Alcatrazz were formed in 1981, apparently in Graham Bonnet’s garage, and went on to record three studio and one official live album before disbanding in 1987. The band subsequently reformed in 2006 in the guise of ‘Alcatrazz featuring Graham Bonnet’, principally to tour Japan, but they also supported Y & T for gigs on the West Coast of America. A further incarnation, named Escape from Alactrazz, toured Japan last year. The live material that ensued is discussed below.
This collection of six separate discs really is one for total Alcatrazz aficionados as it contains the complete studio output of the band plus various live offerings, both on CD and DVD, and numerous bonus tracks and rarities, some available for the first time.
The anthology kicks off with the somewhat cheesily titled debut album, ‘No Parole for Rock and Roll’. The line-up for this release, issued in 1983, consisted of ex-Rainbow vocalist Graham Bonnet, a very young but supremely accomplished Yngwie Malmsteen on guitar, Gary Shea on bass, drummer Jan Uvena, formerly of Iron Butterfly, and Jimmy Waldo on keys. This is a very strong album of classic heavy rock, with both Bonnet and Malmsteen performing at their respective peaks. The CD begins with the radio friendly ‘Island in the Sun’ which was released as a single but, despite exposure on the fledgling MTV, didn’t trouble the charts. The track itself is actually one of the weaker efforts on the release, possibly because the commerciality feels a little contrived.
From the second track onwards, however, the CD contains some really top quality rock with songs such as ‘General Hospital’ (the band seemed to have a penchant for slightly odd titles!), which has a great opening riff; ‘Kree Nakoorie’, which is a song about the Panara tribe of Brazil; ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’, the lyrics of which are about the horror and tragedy of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during WW2; and ‘Too Young to Die, Too Drunk to Live’ which is a lot better than you might think from its title and contains the classic line “she powders her nose from the inside”!
The performances from all band members are excellent on this release and they combine to produce a first rate, powerfully melodic offering. Bonnet does have his detractors but his execution on this CD is superb and complements Malmsteen’s guitar playing really well. The remaining members provide more than capable support. This version of the album also contains instrumental versions of all tracks, should you feel the need for a bit of Alcatrazz karaoke! Individualy, [I would give this release a mark of 8/10].
The second disc in this collection is the live album ‘Live Sentence’, which continues the tongue-in-cheek prison theme in its title. This is the only official live album (prior to the release of this box set) that Alcatrazz released and followed very swiftly on the heels of ‘No Parole…’, which smacks of the record company wanting to ‘cash in’ on the band. The recording is taken from a gig the band did in January 1984 in Tokyo and features the original line up shortly before Malmsteen departed for his esteemed solo career.
This release features sixteen live tracks, consisting of several from the debut album plus the classic ‘Night Games’ from Bonnet’s solo ‘Line Up’ LP, three from the classic Rainbow disc ‘Down To Earth’, on which Bonnet sung, a couple of instrumentals that showcase Malmsteen’s prodigious talent, the Russ Ballard penned ‘Desert Song’ which is probably better known as being performed by Michael Schenker and, as the show closer, the old rock n’ roll standard, ‘Something Else’.
Alcatrazz had a formidable reputation as a live act and this disc captures the essence of that. Although it is likely that relations were strained between Bonnet and Malmsteen, this is in no way apparent and the band come across as really tight and professional. [8/10].
The third disc of this collection contains the band's second studio release, 'Disturbing the Peace', which saw Steve Vai replace Malmsteen, together with a couple of songs Bonnet recorded with Norwegian rockers Tomorrow's Outlook and an interview recorded with the original line up. The first track of the album proper, the rather unusually titled 'God Blessed Video', is an up tempo, catchy and melodic cut, similar to Rainbow's 'Death Alley Driver'. It was released as a single but, ironically given the title, was virtually ignored by MTV. It did, however, somewhat bizarrely, feature on the soundtrack of the 'Grand Theft Auto' video game in 2002.
Overall this release, when compared to the first album, is less high octane rock and with more light and shade. There are some full-on rockers such as 'Wire and Wood' and the lyrically politically incorrect 'Stripper' but, unlike its predecessor, has some slower tempo, more reflective tracks; for example, 'Mercy' which seems to be about colonialism and 'Will You Be Home Tonight' which features an atmospheric, keyboard led intro. Personally, I feel that, although this is a reasonably decent effort and despite Vai's introduction, this album is not as good as the first, possibly because the band were trying to be slightly more diverse in their output on this release. [6.5/10]
The disc, as previously mentioned, features two tracks Bonnet recorded with Tomorrow's Outlook. Both cuts are up tempo, straightforward rock, with no frills and are probably only included for the sake of completeness. To round off the CD, there is an interview with the original line-up. It's not particularly illuminating but gives a little insight of what made the band members tick.
The band's third and last studio release, 'Dangerous Games', makes up the majority of the fourth disc, which also has a version of 'All Night Long' and, rather eccentrically, a couple of tracks Bonnet recorded for the soundtrack of 'The Wind in the Willows' musical. The album itself is very much a child of the '80s. The band moved away completely from the sound of the first studio album and opted for a much more commercial sound with a typical production of the aforementioned decade and an enforced line-up change which saw Danny Johnson replace Steve Vai, who left amicably to join forces with David Lee Roth.
