We had only just gotten into Jailbreak yet here they were again with a new album. Yes, it was the era of two albums a year but even this seemed excessive when Jailbreak was still breaking through into most people’s consciousness. When ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ was still on the radio and word was still spreading. It had better be good.
And it was. Not so ’rounded’ as its breakthrough predecessor – not as many lightweight looks back over the shoulder like ‘Running Back’ or ‘Angel From The Coast’. Instead it had deeper, richer, more painful cuts like ‘Borderline’ – Lynott actually admitting he was a ‘borderline case’. We thought he was being romantic, we didn’t know till it was too late he was simply being truthful.
And it was heavier. For sure, for sure, Jailbreak had ’Warriors’ and ‘Emerald’ and you’d never get heavier or rockier or more tantalisingly groovy Lizzy tracks than those pair of bastards. But Johnny The Fox had its face-slapping opener, ‘Johnny’, and it’s bad twin follower, ‘Rocky’. Most of all it had the mighty ‘Massacre’…
‘Through the devil’s canyon
Across the battlefield
Death has no companion
The spirit is forced to yield…’
Shitting god! Where was the Big Fella leading us now?!? Then that Robbo solo! And Downey’s running-gun drums! Lead and we will follow…
Johnny The Fox also had ‘Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed’, lowrider funk and hard-stuff rock tangled up in blood and whiskey and the love of a bad woman.
‘In the back of a black cadillac
The voodoo music travels
Down Skid Row only black men can go
The shady deal unravels…’
And of course there were the love poems, the inside-out hurt of ‘Old Flame’, the last thing at night pillow talk of ‘Sweet Marie’. And the journey songs like the sublime ‘Fools Gold’, which in truth Phil would write better versions of later like ‘The Sun Goes Down’ and ‘Dear Lord’. But for now left us gawping, wondering, wanting to join in.
It even had a new version of ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ to get down to on Top Of The Pops, this one called, again more truthfully than we knew at the time, ‘Don’t Believe A Word’, a mournful Phillo ballad Robbo had booted into shape as a class-ass rocker of the first-and-last order.
Weirdly, it ended with ‘Boogie Woogie Dance’, which in no way resembled its feel-good title, but came on like the bad end of a worse night, bottled in some alley. So the album wasn’t perfect but it was hard. As fuck. And totally unexpected after the more joyful face-first fun of Jailbreak. But that was the 70s for you, before things went all self-conscious and post-modern and tits up. You could always be knowing. The Stones and The Beatles had invented being knowing. But if you dug Thin Lizzy – classic Lynott-Robbo-Gorham-Downey Thin Lizzy – you had to be brave too. Or at least feel brave.
Listening to it now, I still do.