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Thin Lizzy: Nightlife - Album Of The Week Club review

Two new guitarists but a muted sound make Nightlife a Thin Lizzy album that isn't quite the Thin Lizzy we know and love

Thin Lizzy - Nightlife
(Image: © Vertigo)
Thin Lizzy - Nightlife

Thin Lizzy - Nightlife

(Image credit: Vertigo)

She Knows
Night Life
It's Only Money
Still in Love with You
Frankie Carroll
Showdows
Banshee
Philomena
Sha La La
Dear Heart

Nightlife was the first Thin Lizzy album to feature the twin-guitar attack that the band were later known for, from new recruits Scott Gorham, a skinny, American who narrowly escaped a tenure in Supertramp, and Brian Robertson, a fresh-faced teen from Scotland. 

Nightlife is one of the band’s most accomplished early albums; an eclectic collection of bruising boogie rockers and slower, more soulful songs like the tender She Knows, Showdown and the rainy title song. Both the Cream-like blues rocker Sha-La-La and the slow-burning ballad Still In Love With You became enduring live favourites.

"The rehearsals for that album were exactly the same way as when I went down and jammed with them," Gorham told us. "Everything was loud, it was big. But when we got into the studio, Ron Nevison, the producer, kept saying: 'Just turn the guitars down a little.' Robbo and I would look at each other and go: 'This is our first album, and this guy’s just worked with Led Zeppelin. So we’ll just take it down a notch.' 

"And Nevison was like: 'Could you turn it down a little bit more?' And the volume kept going down and down, to where the songs just didn’t have that drive any longer. We all walked out scratching our heads, going: 'What the fuck just happened there?' That’s when Phil [Lynott] goes: 'Fuck these producers, I’ll produce the next one.' I went: 'Oh shit. What have we let ourselves in for now?'"

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in November 1974

  • Autobahn - Kraftwerk
  • Cantamos - Poco
  • Fly to the Rainbow - Scorpions
  • Man of Miracles - Styx
  • Sheer Heart Attack - Queen 
  • Saturnight - Cat Stevens
  • Country Life - Roxy Music
  • Goodnight Vienna - Ringo Starr
  • The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast - Roger Glover
  • The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway - Genesis
  • John Dawson Winter III - Johnny Winter
  • Relayer - Yes
  • Fire on the Mountain - Charlie Daniels Band
  • Slade in Flame - Slade
  • 7-Tease - Donovan
  • Bluejeans & Moonbeams - Captain Beefheart
  • Desolation Boulevard - Sweet
  • Myopia - Tom Fogerty
  • Out Of The Storm - Jack Bruce
  • Propaganda - Sparks
  • Soon Over Babaluma - Can
  • Stormbringer - Deep Purple
  • Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) - Brian Eno
  • There's the Rub - Wishbone Ash
  • Where We All Belong - Marshall Tucker Band
  • Wish You Were Here - Badfinger

What they said...

"It's curious that Nightlife - the first album Thin Lizzy recorded for Mercury, the first album to feature guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, the album that in many ways kicked off their classic era - is in many ways a complete anomaly within their catalogue. It's a subdued, soulful record, smooth in ways that Thin Lizzy never were before and rarely were afterwards." (AllMusic)

"A soulful, subdued and sexy album, Nightlife owes more to Van Morrison than it does to Bruce Springsteen (those being two large-looming influences upon Thin Lizzy’s leader/vocalist/songwriter/bassist Phil Lynott). ...Thin Lizzy’s Nightlife telegraphs some – but not all – of the strengths that their blockbuster release would feature. The brief It’s Only Money is a riff-heavy rocker that presages Jailbreak. And its moralistic theme is one to which Lynott would often return." (MusoScibe)

"Though still overlooked by many, the importance of Nightlife cannot be ignored. In some respects the two new guitarists were still finding their feet but their performances are a good indication of what was possible musically and how both players’ distinct styles could complement each other." (Rocktopia)

What you said...

