Monday, 24 January 2011

"Johnny The Fox" by THIN LIZZY. A Review Of Their 1976 Album Now Reissued and Remastered Onto A 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' In 2011.

"…Started Out Playing Hotel Bars…Now He’s Got The Talent To Take Him Far…"

"Johnny The Fox" is the second of three 'Deluxe Edition' 2CD sets released Monday 24 January 2011 in the UK (8 February 2011 in the USA) - the other two are 1976's "Jailbreak" and 1978's "Live And Dangerous" (2CD/1DVD).

Universal/Mercury 5332077 breaks down as follows...

PACKAGING:
The 3-way foldout digipak is the same design as most of Universal's 2010 DE doubles - the outer plastic wrap has now been replaced with a 'Deluxe Edition' bandana around the base of the set and you have to split it to get the package open - bit fiddly, but it's easier to access the discs and the booklet. The short "Vulture" story on the inner sleeve of the original LP is put under the see-through tray that houses Disc 1, while the 4 colour photos of the boys on the back sleeve are now spread across all 4 sides of the two inner flaps - and they look great.

Like "Jailbreak" (reviewed separately) there's a superbly detailed 20-page booklet with a very intensive essay on the album and the band's history - this time by NEIL JEFFRIES. It documents the hepatitis that nearly killed Phil and caused the upcoming US tour to be cancelled (it was felt it would finally break them huge). But the American arena's loss was music's gain because Lizzy were able instead to concentrate on more songwriting and again - for the second time in 1976 - they came up with the goods.

Niggles - like "Jailbreak" I'd have to say that the lack of alternate artwork or works-in-progress from Jim Fitzpatrick - the Dublin artist who's Celtic artwork was such an integral part of the band's image (and the album sleeve) - is a bit of a let down. The non-colour version of his front-cover artwork that was used on the inner sleeve is missing too. Also Universal could have used the original vinyl look on the CDs themselves - the UK 'Spaceship' Vertigo label design for Disc 1 with the USA Mercury label design on Disc 2 - minor points I know, but worth mentioning...

DISCS:
Disc 1 (36:05 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 9 are the album "Johnny The Fox", their 7th album released 16 October 1976 in the UK on Vertigo 9102 012 and November 1976 in the USA on Mercury SRM-1-1119 (it peaked at 11 in the UK and 52 in the USA). The booklet states it's been remastered by ANDY PEARCE and MATT WORTHAM in 2010 at Wired Masters Sound In London in the UK.

Disc 2 (38:13 minutes):
Tracks 1 and 2 are 'Remix' Versions of "Don't Believe A Word" (Remix One) and "Johnny". JOE ELLIOTT (of Def Leppard) along with SCOTT GORHAM, BRIAN DOWNEY (guitarist and drummer with the band) and RONAN McHUGH have remixed and re-recorded 'some' parts on these in "Joe's Garage" in Dublin. There's not enough room to detail here what's been done to what track and why, but Joe Elliott's notes explain in full on Pages 18 and 19.
Tracks 3 to 6 are "Don't Believe A Word", "Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed", "Fools Gold" and "Johnny" - all BBC Sessions recorded 11 October 1976 in London for The John Peel Show
[Note: Track 3 confusingly comes up on some CDs as "Don't Believe A Word - Remix Two" and not the "BBC Session". However, the DE rear artwork calls it a BBC Session.]
Tracks 7 and 9 are 'Instrumental Run Through' versions of "Fools Gold" and "Rocky"
Track 8 is an 'Instrumental Run Through & Extended' version of "Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed" featuring a false start and more dialogue at the end
Track 10 is an 'Instrumental Take With Lynott's Directions To The Band' version of "Massacre"
Track 11 is an 'Unreleased Scott Gorham Composition' called "Scott's Tune"

SOUND/EXTRAS:
Joe Elliott of Def Leppard comments in the liner notes that he thinks "Johnny The Fox" is even better than "Jailbreak" - I don't know about that - but he does have a point when you re-listen to the fab rock riffage of "Rocky" (lyrics above) and the bluesy feel of "Borderline" which is almost as good as "I'm Still In Love With You". There didn't seem to be anything Phil Lynott couldn't turn his knack for penning a winner to - both musically and lyrically. And the two boys - Scott Gorham and Brian "Robbo" Robertson - played their guitars off each other like they telepathically linked. It's a shame though that the writer credit on "Don't Believe A Word" is still only 'Lynott' when it was known then and more so now that it was 'both' Robertson and Downey who wrote it after the first aborted attempts. "Fool's Gold" sounds great too - big and chunky. There was (like most Irish songwriters) a Van Morrison desperately trying to get out of Phil Lynott and "Old Flame" and "Sweet Marie" (like "Running Back" on the "Jailbreak" LP) are his Van The Man moments - and I love them both. Soundwise, it's good, but if I'm honest, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this and the 1996 remaster - slightly better I'd say.

Like the "Jailbreak" bonus tracks on Disc 2, the extras here are far better than I thought they would be. In fact I'd go as far as saying that they may even be better than the album. First up are two fantastic 'Remixes'. They don't trump the originals - but man - are they good! The four John Peel BBC Sessions show just how unbelievably tight the band was - and how their material was sit-up-and-take-notice good. Downey's drums are huge too.

But the best is left to last - a set of incredibly personal in-the-studio outtakes. The run-through of "Fools Gold" cuts out the spoken 'Famine' intro and is just great riffing - fascinating stuff. "Johnny The Fox..." has a false start, studio dialogue and sounds like the band is rehearsing in your living room (incredibly personal) - and when the twin guitars kick in with that great riff at one minute in - it's a blast. The "Rocky" run through simply sounds like the finished backing track minus the vocals - but "Massacre" is more like it - rough and raw - with Phil's guide vocal barely audible. You can hear him instruct "now the chord...the riff fours times and stop..." The breakneck speed of "Scott's Tune" features Phil's bass upfront while Scott boogies like a madman - great stuff.

To sum up - a muscular remaster of the album, properly expanded packaging, shockingly good bonus tracks - and all at a reasonable price. I was afraid that this would be just a cheap cash-in one of their big albums, but it's not. Lizzy nuts will eat it alive...

Recommended like midnight in the big city...

PS: see also my reviews for the 2010 Extended Remasters of "Thin Lizzy" (1971), "Shades Of A Blue Orphanage" (1972) and the 2CD Deluxe Editions of "Vagabonds Of The Western World" (1973), "Jailbreak" and "Live And Dangerous".

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