Album Reviews

Alcatrazz: Breaking The Heart Of The City: The Very Best of Alcatrazz (HNE Recordings)

Rock vocalist Graham Bonnet formed Alcatrazz in 1983, and while it’s a high point in his long and storied musical career, it’s perhaps a band more notable for those who passed through it than for its own merits. That’s a shame, because the band certainly had potential, and even though its identity seemed to be muddied thanks to its lineup changes, it never suffered for lack of quality material. Breaking The Heart Of The City: The Very Best of Alcatrazz highlights the impressive highs of a band that never quite got its well-deserved due.

Alcatrazz brought together Bonnet with Gary Shea and Jimmy Waldo, formerly of New England and the recently disbanded Warrior, and a young Swedish guitarist named Yngwie Malmsteen. Their debut album, No Parole From Rock ‘n’ Roll, came together quite quickly, appearing at the end of the year, and was an instantly impressive debut. Bonnet’s singing was powerful and potent, and it was impossible to deny the amazing prowess of their young Swedish guitarist, whether it be on hard rockers like “Jet To Jet,” “Too Young To Die, Too Drunk To Live,” or the bluesy “Hiroshima Mon Amor.” That the band could translate this into a potent live setting was proved with the quick follow up, 1984’s Live Sentence, which highlighted a band giving its all and making one hell of a noise.

Unfortunately, Malmsteen grew bored with the band, and quit shortly after the band’s 1984 tour. Luckily they had a fan in Frank Zappa’s guitarist Steve Vai, who quickly agreed to join the band. The album that they recorded, Disturbing The Peace, revealed a rapidly maturing band. Vai’s style was quite different from Malmsteen; he didn’t focus on guitar pyrotechnics, opting for solos with more depth and low-end power. His range had a more traditional rock feel, and thus songs like “God Blessed Video,” “Mercy,” and “Wire And Wood” are straight up heavy rockers that have an almost Ozzy Osbourne feel, and it’s not hard to imagine that this album was a preclude to greater commercial success. Yet once again, shortly after the release of the album and its subsequent tour, Vai decided to leave to join David Lee Roth’s solo band.

By 1986, though, the band had gone through two amazing guitarists who had become metal stars on their own, eclipsing the band where they got their start. For sure, such a development must have been quite disheartening. Dangerous Games found Bonnet taking a chance for the commercial hard rock/metal ring bands like Whitesnake and Bon Jovi had grabbed. The record sounded slick and radio-friendly, but the specter of Malmsteen and Vai was hard to escape, and new guitarist Danny Johnson just didn’t have the same allure or musical prowess as his predecessors; thus, the material lacked the heaviness of Disturbing The Peace, and it’s easy to understand how fans might have felt the band “sold out” for a tamer, radio-friendly pop sound. (A misguided notion, as songs such as “Will You Be Home Tonight” and “Island In The Sun” showed the band’s more commercial-minded edge had always been there.) Still, Dangerous Games offered up some great hard rock numbers, such as “Undercover,” “Dangerous Games,” and “It’s My Life.” 

Dangerous Games should have been the album that helped break Alcatrazz; instead, it broke the band. Once again, they lost their guitarist shortly after the album’s release, and disheartened by the rotating lineup changes and the album’s poor reception, they called it a day in 1987.(Bonnet would reform a version of the band twenty years later, though it featured no original members of the band.) It’s a shame, because Alcatrazz’s music was fantastic and still sounds great thirty years on. Breaking The Heart Of The City is a great career overview for those not familiar with the band—HNE has previously reissued the band’s entire catalog with plenty of bonus material and live performances, with some of that bonus material appearing here as well—and though it’s a shame the band never got its due, this is the career retrospective that truly serves to prove the band was indeed a special one.

Breaking The Heart Of The City: The Very Best of Alcatrazz is available now from HNE Recordings.

 

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