Thin Lizzy Chinatown review

Before I begin this review, I’d like to give a big shout out to Mr. Martin Popoff for writing the amazing Fighting My Way Back: Thin Lizzy ’69-76. I always pop over to www.thinlizzyguide.com (the most comprehensive Lizzy fansite on the net, so much so the band gave them a thank you credit on the recently released Thin Lizzy At The BBC box set) to see what’s cooking, and there Popoff’s book just jump kicked me in the face, and the next thing I knew it was sitting on my doorstep. It’s a bitingly forthright account of Phil Lynott’s first years as a rocker in Dublin with Skid Row all the way to Lizzy’s smash hit record Jailbreak. It features yesteryear and current interviews with the band, management, crew, friends, producers, A&R, and the kitchen sink- basically, whatever the fuck that made the Lizzy three-ring circus go, so it’s rock n’ roll histrionics straight from the horse’s mouth, and I can’t wait for part two! BUY IT NOW MOTHERFUCKERS!!!

ThinLizzy-Chinatown(HQ)-Front

In Putterford’s book, The Rocker, longtime Lizzy manager Chris O’Donnell called Chinatown “Absolute garbage, and when Phil brought in a keyboard player for Renegade, that was it for me,” he groans. “A once brilliant band was turning into a pile of crap before my eyes.”

You can’t blame his brutality. Renegade was such an abysmal failure Lizzy was bankrupt at that point, the album reaching #38 on the UK charts, no promo videos made, the singles went nowhere (especially the infamous Trouble Boys cover that was dropped from the album altogether), Scott Gorham collapsed in Portugal due to heroin withdrawal and was forced back home, and Snowy White and O’Donnell bailed by the conclusion of the tour.

BUT the luck of the Irish chimed in for Chinatown, going #7 in the UK charts, racking up Lizzy a nice silver record, the single Killer on the Loose slotted in at #10 on the UK charts, and two promo videos were shot both directed by David Mallet (director of The Kenny Everett Video Show where both Lizzy and The Greedy Bastards made appearances). The silver record was highly deserved, three stars out of five. Why so harsh? Consider the conditions it was recorded under: heroin abuse by Phil and Scott for the past year-and-a-half, Phil’s lyricism was faltering due to constant touring stress and abrupt lifestyle change (marriage to Caroline Crowther on Valentine’s Day ’80 that quickly produced two daughters while Phil philandered), the mellow blues guitarist Snow White’s assimilation into the band, simultaneous production of Chinatown with Phil’s solo album Solo in Soho by novice producer Kit Woolven (an unsung hero during the Bad Reputation, Live and Dangerous and Black Rose eras as he served at Tony Visconti’s engineer), and Phil’s abject laziness when recording his lyrics.

Snowy White in Alan Byrne’s Thin Lizzy: Soldiers of Fortune: “A lot of the Chinatown album was made up in the studio, especially Phil’s lyrics. He used to leave his lyrics until the very last minute then light up a spliff and head for the vocal booth and sing off the top of his head. Because he was such a perfectionist he was always changing things and thus it was very time consuming, delaying the album release even more.”

Jerome Rimson: “I watched him record most of the Chinatown and Solo in Soho albums standing at a microphone and making up the words as he went along, and while he was singing there was a full blown party going on in the control room. Just think of it fifteen or twenty people in the control room raging while he’s in the vocal booth trying to rescue these albums.”

