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Friday, April 9, 2010

Alcatrazz: No Parole From Rock'n'Roll


1) Island In The Sun; 2) General Hospital; 3) Jet To Jet; 4) Hiroshima Mon Amour; 5) Kree Nakoorie; 6) Incubus; 7) Too Young To Die, Too Drunk To Live; 8) Big Foot; 9) Starcarr Lane; 10) Suffer Me.

No account of 1980's rock would be complete without a proper lambasting of the impressive Tower Of Cheese that was Alcatrazz, the launching pad for Yngwie J. «Release The Fuckin' Fu­ry» Malmsteen's career. Suffice it to say, it is hardly possible to truly appreciate the greatness of bands like Accept or Judas Priest if they are not seen in comparison with the likes of this band, a few songs of which still occasionally pollute the airwaves of cheap hard rock stations.

Alcatrazz was put together by Graham Bonnet, ex-lead singer of Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow; this alone should have raised suspicions, since Bonnet was pretty much a so-so singer in compa­rison with his predecessor, the illustrious Ronnie James Dio, not to mention coming from a pri­marily R'n'B background — not exactly the best pedigree to serve as the basis for a new hard rock group. On the other hand, his sole album with Rainbow, Down To Earth, was a best-seller, and it could be hoped that Alcatrazz would be at least a commercially, if not artistically, successful pro­position. (Un)fortunately, it wasn't.

Most of the songs are credited to Bonnet and his young guitarist, Swedish prodigy Yngwie Mal­m­steen; supposedly, Bonnet takes care of the lyrics, while Yngwie is responsible for most of the musical side. There are only two problems to this arrangement: (a) although Bonnet has a fine singing voice, he is a thoroughly pathe­tic lyricist, and (b) although Malmsteen is as technically ac­complished as his legend goes, he is about as good at songwriting as Ed Wood at directing. Other than that, No Parole From Rock'n'Roll is a damn fine record.

At this point, I have to confess an allergy: I belong to the category of people that finds it almost impossible to find any sort of personal pleasure or overall artistic merit in combining «hard rock» or «heavy metal» with «soul». To me, the combination is rotten a priori. Hard rock should put you in an aggressive mood; soul music should mellow you out. How is it possible to be mellow and aggressive at the same time? Imagine saying, "I'll assfuck any bastard that even dares to suggest I'm gay" — think on this for a while — then come back to this album.

Occasionally, the combination might still work somehow — but only if accompanied by meanin­gful melodies. The ones that Malmsteen writes, however, do not have any meaning that I can dis­cern, other than the general idea of «look at me, here I am soaring towards the sky, but God help me if I know why I'm actually doing it». And whenever he does succeed at finding a groove preg­nant with a sincere impression (usually stolen, e. g. 'Hiroshima Mon Amour', which pockets the riff of 'You Really Got Me'), up comes Bonnet with his silly, pompous vocal tone to run it into the ground — and then Yngwie plays a hollow set of flashy solo licks to bury it once and for all. And have I mentioned the corny early-Eighties keyboard sound yet?

There is not one single track on this record, be it a fast thrasher, a mid-tempo rocker, or a slow bal­lad, that would tug at one single string inside me — a rare occasion indeed. All the more sur­prising, since the closest thing this Alcatrazz sound can remind one of are similarly structured Gary Moore records of the early Eighties, and those definitely had their share of excellent songs next to absolute stinkers, even though Gary followed the exact same formula: leaden, moderately complex riffs, finger-flashing solos, soulful vocals. (It is hardly a coincidence, by the way, that, concerning the above mentioned 'Hiroshima Mon Amour', Gary had recorded his own 'Hiroshima' a couple years earlier; apparently, the metal-pathos vibe they were getting seemed equal­ly ap­prop­riate to both to be interpreted as a sort of «musical Hiroshima». Well... it was a mu­sical Hiroshima all right, if not exactly in the sense they envisaged it. At least Gary Moore had the good taste of not drawing poor innocent Alain Resnais into the picture).

Well, only thing left to suppose is that Mr. Moore just had a bit of God's gift in him, or, to be precise, invested some of that gift into the art of song­writing; Mr. Malmsteen, unfortunately, put all of it on the Zero of technical accomplish­ment — and won, to the world's utmost sorrow. No Parole From Rock'n'Roll? Come on, guys, this isn't even a good internal rhyme. And this isn't rock­'n'roll, either. Thumbs down.

1 comment:

  1. There is one more complaint in addition: the stupid arrangements of the song. A hardrock band cannot get away with such stupid drumming and such stupid basslines.