Thin Lizzy Fighting Deluxe Edition Review

I’m a little sick, unsure, unsound and unstable
But I’m fighting my way back

Now I just did the TL National Stadium DVD review, but I think I should do a review of the deluxe edition of their 1975 Fighting album. There are three reasons: 1) In my dashboard I noticed that “Thin Lizzy Fighting” has appeared numerous times under the top searches. 2) Far too many dismiss all pre-Jailbreak albums. And finally 3) The reason why I didn’t review the DE version of Chinatown was because disc 2 contains mostly live performances, soundchecks, Killer on the Loose single B-side Don’t Play Around, US edit of We Will Be Strong (which doesn’t sound too different from the UK version), and a rough cut of Chinatown.

Like so many legendary bands, their early projects are only appreciated down the road, and Allmusic gave the album 4 1/2 stars. After the newly reformed Thin Lizzy with a brash Glaswegian and a rocking hippie Californian taking up guitar duties debuted their 1974 album Nightlife which did nothing to improve their standing with Phonogram, but were kicking ass and fucking groupies, they booked studio time at the euthanized Olympic Studios and spent the latter part of the spring cutting Fighting. Now Nightlife was an eclectic bag of bluesy-jazzy-cum-pop-rock, for their sophomore album Lizzy knew they wanted to go headlong in the hard rock arena. But after the battles fought with cokehead producer Ron Nevison, they were determined not to be underestimated. So Phil decided to produce the thing himself. The problem, he’d never produced an album before. Enter engineer, the late Keith Harwood.

Robbo referred to Keith as “an absolute gem. Sadly missed, I have to say. I loved the guy to death. He was just a real gentleman, and he had all the ideas. Phil hadn’t produced an album in his life before. You know, when it says, ‘Produced by Phil Lynott,’ no it wasn’t. It was really produced by Keith Harwood, with a few ideas from Phil. That’s all it was.” (Popoff, Fighting My Way Back)

Then Robbo does the real celebutard shitty-ass thing and speaks from the other side of his mouth and says in the DE liner notes: “He helped ensure  that we got the sounds we needed, and while he wasn’t a co-producer, he made life so much easier for all of us.”

Robbo, man, we love you. We know you’re an alkey, and maybe that’s why you’re such an endearing trainwreck. But ultimately that’s between you, your wife, and your son (although I can’t be sure if he’s still with wife #2). Perhaps you should cut back a bit for at least the interviews. Your fans want to think the best of you, so please avoid the Hollywood 1-D bullfuckery okay?

Getting back to the matter at hand, Fighting was ultimately the album that set the stage for Jailbreak, and while the band was in frame the picture was out of focus. But Thin Lizzy always managed to find speedbumps along the way when it came to the corporate side of things. And their troubles seemingly began with a picture.

Jim Fitzpatrick’s brilliant artwork is woefully missing for Fighting, and ironically it would be the only album to sport their official logo he designed. So to save time and moolah, the label went with photography. Rock photographers Paul Anthony and Mick Rock were given the job to capture Thin Lizzy’s sex appeal and make them look commercially available. What we got were a pair of album sleeves out of never ending fuck-ups.

How can we carry on
When you are gone my wild one

The sleeve at the top is the “official” one as it was released in the UK. The photo above was used for the NA release, Robbo called “much prettier.” Since he had a real scruffy beard at the time the photos were taken (see UK Tour ’75 liner notes for pics), the Chrises were ready to sack him unless he shaved, so he conceded and kept his post. What was bringing Phil down was that the messages he was trying to impart in the album were about post-pubescent angst and rebelliousness. Not violence and rioting (however Phil preferred his listeners to have open interpretation of his lyrics). But the Liberty Vallance image Phil constructed dogged him everywhere, and more or less nullified his intentions. Not to mention that Thin Lizzy regarded itself as a gang; fighting, fucking, hard drinking, drugging, and rocking were the rules of the road. So how else were they supposed to look other than a “thug band” with that kind of album title. Another proposed sleeve had Lizzy goofing off with prop weapons on the street until someone thought they were for real and dialed 999.

Ladies they’re lovers, not fighters.

The last proposal was thankfully dumped into the reject bin, because it was just plain motherfucking stupid. As a last resort they got a makeup artist to make them look after a typical after-show party:

Bloody hell, this sucks ass!

