REVIEW: Alcatrazz – Disturbing the Peace (1985)

ALCATRAZZ – Disturbing the Peace (1985 EMI, 2001 Light Without Heat)
Released as part of Steve Vai’s The Secret Jewel Box

This is the only Alcatrazz album I own.  The reason I own it is Steve Vai.  I’m a Steve Vai fan before I’m a Graham Bonnet or Yngwie Malmsteen fan.  Plus, this album was reissued exclusively in Steve’s stunning looking Secret Jewel Box (2001) as CD 2.   The collector in me wanted that box set and I was glad Steve was so thorough as to include collaborative efforts like this one in his box set.  According to Steve’s 2001 liner notes, Alcatrazz was one of his favourite band experiences and I think you can hear that.

Disturbing the Peace, Alaztrazz’s second LP, is very idea-heavy.  It’s dense musically and conceptually while still being straight-ahead rock music.  It’s the same trick Steve pulled on David Lee Roth’s universally acclaimed Eat ‘Em and Smile record.  Vai is credited as a co-writer on every track, except the instrumental “Lighter Shade of Green” on which he has sole credit.  Clearly, his input on the album is tremendous as it is literally covered with his fingerprints.  His style is all but fully formed (he had already recorded and released his experimental first solo album, Flex-able).  His guitar sound was certainly well on its way, and the way it shimmers with multiple layers is omnipresent on Disturbing the Peace.  Hell, Vai even recycles melodies from Flex-able, which he would recycle yet again on Passion & Warfare!

(Note:  I’m referring to the melody from Steve’s “Answers” from Passion and Warfare, which is also in “Wire and Wood” on Disturbing the Peace and “Little Green Men” on Flex-able.  While this is strictly conjecture, I assume this melody to be among the many that Steve “heard” in his lucid dreams that inspired the Passion and Warfare album.  Another such melody is “Liberty”, which was based on recollections of a lucid dream.)

There are some really great songs on Disturbing the Peace.  “God Blessed Video” (which had its own great video that featured Steve extensively) is a great example of the kind of powerful, melodic hard rock Graham Bonnet can produce.  It superficially resembles Rainbow’s “Death Valley Driver” (surely a coincidence) and has the same relentless drum stomp and chugging riff.  This is all left in the dust by Steve who anticipates his role as the “Devil’s Guitarist” from the movie Crossroads by stewing up an unconventionally wicked guitar solo.

The more straightforward metal of “Mercy” is credited to the whole band, also including Gary Shea (bass), Jan Uvena (drums) and Jimmy Waldo (keyboards).  That’s probably why it’s much more standard in construction.  Bonnet’s pipes get quite a workout, and Steve’s solo is jaw dropping.  The solo section here absolutely sounds like a prototype for Passion and Warfare.  “Will You Be Home Tonight” is steamy, a bit more laid back and heavy with atmosphere.  None of this prevents Bonnet from wailing, nor Vai for throwing down some space-age bluesy licks.  This kind of thing would come in handy for Whitesnake, later on.

The aforementioned “Wire and Wood” is actually the most Rainbow-like of the songs.  At times it almost sounds like a leftover from Down to Earth, but then Vai reminds us that this it was now 1985 and there’s a new kid on the block.  Side one closed with “Desert Diamond”, Steve Vai on Choral sitar this time.  This time I’m reminded of a similar gimmick on “My Little Man”, which Steve co-wrote for Ozzy’s Ozzmosis album.

“Stripper” is pretty far from lyrically sophisticated.  While “A dark and crowded room / Warm beer that’s stale” does set the scene, it’s not really a story that needed telling, I suppose.  Similarly, “Painted Lover” could not misconstrued as poetry.  “She just wants that hard stash, hot from your pocket.”  I’m sure, Graham.

It’s kind of weird hearing trashy lyrics like this sung over Steve’s schooled and intricate melodies and tricks.  It’s like the smartest kid in class helping out a less talented classmate or something.  Nothing against Graham of course, he’s had more hits than I have, so what do I know?

SKYFIRE

“Skyfire”

Steve’s “Lighter Shade of Green” solo is a brief intro to “Sons and Lovers”, one of the most accessible hard rock songs.  It has a grand chorus, courtesy of Graham, the kind of thing he’s very good at.  “Skyfire” (surely named after the 1985 Transformers character, right?) is a very 1980’s sounding groove.  I like the fast chuggy parts, the strong melodies, and Steve’s guitar bits.  I also like that I’m going to start a rumor that it’s named after the Transformers character.  (It’s actually about a UFO that Graham sighted.)

The only song I kinda don’t like is the last one, “Breaking the Heart of the City”.  It’s here that I feel the Vai/Bonnet experiment fails somewhat.  It sounds like it wants to be dark, heavy, and ominous, but Steve is whimsical at times, space-y and too smart.  Meanwhile I’m feeling that the song needs something gritty, some more chug, a little bit of grind, you know?

After revisiting Disturbing the Peace, I now feel an urge to get No Parole From Rock ‘n’ Roll and compare.  Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen are polar opposites stylistically and it’ll be interesting to hear Yngwie’s version of Alcatrazz.

4/5 stars

Interestingly, Disturbing the Peace was produced by Eddie Kramer!