The album was recorded between April and August 1980 (a whopping FIVE fucking months before surfacing in October ’80!) at Good Earth Studios in Soho near London’s Chinatown. No doubt dragon-chasing and eating take-aways had some influence on Phil. The sad thing was, Lizzy was back on the grinding tour treadmill in May to break in Snowy as soon as his Pink Floyd contract was up and the quiet introduction of Darren Wharton for the band’s new keyboard section. Not to affront Darren, but I don’t think he was/is suitable for Thin Lizzy. I know Midge Ure played a role in that (him being part of the preposterous Lizzy lineup when Gary Moore split in July ’79 during the disastrous American leg of the Black Rose tour) considering he was a member of the prissy synth-pop band Ultravox (Vienna was single of the year at the ’81 Brit Awards making Ure a kajillionaire. Then he and Geldof teamed up for ’85’s Live Aid that made them media moguls but hasn’t done a damn thing for Ethiopia proving you shouldn’t give to “charities” that add to the problems of third world countries where corruption and and war are endemic, and poverty is ingrained into the culture- oh yeah, and they didn’t invite Thin Lizzy or Phil because according to Geldof “they weren’t that big”) but keyboards just didn’t give any real texture to Thin Lizzy’s sound, and at times I found them quite annoying, in Thunder and Lightning particularly. I know Phil was trying to change with the times, but he was failing at it. And NOBODY had the balls to give it to him straight (or were high out of their fucking heads). Another problem was the release of Lynott’s Solo in Soho album one month prior to Chinatown. This could’ve been the catalyst for Lizzy fans’ cool reception of the new material, and after listening to it on You Tube, I can’t blame them. The only (Lizzy-like) song I liked was Dear Miss Lonely Hearts (co-written by Jimmy Bain). Whatever the Phonogram A&R guys were smoking was probably responsible for the thought that King’s Call would be a hit. Now I’m not a real Dire Straits fan, but Mark Knopfler is too much of a straight man to play off Lynott’s rocker personae. If I were around at this period, I wouldn’t know what to make of shit either. Soho put a big fucking damper on the hard rockin’ hellraiser myth Phil created for himself. I’m not against musicians branching out, but not when your current award-winning formula is still being marketed. Cases in point, the Kiss solo albums being quite crap, and Freddie Mercury’s Mr. Bad Guy didn’t sell to me either.

Now we all need a good rock anthem as part of the “soundtrack of our lives” (Dick Clark, aren’t you dead yet? UPDATE: Dick Clark, November 30, 1929 – April 18, 2012. He lived up to his name), and We Will Be Strong is a hell of an anthemic rock song! What I will not accept is it being compared to Do Anything You Want To. The lyrics are weaker, and it’s just plain telling of the tragedy that would unfold over the next six years. I feel that Johnny the Fox was playing Philo’s mind and he was sticking to the script for image sakes. What I conjure up is a prematurely aging man shaking his fist to the heavens, thunderously proclaiming his last stand as his friends drape his arms around their necks to drag his broken, bleeding body away from a street fight that wasn’t meant to be won.

Now the album’s title track was hella slammin’! Thanks to Snowy, this blues rock riff-filled track has monster White hot licks that lash out. While Byrne describes Phil’s lyrics going between the “banal and lunatic”, I think he needed to delve into that sinister part of himself (and Thin Lizzy)- and if he visited it more often he might be still with us today. The promo is shit hot, but you could tell scary things were going on behind the scenes. Phil put on a few pounds, was stubbly-cheeked (as was Scott- for dramatic affect), and sweating like fuck! I know the band spent ten hours on the specially built set at Molinare Studios, and you melt under those hot-ass lights, but his menacing look fit the ambiance of the song. Brian Downey blasted away on those drums working them for all they were worth. Scott waved the Lizzy flag with gusto sexually assaulting his audience with a siren wailing solo, ushering in his brand new ’80s stage act that I dubbed “The Scott Gorham Russian Knee Dance Piss Take.” Don’t believe me, go watch their Rockpalast performance on You Tube! The only drawback was Snowy. Poor Snowy. For the playback (what a bitch!) “performances” that I’ve seen of Chinatown, he pushes himself too damn hard, and at times appears woefully wooden. I can’t help but think that that (along with time constraints) played a part in the too-early fade out on Lizzy’s usual TOTP stop.

Sweetheart is my guilty pleasure. Think of the thickest, heaviest, syrupiest slice of ice cream cake splattered on your plate at your best friend’s birthday cookout in 90-plus degree heat, ruining that Baby Phat blouse that was screaming at you in Burlington Coat Factory. It’s the kind of pop that almost doesn’t want me to murder Bon Jovi or those Irish jokes known as Bob Geldof and Bono. The thing is, I just don’t know what the fuck Phil is talking about. If you could decipher this, drop me a line in the comment section.

If I was to stand in a general election
Would you tell me about your close inspection
And how I never stood for detection
Or would you take another man?
If I told you I had the solution to starvation
All the nations would be their own salvation
And those that lead us lead us not into temptation
Or they pick another man?