Kevin Miller: I actually really like this album. Lizzy suffered from never releasing a full album that I find fantastic from end to end, but this one (with the exception of Frankie Carroll) pretty much has everything I love about Lizzy. I actually like the syrupy songs like Still In Love With You and as a massive Maiden fan, I love listening to the guitar sound that led to them. I like the boogie bass. I also enjoy the production (at least on the Spotify version I’m listening to).

8/10. This is as good as “in the studio” Lizzy gets for me. Not better, but just as good.

Mike Canoe: Another band where their best may still be ahead of them, but I enjoyed Thin Lizzy's Nightlife. It sounds like a classic Thin Lizzy album to me. Of course, listening to it all the way through for the first time almost fifty years after it came out is going to be a different experience than growing up with it.

I don't mind the relative mellowness compared to their later albums. The band still sounds great and the solos really shine. Phil Lynott's songwriting is good and there are several examples of his wonderful storytelling lyric style. My favourites include Showdown, Philomena, and Dear Heart. The two heaviest numbers, It's Only Money and Sha La La, are a nice contrast to the rest of the album but don't make me wish the whole album was heavier.

Sometimes Lynott's reach exceeds his grasp. I can understand rock fans not knowing what to make of the lounge jazz title track or the orchestral arrangements on a third of the songs and the title character of Frankie Carroll still just seems like an unsympathetic and unlikable a**hole.

Between Live And Dangerous and the Dedication compilation, I am generally good with Thin Lizzy at a greatest hits level, but Nightlife makes me want to check out the rest of the albums by this classic lineup.

Roland Bearne: I decided to contextualise this by stepping back and also listening to Vagabonds. The band here are clearly stepping out in new directions but also seem to be taking a breath and somewhat finding their feet. Phil is of course one of the ultimate rock icons and also one of the most written about. 

One thing has always struck me about him is that whilst, he cranked up the Rock God/Sleep When I'm Dead image, I always felt he was above all a real troubadour at heart, tapping into a musical story telling tradition harking back to the Trouvers of the early Middle Ages. Sometimes the observer, sometimes the victim and sometimes the protagonist of his tales, part fictional part from life and the heart (here we have Philomena for his mum and elsewhere we find, Little Girl In Bloom, A Song For While I'm Away and Sarah). Part doyen of the fleshpots of the night and part sentimental to the core, here are largely gentler musings full of nocturnal characters and a lightness of touch. 

It's as if, as highlighted by Sha La La, they all knew the Lizzy rollercoaster was about to plunge down the first big drop, so with the new line-up they took a "moment", they eased into the two guitar symbiosis merging gentle west-coast-isms with some highly dextrous blues/ rock playing and indulging Phil's inner itinerant minstrel story teller. Altogether I find it makes for a different feel to most of the canon but a very pleasant one. 

Phil's bass plying is pretty on point and honourable mention must be given to the towering influence of Mr Brian Downey, by golly without that man's ability to play with real "swing" I doubt they could even have contemplated some of the more gently funked up pieces. A dull "filler" or a moment of rallying the troops ready for the big push, I prefer the latter and really like this relatively short album (could do without the annoying fade outs though!). One last word, a standing ovation as ever for Gary Moore's exquisite contribution to Still In Love With You. Lovely!

Iain Macaulay: This is where the band that people understand as Thin Lizzy began. In a rather understated form to be honest. Their best days were still ahead of them. It’s maybe not the best Lizzy album, but It is a great album. So many styles of music to keep you interested. It’s just not as tough and macho as some of the following ‘classic’ sounding albums nor is it the band that they became in the public consciousness. 

I like Thin Lizzy, a lot, even the bad days have a lot of redeeming features in them so in a lot of ways they can do no wrong for me. As an aspiring guitarist, if you want to learn how to play, their music covers so many bases you will pick up so many styles and techniques that will stand you in good stead. It did for me.

