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Steve Vai - Fire Garden CD (album) cover

FIRE GARDEN

Steve Vai

 

Prog Related

3.87 | 100 ratings

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Magnum Vaeltaja
Special Collaborator
Eclectic Prog Team
4 stars This album is so close to being a 5 star one that it really pains me to give it anything lower, especially considering it's probably one of my 20 favourite albums, but I will make my case.

With a close second of "Passion And Warfare", "Fire Garden" is Steve Vai's best work; at least of those I've heard, anyway. A progressive smorgasbord with eclectic styles, virtuoso performances and unparalleled songwriting in Vai's catalog, this is stellar album, plain and simple. Well, maybe not so plain and simple, as the complexity of the music would suggest.

The first half of the album hits the ground running with the heavy metal "There's A Fire In The House". A thrilling start! Not only is the song a shredding showcase, it also features a blistering drum solo from Chris Frazier and begins to hint at Steve's production talents with its seamless use of effects. "The Crying Machine" and "Dyin' Day" are both two more emotive pieces that follow, the former a Santana-esque world fusion latin rock groove and the latter a stirring ballad co-penned by Ozzy Osbourne.

Following some raw-yet-sophisticated rock numbers, "Hand On Heart" begins, providing what is likely Steve Vai's most emotionally powerful ballad. A slow-building, cathartic spectacle, it is the one song on "Fire Garden" that is not to be missed by anyone. But just as soon as it ends, it is matched in quality by the progressive epic "Bangkok/Fire Garden Suite".

"Bangkok" offers humble but riveting beginnings with its minute-long crescendo of mosquitoes and development of Eastern music themes before seguing into the uptempo hard rock "Bull Whip", which starts off the title track suite. The oriental motifs continue with the Indian- style "Pusa Road" and "Angel Food" continues to build the piece with its playful piano and acoustic guitar trade-offs that eventually build into a spirited united musical force. If Vai ended the song here, I would have been completely satisfied. But instead he chooses to round out the suite with its finest movement, the metal "Taurus Bulba". This is probably the finest piece of music in Steve's catalog, offering his trademark fretboard mastery while following in the 70's symphonic tradition with seamless time and key changes. And it never descends into self-indulgence, either; it is an artfully balanced work on par with "Close To The Edge" and other greats from the classic prog era.

After "Fire Garden Suite" comes to an end, the album's only flaw avails: the fact that it continues. Had Steve chosen to end the album with the instrumental "phase 1" and save "phase 2" for another day, it would have greatly improved the album overall. Phase 2, while not terrible, isn't nearly at the same caliber of musicianship. The album's last 9 tracks are mostly vocal numbers and while Steve is a pretty good singer, most of the songs included here are just typical rock or metal numbers and "When I Was A Little Boy" is the sort of quirky silliness that I wish he had left on "Flex-Able".

There are some exceptions, though; "All About Eve" is another slow, moving ballad with good lyrics, "Warm Regards" is another solid instrumental ballad and "Genocide" is the best vocal track on the album. With a solid, mechanical drum beat and chanting vocals that build to a stunning coda, this is another work not to be missed in Vai's discography.

So while the first 9 tracks of "Fire Garden" are 5 star material, the 2 to 3 star second half drags this down to just a very, very good album. It is one that I would still highly recommend to any prog fan, whether they're a fan of classic or modern prog. This is a gem not to be missed!

Magnum Vaeltaja | 4/5 |

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