Sweetheart
It’s affecting me
Sweetheart
It’s so effective
Sweetheart
Do you detect in me
A sacred sweetheart

If I told you about my plan would you believe me?
This is my body, my blood, would you receive me?
Or would you be the first to deceive me
And take another man

If I told you that I’m not the man to worry
Would you believe me when I said I was really sorry?
Or would you rush off in a hurry to take another man?

Sweetheart
Disconnect from me
Sweetheart
You have got no respect for me
Sweetheart
It’s affecting me
My sacred sweetheart

And when you’re troubled and when you’re ill
You know I’ll help, I always will
And when you’re troubled and really down
You know I’ll always be around
And when you’re troubled and really broke
There is hope, there’s hope, there’s hope

Sweetheart
It’s affecting me
Sweetheart
You’ve got no respect for me
Sweetheart
It’s so effective
My sacred sweetheart
Sweetheart
Disconnect
Sweetheart
It’s so effective
Sweetheart
It’s affecting me
My sacred sweetheart
Sweetheart
Sweetheart
Sweetheart

Killer on the Loose… am I the only Thin Lizzy fan that hates this song simply for the fact that it and it’s video is stupid? Now pop culture has been the scapegoat for society’s ills since time immemorial. The bunch of bitchy church ladies who get their rocks off of minding everybody else’s business condemning the song and Lizzy as proponents of serial killer Stuart Sutcliffe’s reign of terror have got to hop off the coke spoons for a bit. I disagree with Scott when he said it was tasteless on Lizzy’s part, but it was bad timing. Just to give the church ladies the finger, I would’ve kept it in the set. I don’t know why so many Lizzy fans hail this as the album’s best track, because when you read the lyrics it does dip into the nonsensical end of the pool (although nowhere near as bad as Yellow Pearl). Phil’s train of thought was starting to come off the rails on this one, and how clever Woolven muddied the lyric I’m a mad sexual rapist in the mix, because as an afterthought he knew Philo was treading dangerous waters with that one.

“I’ll be standing in the shadows of love
Waiting for you
Don’t unzip your zipper
‘Cause you know I’m jack the ripper
Now don’t wail, don’t…”

The voice warping was utterly cartoonish, Lizzy was reaching on that bit. The video harkened the band’s death knell. Everybody looked strung out, moody, and bored. The models couldn’t dance or emote, and weren’t pretty. They were anorexic freaks, and the makeup artist should’ve been drug out in the street and shot. The whole pickscraping solo made Snowy seem more awkward, Scott could give a shit, and Downey was clearly looking to clock out. They should’ve saved the money on that one and put it to making a promo for Hollywood.

Now Phil’s surreptitious nod and wink to coke (or smack depending on the slang you use) Sugar Blues is a great showcase for Snowy’s talents. It slows you down to get you down. But not too down because I’d rather do something else while listening to this track…

The last four tracks are nothing but filler fluff. The worst offender is the highly hooky Having a Good Time. Lazy-ass soundcheck is correct! Slapping some words together that rhyme while describing your off-stage antics with the Lizzies doesn’t make a song Phil. Genocide is a cousin of the Wild Horses’ Reservation, and a revisit of Massacre:

At a point below zero
There’s no place left to go
Six hundred unknown heroes
Were killed like sleeping buffalo

What makes shit more disturbing were the war cries Phil lets loose during Rockpalast. Didn’t I was a super-saturated ballad about “the one that got away” that dragged on for four minutes. Were the harpsichord and strings-sounding synth section necessary, I wonder? Not to mention certain verses sounding reminiscent of Toughest Street in Town. Closing out the album is Hey You, a little diddy about Phil feeling sorry for himself. You know, doing what he swore he’d never do that during the interview on that Irish chat show?

Forget all these backslappers
You don’t stand a chance
Why don’t you go home?
Go right back to where you come from
Don’t get involved in this masquerade
This big city is going to eat you up
All the backslapping
Hey you, you’ve got it made

Don’t we wish he would’ve taken his own advice?

P.S. I know Scott’s birthday is on St. Paddy’s Day, so I’ll wish him a happy 61st today because I’ll be too fucking wasted to post on the day. Happy B-day Scott! You rock! I love you!

P.P.S. And now for your aural/visual enjoyment, I give you the Lizziest track on the Solo in Soho album: Dear Miss Lonely Hearts!

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