Overall Score: 8/10 Songwriting: 8/10 Musicianship: 8/10 Production: 8/10 Pros: An album packed with hook-filled classic rock songs full of positivity and hard-won wisdom Cons: The Osmond's cover and the very occasional relapse into Thin Lizzy-tribute act moves
Up until now, Black Star Riders have been like a musical Jaffa Cake – they looked like Thin Lizzy, they sounded like Thin Lizzy, but they called themselves something else. Whilst that’s not surprising, seeing as they were the same musicians touring as the reformed Thin Lizzy, it made them a slightly hard biscuit to swallow. They sounded like a tribute act to themselves, who were, in all honesty already a tribute act to their former selves. That didn’t stop them making some very entertaining music and building a large following, but the release of Wrong Side of Paradise, after ten years as a band, marks a sea change. With Scott Gorham quitting to concentrate on Thin Lizzy, unwilling to continue with Black Star Rider‘s heavy touring commitments, we have only Ricky Warwick left from the original line-up. The band has also slimmed down to a four-piece, with Sam Wood coming in on lead guitar. This, in effect, has freed Warwick up from the burden of being a Phil Lynott impersonator, giving cocky and mellifluous accompaniment to Gorham & Co’s twin guitar muse. It feels like a new venture – sure their influences are still obvious, and on occasion rather overbearing, but in general Black Star Riders no longer present as the runner-up prize in a Celtic Rock Gods competition.
I must give credit to Ricky Warwick, one of rock’s true “lifers” – he still sounds absolutely 100% committed to the power of rock ‘n’ roll, and lyrically this album is tender but tough, wise, full of positivity and a steely-eyed confidence. Every encouragement is given to over-come your struggles, stay real and keep on believing, and remarkably it’s all done without reverting to too many clichés. We’ve come a long way since Joy Bang One Time by The Almighty!
The title track opens the album, bullish, swaggering and full of melodic heft. It sticks to the bands former template, especially in the verses, but the lyrics are thoughtful, about how our perceptions are twisted and formed by external influences. If you are still looking for more of that classic Lizzy sound then Better Than Saturday Night will be your best bet. It is pure rock ear candy, and fair do’s, the one song here you that feel Lizzy could have produced in their heyday.
Elsewhere other influences hold sway; Hustle has a little R & B swing, with harmonica adding colour, and Riding Out The Storm drops the pace on a melancholic piece of bruised machismo that could have been written by Gun. That one’s a real grower, with a proper depth of feeling and effective backing vocals.
Warwick‘s punkier leanings are on display on Pay Dirt and Green And Troubled Land. Pay Dirt is a rabble rousing challenge to all those who don’t really mean it, maaaaan – “Hey all you rock n’ rollers, what you gonna do when there’s no more smoke and mirrors?” Green And Troubled Land is a total homage to Stuart Adamson’s guitar work in The Skids and Big Country. It has an infectious, joyous, pogo-starting vibe and aims to be a cross between Emerald and Fields Of Fire. It actually succeeds, so kudos.
The only real sour note is the inclusion of a run through of The Osmond’s Crazy Horses. It is entirely unnecessary, and feels like a move foist upon them by new label, Earache, to get a chart single. That makes no sense as this album is chock-full of great commercial radio rock, and they have put out several other tunes off this album ahead of the full release. We don’t know, it just doesn’t sit right. Should have stuck to maybe playing it as a drunken knees up in the encores, guys.
This could be a big album for Black Star Riders. We can’t think of any hard rock acts of their vintage or younger producing better written and performed songs than the majority of Wrong Side Of Paradise. It’s heartening and comforting that the rock n’roll torch is still being carried by reliable messengers, and that the flame still burns.
Wrong Side Of Paradise is available now via Earache Records.
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