Album Review: Thin Lizzy – Black Rose: A Rock Legend (1979)

Brian Robertson’s time in Thin Lizzy was never without incident and following his relegation to special guest/session player for the “Bad Reputation” album, on which he contributed to just two songs, he was reinstated as a full member in time for the tour that yeilded the “Live and Dangerous” album. Robertson’s relationship with the band, and Lynott in particular, was never as harmonious as the sound of the trademark Lizzy twin guitars though and following more disagreements about overdubs to the live album and continued problems on the next tour he departed for a final time in the summer of 1978. To make matters worse Brian Downey also quit the band temporarily as he did not want to partake in a lengthy tour to Australia. Undeterred Lynott brought in Marc Nauseef on the drums and turned once again to old cohort Gary Moore to provide the second guitar. After the tour Downey returned and the band went into the studio around the turn of the year to make their ninth studio album “Black Rose: A Rock Legend”. Despite it being Moore’s third stint with the band it was the first time he had been around long enough to record an album and sadly it turned out to be his last too.  

The album gets off to an explosive start with opening track ‘Do Anything You Want To Do’ beginning with a calling all tribesmen African drum beat before it lauches into the harmonious sound of the trademark Thin Lizzy dual guitar attack and Lynotts poppish vocal. Another short tribal drum break leads nicely into a guitar solo that is classic Lizzy and whilst the track maybe a little light in places it is still a great rock/pop crossover track. The Elvis Presley impersonation at the end is a little odd and there is apparently no definitive reason for it. ‘Toughest Street In Town’ is a heavier more standard rock type track but the use of backing vocals gives it a lighter feel. Moore’s fast solo is a classic example of why he was always a great fit for Lizzy and is possibly the highlight of the song. Again Downeys drums are very prominent although this time in a more standard rock vein. The overall sound of the song gives a hint at what was to come on future Lizzy releases as the drumming and guitar are quite heavy, it could almost be a proto type for the “Thunder & Lightning” album. The drums provide the intro again for “S and M” but in a much jazzier way this time. Lynott’s vocal is not delivered in his usual style and along with the guitar work underneath it is very jazzy and has an irregular melody to it. The lyric and subject matter are also a little strange. Musically it is far more detailed than many Lizzy tracks and there are numerous little runs and snatches going on underneath the melody. The bass line and drums are very much to the fore in a song which is quite different to most Lizzy tracks and has always been one of my favourites. ‘Waiting For An Alibi’ is probably the best known track on the album to non hardcore Lizzy fans and was one of three hit singles lifted from the album and actually broke into the UK Top 10 peaking at number 9. The more Lizzy like sound of the guitars is back for this one along with with a bass heavy funky riff and a typical storytelling lyric from Lynott. Detractors would call it Thin Lizzy by numbers but the more initiated would say it is up there with ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ and ‘Jailbreak’ as the archetypal Lizzy track. Personally my only complaint would be why did they use the short version and not the long one that surfaced some years later on compilation albums. The first half of the album ends with the gentle balladic ‘Sarah’ a song that was inspired by the birth of Lynott’s daughter. Curiously it was the second Lynott song to bear the same title with the first one being about his Grandmother and included on the ‘Shades of a Blue Orphanage’ album. All guitar parts were played by Gary Moore and Scott Gorham does not appear on the song at all. He did though appear on the promotional video whilst Moore didn’t as by the time it was filmed he had left the band. Huey Lewis provided the harmonica. It is a track I had always liked a lot and coincidentally at the time of my first Thin Lizzy gig, Coventry Theatre 1981, my girlfriend was called Sarah and we were a bit disappointed they didn’t play it. In fact it was never played live until Lynott’s post Lizzy band Grand Slam started playing it which was little use to me as by then Sarah was a distant but pleasant memory.

‘Got To Give It Up’ starts the second half of the album and has again always been a particular favourite of mine. A slow bluesy start with a great vocal intro soon gives way to the trademark chugging twin guitars and a more growling menacing vocal from Lynott. In fact I would suggest that the vocal is amongst Lynott’s best and the guitar solos are also well above average. In a live setting the song was a perfect one for extending and was often one of the many highlights of the night. Lyrically the song is pretty apt as well as the drug influences within the band at the time were increasing rapidly with Lynott and Gorham in particular. ‘Get Out Of Here’ a heavy stomp co-written with part time member Midge Ure is probably the weakest track on the album despite its heaviness and has little to lift it out of the ordinary. ‘With Love’ meanwhile, a slower gentler Lynott composition, might not be of the calibre of the standout songs but the clever rhyme “I want to make that fraulein mine” and the guitar solo does a least make it a little more memorable than its predecessor. For some reason Jimmy Bain was brought in to play the bass on just that one particular track and Huey Lewis plays the harmonica again. The final track Róisin Dubh (Black Rose) is a medley of traditional pieces interspersed with new parts written by Moore and Lynott. Moore’s guitar work on the track is outstanding and is as good as anything he laid down on tape in his illustrious career as well as being amongst the best examples of guitar playing on any Thin Lizzy album.

“Black Rose: A Rock Legend” which is more usually just referred to as simply “Black Rose” was released in April 1979 to great critical acclaim entering the UK album chart at number 2 and spawning three hit singles. Sadly though it was not to be the launch pad for future successes as Moore quit the band for a third and final time little more than three months after its release during an American tour and was replaced by Midge Ure.

For many years I have considered “Jailbreak” to be Thin Lizzy’s best album. However with the addition of Moore and the varied styles on offer here I have to concede that in retrospect this is probably slightly better. Either way they are both classic rock albums and should be a part of any rock music lovers collection.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM July 2011

About Martin Leedham

Music critic, Horse Racing Tipster, Hapless Dreamer, Defender of the Underdog
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