Chris Downie: Many a pub argument has no doubt been had through the ages with regards to who were the true pioneers of the twin lead guitar attack in heavy music. While there is little doubt it was popularised and perfected by the likes of Judas Priest in the late 70s and Iron Maiden in the early 80s, before becoming a staple of the heavy and power metal genres, a compelling argument can be made that Thin Lizzy were the catalyst for it all.

It is an interesting footnote that, by and large, they initially cut their teeth as a power trio, with the impressive Eric Bell providing lead work on their first three albums. However, despite their promising start, large-scale commercial success eluded them and it was not until the replacement of Bell with the legendary pairing of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson that they found their true sound, which brings us to Nightlife.

Contrary to popular opinion - and despite the above-mentioned lineup revamp - the successful transformation did not happen overnight and it has to be said that Nightlife is something of a transitional offering in their chequered catalogue. Whilst by no means a subpar recording, with the exception of Still In Love With You (immortalised a few years later on one of the greatest live albums of all time) there are few genuine highlights which became household names and which stand out as clear-cut classics.

General consensus is that Thin Lizzy truly reached their potential on the incomparable Jailbreak release in 1976 and in the wider context, Nightlife is the archetypal work-in-progress in the way Caress Of Steel was for Rush; a stepping stone that didn't quite hit the heights aimed for, but which undeniably became their stepping stone towards greater things.

Brian Carr: Easy listening Thin Lizzy? Definitely lighter overall than their better known output, but it doesn’t matter. The guitar work is stellar and there is nothing comparable to Phil’s voice, vibe and coolness factor.

It’s Only Money and Sha La La (odd title for such a burning track) provide the heavy, but to me, that menacing, cool tone is also present in Showdown. There are a couple of tracks on Nightlife that border on filler status, but man are the high points high.

It’s a travesty Thin Lizzy weren’t huge in America. I really need to spend some time going through their catalog completely because every time I dive in I love what I hear.

Alex Hayes: "Mmmmm. A nice, big, thick slice of Thin Lizzy...."

Those are the words of Norfolk's finest celebrity DJ and national treasure Alan Partridge. He uttered them in the late 90s, having just played Thunder And Lighting on his 'graveyard shift' show on Radio Norwich. Alan actually knew very little about Lizzy. If he had, he'd have known that their 1974 album, Nightlife, is far from big or thick. It's still pretty damn nice though.

First of all, what a line-up. We have Phil Lynott (vocals/bass), Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson (guitars), and Brian Downey (drums). Mmmmm, what a scintillating line-up that is. You've probably got the definitive Tin Lizzie right there, and Nightlife was the first of the band's albums to showcase such collective awesomeness.

It's not a particularly highly rated album though, and many people cite Ron Nevison's production as the chief reason why. It's mainly a subdued affair, gentler and more refined, without the drive and power that the later Lizzy albums benefited from. On tracks like Nightlife itself and Dear Heart we're almost into lounge music territory it's so laid back. Only on It's Only Money and Sha La La does the pace pick up a little and the more uptempo and recognisable Thin Lizzy sound comes galloping through.

Personally however, I really like Nightlife. It's one of those albums that I enjoy precisely because it's a little bit different and distinctive. I'm glad it's the exception in the Thin Lizzy discography as opposed to the rule, but it still stands up pretty well for me.

I'm not kidding myself though. As much as I enjoy Nightlife, it's no Jailbreak or Bad Reputation. And it's most definitely no Live And Dangerous. Now that is a nice, big, thick slice of Thin Lizzy. Legendary band.

Greg Schwepe: Good “leading up to” album by Thin Lizzy. Had never listened to this one start to finish, but am aware of many songs as heard on live albums and compilations. And in “leading up to” I mean that progression where the band improves and gets better with each subsequent release until they get to the one that puts them on the map. In this case that would be the classic Jailbreak. Will give this one a 7 out of 10.

