Thin Lizzy: Jailbreak (Deluxe Edition)

An expanded look at a ‘70s rock classic

The Irish hard rock quartet Thin Lizzy hit their commercial peak with this 1976 release, capitalizing on the twin guitars of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, kicking off a string of four gold albums, and launching themselves onto the U.S. singles chart with Phil Lynott’s “The Boys Are Back in Town.” The album’s impact was far greater than its single’s success, with numerous tracks turned into turntable hits by FM radio, reiterated to this day on classic rock stations. Lynott was a triple threat as a soulful vocalist, powerful bass player and poetic song writer. His lyrics were both intricate in their imagery and memorable in their verbal hooks, and his melodies were rooted in ‘60s pop but hearty enough to stand up to the power of ‘70s guitar rock.

By 1976 it had been three years since Thin Lizzy had struck with “Whiskey in the Jar,” and in the album rock era, their previous five albums, though showing artistic growth, had made little impact on the market. 1975’s Fighting launched the power chords and heavy riffing that powered Jailbreak, but critical praise hadn’t turned into radio play or unit sales. Given one more chance by their label, they were assigned John Alcock as their nominal producer; Alcock showed the band how to record in a more disciplined and focused manner, and provided them the connection to the Who’s Ramport Studio in which Jailbreak was recorded. The result was the most popular album of the band’s career, but as detailed in the 20-page booklet, this wasn’t achieved without a certain amount of disagreement. Neither of the band’s guitarists liked the sound of the album, and Robertson felt “Running Back” was too pop and boycotted its sessions.

Gorham’s distaste for Alcock’s sound led him, along with Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot, to remix, remaster and in spots re-record album tracks for the bonus disc. Some will blanch at the liberties taken, including new rhythm guitar parts, rearranged backing vocals and redubbed sirens on the title track, but the new mixes do seem more powerful than the originals, and according to Elliot, better reflect what the band did with these songs on tour. The deluxe 20-page booklet includes new interviews with Gorham, detailing his deep disdain for the album’s original sound, and providing motivation for the remixes. The new mixes themselves generally thicken, refine and clarify what was on the tapes, but those weaned on the originals may find the larger alterations disconcerting.

In addition to the remixes, disc two will thrill Thin Lizzy fans with an alternate lead vocal for “The Boys Are Back in Town,” four exceptionally tight and powerful BBC session recordings laid down the month before the album’s release, an extended rough mix of “Fight or Fall,” a previously unissued session track (the slow guitar jam “Blues Boy”), and a terrific early live version of “Cowboy Song” titled “Derby Blues.” Derek Oliver’s exceptional liner notes provide a solid recounting of the band’s history, detailed context for the album’s creation (including well selected quotes from period interviews with Lynott and Robertson), and deeply informed commentary on the individual songs. Whether or not you care for the remixes, you’ll come to appreciate that Gorham still cares, thirty-five years later, and you can always spin the original master on disc one. This is a terrific upgrade from the original album. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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