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Friday, April 23, 2010

Alcatrazz: Disturbing The Peace


ALCATRAZZ: DISTURBING THE PEACE (1985)

1) God Blessed Video; 2) Mercy; 3) Will You Be Home Tonight; 4) Wire And Wood; 5) Desert Diamond; 6) Strip­per; 7) Painted Lover; 8) Lighter Shade Of Green; 9) Sons And Lovers; 10) Skyfire; 11) Breaking The Heart Of The City.

As the 1984 tour drew to a close, Yngwie left Alcatrazz for his solo career — a reasonable deci­sion, because, whatever one thinks of Malmsteen's solo albums, it is, almost by default, better to experience his musical masturbation on its own than as a background for the puffed-up pathos of Graham Bonnet. In his place the latter recruited a different guitar wiz — Steve Vai.

Weird pairings, like B. J. Wilson of Procol Harum fame drumming on AC/DC's Flick Of The Switch (even if only on non-final track versions), do not happen every day in the world of rock'n'roll, and, for the sake of pure knowledge, it may be interesting to hear the results of one such pairing between the thoroughly mainstream, anthemic R'n'B belter Graham Bonnet and the deeply experimental, near-avantgarde guitarist Steve Vai. One might even think that, although the results would almost certainly be dreadful, they'd at least be intriguing.

Unfortunately, they are not. It is hard to guess Vai's logic for enlisting in Alcatrazz; perhaps, after several years of playing with Zappa and an obscure (if perversely brilliant) solo tryout with Flex-Able, he finally succumbed to the temptation of finance and fame. Why Bonnet? Why Alcatrazz? Well, the band did have some sort of reputation, and, besides, he'd be writing all the music any­way; as long as it was good, who'd care about the singer?

But it was not good. As interesting as Vai can be in the studio when he creates experimental ma­terial, influenced by his long-term Zappa association, he is completely bland when it comes to applying his talents to macho arena rock. Disturbing The Peace, like any good old Alcatrazz al­bum, has plenty of loud, rip-roaring anthems, but not a single meaningful riff. Apparently, Steve just cannot work right in this kind of setting (not that I blame him — it'd be a tough break for any­one to inject life into Alcatrazz). Sometimes, he really tries, like for the first few bars of 'Sons And Lovers', where he plays a funny little melody quite in the vein of Flex-Able; but then Bonnet kicks in with the vocals, and we are back to rote corporate faux-rocking.

Nothing helps. Not even provocative titles ('God Blessed Video', which, thank God, is ironic — but you will really have to listen to the lyrics to understand that), nor occasional attempts to emu­late the sarcastic style of Van Halen (on 'Painted Lover', Bonnet goes for a bit of snickering cha­racter assassination à la David Lee Roth), nor brief folk-art-rock passages ('Lighter Shade Of Gre­en', fourty seconds of a decent instrumental that begins like an Arcadian idilly, continues as a barrage of psychedelic shredding, and belongs nowhere on this record).

It is possible that, had Zappa himself volunteered to fill in the boots of Alcatrazz' guitar player, he, likewise, would have been unable to write any good songs for the band. The catch is, in order to write dumb songs for a dumb band, one has to be a dumb songwriter; this is, more or less, the on­ly way to make the final result into something exciting. Few things are more irritating, or more easily forgettable, than a clever songwriter, much less an experimental songwriter, writing an in­tentionally dumb song (and I do not mean «parody» — Zappa has written plenty of clever paro­dies on dumb songs); Disturbing The Peace is a perfect example, a record where everything went wrong because the laws of nature predicted that it would go wrong — and, in order to defy the laws of nature, you'd at least have to be Michael Jackson (not that I'd wish that to anyone). Thumbs down once again.

1 comment:

  1. Mercy has a nice riff - not exactly earth-shaking, but one that manages to stick in my head. It also helps that the arrangements are better. Still the song doesn't exactly make me long for the rest of the album. At the other hand I suppose in the hands of Blackmoor and Glover it might have found a worthy place on Down to Earth.

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