REVIEW: RICKY WARWICK – “When Life Was Hard and Fast”
It’s a classic story. A young kid, in a room, with a guitar. Born in Newtownards, County Down in Northern Ireland, Ricky Warwick acquired his first electric guitar at thirteen years old. Since then, he has gone from strength to rock ‘n’ roll strength touring with everyone from Bryan Adams, Cheap Trick to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Most notably, Warwick was courted by guitarist Scott Gorham to front the revival of rock legends Thin Lizzy. A conversation that eventually led to the singer becoming frontman and main songwriter for supergroup Black Star Riders instead. Set to release his 5th solo album in February 2021, the nostalgically titled ‘When Life Was Hard and Fast’, seesaws between representing Warwick as a musician on his own terms, and as an overly reminiscent testament to the cloth his musical taste was cut from.
Like speed-dating during lunch hour on a Tuesday afternoon, for every high on ‘When Life Was Hard and Fast’, almost every follow-up is far less interesting. The album’s opening and title track, with its dueling guitars, pub rock energy, and Warwick’s likeness for Phil Lynott’s vocal delivery, offers little more than a snapshot as to why Warwick was considered as a replacement. But things are soon on track with “You Don’t Love Me” which breaths with real life. It’s cruising pace, immediately memorable pre-chorus, with just a hint of the late, great Peter Steele flirting within Warwick’s whiskey-toned vocals and suddenly the day feels won. Until…the peaks and valleys cycle repeats itself, again…and again.
“I’d Rather Be Hit” proves that Warwick has some serious rock ‘n’ roll, songwriting chops. Lead guitars take a back seat momentarily as Warwick locks vocals with drummer Xavier Muriel (ex-Buckcherry) in a song that packs a welcomed punch. Back to back tracks “Gunslinger” and “Never Corner A Rat” both serve as more bland recitations of the same old song in as many variations as the retro-manic community is willing to guzzle. And yet, there are further moments of brilliance. “I Don’t Feel at Home” and “Clown of Misery” see Warwick park the generic for something stripped back, with a storytelling quality you want more of. “Time Don’t Seem to Matter”, a predominantly acoustic and string-based duet between Ricky and his daughter, Pepper, unexpectedly offers a wonderfully moving, delicate, and gripping moment to remember.
‘When Life Was Hard and Fast’ courts Dad rock appeal. In doing so it loses something and does not work as a whole. Even allowing for guest appearances from Joe Elliot (Def Leppard) and Dizzy Reed (Guns n Roses). Wrestling between innovation and imitation, these songs might be better served on two distinctive EP’s than a single body of work for they neither contrast nor compliment each other. At its best, ‘When Life Was Hard and Fast’ offers a handful of enticing rock numbers that set the scene for something more heartfelt and thoughtful, which sometimes visits but never stays. Instead, we get a fun-for-fans callback to the good old days on an album often showing an absence of real personality. A result made more frustrating by the fact that Ricky is a musician and songwriter oozing with personality. As his best songs on ‘When Life Was Hard and Fast’ testify.