Thin Lizzy seem to be one of those bands that whenever you mention their name, you get a good reaction; “oh yeah, I really like them.” But in reality, those people that aren’t hardcore music geeks (like us in this Classic Rock Facebook group) probably only know the U. S. rock radio standards; The Boys Are Back In Town and maybe Cowboy Song. My first Lizzy vinyl purchase in 8th or 9th grade was Jailbreak. And being enamoured with the Gibson Les Paul, I just used to stare at the pics on the back with Robertson and Gorham wielding those sunburst beauties!

This album is very much in the vein of others to follow; mix of fast rock type songs, some slower soulful ones, a few jazzy ones. Kind of mellow in areas actually. Good songwriting by Phil Lynott. Not a lot of the “twin guitar harmonies” from Robertson and Gorham. I think those started to emerge on the next few albums. Then it became their trademark. Not a lot of teeth (distortion!) on this one, but you don’t have to have a Marshall cranked up to “11” all the time.

This is kind of a different review for me, just because I don’t have a lot of details to pontificate about this time around. Just a good batch of songs, and there ya go! Not the barnburner of an album that we’ll get from Jailbreak and onward, but one I really enjoyed listening to.

Ken Doyle: Often dismissed as the band finding their feet but I see this so differently. She Knows and their wonderful take on Night Life sum this album up for me - perfect songs for my ears and so much more on this album. It’s a Lizzy classic that has aged remarkably. Sounds fabulous, varied but yet a cohesive listen. I love it.

Thick House: Last summer I did a lot of runs through artists' entire discography--Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Black Sabbath, and several others. One of the bands that I tried to get through was Thin Lizzy, but I ended up getting stalled out after Vagabonds and never completed it. This album picks up where I left off.

I have to be honest: I did not give this record the attention that I have given previous albums from this club. And though part of it was just because I was in a bad mood this week, part of it was also that there wasn't much here to grab my attention. Despite the fact that Thin Lizzy are revered as 70s hard rock royalty, there's barely anything of that nature on the album. Most of it is R&B-tinged middle of the road rock, the kind of thing that has been done much better in other places. 

We get two middling, Zeppelin-esque hard rock songs, It's Only Money and Sha La La, a fairly nice kind of orchestral ballad in Frankie Carroll, and a weird foray into Irish balladry, Philomena, and all of this is thrown haphazardly together with six other light-rock-R&B songs. The band sounds like they're trying to go in too many different stylistic directions without any central concept or structure to hold it together. 

Don't get me wrong. Other than the glurgey strings that are on a couple tracks, nothing here sounds bad. It just feels like the weakest songs from about three or four different-sounding albums were all compiled into one. I would recommend checking out Frankie Carroll and then skipping the rest unless you're a die-hard classic rock fan or Thin Lizzy completist. Kudos to the band for sticking it out through several lacklustre albums and improving their craft, and kudos to the album artist--this cover is awesome.

Paul Capener: Fabulous album and the first that really hit the spot. Still In Love With You is a stonewall classic. The dual guitars are now embedded in rock and metal because of these guys (although Priest may say otherwise). Phil really started to develop as a song writer on this one. The sign of things to come.

Marike Elzinga: Everything Phil Lynott made is gold in my opinion. So is Nightlife. Production-wise definitely not their best, but the album is an important one in the Lizzy discography. With Robertson and Gorham on board, the band was just starting to craft their new twin guitar sound and there is a promise of greatness in the songwriting and in the execution. My favourite tracks are the title track and Still In Love with You.

Paul Hutchings: 37 minutes of sheer class. Early Lizzy really had a unique feel about it. As others have said, this may not have contained huge hits but its a cracking record and definitely showed the direction they were to travel.

Billy Master: Still with one foot in the past, but a nod to what would eventually come. This feels like a band that haven't quite defined their direction. I think what spoils it for me most, is the dull production. I don't know if this album has been remastered, would be interesting to hear that.