While this looks tame and even silly by today’s standards, get in a wayback machine and zip back 36 years and you might understand why it was thought to be in poor taste and frightening.

Okay, let’s get to the meat of this thing! Disc 1 contains the same tracks as the original release and isn’t remastered (thanks Scott!). Rosalie is best known because of Thin Lizzy’s cover, and Phil being a fan of Bob Seger (and The Allman Brothers) was surprised that he didn’t include it in his set. So he decided to give it a proper treatment and added it to the Lizzy catalog. It was issued as a single off  the album but went nowhere because the studio recording of it was simply too subdued. That said, the version on Live and Dangerous is the definitive mix. For Those Who Love to Live was unabashed hero worship of Phil’s Man U football hero and drinking buddy, George Best. It’s cool jazzy-pop with an addictive hook demonstrating Phil’s burgeoning abilities as a modern Irish bard. Who else could word paint young, ambitious men on the rough streets of Troubled Belfast dreaming of endless green pitches and glittering gold medals, wanting you to swing your hips and strike cool poses? Suicide remained a staple in the Thin Lizzy set up until the bitter end. It’s hard and heavy blues rock, and I think it helped Phil sublimate his obsession with death, openly criticizing society’s apathy in the face of tragedy.

An interesting note on King’s Vengeance, it was covered by 21 Guns and Tommy La Verdi did a pretty good job. But honestly, I don’t know what to make of it. It was penned by Phil and Scott, and while the music is your typical 70s feel-good sound (almost folky), the lyrics puzzle me and feels a bit unfinished.

Down and out in the city
Won’t you give a boy a break
Juvenile on trial before committee
Taken all he can take

But the king shall have his vengeance
Especially on the poor
Some say preaching to convert him
Me I’m not too sure

Spring she comes and spring she teases
Brings summer winds and summer breezes
Blow through your hair till autumn leaves us
When autumn leaves us, oh how winter freezes

And the child is still breathing
With the beating of a heart (with the beating of the heart)
Some say we are equal
Some a million miles apart

Oh my god
Oh my god

But the king shall have his vengeance
While the Queen she represents the innocent
And the child so dependent
But the seasons conquer all

Spring she comes and spring she teases
Brings summer winds and summer breezes
Blow through your hair till autumn leaves us
When autumn leaves, oh how winter freezes

But the king shall have his vengeance
Especially on the poor
Some say preaching to converted
Me I’m not so sure

Morbidity and drugs come to mind for Spirit Slips Away. The track opens with this ominous guitar overture mixed over howling wind on a dust-swept steppe. I believe this demonstrated Phil’s philosophy as to why musicians use was to take creativity to the edge- and over- hence the verse,  And when the music that makes you blue/Unfolds its secrets, the mysteries are told to you. Jerome Rimson said Phil never wanted to grow old, he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, and Gary Moore said that right before the end Phil admitted he had difficulty accepting adulthood which supersedes his addiction to the celebrity lifestyle. You can argue whether or not this was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but the vibes here are eerie and uncomfortable. My favorite track is the Irish history lesson wonderfully disguised as a love ballad, Wild One. This song should be played at every Irish wake, and should be highly appreciated for the twin guitar lead. It’s sentimental, not soppy, and neatly fits in with the youthfulness of the album (whereas Sarah was cute but definitely filler for Black Rose– they were one track short).

Now Fighting My Way Back can’t be called a title track exactly, but it successfully gets Phil’s anarchic message across. He wrote “by hook or by crook”, and by God was he going to get to the top that way as well. Nothing is worth starting if you can’t finish it, and Whiskey wasn’t going to have Thin Lizzy tossed into the one-hit wonder bin, but reinvention is never easy. So if a song can scream “I’m pissed to fuck, mad as hell, and if ya won’t get outta my way I’ll kick your ass” any louder to the Phonogram execs, I don’t know what could. Silver Dollar is a funky bluesy-country number about love on the rocks. Now there are two things that musicians know: 1) music and 2) women. They fuck women in droves, they marry a bunch of times, and they “fall in love” weekly (with women half their age). But there’s always The One That Got Away. It’s a tried and true cliche, but I think Robbo’s feeling a bit too sorry for himself on this one.

