REVIEW: BLACK STAR RIDERS – “Wrong Side Of Paradise”
There’s a Monster’s of Rock Festival MTV special from 1992 on YouTube that includes live music footage and interviews from a lineup consisting of W.A.S.P, Slayer. Skid Row, Iron Maiden, and The Almighty, the band that launched vocalist Ricky Warwick into the hard-rock-/heavy-metal-sphere. While it’s worth watching for the performances, from a cultural snapshot perspective, the interviews with the bands are the most interesting part. Metal culture in 1992 was emerging from the debauchery and excesses of the eighties, and the sentiments from the interviewees run the gamut from reflecting on spirituality to uncomfortable, hands-on interplay with the female host (somewhat shocking by today’s standards). Warwick’s interview stands out. His unpretentious passion for music and professional respect for the interviewer (who just happened to be his wife at the time) were on full display and sat at odds with the “rock star” behavior of some of his peers. This all tracks with Warwick’s post-The Almighty career, a career in which he cuts through the crap to deliver honest, no-frills rock n’ roll.
‘Wrong Side of Paradise’ is a record that pairs slick, modern production with big rock guitars, big hooks, and big sentiments. At its best, it’s a new beginning for Warwick and company, upon which they can build their own brand, and emerge as something other than a sort of legacy act. At its worst, dialing back some of the Thin Lizzy elements that fans of Black Star Riders and Lizzy have come accustomed to, like extended dual-lead guitar breaks and nods to traditional Irish folk music, may alienate some of their fanbases.
The ghost of Lizzy’s Phil Lynott has certainly rubbed off on Warwick. After inhabiting his songs for the last 12 years, it was inevitable. While these elements are dialed way back, they’re still there. In fact, some of the finest moments of the record happen when those influences come to the surface. Consider the celebratory, upbeat Lizzy-Esque, “Better Than Saturday Night”, the tough-guy posturing of the monologue at the center of the gritty “Pay Dirt,” or the Irish national pride and traditional Irish folk-referencing riff at the center of the stand-out track “Green and Troubled Land.” Unfortunately, the exclusion of dual-lead guitars in particular is a pretty major misstep.
The balance of the record consists of introspective “working class” anthems. The muscular hard rock swagger of lead-off track “Wrong Side of Paradise,” with its fiery lead breaks and vitriolic condemnation of the gullible and misguided masses bleeds into the bluesy harmonica-laced “Hustle,” which veers into almost Steve Earle territory. The infectious “Crazy Horses”, an unlikely Osmonds cover, with its screeching guitars and screaming vocals, finds the band at their unhinged best. From the staccato riffs, melodic guitars, and pop sensibilities of “Catch Yourself On” to the hazy barroom groove of “This Life Will Be the Death of Me” Warwick, along with long-running bassist Robbie Crane and relative newcomer’s drummer Zak St. John and Wayward Sons guitarist Sam Ash, are making the best of their break with Gorham to reset and relaunch via a shiny new record deal with Earache.
With the amicable departure of Scott Gorham, Ricky Warwick has steered Black Star Riders deeper into the shimmery waters of modern hard rock. ‘Wrong Side of Paradise’ is an earnest, efficient record that finds the band straying further from the Thin Lizzy sound of their earlier material.