Rating: **** 1/2
It was 1976. Five albums into their career, Thin Lizzy were still trying to make an impression on the world of rock music. However, something strange happened in 1976: the band’s sixth album, Jailbreak, became a success. Not only was it success in Europe but the band had finally found an audience in the US. 35 years after its release on March 26, 1976, Jailbreak stands as one of Thin Lizzy’s strongest albums (if not, one of the strongest hard rock albums ever made).
Thin Lizzy formed in 1969 in Ireland. The band was formed by bassist/singer Phil Lynott, guitarist Eric Bell, and drummer Brian Downey. Thin Lizzy were a rock band but their first two albums (Thin Lizzy and Shades of a Blue Orphanage) were not commercial successes. Today, the albums are a far cry from the Thin Lizzy people would come to love. In 1972, the band had an unexpected hit with their rendition of the traditional Irish folk song “Whiskey in the Jar”. In 1973, the band released their third album Vagabonds of the Western World. At the end of 1973, Eric Bell suddenly left the band. He was replaced by guitarist Gary Moore to finish up the tour. When Moore left, Lynott decided that the band would need two guitarists. According to Downey in a 2011 documentary, Lynott decided to get two guitarists because if one of them left, they’d still have the other. In 1974, Lynott hired 18 year old Scottish guitarist Brian “Robbo” Robertson and American guitarist Scott Gorham. This line-up release Night Life in 1974. The band wasn’t happy with the final product as they had trouble working with producer Ron Nevison. For 1975’s Fighting, the band produced the album themselves. By that time, the band had found their signature sound: twin lead guitars. Thin Lizzy weren’t the first known to use this sound. English progressive rockers Wishbone Ash are often thought of as the first to use the twin lead guitar sound. Recording for the Jailbreak album started in December of 1975 at Ramport Studios in London.
Jailbreak opens up perfectly with the bursting sound of lead guitars, that start off the self titled track. “Jailbreak” is easily one of Lizzy’s best songs and for various reasons. The song’s lyrics, written by Lynott, tell the story of a jail break occurring…somewhere in the town (one may wonder if it would be easier to have the jail break in an actual jail). Lynott is very clever with the lyrics where he sings “I can hear the hound dogs on my trail/All hell breaks loose, alarms and sirens wail/Like a game if you lose/Go to jail”. Also, the guitar work is brilliant. Lynott’s vocals and phrasing are very good. The pace he sings the lyrics at is interesting.“Angel from the Coast” has this California/West Coast-like sound to it. The lead guitar harmonizing is amazing in this song. Just listen to the solo. “Running Back” was originally supposed to be a bluesy-like song. Lynott wanted the song as the lead single for the album so he wanted it to sound like a commercial song. Tim Hinkley plays keyboards on the track not credited. The song does sound like something you’d hear on the radio in the summer. It’s kind of nice. Lynott once said that he likes this song very much and that he was influenced by Van Morrison. “Romeo and the Lonely Girl” is another slower song. It might be the weakest song off the album but hey, it’s still good. The chorus is worth checking out, even if it is somewhat corny: “Oh poor Romeo/Sitting out on his own-ee-o”. “Warriors” is a great song from the album and is a great song for Robertson and Gorham to show off their skills. Lynott sings some poetic lyrics here: “My heart is ruled my Venus/And my head by Mars”.
The second half of the album starts off with what is easily the band’s most popular song: “The Boys Are Back In Town”. Originally titled “G.I. Joe”, this song was written about soldiers coming home from the war. Although some may think of it as overrated, “The Boys Are Back in Town” is a great classic rock song. The song’s popularity has lead it to being covered and rewritten for commercials (remember Toy Story 2 or Toy Story on Ice? “The Toys Are Back in Town”?). The best part in the song: Robertson and Gorham’s twin lead guitar solo after the chorus. The next song, “Fight or Fall”, is a departure from the hard rocking sound of “The Boys Are Back in Town”. Lynott’s vocals on this one are great. Thanks to technology then, Lynott’s vocals echo in this almost soulful song. The song seems to center around the idea of standing up for yourself. Lynott sings: “It’s man for man and one for all”. The guitar solo on this song is just sensational. “Cowboy Song” is another highlight off the album and like “Jailbreak” and “The Boys Are Back In Town”, the song became one of the songs Lizzy played live frequently. The song starts off soft but builds up and starts rocking. With harmonizing vocals and killer guitar playing, “Cowboy Song” is an instant winner. The song is catchy without a doubt and for me, it’s probably my favorite song by the band. “Emerald” closes up the album rocking. I’m not just saying that: this song seriously kicks ass, especially when played live. Lynott wrote the song (as well as many of Lizzy’s best songs) based from his love for history. The opening drumming beat played by Downey is what some marching bands would play when soldiers went to war. The lyrics tell a group attempt to “overthrow the overlords”. The song ends with an impressive lead guitar duel between Robertson and Gorham. When played live, “Emerald” is a monster! A great way to end a great album.
Jailbreak was the band’s first major hit album. In the US, it reached at #18 in the Billboard Top 200. The band also found hit singles in the self titled track and “The Boys Are Back in Town”. Thin Lizzy were able to tour and enjoy their career until they split in 1983. Today, Thin Lizzy have reunited. As of 2011, this reunited version is touring and paying tribute to the music of the band and Phil Lynott. Scott Gorham, Brian Downey, and keyboardist Darren Wharton are the three members who were in the original band with Phil Lynott. Earlier this year, Jailbreak was reissued and remastered by Universal. It was also given the deluxe edition treatment. 35 years later, Jailbreak can be seen as a gem in the genre of hard rock music.