The mid 80s saw a slew of guitarists whom, obsessed with the neo-classical chops of Deep Purple/Rainbow guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, foisted upon the world various records that often seemed to do little more than regurgitate Blackmore’s more inventive playing at twice the speed. Yngwie Malmsteen is arguably the best known practitioner of the style and it’s no coincidence that his 1988 album ‘Odyssey’ remains the finest of all his albums thanks to the presence of an ex-Rainbow vocalist, Joe Lynn Turner, on most tracks. Roughly around the same time Yngwie was recording his masterwork, another shredder, Chris Impelliteri had also enlisted an ex-Rainbow voice – Mr. Graham Bonnet – for singing duties on his first full length studio album, ‘Stand In Line’.
Decades after it’s original release, ‘Stand In Line’ could be easily criticised for wanton bombast over melody in places, but looking at half the tracks in detail actually reveals a strong sense of powerful musicianship from most concerned. It’s fair to say it isn’t as good as the 1985 Alcatrazz disc ‘Disturbing The Peace’ which united Bonnet with guitar wizard Steve Vai, but it occasionally comes close to tapping into a similar 80s grandeur with a selection of great riffs and a few more than commendable choruses.
The album wastes no time in alerting the listener to its preferred style, as the title cut opens with a tolling bell, before dropping into a chunky mid-paced riff where Impelliteri’s heavy but melodic style is complimented excellently by a swathe of Don Airey-esque keyboards, courtesy of Phil Wolfe. Bonnet, meanwhile, shows he’s more than up to the task in hand, revisiting the style he showcased on Rainbow’s ‘Down To Earth’, but delivered with a touch more power. With almost immediate effect, he’s unafraid to embrace the more metallic wails that have come into play in the near-decade since his Rainbow days, and the blend of hard rock verses and an almost AOR-ish chorus – not so different to some from the Icon debut – ensures this is a powerful opener and instant standout, while Chris’s solo spot is tight and fast. He mightn’t have the class of Ritchie Blackmore, but in terms of dexterity, he makes it seem effortless. …And from a great start, things take a sharp dive. Track two is potentially too early on an album to resort to a cover tune, but the Blackmore obsessed guitarist, now having an ex-Rainbow vocalist on board decided it would be a wise move to have a stab at Russ Ballard’s ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ [sic]. The track, familiar to rock fans the world over, was recorded by Head East, Rainbow and Cherie & Marie Currie in the 70s and each version has something of interest. The Rainbow version – the best known of these – is home to a superb vocal and a peerless guitar solo; Head East dropped in a shameless 70s keyboard sound into the mix, and the Currie twins shared some great harmonies. What, exactly, could Chris hope to gain by wheeling this track out again, other than shamelessly hoping people would find his work as appealing as Blackmore’s? It’s a bit of a tragic affair, to be honest. Four minutes are spent here with Graham raising his voice to combat the heavier guitars; the rhythm section sound needlessly chuggy and lumpen compared directly to the Rainbow classic, and Impelliteri’s extra solos are all a case of shredding over emotion. No-one is fooled into thinking this stands up well against any prior recordings of the track – no-one – and the whole affair just sounds forced, as if Impelliteri somehow believed he could improve on a masterpiece.
Kicking off with some lightning fast arpeggios and a thunderously loud drum performance from future Mr. Big man Pat Torpey, ‘Secret Lover’, at least to begin with, could be mistaken for a couple of tracks from Yngwie Malmsteen’s aforementioned ‘Odyssey’. The main difference at first is the production job: Yngwie’s record suffers from a lack of bass (a common complaint for metal albums circa 1988) but is otherwise solid; this sounds hard and echoey, as if sourced from a distorted demo, with Impelliteri’s lead guitar work occasionally sounding as if it’s drifting in from the end of a corridor. There’s nothing actually wrong with his playing, of course – if you like the style, he delivers in spades. Bonnet, meanwhile, sounds a touch out of his depth, vocally. Faced with one of the heaviest recordings of his career to date, he pushes his voice to the limit. There’s a sheer power throughout, but far less of the melody that carried so many brilliant Rainbow performances. Even so, he tackles each line with sheer professionalism – a performance that’s tolerable on the bombastic verses, but far better on the more melodic chorus, where the melody teases with neo-classical intents. You’d never consider this a classic by any stretch, but it’s a step above the previous track. The love for Rainbow continues via a cover of the old chestnut ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’, a tune with which Ritchie Blackmore would open most (if not all) Rainbow live shows. Its inclusion here might seem a little obvious, but Chris’s soaring guitar tones are superb throughout, showing he truly understands presence and melody as well as heaviness and speed, before dropping in a solo spot that shreds in a way that’s very much at odds with the decades’ old melody. It mightn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s more impressive than Jeff Beck’s rendition, and not quite as misplaced as Blackmore’s inclusion of ‘Walking In The Air’ (erroneously credited as ‘Snowman’) on Rainbow’s ‘Bent Out of Shape’. As a guitarist’s showcase, it’s actually a nice contrast to the heavier cuts on this LP.