The bulk of the cuts are quite formulaic, with keyboards prominent and repetitive choruses, with perhaps the standout being the title track which is catchy and melodic and wouldn't be out of place on, for example, a Foreigner album. The exceptions to this are 'Only One Woman' and 'Witchwood' which are slower in their approach and quite atmospheric in the case of the latter, and 'Night of the Shooting Star' which sees Bonnet singing acapella. However, having said all that, the album has a certain something and it really isn't that bad. [7/10]
The previously mentioned version of 'All Night Long' features George Lynch of Dokken fame and is in complete contrast to what has preceded it. This is a much rawer and heavier version of the original, with Bonnet sounding on good form and as though he'd been gargling with razor blades! The final two tracks are taken from Hardin & York's musical version of ‘Wind in the Willows’ and, again, have probably been included for the sake of completeness as there is not much to commend them.
Disc five contains two different live sets, recorded thirty two years apart! The first set, of ten tracks, is of the original line-up performing tracks from the ‘No Parole…’ album plus Rainbow's 'Since You've Been Gone' in California in 1983. The set is very similar to the one that appears on the 'Live Sentence' release, the only difference being that two tracks from the debut release, 'General Hospital' and 'Jet to Jet' feature here and not on 'Live Sentence'. As with the aforementioned 'Live Sentence', the band are on top form and full of energy. [8/10]
This contrasts somewhat with the second set on the disc which is billed as ‘Escape from Alacatrazz’ and was recorded in 2015 in Japan. The line-up for this recording consists of Bonnet, naturally, Conrado Pesinato on guitar, Beth-Ami Heavenstone on bass and drummer Chase Manhattan.
The set consists of four Rainbow tracks ('All Night Long', 'Loves No Friend', 'Since You've Been Gone' and 'Lost in Hollywood’), 'Night Games' from Bonnet's excellent solo LP 'Line Up' and 'Suffer Me' from the first Alcatrazz album. Although competently and professionally performed, perhaps understandably given the time that has passed, this set simply does not possess the energy of the earlier offering. Bonnet even jokes self-deprecatingly about being happy if he can hit the high notes. Whilst not being perfect, the second set does give fans an insight as to what Bonnet is currently up to and is available for the first time on CD in this box set. [6.5/10]
The sixth and final disc of this box set contains a visual feast with two separate and full live performances on DVD, plus a further three live tracks, the original promo videos to 'Island in the Sun', 'Hiroshima Mon Amour' and 'God Blessed Video' and an interview with Bonnet taken from Japanese TV circa 1983.
The first live performance is from January 1984 and features Yngwie Malmsteen before his departure. It is the same show, with pretty much the same tracklisting, that the 'Live Sentence' CD is recorded from and the same energetic, tight and professional unit can be seen, rather than just heard, on the DVD. The only fly in the ointment is that it is clear there were issues between Bonnet and Malmsteen as there is virtually no interaction or eye contact between the pair. [7.5/10]
The second live performance took place only 9 months later, again in Tokyo, with Vai replacing Malmsteen. This performance features songs from 'Disturbing the Peace' as well as the first album, with a couple of ubiquitous Rainbow tracks thrown in for good measure. As good a guitarist as Vai is, I don't feel that he has the same level of stage presence as Malmsteen and, as a result, the delivery from the band isn't quite as dynamic, or indeed as 'heavy', as in the preceding set. [7/10]
The three further live tracks are taken from the Malmsteen-era first album and are billed as being 'Live at Rock Palace'. Unfortunately, the sleeve notes don't reveal where the 'Rock Palace' is but the gig is very much along the same lines the initial set on this disc.
The aforementioned promo videos are nice to have in terms of rounding out the visual offerings but they are very dated and don't really stand the test of time. The videos for 'Island in the Sun' and 'God Blessed Video' are tongue in cheek while the video for 'Hiroshima Mon Amour' is more serious, as you would expect given the subject matter, and Bonnet has to be given credit for trying to tackle such an upsetting and controversial subject.
Lastly, the disc features a five or so minute interview with Bonnet, taken from a Japanese TV programme, in which the main topic of conversation is how he used to have his hair cut just to annoy Ritchie Blackmore when he was in Rainbow!
In summary then, if you're an Alacatrazz or, perhaps more specifically, a Graham Bonnet aficionado (although it's also worth checking out if you're into Malmsteen or Vai), you probably couldn't ask for a more comprehensive or complete offering than this box set. Given the wealth of material included it is understandably a little patchy in places. I feel that it actually peaks with the first album and then undulates somewhat from there but, overall, there is plenty of quality contained herein!
Store for Music
THE ULTIMATE FORTRESS ROCK SET
Review by Dave Uphill
25th March 2016
DISC ONE: No Parole From Rock 'N' Roll
DISC TWO: Live Sentence
DISC THREE: Disturbing the Peace
DISC FOUR: Dangerous Games
DISC FIVE: Bonus Tracks + Escape from Alcatrazz - the Graham Bonnet Band
DISC SIX: Alcatrazz - Live in Concert (DVD)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...if you're an Alacatrazz or, perhaps more specifically, a Graham Bonnet aficionado (although it's also worth checking out if you're into Malmsteen or Vai), you probably couldn't ask for a more comprehensive or complete offering than this box set."