Thursday, 13 September 2012

Review: Steve Vai - The Story of Light

 When you start out as a casual rock fan, and I do still have such casual tendencies within me, you'll often hear other more sophisticated rock fans talk of albums led by guitarists as being the best albums around of of guitarists that have never really rose to iconic status being the guitarists most worthy of your attention. After that you may listen to a Joe Satriani album, find it to be a collection of blues jams that don't really go anywhere and try not to take note of these statements. Well, that's what happened with me. However, amongst all this, Steve Vai proves himself to be a notable exception to this rule. Certainly he's never become the properly massive icon that everyone would like him to be, since having to play alongside bigger icons in his time like Frank Zappa and David Lee Roth, but his solo music has proved Vai to have brains as big as his riffage and solo lengths and his latest offering The Story of Light shows both these aspects to be as big as ever.

 With the amount of time that Steve Vai has spent in many differing corners of the hall of rock music, he's undoubtedly a musician that has earned his right to record an album of the kind of largely instrumental progressive that may come off as pretentious were it a younger more unknowing musician. But Vai has the class and wide arrange of influences to bring together an array of gripping musical passages and turn it into a great album without any real problem. And as the dreamy layerings that make up the backdrop of the opening title track form into action, you can understand the extent of his skill in guitar playing and songwriting as every second of warm synthesizers and lead guitar accompany crunched riffage packed with distortion.

 It moments like these where Vai uses his progressive song craft to build up moments of musical euphoria, boasted through the joyful squeal of guitars that make up Velorum, Gravity Storm and the massive closer Sunshine Electric Raindrops, all of which allows the man to unleash some prime lead guitar widdling that only the world's most respected guitarists are allowed to unleash. Even amidst the more calmed down moments, the beauty that is trying to be represented by the music comes out effortlessly. The highly personal The Moon and I unleashes it's charm through gentle guitar strokes accompanied by a 1980's synthpop influenced backdrop, while Creamsicle Sunset sounds like the musical equivalent of a relaxing moment of laying in the sun like I never got all summer.

 Of course, it wouldn't be in Vai's nature to only have an album filled with beauty. One of the most notable moments of the album comes with Vai's cover of Blind Willie Johnson's 1930 blues recording John the Revelator, a cover that opens with a sample taken from the original recording, before blasting out into a chunky blues riff and frantic solos with vocals performed by The Voice contestant Beverly McClellan, who, despite coming from a reality show 'cos they're all really bad, lends a powerful performance that serves as the topping of the song's desire to immerse listeners in total chaos that continues into more rapid unnerving territory as the song continues into Book of the Seven Seals.

 But even that pairing of songs has some joy to be found within the shocking amount of surprises to be found along the way. But let's not forget that Steve Vai can be as heavy in his playing as he wants to be and if he wants to introduce some metal into his songs he can do so easily. The doom-laden Weeping China Doll wouldn't sound out of place on a Saint Vitus of Woods of Ypres album given it's dragging dirge melodies, while Racing the World puts some testosterone into the doom riffage as it charges along making headbang inducing hooks along the way.

 So, with a full plate, Steve Vai manages to make something of his very own that shows a wide influence on The Story of Light. It sounds relentlessly beautiful in places and has hard hitting hooks filled with plenty of distortion and heaviness in others and when both elements combine, it expresses the nature of this progressive music people like Vai regularly craft done correctly. So, whenever people talk about instrumental guitarists making the best albums around, you can look at it cynically if you want, but if they do talk about Steve Vai in such a manner, you should probably believe it.

Steve Vai's The Story of Light is out now via Favoured Nations. Vai will tour the UK in December.

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