Black Star Riders – The Killer Instinct

The sad thing about rock ’n’ roll (and about aging in general) is that you can never replicate the past. The best rock ’n’ roll is always made by miscreants who are young, hot and full of jizz. Like they say, youth is wasted on the young. And it’s better to burn out, than to fade away, right?

Thin Lizzy main man Phil Lynott has been dead for 35 years. And I’m thinking he’ll stay dead for a long time to come.

Black Star Riders is the band that used to be Thin Lizzy.  Or should I say that Black Star Riders is the band that used to be, ahem, “Thin Lizzy?”

Yes, this is the bunch of dudes that hit the festival circuit as Thin Lizzy in the early oughts.  And yes, the band features a certain guitarist named Scott Gorham, who was actually in Thin Lizzy’s classic lineup – we’re talking the Bad Reputation/Jailbreak era here. Gorham’s got some cred.

You might remember Scott: He was the tall one with the high cheekbones, blond tresses and All-American, surfer boy good looks. And he played guitar as good as he looked.

So these days Gorham’s gotta be 60+ years old. And these days he’s looking a lot more like Mark Twain than the sun-bleached golden god of yore. But what’s an aging guitar slinger to do? A man’s got to have an income, right?

Sure, Black Star Riders play a lot of Thin Lizzy songs live. The band is basically a tribute act with one original member, Gorham. But you’ve got to give Gorham credit for having the class to change the name of the band before releasing new material – even though calling it Thin Lizzy would probably have moved a few more units.

The oddest thing about Black Star Riders’ second album The Killer Instinct is that apparently Gorham had little to do with the songwriting. The songs are credited to guitarist Damon Johnson (formerly of Alabama’s Brother Cane) and singer Ricky Warwick. Granted, Johnson has certainly got the chops and Warwick is Irish – so that’s close enough. I guess.

In theory this seems like it wouldn’t work at all. But The Killer Instinct is actually a pretty fine record.

What we have here is a kinda/sorta artfully rendered reimagining of Thin Lizzy for the post millennial era. The songs are catchy and memorable. The musicianship is spot on. And super-producer Nick Raskulinecz puts a heavy coat of aural lacquer over the album’s ten tracks to deliver a Spielberg quality entertainment product.

In other words, this is exactly what you’d expect – only better. Songs like “Finest Hour” and “Charlie I Gotta Go” sound about as close to Thin Lizzy as possible. The band tastefully dials down the cheesiness factor for the most part, delivering anthemic material that is only cringeworthy when they do that Irish jig thing that would be better left to Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Celtic Woman and the like.

Sure, this is some slick stuff that would fit in nicely on classic rock radio – somewhere betwixt Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and the Zac Brown Band. These guys know their demographics. Black Star Riders’ middle-aged target audience (baby, I’m one too) has diminished expectations – knowing good and well that the best they’re gonna get is a rendition of a rendition. So, if you set aside your cynicism, this stuff rocks formidably.

And after all, the Black Star Riders grew up in the ’70s. They know the sound. And hey, they’ve got that crucial one original member of Thin Fucking Lizzy. I mean, well, shit. Who else is “qualified” to appropriate the Thin Lizzy sound? Metallica? The fucking Biters? I think not.

Black Star Riders
The Killer Instinct
[Nuclear Blast]