I’m sure everyone knows the story of Black Star Riders, so I won’t bore you with that. And most of you will have heard Ricky Warwick or one of the other guys in their solo projects or other bands. If you have, then you’ll have a fair idea what to expect. I’ve heard some of their solo stuff (I saw Ricky and Damon play an acoustic set at the Diamond Rock Bar in Ahoghill), so I thought I had a fair idea what I was letting myself in for.
I’ve also claimed to be a fan of Black Star Riders for a few years now – yet I don’t actually own any of their albums. I’ve listened to them – what sort of fan would I be if I hadn’t? – but this album marks the first time I’ve deliberately sat down to listen to them.
Title track “Heavy Fire” is one hell of a way to open an album – there’s something about listening to heavy guitars and a rolling drum beat that really gets the blood pumping.
“When the Night Comes In” is an early contender for song of the album. I mean my god, how can one song be so insanely catchy, so insanely…awesome? And Ricky sounds so uncannily like Phil Lynott at several points in this that I actually had to check I was listening to the right album. And the best thing about this song? There’s another eight to go after this.
And the album just keeps getting better from here. This review may end up sounding borderline gushy, but genuinely – there aren’t enough words in the English language (or any others probably) to say just how good this album actually is. Think back to the best Lizzy album you heard – then improve it. Rarely has an album made me smile while listening to it as much as this – in fact, only Maverick’s ‘Big Red’ from last year came close.
“Dancing With The Wrong Girl” is another slice of genius, guaranteed to get your feet tapping and evoking memories of the great man himself. Three songs in, and I’m wondering is it possible to just phone in sick to work and listen to this album non-stop. Apparently not, but it’d be worth a try.
The album just goes from strength to strength from here. “Who Rides the Tiger” (besides having a frankly awesome name) is a guitar tour de force. You know how a lot of bands leave their proper solos for the live gigs? Not here. This song contains the sort of solo that pretty much any guitarist out there would give their left arm to play.
“Cold War Love” is the sort of song that, when you first start listening, just seems to be one of those songs that you can listen to without thinking. That wouldn’t be doing it justice though – not by a long shot. This song will bring goosebumps to your flesh and cause the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on end. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song that definitely evokes memories of Van Morrison. It’s a real ‘lighters in the air’ song that would sound even more intense played live.
“Testify or Say Goodbye” brings us crashing back to earth, with the sort of galloping drums and guitars that I’ve always associated Lizzy with. Now, I know I keep mentioning Lizzy, but it’s important to point out that Black Star Riders are a band that are truly coming into their own. And while the Lizzy influences will likely always be there, especially if you go out to find them, there is more than enough here to say that rock fans will be talking about BSR as their own band for a long time to come.
“Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed” has a bit of a funk undertone to it – and this is definitely a good thing. It’s at this point that I realize something. I’m seven songs through an album and there hasn’t been even the slightest hint of any sort of ‘filler’. There are very, very few bands you can say that about.
“True Blue Kid” keeps that, frankly insane, run going – this sounds almost like the last words of a condemned man, standing before the townspeople. In fact, if you close your eyes, it almost feels like you’re in that crowd, watching and waiting. And it takes an extraordinary lyricist to evoke these sorts of images. But by God, Black Star Riders have some of the greatest lyricists around.
“Ticket To Rise,” quite frankly, doesn’t feel like the penultimate track on the album – it genuinely feels like I’ve only listened to one or two songs, when in actual fact I’ve sat through eight of the best songs I’ve heard in a long, long time. Ricky Warwick has described this song as a “warning shot across the bows of a relative”, and that certainly comes across here.
All too soon, I’m on the last song. Surely Black Star Riders couldn’t hit a perfect ten, could they? Of course they could. Although the title, “Letting Go Of Me,” sounds like it should be a ballad, it’s really not. It feels like the song of a man letting go, begrudgingly, of a lover who has begun the ‘letting go’ process. This is a fantastic way to end any album, and it feels very personal here – I’m not letting go of this album; rather, it’s letting go of me. And I really don’t want it to.
“All you need is Jesus and a .44” according to “Who Rides The Tiger” …well I think you should add this album to that list. Because you definitely need this in your life.