On the weird King’s Call promo, a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. flashes on the screen behind Downey. Phil said of growing up black in Ireland was as easy as “having cauliflower ears,” but by the time Thin Lizzy were bonafide rock stars the Irish social landscape was changing. Nevertheless, Freedom Song was the universal theme for racial equality and support for Sinn Fein. Political commentary, nothing new here. Sounds like someone was pretty pissed when writing Ballad Of A Hard Man, and in this case it was Scott. Scott was the pretty face with the gorgeous hair that kept up a supposed flawless image, and while he wasn’t a badass, he has a lot of attitude. Maybe his time in the clink and being crazy stoned in LA influenced this. It’s interesting enough, and could have a place on a 70s blaxploitation flick’s soundtrack.

Now disc 2 has a few, shall we say, recycled bits. Half Caste (Rosalie single’s B-side) Phil’s foray into reggae, made two previous appearances, the first being on the TL CD set/coffee table book Vagabonds, Kings, Warriors, Angels on disc 2, and Lizzy’s eleventh John Peel session (Thin Lizzy At The BBC disc 3). Also taken from session eleven was Rosalie and Suicide. Like We Will Be Strong, Rosalie’s US mix doesn’t deviate too far from its UK counterpart, so what was the point? Try A Little Harder was on VKWA, but at least this was a true alternate mix with different vocals, a nicer fade out, and 40 seconds longer. Ballad of a Hard Man and Song For Jesse were instrumentals, but Ballad had a couple of false starts giving it a grittier feel. Another instrumental was Wild One, and should have been on the B-side of the single! Yeah, it’s that good. The Leaving Town instrumental had an acoustic replacing the electric guitar, and it sounded like the boys were having an intimate afternoon jam with friends at the Speakeasy. Blues Boy, written by Robbo, is a mellow affair with simple (yet rocky) lyrics could have him going head-to-head with Snowy. Dig that fucking solo!

Leaving Town‘s extended take was nearly… six… minutes… long… Okay I admit I got a little bored with this track. This isn’t January Stars, and I think only Clapton (until the very end of the 90s) could get away with this kind of self-indulgent shit. I don’t think ditto marks are appropriate for Spirit Slips Away extended take four. Brian’s Funky Fazer (Robbo’s first name was misspelled as “Bryan” on the sleeve and booklet) must’ve been the working title for Silver Dollar (and I’m glad they changed it). This was yet another instrumental only 10 seconds longer than the vocal. Very nice, but nothing to write home about.

Whew! Done and done! This review took a few days, but I’m glad it gave me the chance to really digest the CD. I hope whoever reads this GOES OUT and picks up a copy of Fighting, and maybe thumb through some music Simon Cowell isn’t brainwashing you to buy? With the announcement of Colony Records’ closure, it brings the end of the independent record store era. And here in NYC small music, movie, and book shops were essential threads that helped weave our pop culture fabric. Now with iTunes, Amazon, and big box stores vacuuming that into a black hole, I’m becoming more depressed at the giant strip mall my city’s destined to be. Hey White, you’re not the only one who’s a limey!

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2 thoughts on “Thin Lizzy Fighting Deluxe Edition Review

  1. This was a comment made by Lindsey S. Strong that I accidentally deleted:

    “By this time Lynott’s drug abuse had finally gotten to the point that it seriously undermined the band, and this is one of the most depressing albums I’ve encountered in recent memory: it’s painful to hear a once great talent detiorate before your ears into a pathetic, has-been junkie who can’t come up with anything more than tired tunes that palely echo his previous accomplishments – and that echo only makes the hurt worse; Lynott still retained enough innate skill to craft quarter-decent songs (which is half of halfway decent, but you take what you can get), but the inspiration is long gone, and his songwriting skills sound ravaged from his misspent youth. Gorham’s still on board, but new recruit Snowy White adds nothing to the band’s sound, which unfortunately has taken a turn for the ’80s in its overreliance on synthesizers and overproduction. The opening six-minute epic, “Angel of Death,” is Lynott’s attempt to ape “Sympathy for the Devil,” (he even recycles lines about being with Hitler in ’39), and it predictably falls flat; the title track restates the outlaw ethos to a yawn-inducing effect. “Hollywood,” “It’s Getting Dangerous,” and maybe a couple of others briefly recapture a bit of the old Lizzy magic, but it’s clear this band’s best days are behind them.”

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