After a decade of releasing their own music, Black Star Riders have shown themselves to be much more than the spin-off band some feared they would be. Starting life as Scott Gorham’s reincarnation Thin Lizzy, with Ricky Warwick on vocals, there was debate about the name under which any new music would be released. Warwick et al might have shed the Thin Lizzy moniker, but they have inherited a similar revolving door of guitarists.
Ahead of recording this fifth album, Gorham announced he was stepping back from the band. After recording, Christian Martucci left due to a clash of commitments with other projects. Luckily, as Lynott was at times to Thin Lizzy, Warwick is the glue holding everything together and keeping the show on the road.
Anyone picking up a Black Star Riders record knows at this stage what they’re in for; fast-paced, feel-good, heavy rock’n’roll. Wrong Side of Paradise doesn’t disappoint and maintains a relentless energy for most of the eleven tracks.
The dual guitar trickery is dialled back a little perhaps given Gorham’s absence, but Warwick and Martucci more than hold their own with fiery riffs in ‘Hustle’ and the ‘Green And Troubled Land call and response lines especially. It’s hard and heavy, but there’s also time for a breath in the acoustic-driven ‘Riding Out The Storm’ and ‘Burning Rome’.
In the midst of all the riffage and upbeat choruses, Warwick also tackles the rise of conspiracy theories, and the ills of social media and dips his toe into the politics of his homeland. Warwick told XS Noize that ‘Green And Troubled Land’ taps into the threat to progress made in Northern Ireland from “people who want to drag us backwards…little pockets of idiots.” ‘Catch Yourself On’ addresses the broken moral compasses of social media trolls with an acerbic delivery of the Northern Irish phrase more often seen printed on t-shirts in tourist shops than heard in the street.
Despite being from roughly the same area as Warwick, this reviewer has always found references to home and its catchphrases in music and films to be cringe-inducing. Warwick knows his audience though and, like ‘Catch Yourself On’, proclaiming in ‘Pay Dirt’ that “my heart belongs to Belfast, my soul belongs to Glasgow” is sure to go down well in some quarters. Just not this one, so it’s not.
With eleven big choruses across the album, not everyone can be expected to hit the same anthemic heights. There are far more hits than misses, though. ‘Better Than Saturday Night’ features Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot on backing vocals – who Warwick says, “can never do enough for me, he’s just brilliant,” – and stands out as one of the album’s lead singles. Later, the aspirational lyrical refrain of “It’s not ok to be ok, don’t let the world get in the way,” might sit on the wrong side of the balance for some listeners, but is definitely rescued being wrapped around a great melody and guitar line.
One of the joys of listening to a Black Star Riders album as a Thin Lizzy fan is uncovering subtle tips of the hat to the legendary band. Warwick does this brilliantly with Lynott-Esque rhyming couplets and a protagonist called Johnny; no doubt there are more to be discovered on further listens.
A cover of The Osmond’s ‘Crazy Horses’ is an inspired addition to the tracklist but the best is saved to last with ‘This Life Will Be The Death Of Me’. Its rolling bass line and creeping guitars build brilliantly into an almost soul/Motown-style chorus before exploding into one of the album’s best lead breaks. It’s a welcome change of pace and its restraint almost hits harder than some of the album’s heavier tracks.
Wrong Side of Paradise will give Black Star Riders fans everything they want from a new album, and those who go along to one of the band’s UK tour dates will get a little extra with Scott Gorham back in the lineup as they roar out the choruses of every song.
Back in 2013, ahead of the release of the band’s debut album, this reviewer spoke to Warwick about his new project and its evolution away from being Thin Lizzy. He said, “We have to go out and show people that the band can stand on its own.” Ten years and five albums later, it’s fair to say job done.