Monday, July 15, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1281: Thin Lizzy

It feels like once a week someone wants to recommend a podcast to me. I’m sure there are plenty that I’d like but the truth is when I have a free half an hour to plug in and forget the world, I want that time for music. And this singularity of focus allows me to find the time I need to fuel this little Odyssey I’m on. Shall we…?

Disc 1281 is… Nightlife
Artist: Thin Lizzy

Year of Release: 1974

What’s up with the Cover? A black panther stalks the city. This cover would make a bitchin’ painting for the side of a seventies panel fan.

How I Came to Know It: My friend Spence put my on to Thin Lizzy. Spence has a great ear and while we don’t agree on all music, if he vouches for a band, more often than not they are worth a listen. Thanks, Spence for bringing so much good music into my life!

“Nightlife” was an album I liked from the beginning but proved hard to find. I finally got this double album re-issue (with a bunch of bonus content I could have lived without) within the last couple of years.

How It Stacks Up:  I have 10 Thin Lizzy albums and “Nightlife” is one of the best. I’ll rank it 3rd.

Ratings: 4 stars

If you are looking for the window of time when Thin Lizzy were at their greatest, that window opens with “Nightlife”. It isn’t that previous albums like “Vagabonds of the Western World” don’t have their charm, but “Nightlife” is the beginning of something magical.

Not coincidentally, “Nightlife” is also the first album to feature the twin guitar talents of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. Whatever particular alchemy these two brought to the band’s music, it clearly works. Together, they bring a soaring, anthemic quality to the album, with solos that take you on whimsical emotional journey but never fail to serve the melodic structure of the song. I was favourably reminded of Blue Oyster Cult’s Buck Dharma.

Underpinning all that tasteful guitar is Phil Lynott’s bass, which is arguably his best work on any Thin Lizzy record. The groove is amazing and the bass is forward in the mix but manages to avoid being intrusive. Settle in and let it move you with classic riffs like on “It’s Only Money” and “Showdown”. If you want a break, switch your focus back to the Gorham/Robertson guitar or Lynott’s silky smooth vocals. Even drummer Brian Downey gets love on this record, including a furious solo that adds to the adrenaline thumping intensity of “Sha-La-La”.

While there are other may slightly edge out “Nightlife” in overall song quality, I am hard pressed to think of one where the sheer quality of the playing is as superb.

Lyrically, these songs tell simple stories of love and desire, as lived by street hustlers and the down-and-out. “She Knows” is ostensibly about a woman’s love, but my read of this song is Lynott’s prayer to Mother Mary to save him from his frailties and addictions. “It’s Only Money” is about old fashioned penury, and how it strips you of opportunity and faith in God alike and “Showdown” features two rival gangs, driven to violence over the allure of a woman.

Despite their subject matter, these songs all have a triumphant groove to them that makes you want to drive fast and stand tall. They are proud songs for characters that often have little else but pride at the end of the day. Despite all this, Lynott challenges you not to look down on these folks, but just to appreciate them for who they are, and maybe even admire their fortitude.

Above all else, “Nightlife” is a slice of musical genius that inexplicably never achieved commercial success. Fortunately, here on the CD Odyssey I don’t give a whit about how many records you sell – I’m just looking for the best music there is. “Nightlife” is a sublime combination of songwriting and musical excellence as good as anything from the golden age of rock and roll that was the mid-seventies.

Best tracks: She Knows, Night Life, It’s Only Money, Showdown, Sha-La-La, Dear Heart

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