Rewind album: Jailbreak, by Thin Lizzy (1976)

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 November, 2014, 8:27pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 November, 2014, 8:27pm

Thin Lizzy

Of all the hairy hard-rock bands that dominated the pre-disco, pre-punk airwaves of the mid-1970s, perhaps none were as influential, or produced music that has stood the test of time so well, as Thin Lizzy.

Jailbreak was literally central to the band: the sixth of their 12 career albums, almost exactly halfway through their career, it was their big commercial breakthrough, featuring two of Thin Lizzy's three most recognisable hits, tough-guy classics Jailbreak and The Boys Are Back in Town (the other being their 1973 version of traditional Irish folk song Whiskey in the Jar). Both have become such classic-rock radio standards that it's easy to forget how brilliantly propulsive, instantaneously catchy, and filled with ideas they are.

But the whole of Jailbreak is full of similar scintillating, thundering, memorable Celtic-tinged rock. The album is borne along on the twin guitar harmonies of Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham, a sound quickly adopted by every rock act on the planet, and at its most thrilling here in the intertwined arpeggios of Angel from the Coast and the duelling guitars of album closer Emerald.

But the album's energy and drive are given shape and definition by frontman Phil Lynott's very obvious shiny pop sensibility, from Running Back, nearly chosen ahead of The Boys Are Back in Town as Jailbreak's lead single, with its winsome melodic hook and hand claps, to the slightly incongruous ballad Fight or Fall.

The album also gets a lot of its backbone from John Alcock's notably crisp, soulful production, which combines remarkable clarity with a wonderfully grainy texture, full of rumbling, squealing guitars and crunchy drums. Even 38 years later, it sounds as if the band are in the room with you.

As well as the unmistakable guitars, Thin Lizzy's other defining characteristic is the charismatic presence of lead singer, songwriter and bassist Lynott, a Hendrix-like renegade warrior (on this album the debt is most obvious on Warriors). Lynott was immensely engaging, a mid-1970s hard-rocker who became friends with leading lights in the late-'70s punk scene, eventually forming The Greedies with members of The Sex Pistols, The Damned and The Boomtown Rats.

His lyrics combine religious imagery and Celtic mythology - Lynott was always an immensely proud Irishman - with a regular-guy approach to matters of the heart. Some of his rhymes aren't great ( Romeo and the Lonely Girl's "Oh poor Romeo/Sitting all on his owneo" is a lowlight), but they don't have to be, thanks to the joyous energy of the music and his vocal inflections, his voice constantly quavering with forcefully expressed emotion, but never overdone.

Jailbreak came packaged in a splendidly over-the-top cut-out gatefold sleeve, and what's inside was similarly ambitious. This wasn't just Thin Lizzy's commercial breakthrough: the album also pulled commercial rock in a better direction, and in doing so set a template that lasted for decades.