Wednesday, 8 July 2009

“Classic – The Universal Masters Collection” by THIN LIZZY. A Review of the 1999 Decca/Deram CD compilation now reissued in 2009 as "Classic".

The budget-to-mid price Series "Universal Masters Collection" spans a huge range of artists on the Universal roster of Labels - from ABC through to DONNA SUMMER - and all points in between, but this little gem given over to THIN LIZZY and their early Decca material seems to have gone largely unnoticed.

The booklet is a 4-page foldout inlay with a decent essay on the band at that time by DARYL EASLEA and a basic track listing.

But, the really good news is that all 18 of its tracks have been DIGITALLY REMASTERED and many of them are hard-to-find rarities. The compilation covers the period 1971 to 1974, their first 3 albums and the non-album 7" singles around them. As you can see from the photo they've used for the front cover of the booklet, the rocking Dublin band was still a POWER TRIO at that time - PHIL LYNOTT on Bass and Vocals (principal songwriter), ERIC BELL on Guitar and Vocals with BRIAN DOWNEY on Drums and Percussion (the famous dual-guitars of BRIAN ROBERTSON and SCOTT GORHAM began with "Nightlife" in 1974).

The albums featured here are "Thin Lizzy", their debut from April 1971, "Shades Of A Blue Orphanage", their second album from March 1972 (un-issued in the US) and their fantastic third album from September 1973, "Vagabonds Of The Western World" (on the Decca label in the UK and the London label in the USA). As the first three albums were put out onto CD in 1990, 1993 and 1993 respectively with 'ok' sound quality, these 1999 sonic upgrades are both long overdue and SUPERB into the bargain.

Here's the track-by-track breakdown (most of this info ISN'T on the outer sleeve - UK release dates used):

Track 1. Whisky In The Jar
(Their 1st UK 7" single from November 1972 and originally a non-album track. (It's actually an updated cover of a 1729 Traditional Irish air). This version is the rare ‘Promotional Edited Version' used on UK Demos and the US issue of the single; it cuts down the standard 7" release from its full running time of 5:44 minutes to a shorter 3:40 minutes)
Track 2: The Rocker
(Their 3rd UK 7" single, this is the rare ‘Edited Single Version'. It chops down the full "Vagabonds..." album cut of 5:12 minutes to 2:41 minutes, essentially editing out Eric Bell's guitar solo)
Track 3: Look What The Wind Blew In
(on "Thin Lizzy", their 1st album)
Track 4: Randolph's Tango
(Their 2nd UK 7" single from May 1973 and again a non-album track. This is credited as the ‘US Edited Single Version', but as the original UK version runs to 3:53 minutes and this cut is 3:49 minutes, it's hard to see 4 seconds as an edit!)
Track 5: Sarah (Version 1)
(on "Shades Of A Blue Orphanage")
Track 6: Things Ain't Workin' Out Down At The Farm (Version 1)
(4th of 4 tracks on the ultra-rare "New Day" EP, a UK-only 7" single-only release from 21 August 1971. The 1st track on the EP is also on this compilation - Track 12. For CD versions of the other two songs on the EP, "Remembering Part II (New Day)" and "Old Moon Madness", they can be found as bonus tracks on the 1990 issue of "Thin Lizzy")
Track 7: Vagabond Of The Western World
(Edited Single Version, it cuts down the "Vagabonds..." album track of 4:49 minutes to a running time of 4:06 minutes)
Track 8: Here I Go Again
(non-album B-side to "The Rocker")
Track 9: Buffalo Gal
(on "Shades Of A Blue Orphanage")
Track 10: Honesty Is No Excuse
(on "Thin Lizzy")
Track 11: Black Boys On The Corner
(non-album B-side to both the UK/USA 7" single "Whisky In The Jar" (spelt without an ‘e' in the UK and EUROPE, with an ‘e' in the USA)
Track 12: Dublin
(1st of 4 tracks on the ultra-rare "New Day" EP, a UK-only 7" single-only release from 21 August 1971)
Track 13: Little Darling
(a 7" single-only release from April 1974 on Decca featuring GARY MOORE (ex Ireland's SKID ROW) on Guitar)
Track 14: Brought Down
(on "Shades Of A Blue Orphanage")
Track 15: Remembering Part One
(on "Thin Lizzy". This is credited as the ‘US Edited Version', but at 6:00 minutes, it appears to me to be the same as the UK album version?)
Track 16: Chatting Today
(on "Shades Of A Blue Orphanage")
Track 17: Broken Dreams
(non-album B-side to "Randolph's Tango")
Track 18: Little Girl In Bloom
(US Edited Version, it cuts down the "Vagabonds..." album cut from 5:14 minutes to 5:06 minutes and was apparently released like this on the 1973 AMERICAN versions of the "Vagabonds..." album)

Apart from the obvious rarity nature of many of these tracks, what is thrilling is the stunning UPGRADED REMASTERING that each has been given. A comparison of "Black Boys On The Corner" is one good example. Originally only available on the 1991 CD issue of "Vagabonds..." as a bonus track in 'OK' remastered sound; the upgrade here is just breathtaking. A truly great B-side (and far more indicative of their rockin' nature than the A), it's been a fan-favourite for years and to hear it sound this good is an absolute blast...

Both "Thin Lizzy" and "Shades Of A Blue Orphanage" were penciled in for 23 February 2008 remastered re-issues with a juicy 9 bonus tracks on each, but they seem to have been pulled from the schedules indefinitely - which is infuriating...

Worse, "Vagabonds Of The Western World" has been slated for a 2CD DELUXE EDITION for ages now (promos even circulated in Sept of 2007 apparently), but as it's been delayed no less than 6 times by my count since February 2007 - and its 7 April 2008 UK release date has come and gone - I won't believe it’s being released until I have the damn thing in my sweaty palms!

In the meantime, for fans and newcomers alike, "Classic/Universal Masters Collection" is an excellent and cheap way of accessing their earlier and wildly underrated material until the new issues eventually come along.

As a primer to buying all three albums from that period, this collection is a top intro to a much-loved band and its much-missed leader, PHILIP PARIS LYNOTT.

Highly recommended.

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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