GRAHAM BONNET BAND – Day Out In Nowhere

Graham Bonnet has always been prolific. Since the release of his self-titled album in 1977, he has barely stopped recording and touring, but the few years in the run up to this third release from Graham Bonnet Band has seen Skegness’s most famous export take on a phenomenal amount of work for a man in his 70s.

Beginning with 2016’s double set ‘The Book’, the veteran vocalist began a late career gold run, with that album presenting some massive new tunes alongside some tight re-workings from his past, creating a great release suitable for both the big fan and the more curious listener. He then played a one off show with a reformed Alcatrazz in Japan, and recorded with both Michael Schenker and Ezoo, before 2018’s ‘Meanwhile…Back In The Garage’ saw Graham and his band sometimes rocking out in a more casual way, but still delivering the goods in terms of riffs and hooks. At a point where most performers might consider stepping back to admire their handiwork, Bonnet then revived Alcatrazz again, toured, and eventually released the critically acclaimed ‘Born Innocent’ – the first new studio work from the band in almost thirty five years.

With a gap of almost two years between the Alcatrazz album release in July 2020 and Graham’s own ‘The ‘Day Out In Nowhere’ in May ’22, it probably marks the longest Bonnet has been out of the spotlight for some time. However, from the first vocal notes of the opening number, he more than hits the mark in terms of presence, sounding like a man who’s never been away.

The album is full of sounds that’ll be immediately familiar to Bonnet’s army of fans, but often tries hard not to sound like a direct retread of his past works, or in any way lazy. It has some of the energy present on ‘Meanwhile…’, and some of ‘The Book’s bombast, but often tempers those elements with a more melodic heart. It’s never brave enough to go the full AOR route – Graham’s voice carries a little too much grit for that these days – but there are definitely more concessions to melodic passages than the GBB have afforded previously.

It’s onward with a full feeling of bombast at first, though, with ‘Imposter’ supplying some huge melodic metal thrills. From the outset, the number is driven by busy riffs courtesy of Conrado Pesinato, and fans will certainly spot the kind of sheer ballsiness present from ‘The Book’. More than a Rainbow/Alcatrazz homage, though, the riffs convey a brilliant eastern twist, allowing the guitars and drums to lock into a great union whilst Graham delivers a huge (slightly filtered) vocal that’s instantly recognisable. Further spins allow the listener to pick up on a few of the number’s more refined elements, from Beth-Ami Heavenstone’s occasional harmony and the way Conrado uses the guitar solo to bring in a few grander sweeping melodies. But above all, this opening number isn’t shy in announcing the GBB’s return with some hefty metaphorical boots. Moving into ‘Twelve Steps To Heaven’, the band settles into an arrangement that’s definitely more melodic. The guitars present a hard chug, while a relatively sparse verse is driven by a grumbling hass, underscored by bright piano. In terms of what Bonnet’s fans should expect, there’s something here that’s far closer to a classic Alcatrazz track – or at least Alcatrazz in one of their more refined moods – and this really allows Graham to open up vocally. It’s amazing how, when hitting the bigger notes required, his voice sounds almost exactly how it did back in 1982 during his brief time with Michael Schenker Group, and that alone will be enough for fans to love this in an instant. As with most GBB material, there’s more at stake here than the work of a legendary vocalist. Conrado’s guitar work shows a great tone and weight throughout, but its when he’s eventually allowed to explode into a Malmsteen-esque fanfare and busy lead guitar break he really comes into his own, delivering the kind of perfection and intensity that will please a broad spectrum of melodic metal fans.

A definite stand out, ‘Brave New World’ features a guest guitar part from ex-Bruce Dickinson/Halford sideman Roy Z, and its melodic metal approach is another example of the GBB working hard to create a classic, familiar sound whilst not recycling too much from their past. A huge harmonic opening pairs Roy and Conrado in a way that showcases a huge, forceful wall of sound but still clings onto a strong melody. In this case, the musicians find themselves falling somewhere between John Sykes era Thin Lizzy and late 80s, big haired rockers XYZ, but as the track progresses, it finds more of its own identity. There’s a strong heart supplied by a taut rhythm section and the kind of riff you might expect from Praying Mantis in one of their softer moods, and Graham delivers a great melodic rock vocal which – although hampered by unnecessary modern filtering – gets the very best out of a huge melodic rock hook. As before, Graham’s command of a huge melody is complimented by Conrado’s sweeping guitar sounds, and when a huge lead break arrives, the GBB’s natural contrast of bombast and melody continues to impress.

