Is There Any Chance the New Thin Lizzy Album Won't Suck?
"Thin Lizzy" singer Ricky Warwick
Photo by Ace Trump
This week, Rolling Stone and NME got wind of the fact that '70s hard-rock heroes Thin Lizzy will hit the studio this fall to record their first new album since band founder/leader/icon Phil Lynott's death 26 years ago. The news was actually broken by HotPress.com last week, but it took a while for word to spread; mostly because major media outlets haven't been following Thin Lizzy too closely since band founder/leader/icon Phil Lynott's death 26 years ago.
And why would they? To many fans, Phil Lynott was Thin Lizzy. Not only was he the face and the voice of the band that served up indelible hits like "Jailbreak" and "The Boys Are Back in Town," he was also the group's driving creative force. In sum, he was the star. When he died, it was the end of the band.
For a while, anyway. The group was reactivated in 1996 as a tribute act, and Thin Lizzy has toured for the past two years led by guitarist Scott Gorham and drummer Brian Downey with Marco Mendoza on bass and Ricky Warwick on vocals. Great as Lynott was, people still like hearing those old songs and dual-guitar harmonies. But is anyone itching for new music from this crew? Can they do the original group justice?
Judging from history, it's possible. Thin Lizzy isn't the first classic rock band to try replacing a dead frontman. The results have ranged from worthy to unnecessary to embarrassing. As we try to imagine Lizzy back in the studio without the Black Rose, let's take a look back at the legends who soldiered on with new voices.
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5. AC/DC, Back in Black
Let's be real, here: Back in Black is the shining example that probably gives today's Thin Lizzy hope that there could be creative life after Lynott. When lead singer/band mascot Bon Scott choked to death on his own vomit in 1980, it looked like the end for AC/DC. Nervous about the future and still grieving over their friend, the group picked up the pieces and delivered a classic rock totem that became an instant smash, eventually becoming one of the biggest-selling albums of all time.
To be sure, AC/DC had a few advantages over Thin Lizzy in this achievement. Most notably, Scott was not the band's primary songwriter, and AC/DC was still firmly in its creative prime. Still, it was a daunting task to continue on without the guy who belted out "Big Balls" and hope that fans would accept a new singer. Improbably, they succeeded beyond all expectations.
Worthy, Unneccesary or Embarassing: Worthy
4. The Doors, Stoned Immaculate: The Music of The Doors
The Doors have experimented with a number of famous replacement singers since Jim Morrison's death in 1971. The band was fronted by Eddie Vedder when they were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, and original members Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger even toured with Cult singer Ian Astbury as the Doors of the 21st Century in 2002. Mostly, though, they've stayed away from the studio.
Aside from a session for VH1 Storytellers, the exception has been the 2000 "tribute" album, Stoned Immaculate: The Music of the Doors.. The disc was a collection of classic Doors songs reworked by modern-rock acts -- with the surviving Doors sitting in. It also included a couple of new tracks credited to the Doors: "Under Waterfall" and "The Cosmic Movie." If you've ever heard either, congratulations, you're officially the world's biggest Doors fan.
The Doors get a little credit for mostly sticking to the Morrison-era stuff, we guess, but Jesus, dude: The world did NOT need to hear motherfucking Smash Mouth's take on "Peace Frog." Creed and Train also make appearances, and Days of the New got two tracks on this piece of shit cosigned by the Doors themselves. Avoid.
Worthy, Unnecessary or Embarrassing: Embarrassing
3. Alice in Chains, Black Gives Way to Blue
When Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley died in 2002 after years of addiction and self-neglect, the band had already been on a long hiatus. Without Staley's haunting howl, it simply didn't seem possible for them to continue on as the same group. Primary songwriter Jerry Cantrell moved on to a successful solo career with the excellent Degradation Trip, and Alice in Chains appeared to wither and die along with Staley.
As it turned out, though, the story was not over. Against the wishes of many fans, Cantrell resurrected Alice in Chains alongside drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez with a new singer, William DuVall. DuVall didn't make anyone forget Staley, but his supple voice capably entwined itself with Cantrell's familiar baritone. Nearly 14 years after its previous album, the group recorded Black Gives Way to Blue, a typically moody and heavy affair that served as a startling reminder of Alice in Chains' potent chemistry despite the dark hole at its center.
Though Staley's ghost haunts the record, one couldn't help but feel he'd approve of it. Fans ultimately agreed, and the album went gold.
Worthy, Unnecessary or Embarrassing: Worthy
2. Sublime with Rome, Yours Truly
After releasing two instant dorm-room classics in the early '90s with 40 oz. to Freedom and Robbin' the Hood in the early 90s, cruel irony struck stoner-ska stars Sublime when singer, guitarist and bandleader Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose just before the group was to release its self-titled commercial breakthrough. Sublime immediately split, never capitalizing on that record's enormous success with a major tour.
Though initially stating they had no desire to continue on as Sublime without Nowell, surviving members Bud Gaugh and Eric Wilson eventually recruited singer/guitarist Rome Ramirez in 2009 and began performing again under the Sublime name. After a lawsuit filed by Nowell's estate forced the group to alter its name, they entered the studio to record Yours Truly, a new album of originals.
Though Ramirez proved talented, the magic was simply gone. Minus Nowell's edgy experiences and clever songwriting, the new songs failed to recapture the original band's spirit. Slight, sunny and stoney grooves are fine and everything, but they ain't quite Sublime.
At best, the album is pointless. At worst, it's craven: Nowell's express wishes were that the band would not continue without him.
Worthy, Unnecessary or Embarrassing: Embarrassing
1. Queen + Paul Rodgers, The Cosmos Rocks
Give Paul Rodgers a little credit: It takes balls to even consider stepping into the shoes of one of the greatest rock frontmen of all time. The promise of riches probably helped make up his mind for him, or course. There's been no shortage of demand to hear Queen songs played live again since Freddie Mercury's death in 1991, and when surviving members Brian May and Roger Taylor decided to hit the road again, there was no question that it would be a stadium trek.
Queen made every effort to do it right: The band would be Queen featuring Paul Rodgers, since--let's face it--there was no chance of the former Bad Company and Free singer replacing Mercury, talented though he is. There was no attempt to fool the fans, and the group's two world tours were a success. But then... well, they entered the studio.
The Cosmos Rocks, Q+PR's 2008 album, was the record demanded by absolutely no one. Rocking around the world paying tribute to the past is one thing, but this musical union was hardly born of organic musical chemistry. The decision to record together was obviously more of a commercial decision than a creative one, and the dull resultant disc served as little more than a reminder that the real Queen, those gonzo superstars led by the hyper-magnetic Mercury, were gone for good.
Worthy, Unnecessary or Embarassing: Unnecessary
So, is there a chance that the new Thin Lizzy album won't suck? Sure. But the odds are hardly in their favor. Not a single Thin Lizzy fan on earth is laboring under the delusion that this is anything close to the same band that wrote and recorded Jailbreak, and there's really no way to spin a new record as some sort of tribute to Lynott.
It's been 29 years since Thin Lizzy's last album, and it's tough to blame Scott Gorham and friends for recording something that people might be curious to hear. But this is a project almost certain to end in disappointment. It's 20-freaking-12, guys. The boys are most certainly not back in town -- and they never will be.