The spandex has lost some of its cool, but the songs fare much better.
Kevin Le Gendre 2010-12-31
The sight of the late Phil Lynott, slumped on his knees, bass raised rifle-like, spandex strides and studded belt given a lightning sheen by a stadium spotlight is both grand rock iconography and cliché. To the faithful, it is a potent encapsulation of the visceral power of the genre. To the faithless, it is a sign of macho posture overriding artistic ambition.
The truth is more complex than that push-button polarization. Said image graced the sleeve of the 1978 Live and Dangerous album, a compilation of London and Toronto gigs that confirmed that bassist-lead vocalist Lynott and guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson were in the pop premiership thanks to major hits like The Boys Are Back in Town. The set is re-issued as part of a batch that also counts Jailbreak and Johnny the Fox, both cut in 1976 – it is the latter that really makes the point that Lynott and fellow Lizzyers could do more than bash out power chords and a screaming chorus, as can be the norm in headbanger central.
Johnny the Fox showcased through pieces like Old Flame and Sweet Marie Lynott’s gifts as a romanticist songwriter who drew on the ballad vocabulary of both Jimi Hendrix and Fleetwood Mac, and also mixed in some of the Celtic folk inherent to his Irish heritage. What is just as compelling is the backbeat-heavy, sampleadelic fare that was crafted elsewhere, notably the title-track, which has the kind of taut, bass drum-led stomp and clenched, curt wah-wah licks that serve as a reminder that funk and rock comprise the opposite side of the same coin as the blues.
Thin Lizzy’s tight grip on these forms was enhanced by economic, sharply focused improvising and rhythm playing. But first and foremost their work endures because in Lynott they had a grand personality with a dazzlingly effective voice. His cigarette-stained growl was softened by a floating sensitivity and tendency to hover patiently over the beat rather than crashing right on top of it. Perhaps the spandex has lost some of its cool. The songs fare much better.