Ricky Warwick is a legend. There. I said it. I’m heading into this review with obvious bias. From his early days with The (all loud, all proud, all f-ing) Almighty, fronting Thin Lizzy (and “next stage” Black Star Riders) and with his solo/Fighting Hearts material he’s pretty prolific and touched about every base in the “hard rock” category a person could reach. His last solo effort, 2016’s When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (And Guy Mitchell Sang the Blues) is a personal favourite despite being pretty far removed from early Almighty material which I also love.
When Life Was Hard & Fast is your typical eclectic mix, opening with the hard rocking title track. It’s chock full of Warwick’s reflective and relatable lyrics, harking back to the good old days when everything seemed so free and easy (to pinch from another song). Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott’s voice pipes can be heard in the background on this one, one of many guest appearances throughout the album. Another is Luke Morley’s (Thunder) guitar solo on “You Don’t Love Me”, and Buckcherry’s Keith Nelson throws in some more guitar work on “Hell Still Alive”. There’s also GnR’s Dizzy Reed on a couple of songs, and Warwick’s daughter Pepper duets with him on “Time Don’t Seem To Matter”.
“I’d Rather Be Hit” is, appropriately, a punchy number and features Andy Taylor (ex-Duran Duran) chucking in a shredded solo that sounds more hair metal than 80s pop. If there’s a song on the album that will get your head banging, it’s probably this one! “Gunslinger” isn’t a song I’d heard before but is a cover of a 1977 song by Mink Deville, originally a B-side from one of his singles. I’ll need to dig out the original to compare, but I’d say that this cover does it proud. It’s heavy, and reminds me a little of Love/Hate with the cleaner guitar tones.
Want something a bit more lo-fi, punky and in your face? “Never Corner A Rat” fits the bill, managing to be both rough at the edges and well-produced at the same time.
We’re half way through the album by now and seeing Warwick’s major strength. I used the word “eclectic” at the start of this review and we’ve had a bunch of tracks that could have come from wildly different bands already. Thing is, it continues…
Acoustic heartstring-puller? Of course, “Time Don’t Seem To Matter” ticks that box. It’s already a soppy, goosebump-raising, stare-out-the-window-wistfully kind of song… and then you remember that it’s Warwick’s own daughter singing along with him which adds that extra something special. I absolutely adored the acoustic and slower numbers on Patsy Cline and this one is up there with them.
Given the name of Warwick’s solo project, it’s almost surprising to find a song called “Fighting Heart” on here, and it’s a typical rousing rock number. It flows into “I Don’t Feel At Home”, a song about drug addiction and its effect on the family of the addict. Well worth listening to the lyrics on this one.
The impetus doesn’t let up and the album closes with three songs that couldn’t be any more different to each other. “Clown of Misery” in particular stands out, sounding as it does like a scratchy old record (or that it was recorded down a phone line, which apparently it was initially!). “You’re My Rock ‘n Roll” lives up to its name taking obvious influence from the music of the 60s, just adding crunchier guitars and that Warwick twist.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a few listens to When Life Was Hard & Fast while reviewing it. It’s a great album. Is it as good as Patsy Cline…? I don’t think so. But I did mention that I absolutely love that album, so it was always going to be a hard target to hit. This doesn’t stop this new release from being an absolute barnstormer of an album, with at least one rock song for everyone on it.
When Life Was Hard & Fast is out on February 19th