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Friday, April 16, 2010

Alcatrazz: Live Sentence


ALCATRAZZ: LIVE SENTENCE (1984)

1) Too Young To Die, Too Drunk To Live; 2) Hiroshima Mon Amour; 3) Night Games; 4) Island In The Sun; 5) Kree Nakoorie; 6) Coming Bach; 7) Since You've Been Gone; 8) Evil Eye; 9) All Night Long.

Of the two Alcatrazz albums with Malmsteen on board, this live performance, recorded on their 1984 tour of Japan, is unquestionably the better proposition, for at least two reasons. First, if you are going to sacrifice good taste, do it all the way — a «ridiculous» album is bad enough, but a «boring ridiculous» album will not even find its way to the currently in-print EBT (Ency­clo­paedia of Bad Taste). And Live Sentence certainly goes all the way, by putting Yngwie directly into the spotlight, as he plays even more notes than on the studio records, extends his solos, and gets a couple numbers all to himself, including an obligatory Bach guitar arrangement with an ob­ligatory awful pun for a title ('Coming Bach').

I do not want to mindlessly succumb to the idea of Yngwie Malmsteen as the prototypical heart­less finger-flasher who, with no understanding at all of the essence of music, had somehow put it in his head that speed is all that matters. His solo career has its ups and downs — mostly downs, but let us not entirely discard the ups — and he can play with feeling when he gets his hormones under control. Unfortunately, during his stint with Alcatrazz, it was all about the hormones. Bon­net sings with feeling; his singing does not mesh well with the music, and the songs are mostly rotten, but at least the record makes clear that he really came to Japan so as to share his emotions with some of the mystifying people from that mystifying land. (It is a little awkward, though, for a guy from Lincolnshire to sing about Hiroshima to the Japanese — not to mention finishing the song with a sloganish "don't forget Hiroshima! No more war!" as if it were only his, Graham Bonnet's presence, that could save the poor people of Japan from forgetting about one of their greatest national tragedies).

Malmsteen, however, came to Japan with one major goal in mind: to show how he can play faster than Eddie Van Halen. If some of the riffs manage to make sense, none of the solos do. Take your musical space, chop it up in an astronomical number of even spaces, fill each one up with a ran­dom note, and you basically get the scale equivalent of white noise; most of these performances could have been filled with static and the effect would be comparable. Granted, seeing and hear­ing this in a proper live setting may pass for a special psychotropic treatment, but one that has only superficial resemblance to «music as art». On the other hand, young Yngwie's aim is not to make art; it is to make PR, and he achieved that aim splendidly.

There is a second reason, though, why Live Sentence is mildly superior: although the majority of the songs are predictably pulled from their only studio album up to date, they also do a couple of Rainbow numbers from 1979's Down To Earth, and much as I dislike that record in comparison to classic Dio-era material from 1975-78, at least the songs there were all written by Blackmore and Glover: in this setting, 'Since You've Been Gone' and particularly the big radio hit 'All Night Long' tower over the rest of this material like a couple of jötunn giants over a pack of dwarves. Even Yngwie calms down a bit, sticking mainly to melody. Decent stuff. There is no escaping the obligatory thumbs down, of course, but if you are interested in a bad vibe with elements of en­tertainment rather than a bad vibe with no redeeming qualities at all, Live Sentence is the place where you start with Alcatrazz.

1 comment:

  1. Of course Since you've been gone has been written by Russ Ballard, a fact that doesn't influence your argument.

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