As a kid I just missed out on Thin Lizzy. Growing up in the 70’s, Thin Lizzy was a band a never took any interest in, for reasons unknown. I became a fan in 1983, just as the news of their break-up came out. What a bummer. I followed Phil Lynott carefully after that though. After a decently successful solo tour, featuring John Sykes on guitar, Brian Downey on drums and Magnum keyboard player Mark Stanway, Sykes joined Whitesnake and Lynott, Downey and Stanway formed Grand Slam with new guitarists Doish Nagle and Laurence Archer (Stampede, UFO). But despite writing a whole bunch of really good songs and lots of playing live, the band never got signed due to Lynott’s escalating heroin abuse, which would later take his life. Still, when Grand Slam called it quits, Lynott, for some reason, managed to get himself a solo deal and a single – “19” – was released before it all was over on January 4 1986.
“19” was of course a song written for Grand Slam and more songs from their demo would see the light of day on other (bootleg) albums. “Military Man” was re-recorded and released on Gary Moore’s 1985 album Run For Cover and the Archer written “Dedication” showed up on a Thin Lizzy compilation – called Dedication (1991) – as an unreleased Thin Lizzy track, though it was a song Archer wrote for his former band Stampede with some additional lyrics by Lynott. Later on, there have been Philip Lynott records released with demos from this time and some live documents but they’re all in pretty poor sound and are more of a collectors item kind. But they’re good enough to spot that Archer and Lynott really did write some great stuff together. Earlier in 2019, Archer and Stanway put together their own Grand Slam and played a successful gig at Sweden Rock Festival, successful enough for Archer to find new members – Mike Dyer (vocals), Dave Boyce (bass) and Benjy Reid (drums) – and write and record a new album, making a real band out this. This is of course of big interest for any Lizzy-fan out there.
Opener and leading single “Gone Are The Days” sounds so much like Thin Lizzy – complete with a melody borrowed from said band’s “Do Anything You Want To” – it could actually be a lost Lizzy-track. A rip-off? You bet. Is it bad because of that? No way, José. Quite the opposite actually. It’s an upbeat and groovy rocker with extremely memorable melodies that makes my Lizzy-loving heart skip a beat. It was never on any of the old Grand Slam demos that leaked out at the time but apparently co-written by Archer and Lynott back in the day and has been given new life now, hence the Lizzy vibes all over. “19” is very close to the original albeit a bit heavier. If you’re a Lynott-fan, this song is old news and since it was a single back in 1985, it must be looked upon as a cover but that said, they do a damn fine version of the song and singer Dyer really makes the best out if, harnessing Lynott’s voice and style without turning into a copy-cat. I love the original and I dig this one too.
The title-track and latest single, however, is a Grand Slam 2019 original, a song that proves that Archer still can deliver the goods musically even though the song do sport a big Lizzy influence. The tune brings on some tough riffing mixed with some really effective vocal-harmonies that takes the route of Melodic Rock, very melodic and hook-laden and a refrain that’s really damn catchy. Very good. “Military Man”, another track that was released back in the day also gets the cover-sticker on it because of that – and the fact that it was written solely by Lynott. Still, it was meant for Grand Slam which is why they decided to rerecord it here. This version is heavier and punchier than (the awesome) original and also slightly slower in pace. This gloomy and darker yet very melodic and memorable rocker works like a charm in the hands of the new Grand Slam and Dyer sings it with conviction and respect. Great!
Written by Archer for his former band Stampede, “Crazy” comes on hard, punchy and heavy, hard rocking in a faster pace. If the slight Lynott influences here are new arrangements or written this way from go, I’m clueless of but it’s the least Lizzy-like track so far. I’m sure this is/will be a real live-killer with its in-your-face raunchiness and big melodies. Good one. I have always loved “Dedication” – and it do sound like a Thin Lizzy track, both the original and this version. This upbeat, groovy rocker sounds almost exactly like the original but with Dyer’s voice instead of Lynott’s. “Long Road” is a new track without any Lynott-connections. It’s a stripped and laid-back ballad based on acoustic guitars where 70’s Classic Rock meets 80’s power balladry – and there’s even a slight touch of modern, more radio-friendly Hard Rock thrown in. With a great main-melody, a beautiful arrangement and a catchy yet not sugary – despite the synth strings on top – chorus, the tune is a clear winner here.
“Sisters Of Mercy” was on the old Grand Slam demo so it’s nice to get to hear it properly on here. It’s a saddening and melancholic blues-laden rocker that alternates between slow and mid-tempo – and Lynott’s very personal vocal-melodies is very recognizable. The song gets heavier and more punchy the further the song goes and the Celtic “Emerald” borrowed breakdown is present on this version as well. The guys makes an amazing version of the song but it also makes me sad when I hear it, when I think about what could have been. Also from the old days, the bluesy Classic Rock groover “Crime Rate” gets a new life here, complete with a piano and a soothing organ. This too screams of Lynott melody-wise and holds a main melody that’s really catchy without being hit-laden. A fantastic tune! They close the album with “Grand Slam”, an instrumental rocker Classic Rock style with staccato riffing on a blues-based, groovy rhythm. It’s in-your-face, punchy and quite rough and I like the song although I would have preferred it with vocals.
When I first heard about this album, I thought it was nothing more than just a cheap shot at cashing in on old Philip Lynott songs but a quick research made me change my mind. Firstly, the tunes were co-written by Archer – some of them were even brought in by him and finalized by Lynott – which means that Archer owns the same right to use the songs as Lynott did when he was planning on going solo instead. Secondly, the songs – both the new ones and the old – sounds great here, recorded and performed with heart, soul and the greatest respect for what they did together back then – especially singer Dyer works around Lynott’s melodies gracefully and with conviction. According to Archer, this isn’t a one-off, Grand Slam will continue as a band and I for one will follow these guys closely in the future. It’s gonna be interesting to see how they will develop their sound. But until then, this album is highly recommended – especially if you’re a Thin Lizzy fan.