- 15 Nov 23
On this day in 1981, Thin Lizzy released their 11th studio album, Renegade. To celebrate, we're revisiting Liam Mackey's original review of the classic album...
Originally published in Hot Press in 1981...
No equivocation necessary here – Renegade is not only the best Thin Lizzy album since the memorable Bad Reputation set, it is also one of the most satisfying twelve inches of vinyl to rotate on my turntable for a goodly period of time.
And it's a fine feeling to be able to state this, because it means, crucially, that Phil Lynott's creative talents have returned to peak health after what your present writer felt was a relatively uninspired phase following the celebratory pinnacle of Live and Dangerous.
There aren't many songwriters who can juggle style and substance with as much poise as Phil Lynott – certainly in the context of the hard rock school, he is virtually unique. Partly Lynott's success as a writer has to do with the patented blending of tough and tender sensibilities, the hard-nut rocker and the soft romantic proving to be two sides of the same coin. More fundamentally though it could be said that his writing straddles the symbolic divide that usually separates the freedom of the wide, open plains from the claustrophobic tensions of the high-rise city. He writes solely from neither vantage point but rather from a place which in the words of the Creedence song is where the "neon meets the trees".
Renegade highlights the Lynott perspective to striking effect. Here, the menacing, definitely urban hard rock of 'Hollywood (Down On Your Luck)' and the evocative Mexican flavour of the aptly-named 'Mexican Blood' prove to be compelling, mutually complementary partners. And working, as they are, in a field where one-dimensional writing and performance is the accepted norm, the presence of Lynott and Lizzy is even more welcome.
Renegade is particularly notable for the wealth of styles and senses it accommodates. No one song apes the character of another, formula is abandoned in the keen desire to see a good idea through to the complete fruition.
'Angel of Death' opens the album on a foreboding and chillingly atmospheric note. An eerie, other-worldly synthesizer sets the soundscape before the band lock into a powerful chemistry, as Lynott, acknowledging the prophecies of Nostradamus, details the terrible lessons of history and warns of an imminent apocalypse which will push the human race "down, down deep underground". Whether Nostradamus was anything other than a living publicity stunt is neither here nor there, the fact remains of the deadly threat of nuclear war and 'Angel of Death' captures our worst fears with unsettling precision.
Lynott's amiable flirting with romantic myth is still in evidence- check 'Leave This Town' – but 'Renegade', the title-track, marks a further development in his writing. Where once he was content to merely describe, and revel in, the lifestyle of the rocker-outlaw-gunslinger, 'Renegade' sees Lynott breaking through the surface image and trying to understand the forces which motivate people society views as rebels. The music, by turns reflective and assertive, gentle and aggressive, mirrors the song's thinking in a dramatic and imaginative way. After a few spins it emerges as one of the album's genuine highlights.
'The Pressure Will Blow' is somewhat throwaway riff-rock, the music failing to match the musical intensity, but matters are redeemed by the far from ambitious 'Leave This Town' which certainly makes a virtue out of its simplicity. A lean biting boogie, which 99% of the world's self-styled rattlesnake rockers would spend a whole career trying to emulate, 'Leave This Town' is further boosted by a contagious echoed refrain and Lynott's comically laconic recounting of the dangers involved in "fooling around with the sheriff's daughter".
The aforementioned 'Hollywood (Down On Your Luck)' opens side two, while 'No One Told Him' is proof-positive that in the right hands, heavy metal can be warm to the touch. 'Fats' and 'Mexican Blood' are two totally disparate and marvellously accomplished exercises in stylistic invention backed up by intelligent thought. The former is a jazzy, snazzy, finger-clickin' ode to a real cool cat while the latter puts the spotlight on Lynott, the natural story-teller, as the band supply a haunting performance which would make a grown man cry into his tequila. Actually glibness is out of order – 'Mexican Blood' is a beautiful song in a tradition Lizzy established as far back as 'Randolph's Tango'
Finally, 'It's Getting Dangerous' wraps up the set in excellent fashion, Lynott musing on the capability of sudden power to corrupt the most genuine of people and the most noble of ideas- an allegory for the music business perhaps – and getting in some of the album's best writing in the process. Again too, the music is both surprising and forceful in a manner that gives the lie to the self-deceiving penchant of many hard rock outfits for blockbuster tactics.
To repeat: Renegade is Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy revitalised and, once again, important. From someone who has had his doubts in the past, it comes unreservedly recommended. And that's good news.