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26 comments

    1. …but it has several moments in it that are solid gold. Basically any time the camera is on Steve. I love when he does the “hellish” solo, throws the guitar down at the end, explosion! I love that.

      It is a gorgeous box set. Steve still has to release four more discs to fill it! (One is to be a double live Alcatrazz album.)

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      1. Mike, I’m a hardcore Zappa freak and the contents of that disc look great. Not only is it an excellent overview of Vai’s time in Zappa’s band, its an excellent selection of Zappa’s early 80’s repertoire. Moggio and RDNZL in particular are mind boggling. You won’t find a ton of Vai solos but he is part of the ensemble and if there’s some really fast playing it’s probably all Vai. The solos are most likely Frank.

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        1. You can certainly tell when Vai plays one of his fancy licks, it sounds like him. But Frank has had such a huge impact on Steve’s music. Pick up any Steve solo album and there will be moments that make me think, “That sounds Zappa-esque”. Frank is absolutely one of the greatest losses in rock music — music in general.

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        1. I was lucky enough to see Zappa when Steve Vai was playing in the band twice; in 1980 and 1981 at the long-gone Terrace Ballroom in Salt Lake City. Zappa made a point of introducing and praising Vai both times and let him come out front and shine a few times during each show. I do not know if it was the above song, but I do remember the extended dual guitar workouts between the two and being in awe.

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  1. Bought the first one..No Parole From Rock n Roll cuz of all thie hype of Yngwie and the fact that a few dudes (Waldo & Shea) were from the New England days…first two New England’s are classic AOR releases…but I dunno ,this act never clicked with me ..I just moved on…..
    Cool to see a review though…..

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    1. Interesting that you were into them for Waldo and Shea while most people knew Bonnet (and perhaps Vai if they were Zappa fans). I do recommend this album for sure. Would you recommend No Parole?

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  2. I never really got Alcatrazz. There was a Yngwie-hype in Sweden already back in the Steeler days and that album was crap. First, I was never a Bonnet fan, I believe Down To Earth had been a much better album if Joe Lynn Turner had been recruited for that album, so No Parole didn’t do it for me. Yngwie did a good job, but he was held back, I think and didn’t start to shine for real until his Rising Force solo album.
    This album was a better, but even though Steve Vai is brilliant here, it just passes me by. I just don’t think the songs are strong enough and I have a big Bonnet issue. God a wish that a maasterpiece like MSG’s Assault Attack would have had a better singer.

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    1. I will also admit a preference of Joe Lynn Turner over Graham Bonnet. But sometimes I get a craving to hear Graham do this thing. I guess I don’t have the same Bonnet issues that you do.

      I do not have Assault Attack. I do have a clear vinyl 7″ for an MSG song called “Dancer”.

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  3. Yeah I agree with Jon, No Parole is not that good and I was surprised by that.
    Having said that I thought Bonnet did well with Assault Attack I mean I never had any problems with the vocal on that one really better than some of the later day Barden ( Built To Destroy ) comes to my mind.!
    And that is prob another reason I bought into the Alacatrazz debut as I thought The MSG album was quite good…

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  4. Great review and cool set. Mike. I have only ever heard Lighter Shade of Green from this album. I own No Parole from R&R, which I went back and bought along with the Steeler album specifically based on Yngwie fandom. From your review of this one, it certainly sounds like there is more of Vai’s style and influence here than there is of Yngwie’s uniqueness on No Parole. That said, I see No Parole as definitely worth your time. It is no great work by any means, but there’s good fun to be had and Bonnet sounds great. The song Big Foot is a blast, and while they didn’t intend it I’m sure, Hiroshima Mon Amour is wonderful overwrought hard rock sap. Also, while pretty pedestrian for virtuoso Yngwie, it is also interesting to hear him play a few relatively more free/melodic (to my ears) solos than the more calculated style in his subsequent (and way better) solo stuff.

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    1. I’ll put No Parole in that $10 or under purchase category. Might be able to get it in Toronto on vinyl for that price.

      I am always in favour of songs about Big Foot. I’m a big fan of Sasquatch!

      I don’t own a lot of solo Yngwie, but I do own a greatest hits, as well as Trilogy which I just love.

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      1. My favorite Yngwie solo LP is Rising Force, but Trilogy is a close second. Trilogy has the bonus of that awesome cover. I once saw it on ebay as a special issue large poster but got outbid. I was bummed as I would have been jazzed to proudly frame and hang that colorful over-the-top guitar god fantasy masterpiece right over the sofa in the living room (at least until my wife got home and made me take it down).

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        1. Yeah!! That’s it exactly, I would love that framed in my man-cave. Even the dragonfire cannot withstand an electric guitar played by a Swede.

          I also enjoyed the album he did with Joe Lynn Turner, name of which is escaping me now.

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        2. It was called Odyssey, Mike. I think Yngwie’s five first albums (Rising Force, Marching Out, Trilogy, Odyssey, Eclipse) were all damn great. After that he only managaed to put out three or four great releases more. I don’t think Yngwie has made one really good album for 15 years or so.

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        3. That’s it! Odyssey. I have that, and a greatest hits set that followed it, so I have a sampling of songs that were on Eclipse. “Judas” is excellent.

          I also like Yngwie’s Seventh Sign album with Mike Vescara, it’s not incredible but not bad.

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