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Friday, April 30, 2010

Alcatrazz: Dangerous Games


1) It's My Life; 2) Undercover; 3) That Ain't Nothin'; 4) No Imagination; 5) Ohayo Tokyo; 6) Dangerous Games; 7) Blue Boar; 8) Only One Woman; 9) The Witchwood; 10) Double Man; 11) Night Of The Shooting Star.

As Steve Vai must have realized the error of his ways, he reasonably quit, and, in a last attempt to keep the band going, Bonnett hired Danny Johnson in his place, whose main credits up to then included playing on several Rick Derringer records, as well as Rod Stewart's Tonight I'm Yours and Alice Cooper's Special Forces. This suggests several possibilities, some good, some bad; the reality is such that, in Johnson's hands, Alcatrazz' last album sounds like a cross between what it used to be and Rod Stewart: a mix of dumb hard rock and equally dumb electronic pop.

But even under these conditions, it is still the best album Alcatrazz have ever released, although I am voicing an opinion here that is entirely my own. The usual consensus over Alcatrazz is that the band pretty much said it all with No Parole, then misfired twice, once by including Vai who was too good for the band, twice by including Johnson who was too bad for it. (An alternate con­sensus, of course, is that Alcatrazz only misfired once, by forming). I believe, however, that such a consensus is most likely to emerge from people who either have not listened to the records in the first place, or those who scooped them up in «genre-expecting» mode — bracing themselves for crunchy metal when what they got was Eighties' pop.

As far as Eighties' pop goes, we have all heard worse. Yes, Dangerous Games blandly exploits all of the decade's clichés, adding lifeless keyboards and familiar simplistic dance beats to audi­ence-friendly, harmless metal guitars and Bonnet's macho yelling. In that respect, it is horrible. But the songs are better: Johnson, as opposed to both of the wizards whose shoes he was filling, writes the music in an attempt to produce decent tunes rather than serve as launchpads for his sonic rocketships. Not that he cannot play — he has got plenty of technique — but there is only a very small bunch of ecstatic solos here, meaning that, in all likelihood, he was consciously trying to shift the band's image from «Mad Guitarist Sanitarium» to something more modest.

It is all best illustrated by their choice of a cover tune: the Animals' 'It's My Life' is given a pre­dictably bleary arrangement, with the main riff sounding thrice as loud and monstruous as it used to be in 1965, but thrice as less threatening — yet the song itself has never lost any of its great­ness, and to hear it even in this arrangement (which is at least true to the original melody) is pre­ferable to wasting time on four minutes of Malmsteen's rucus.

To cut a long story short, rockers like 'That Ain't Nothin', 'Blue Boar', and the title track, pop songs like 'Under­cover', and even soul ballads like 'Only One Woman' all have modest hooks that deserve being tried out with better arrangements (and perhaps a different singer). Not that it really matters: saying that Dangerous Games displays a higher level of songwriting than Disturbing The Peace is, above all, just pedantic, and, like all other Alcatrazz records, it cannot hope for anything other than a thumbs down rating. But if mainstream pop-rock in big frizzy Eighties fa­shion does get your juices flowing, go for this — you will get all the muscles and all the big hair without all the guitar masturbation. It is a different sort of lack of taste.

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