublimely subtle 'Didn't I' and the politically inspiring 'Genocide (The Killing Of The Buffalo)'. Despite his substance abuse Phil's performance and writing was as good as ever. Though the 'hits' weren't as prominent as they had been in the past, it's evident from the soundcheck tracks included as bonus material here that in the live environment they still cut the mustard. The second disc also includes live versions of 'Are You Ready' and 'Dear Miss Lonely Hearts', which formed part of the 'Killers live EP', though the version of 'Bad Reputation' (also included as part of that EP and featuring a lengthy Downey drum solo) is conspicuous by its absence.

Disc 2 of this deluxe edition contains a whopping fifteen tracks, making it great value for money despite its muted standing amongst some Lizzy fans amidst such a considerable canon of work.

To be honest I'd have bought these three releases regardless of the circumstances behind their creation, just for the bonus material, a lot of which I wasn't familiar with. 'Renegade' and 'Thunder & Lightning' are yet to receive the 're-master' treatment so I hope their 'deluxe' editions can live up to my current expectations.

Dave Bott

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