Somewhat remarkably, Thin Lizzy offshoot Black Star Riders have become something of a minor institution on the British Rock Scene in 2019. Essentially now a vanity project designed to act as a vehicle for Ricky Warwick and Scott Gorham – all other musicians step on and off the P45 merry-go-round as required -we find the band on the brink of releasing their fourth long player in the shape of Another State of Grace.
I say this is remarkable because, as has become standard for this band, there’s an awful lot of dross to be found on the new album. For every diamond like the storming opening track Tonight The Moonlight Let Me Down there’s an absolute stinker like Nothing Left to Fix, wherein Warwick utilises some rhyming couplets surely left over from The Almighty’s 1991 album Soul Destruction. And that’s even before we get to the appallingly literal-minded funk rock protest schlock of Soldier In The Ghetto (‘hmmm… it’s got ghetto in the title – how about some Stevie Wonder-styled Farfisa?’). And, while I’m at it, if this band really is nothing to do with Thin Lizzy anymore, why do we have to put up with fourth division Emerald reruns like the album’s title track?
Better then, as Bing Crosby probably would have said, to accentuate the positive. Tonight The Moonlight Let Me Down is a bona fide stormer, following on from When The Night Comes In from 2017’s Heavy Fire. This style of music really is the band’s strength, drawing a line direct to Thin Lizzy’s late seventies contemporaries like Graham Parker and the Rumour and Clover; axes chime, saxes honk, and choruses are built in dependably solid fashion so that you’ll remember them for years to come. Just like music used to be made. I’m not asking for the ‘Riders to turn in to the Rumour, but this is surely a direction worth pursuing more extensively next time out.
As is the superb Paisley punk of What Will It Take, a jangling, swirling anthem straight outta 1986, where The Rain Parade and The Long Ryders still walk tall in a haze of psychedelic fuzzed-out nirvana. Mature, assured songwriting backed up by superb playing – what’s not to love? This surely is more attractive than the plodding cro-magnon rock of In The Shadow Of The War Machine. And, as if to prove me conclusively correct, the band head back into swoonsome melodic-overload on the superb Poisoned Heart to bring matters to a close, wherein the band bring to mind much-missed names like The Smithereens and the Jayhawks.
So there you have it. Like the girl in the nursery rhyme, when the Black Star Riders are good they are very, very good, and the half an album here that fits that description is among the best the band has committed to wax thus far. I’ll not be revisiting the rest, thanks, but there’s always next time, and in the meantime I’m sure the band will continue pleasing less curmudgeonly ears than mine in their thousands. Good luck to them!
Another State of Grace is out on September 6th.