On what should have been a melodic rock/metal classic, ‘Tonight I Fly’ chops in the shreddier aspects of Chris’s riffery for a mid-paced, fist-clenching chug. The base of the track is the very archetype of melodic 80s metal and none the worse for that, and the chance to hear Impelliteri sink his teeth into something a little meatier is certainly most welcome, especially when backed by a blanket of very melodic keyboard work, as he is here. There’s almost another (rather more grudging) nod to Rainbow in the way the tune unfolds, such is its musical confidence. …And then Graham starts to sing. His vocals let the side down; there are moments when you hear him in a comfort zone, rechannelling the noisier bits of his past with Rainbow and Michael Schenker – but, unfortunately, there are a lot of moments where he goes off piste, reaching for notes that aren’t quite natural for him. It’s not that it’s a bad song, but it’s clearly not entirely right for the vocalist, and that’s more than obvious when he wanders into the chorus. The music has a hint of the Heart classic ‘Alone’ at its core, but Graham hasn’t noticed; he’s there screaming out like a man who’s turned up at the wrong session. The guitar solo – all speed, arpeggios and shamelessly curled fingers – almost saves face, but it isn’t markedly different from Chris’s solo spots on other (superior) tracks. The album’s thin production doesn’t help, either, making what was once a good melody sound hacked out.
Near perfect for Bonnet’s style, shifting between a deep croon and hard rock wails, ‘White & Perfect’ is much better. Torpey’s heavy drum sound is the perfect compliment for the blanket of keys, and some of Impelliteri’s horsey-squeals give a sense of urgency. The slower tempo that’s used in places provides a good outlet for the musicians’ aggressions, while a switch into a heavier riff for the featured solo sounds much darker and appealing. Even the obvious nods to Rainbow tracks ‘Eyes of The World’ and ‘Makin’ Love’ don’t detract from the more original moments. Also particularly moody, ‘Leviathan’ attacks with an almost theatrical stomp and grind, as if someone took a Dio era Rainbow workout and slowed it down to allow for maximum threat, as multi-tracked guitars churn the kind of riff that conjures up the pending doom caused by the titular sea creature. For heavy riffs, this is easily one of the release’s most direct, while the collision of heavy groove and smart leads gives Impelliteri plenty of scope. Bonnet, meanwhile, curls his voice around a set of lyrics that don’t really hold up to close inspection, but comes out winning; the lack of effort in his delivery is that of a seasoned session singer, and he’s just perfect for the role.
Taking a faster approach once more, ‘Goodnight & Goodbye’ provides a guitar workout that’s first rate – for shred factor alone, it’s one of ‘Stand In Line’s more impressive listens – whereby across four minutes, Chris barely lets up. He’s smart enough to allow the vocal some space and Bonnet’s in great voice, too. While it doesn’t break the mould genre-wise, or even do too much to broaden the horizons of the album as a whole, it’s a superb hard rock workout. It’s a real pleasure to experience Bonnet in full flow on something so shamelessly Malmsteen-esque; his hard rock roar is the perfect companion to Torpey’s relentless drumming, and the bass – although low in the mix – gives a greater feeling of Impellitteri’s full throttle power at this time. To close, ‘Playing With Fire’ is the kind of instrumental that Shrapnel Records championed in the 80s: if it’s sweaty fretwork you’re after, it has more than its share. There are the expected neo-classical bits, metallic edges and more notes per second than is perhaps necessary…but it’s really enjoyable. Just looking at this number alone, it shows almost the opposite side to Impelliteri’s almost effortless skills to that of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’. It’s all too easy to write it off as self-indulgent, but at the same time, and it’s the perfect way to finish this collection of rockers.
‘Stand In Line’ is one of those albums, it’s probably fair to say is hit and miss, but when Chris gets things right, he shows a great ability, and even with some serious flaws, this long player has more than enough to recommend it. It’s not something you’d be likely to reach for very often – especially given that if you have at least half an interest, you’ll already own Yngwie Malmsteen’s ‘Odyssey’ and Rainbow’s ‘Down To Earth’ – but there’s little denying it’s a decent enough union between Graham Bonnet and a nimble fingered shredder. Despite it’s faults, this album is very much one to dig out once in a while for a bit of leathery nostalgia.
Following the release of ‘Stand In Line’, Bonnet could’ve opted to make another record with Impellitteri, but moved on to more varied projects. He spent his next few years jumping from band to band and, unfortunately, his restless spirit led to a few misfires: his work with Forcefield got overlooked for good reason; his 1991 solo disc ‘Here Comes The Night’ seemed utterly forgettable compared to 1981’s ‘Line-Up’, and the debut from his early nineties metal project Blackthorn might just be one of the worst records of its kind, making ‘Stand In Line’ seem as almost essential as Deep Purple’s ‘Perfect Strangers’. Luckily, a pair of enjoyable solo outings – the heavier ‘Underground’ from 1997, and ‘The Day I Went Mad’ from the following year – would find him reclaiming a lot of his spark. He would eventually re-unite with Impellitteri for 2002’s ‘System X’, an album so different from the 80s-tastic ‘Stand In Line’, and yet one that would yield its own brand of noisy power. As for Chris Impellitteri, after a spell away from the spotlight, he would return with a new line up of his eponymous band in 1992, and against the odds – and against a shifting musical tide – deliver the finest album of his career…
[Out of print for decades in the UK, this album finally got a CD reissue in the UK in 2023 as part of the Impellitteri box set ‘The Complete Beast: 1987-2009’. To buy the box set, visit the link at the end of the first Impellitteri review here.]
February-March 2016/July 2023