Fred Varcoe: Compared to the glorious Vagabonds Of The Western World, this is just syrupy drivel. They used to be a rock band (live they still were), but this just sounds like the boys had 10 minutes to write 10 tuneless tunes. Eric Bell was a master guitarist; the twin-guitar bollocks that followed was just lame. The new Thin Lizzy had their moments, but this wasn't one of them. 2/10

Keith Jenkin: Think Vagabonds was/still is the better early album, remember reading a Classic Rock feature recently that the band were gutted when they heard their finished item. Ron Nevison, eh? Surprised anyone saw fit to hire him again after this.

Richard Cardenas: People our age often cry out that they don’t make music like they used to. Although I disagree with that sentiment, I find there’s another solution to that concern. If you’re like me, you never got into many of these artists’ entire catalogue either because they evolved and you didn’t like the change, you couldn’t afford to, you got into other music like punk or you got into them late.

I’ve recently begun listening to entire catalogues and Thin Lizzy was one such artist. A long winded way of saying this was a recent listen to me and I loved it.

Richard Cardenas: Many folks decry the production but, unless a record was too polished, production has never really bothered me. It often gave the impression of a band doing all it could to get an album out. I liked that quality especially at a young age when I was going to see many local bands.

John Davidson: Nightlife is not a lost classic.

In fact it is probably the poorest of their main run of studio albums. Though to be fair, Lizzy were never fully successful as a hard rock band in the studio.

Much like UFOs Strangers In The Night, Live And Dangerous is the go to album to hear the band in their natural element.

My main takeaway is that the songs are largely journeyman pieces and the arrangements favour a laid-back funk over the twin attack guitars that they now had available to them.

Unlike on Johnny The Fox or Bad Reputation there are no classic deep album cuts here that they missed off Live And Dangerous and the many compilation albums to come.

Despite Lynott's singular voice and phrasing, the music of She Knows would sit just as easily on a James Gang or Bob Seger album.

The title track is a pretty bland affair and perhaps tells its own tale about where the band's heads were at.

The version of Still In Love With You is boosted by supporting vocals from Frankie Miller but despite this and the excellent guitar soloing it still lacks the essential vigour of the live version I know and love.

Showdown doesn't really live up to its title, instead pussyfooting around a soft funk melody strafed by occasional guitar breaks before it speeds up a little towards the end .

It's only on Sha La La that we get a proper look at the hard rock classics that were ahead of the band and hear what the two guitarists can do when they slip the leash. 5/10

John Edgar: Nightlife was a later find for me. I was developing my own taste in music around the time the Fighting album came out. I was a fan of the Fighting album and that was the beginning of the Thin Lizzy sound that I loved so much. 

Two things brought me back around to Nightlife. The first was the passing of Phil Lynott, which meant there would not be any new Thin Lizzy music. The second was the death of vinyl in the 1980s. As vinyl began to die off, record stores everywhere were selling off their vinyl stock at cut rate prices. I took advantage of that and bought a lot of stuff that I'd always wanted. One LP in that buying spree was Nightlife

At first I was a bit disappointed. In regard to players, all the pieces were there, but it lacked the Thin Lizzy 'punch' that I so admired. Over time I kept returning to this album for a listen, and over time I came to really enjoy Nightlife. It's one of those 'you can hear what's coming' albums. The Thin Lizzy formula was just beginning to gel and this is the band's true transitional album. Compared to everything that came after it, it is a bit smooth and funky, and Sha La La is the only true rocker on the album. But, the version of Still In Love With You that's featured on this LP is a true classic (a duet with Frankie Miller). 

Every song on the album could have fallen individually onto any of the later albums and been fine. I Think it's only as a group that they come across a little weak for the average 'post-Nightlife' Thin Lizzy fan. If your love for Thin Lizzy begins with Jailbreak (and that's especially true for a lot of American fans) then I would encourage you to explore Nightlife and the rest of the Thin Lizzy back catalog. There's some good stuff there.

Final Score: 7.09⁄10 (123 votes cast, with a total score of 873)

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