Secret Jewel Box

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!