It hardly seems feasible, yet Black Star Riders have just finished a 10th anniversary UK tour. Spin-off, younger sibling, and partner-in-crime to the legend that remains Thin Lizzy, releasing an album every couple of years while amicably shedding and replacing members, the band has tried to carve a more distinct identity along the way.
That frontman Rick Warwick is the last man standing from the original line-up is apt. It’s on his head, as lyricist, that Black Star Riders’ identity now even more so need to be established here-on-in. Taking the biker bad-ass attitude of his former band, The Almighty, and tipping his hat to the street poetry patter of Lizzy’s fallen hero Phil Lynnott but checking in with a more modern PC approach, while reflecting the concerns, angers, and joys of a middle-aged man all helped get us to where we are now. However, for while Scott Gorham was never a prolific songwriter one inevitably assumes that what was composed by others met with his approval, and was the direction and standard that ensured they reached thus far.
Recent anniversary live dates aside, where Gorham and former drummer Jimmy DeGrasso put in appearances, Black Star Riders is now down to a four piece. Aside from Warwick, the band now features Sam Wood on guitar, Robbie Crane on bass, and Zak St. John on drums.
Replaying their four previous long players, the song standard rose with their second album, All Hell Breaks Loose, and a sophistication beyond harmony guitar melodies was present on Another State Of Grace. While they’ve not changed track completely with new album Wrong Side Of Paradise it does feel that they’ve crossed over the street, if only to check it out.
They swing into town with charismatic swagger, chopping up chords over a heavy pumping bass that refuses to get pushed out the way now or pretty much anywhere on the album. Title track ‘Wrong Side Of Paradise’ offers existentialist survivor manual rhyming couplets for those of us living in “the age of hypocrisy”. So far so good, but familiar, and it’s perhaps from around the bridge with Wood’s ascendant guitar melody that you note tweaks of a newer sweetness.
‘Hustle’ may play in the same emotional ballpark lyrically and while trundling at a slower tank-like pace through the main sections, intermittently features choice blues harp blowing and some most unexpected Beatles-styled harmonies.
‘Better Than Saturday Night’, looks to be a Joe Elliott co-write and sees the boys dip into classic Lizzy mode. Hook laden, a party atmosphere throughout, your disappointments here will largely be down to comparisons from yesteryear. ‘Riding Out The Storm’ proves a curious beast. Between heavy bass and more melodic rock guitar arpeggios there’s an early U2 feel offset by Warwick’s vocal approach, that mostly veers between deep narration and higher throaty pleas, but there are also Beatle style harmonies effectively offset by shouty football crowd type cries. All, that and an organ playing in the background.
‘Pay Dirt’ rocks and rolls in more familiar territory, while ‘Catch Yourself On’ in part has a heavy ska guitar jab going it also has a euphoric, quite dreamy, and groovy dance feel, and is one my preferred tracks. ‘Crazy Horses’ is indeed The Osmonds’ hit single, and played faithfully. A great rock song penned by a genuine boy band (as opposed to an auto-tuned vocal group), with its gasoline-polluting car lyrics even more poignant today. Not sure if it’s a guitar aping Donny Osmond’s synth line, but that being a bit loud in the mix would be my only black mark.
‘Burning Rome’ is Big Country’s Celtic rock given a twist of Americana, while ‘Don’t Let The World (Get In The Way)’ gallops across the Midwest desert planes before cruising merrily through Detroit’s night life, in that Lynott mythologised way before ‘Green And Troubled Land’ returns us to punkier-chipped tones and an implied historical political stance.
The regular edition finishes with ‘This Life Will Be The Death Of Me’ a more laid back soulful number, again with organ stirring away while some tasty guitar licks wail away. While Warwick decries the world at large, he still notes: “It’s good to be alive, sometimes it’s just alright.” We take the highs with the lows.
Bonus editions feature ‘Cut ‘n’ Run’ a potent Thunder & Lightning-era Lizzy soundalike and ‘Suspicious Times’ more of a Danko Jones rock ‘n roller.
Wrong Side Of Paradise was recorded out in the USA, but feels like it was made on this sceptred isle. Overall, there’s a rougher edge to the sound, with a heavy rock ‘n roll soul beating through it rather than a classic and classy attitude. Warwick’s in particularly good form vocally, throwing in some nuanced changes too; lyrically he’s not pushing the boat out too far but pretty much ticking the expected requisite boxes. The songs themselves tend to be on the short side, not big on solos and when the guitar does shake its ass it does so trying out a different dance routine.
It’s all very familiar but also that little bit different, possibly testing out the waters for what comes next. Enough here to keep fans happy I’m sure, with ‘Riding Out The Storm’ and ‘Catch Yourself On’ standing out particularly.
- Reviewed by Paul H Birch.
- Wrong Side Of Paradise is released via Earache Records and is available now (from here).
- Official Website
- Wrong Side Of Paradise
- Better Than Saturday Night
- Riding Out The Storm
- Pay Dirt
- Catch Yourself On
- Crazy Horses
- Burning Rome
- Don’t Let The World (Get In The Way)
- Green And Troubled Land
- This Life Will Be The Death Of Me
- Cut ‘n’ Run (Bonus Editions Only)
- Suspicious Times (Bonus Editions Only)