In his recent interview with Sentinel Daily, Black Star Riders frontman Ricky Warwick, in response to a question with regard to the band now being very much a band in their own right as opposed to ‘that band that used to call themselves Thin Lizzy’, answered enthusiastically in the affirmative; Three albums in, BSR are surely now not the artists formerly known as Thin Lizzy but entirely their own men – and that much is screamingly self evident wherever you drop the needle on this, their third full-length outing for Nuclear Blast.
Opening with the riff-heavy title track is a smart move, reassuring listeners that all is well with the band as it snakes its way through the usual classic rock outposts. However, the second track – this reviewer’s favourite on the album, as it goes – When the Night Comes In, is a revelatory take on blistering blue-eyed r n’b of a distinctly late-seventies hue; Think Graham Parker and the Rumour in full throttle heat-treatment hysteria and you’re getting close. Soulful female backing vocals bolster Warwick’s impassioned delivery, the guitars sting without remorse and the song is a winner on every level.
Dancing With the Wrong Girl is up next, and the band can’t help themselves but slip into a little goodtime Lizzy swagger. Dancing… is a clear descendant of Jailbreak and points beyond, a tale of drunken romancing and shambling carousal, bippin’ and boppin’’ and sharing a dirty joke with the listener and, though it’s just a little gratuitous if truth be told you won’t be able to wipe the smile from your dial as you sing along.
The out and out guitar bombast of Who Rides the Tiger follows up hard, driving home the notion that the axe arsenal of Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson are at least the equal of any pairing this band and its predecessor have seen, trading licks and furious solos with enthusiastic abandon and infectious vigour, bringing to mind Lizzy at their Thunder and Lightning peak of heaviosity into the bargain. You’ll probably need a bit of a break to let the neck and finger muscles settle down after this, and luckily the band have your medical needs uppermost in their thoughts, delivering respite in the shape of the gently balladic Cold War Love. Don’t let the word balladic scare you away however; the song comes equipped with a stirringly anthemic chorus – another to add to the growing list this band is creating – full of fist-punching, bruised bravado and reverie-ringed lament, almost like something from Warwick’s excellent solo album of last year. In short, it’s another great song on an album that is rapidly shaping up as the band’s best.
Testify or Say Goodbye hits the late-seventies trail again, forming a companion piece When the Night Comes In with its sassy backing vocals and irresistible, radio-friendly chorus; Similarly Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed with it’s loping, Duff MacKagan-styled bass (courtesy of newish four-stringer Robbie Crane) and insistent chorus demands widespread radio play, or at least worldwide recognition as a superior piece of hip-shaking rock n’roll frippery. And if the final three tracks True Blue Kid, Ticket to Rise and Lettin Go of Me don’t quite scale the heights of what’s gone before they certainly don’t disappoint, particularly the former with it’s muscular yet flexible riffage and street poet rap from Warwick, who maintains top form throughout the album.
So where now for Black Star Riders? As a band at the top of their game and in possession of the best album of their career you’d have to say the sky’s the limit – let’s hope so.
Heavy Fire is released by Nuclear Blast on February 3rd.