Friday, June 8, 2018

Alcatrazz - Island In The Sun

Graham Bonnet has had a very interesting music career. I do not very much about Bonnet’s early work, but as I understand it, he was initially an R&B singer, this revelation struck me as odd, because it clashes with I know of the man. Bonnet had a radical turn around in his music career when he was recruited by Ritchie Blackmore to be part of Rainbow; and this is how I know who Bonnet is. However, for reasons unknown to me Blackmore wanted to move on without Bonnet, but once Bonnet had a taste of rock and roll he wanted more. Thus, he created Alcatrazz, his own rock band.

The initial lineup of Alcatrazz included highly talented Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen. This is important to note, because Malmsteen is something of a god to some. Many metal elitists consider Malmsteen one of the greatest guitarist of all time, which is likely directly related to the fact that most people have never heard of him. I find Malmsteen to be a bit too much, from what little I have heard of his solo work he has tremendous raw talent but lacks discipline; but to be fair to the man, I should reiterate, that I have only scratched the surface of his music arsenal. The point is Alcatrazz had a young Malmsteen, before his ego made him difficult to work with, perhaps at his rawest, perhaps at his best.

So, it is 1983 and the stage is set for a new powerhouse rock band to hit the scene, and Alcatrazz gives us their best album “No Parole from Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

“No Parole from Rock ‘n’ Roll” is one of those forgotten relics. It was a successful album insofar that it was positively received at the time and sold reasonable well, but it was never a big hit and time has dwindled its notoriety. However, a cult following has remained and there are those who remember Alcatrazz fondly, and rightfully so. While Alcatrazz has other albums, it is the common consensus that this first album is their best.

This is a common story that music critics like me like to tell. An album most people have never heard of by a band just as few are familiar with is tragically forgotten and goes on as grossly underappreciated. “No Parole from Rock ‘n’ Roll” is a very good album and the opening track “Island in the Sun” is a fantastic song, and no one I know knows about it, so by default it is grossly underappreciated.

For their debut single “Island in the Sun” Alcatrazz really leaned in to the whole “Alcatraz” theme. The song “Island in the Sun” is on the surface is a song about wealthy poets exiled to an island prison. The music video is shot at the island prison for which the band is named after, Alcatraz, and depicts the incarceration of the band and their dreams and effort to escape, to an island in the sun. Even the album name relates to the prison them. I suspect something more is going on in Bonnet’s words, but I have not been able to figure it out yet. Maybe it is a critique about the music industry and how it “imprisons” its own creators? That may be a reach.

More importantly, is the combination of Bonnet’s voice and Malmsteen’s guitar. I do not know what notes Bonnet is even hitting or how he is doing it, or how he is capable of holding them so long is beyond my talents or knowledge. For a self trained singer, Bonnet is equal parts talented and unique. Meanwhile Malmsteen shows off all the reasons he has a religious like following. His solo is the highlight of what is an otherwise already fantastic song.

I like “No Parole from Rock ‘n’ Roll,” it is a good album from start to finish, but if I am to be perfectly honest, only the first track gets replayed repeatedly on my playlist. I have heard the other two albums of Alcatrazz and they are solid, but the only album of theirs I made the effort to track down and purchase is the first, “No Parole from Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

Bonnet would go on to be in many other bands and have a respectable solo career, all of which are rock and roll based, or I think so anyway. He had this long career of hard work and varied success, and the peak of his popularity is forever linked to Alcatrazz and it’s debut album.

Malmsteen would go on to act dysfunctional in a number of other bands but his raw talent would see him through to a successful solo career where he is now worshiped. We have Alcatraz to thank for bringing him to the front of things and certainty to the front of my own attention.

For these reasons alone “No Parole from Rock ‘n’ Roll” is worthy of remembrance, but the greater reason is the quality music within, espically “Island in the Sun.”

- King of Braves

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