After strong beginnings, ‘Day Out In Nowhere’ offers yet more solid material with a title track that flaunts a much bigger AOR influence than before. Right from its opening multi-tracked guitar riff and through an incredibly solid pop-rock verse, there’s plenty that would appeal to a broad cross section of the melodic rock audience. The way Conrado drops ringing leads between a solid groove makes the creation of slightly retro rock seem easy, and Graham revisits a couple of very 80s melodies that could be distantly related to things on his much-loved ‘Line Up’ LP. Despite being the album’s most tuneful number, there’s still a sledgehammer reminder that this comes from the GBB of 2022, though, when Graham chooses to oversing wildly during an unexpected middle eight, but a brief moment of sheer bluster is given the perfect balance later, when Alessandro Bertioni dominates an unexpectedly introspective coda where neo-classical piano lines float confidently towards the fade.

Reverting to type, the opening of ‘The Sky Is Alive’ combines the huge sounds of ‘The Book’ with the theatrical feel of classic Rainbow, before exploding into a galloping piece of metal that sounds like a deliberate homage to Chris Impellitteri. The superior intro is used brilliantly to power a chorus where GB reaches for a bigger vocal, and the whole thing ends up sounding like a solid slab of Euro metal with power metal undertones – very much pushing the band for even bigger sounds – before dropping into a piano-led interlude for some necessary respite. Although Graham is very much in his comfort zone, he’s outshone by Conrado, who’s featured solo is a perfect tribute to 80s metal, in another hat tip to classic Alcatrazz. With Don Airey having a very obvious presence on the organ and punchy guitar riff that promises so much in terms of old school rock thrills, it’s a pity that ‘Only A Frickin’ Song’ wavers so badly with the arrival of a very cheesy lyric. Graham chews through some very heavy handed thoughts about being a songwriter, hoping he doesn’t “forget the words” and ponders how a three minute thing could honestly take so long. In terms of its place in the pantheon of songs about song writing, it’s fair to say that Elton John & Bernie Taupin’s ‘Your Song’, or Al Stewart’s ‘If It Doesn’t Come Naturally, Leave It’ probably won’t feel in any way threatened. On the plus side, a couple of driving riffs are more than solid and the hook comes with a huge, beaming confidence for a song about lacking confidence – let’s hear it for irony – so there’s the heart of a very enjoyable rocker here. However, very much like Deep Purple’s early 90s cut ‘Fire In The Basement’, its slightly forced frivolity is in danger of wearing thin long before the rest of ‘Day Out In Nowhere’ has begun to sound even in the remotest bit tired.

A musical curve ball (and a track that joins the title cut as a real highlight), ‘When We’re Asleep’ kicks off with a repetitive riff that sounds like a melodic version of White Zombie’s ‘Black Sunshine’ – something helped no end by John Tempesta guesting on second guitar, and lending a very distinctive tone – and couples a heavier edge with a soaring, grand chorus that pulls influence from some of the Bonnet Band’s earlier, more bombastic sounds. That would possibly be enough to make it a standout, but by veering off into a riff-laden landscape where Conrado adds complex lead flourishes and Alessandro fills space via a blanket of keys, it becomes a brilliant example of the GBB pushing forward and trying out a different style. Mixing classic melodic metal with echoes of a very 90s past, its push and pull between grubbiness, heavy chug and a pinch of something more 80s works excellently. For those who don’t feel they can’t spare the time to listen to this album in full, this number and the title track should definitely be earmarked for attention. ‘Suzy (Orchestra)’ rounds out a largely enjoyable set of songs with a refined string-led piece that allows everyone to hear Graham’s voice without a wall of guitars as a distraction. The first part of the performance is just lovely; Bonnet pulls back from his typical loudness, and re-awakens the sounds of a familiar voice from 1977. In a lesser enjoyable move, he reaches for extremes during the climax, and its one of those times where volume really doesn’t improve things. Still, it’s a minor point, and doesn’t spoil a largely great album.

Few rock vocalists are capable of delivering a record this consistent over fifty years into their career, but Bonnet sounds very assured. With ten songs packed into a fairly lean forty eight minutes, ‘Day Out In Nowhere’ often values big chorus hooks over musical showboating and has no time for obvious filler (even ‘It’s Only A Frickin’ Song’ has its place, and never sounds less than a hundred percent committed). With its focus on bigger melodies and tighter arrangements, it has the potential to be more enjoyable in the long term than either of the GBB’s studio recorded predecessors, and with Bonnet still possessing a strong and immediately recognisable voice, it definitely has a massive appeal for the long time fan.

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May 2022

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