Review Summary: Bonnet and Malmsteen taking Rainbow to another level: Rainbow 2.0.
What a wonderful year 1983 was for heavy metal, considering the groundbreaking releases by Metallica (Kill 'Em All), Slayer (Show no Mercy), Iron Maiden (Powerslave) and Dio (Holy Diver). Beside, in the shadow of these giants, there was this album -No Parole from Rock N' Roll- by the rather unknown L.A.-based band Alcatrazz. The band were named after the famous prison on the island Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay, or indirectly from the movie 'Escape from Alcatraz'. Eye catching names in the band were former Rainbow and MSG vocalist Graham Bonnet and rising guitar star Yngwie Malmsteen. Gary Shea on bass, Jan Uvena on drums and keyboardist Jimmy Waldo completed the five piece that some qualified as a super group. The result was a steady, sometimes excellent, yet a little unbalanced hard rock/AOR album that drew its inspiration and direction heavily from Rainbow's 'Down to Earth' album. Even the line up of the band mirrored their examples, with Malmsteen acting as the reincarnation of the young Blackmore. With a keyboardplayer in the formation you would have expected a progressive bent, but on the contrary almost: the music is regressive rock, based on old fashioned aesthetics rather than contemporary advanced music. Bonnet, the short-haired adept of the music and culture of the rock 'n roll era, aimed at commercial success in America.
The talents of Bonnet and Malmsteen, the main song writers, are meanwhile notorious and they define the particular quality of this album. Bonnets singing style is not always easy to digest: he screams and shouts with great dedication whether his life depends on it. As a matter of fact his vocal range stretches from monotonous raspy to clear, high pitched and lasting wails. I have become accustomed to his style and love his powerful voice! Malmsteen was still a promising prodigy back in 1983. His short lived appearance in the band served as his breakthrough. Still I think his exuberant, incredible neo classical shredding style came into its own right on this album. He conformed to the whole, was an integral part of the band, and that was beneficial for his performance. Like observed many times, the ego of the young Malmsteen almost outshone his proper talents and dexterity and became more and more a burden in stead of an advantage. But that being said: he did a great job on this record and earned the fame justly.
The album takes off with the hit single Island in the Sun
, a nice melodious and smooth song about 'The Rock', as Alcatraz was nicknamed. Is this song already very similar to Rainbow's output from the early 80's, the main riff on the other hit single Jet to Jet
is a carbon copy of Rainbow's Spotlight Kid. To say it decently: Originality is not the principal aim and core quality of Bonnet c.s. But this does not mean the track isn't interesting, on the contrary! The performance of Bonnet is phenomenal, full of power and glory. The lyrics of this song, centered around the white man's burden, fit thematically in the album's subject matter. There is a certain anthropological tinge in some songs dealing with our imperialist legacy. Most evident is this tendency in the epic masterpiece Kree Nakoorie
. This is Alcatrazz's 'Stargazer', full of greatness and atmosphere. This song has a tribal vibe, spiced up with an Eastern inspired melody. For me this is the highlight of the album. Furthermore the bombing of Hiroshima and the accompanying feelings of guilt are subject of the 'very Rainbow-y' Hiroshima Mon Amour
. Malmsteen delivers a blistering, bluesy solo, Bonnet shouts his lungs out, but the riff (compare: Slipping Away, Black Sabbath) is a bit boring. At last I need to mention the a-typical, gurgling Big Foot
. A very distinguished, smooth, laid back song about the cryptozoological creature of the Himalayas: the Jeti. The intro of the song reminds me of a typical Eddie van Halen invention.
Though a formation of gifted musicians, Alcatrazz never hit the top in metal, rock 'n roll or symphonic rock. The line up was too inconsistent, the purpose too poor, the band identity too indistinct, preventing fans to associate with the band. The production, in addition, is not very convincing, but too goody-goody. No wonder the line up changed after this album, exchanging Malmsteen for Steve Vai. But...given the fact that Bonnet is top, Malmsteen's contribution very satisfying and the song writing more than average, I recommend this album to any fan of AOR/symphonic rock/hard rock.
Jet to Jet
Island in the Sun