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Steve Vai - Flex-Able CD (album) cover


Steve Vai


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3.66 | 78 ratings

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4 stars Young Genius on the Playground

Most every electric guitarist from the last 30 years knows the name Steve Vai. Along with his teacher Joe Satriani and Swede Yngwie Malmsteen, Vai essentially created the shred guitar movement. However, what differentiates Vai from virtually every other speed demon out there was his other teacher, the one and only Frank Zappa. Immediately after his stint with Frank, Vai spent some months cooped up in the studio basically playing and experimenting, learning the craft of using the studio, and composing quirky tunes to try various techniques. I'm not sure if any of these were ever truly intended for general consumption, at least at first. The results of these sessions was FLEX-ABLE and FLEX- ABLE LEFTOVERS. Vai self-distributed the record on vinyl and it remains one of his most successful works.

The shadow of Zappa is all over this record. The most obvious examples of this are "Salamanders in the Sun" which is a romp in the spring flowers featuring mallets and some subtle Gong-era Allan Holdsworth-ish guitars. "Little Green Men" is also a light- hearted, goofy vocal piece with Frank's big smile clearly evident. All of the pieces are massively orchestrated, often in odd time, and actually rely very little on shred guitar. "The Attitude Song" is the main guitar showcase, but even that is more about the wierd groove in 7 than pure wankery. "Call It Sleep" is my favorite of Steve's slow bluesy numbers (he does about one per album). Though this piece has its share of firebreathing, the beauty is in the wierd articulation of notes, the spaces in between notes, and the effects added for tone variety.

After this album, Vai would do several gigs in more mainstream bands starting with Alcatrazz and then his signature gig with David Lee Roth and famous one album stint with Whitesnake. While there are some great guitar moments on those records, they sucked a little of the wierdness out of Steve. PASSION AND WARFARE is still spacier than most shred records, but I miss Zappa's influence. Vai was clearly trying to make a commericially viable product there. But on FLEXABLE he's just having fun with experimental delight. The result is so varied that 14 year old me didn't know what to do with this record when I first heard it 25 years ago. Most art rockers' disdain for virtuosity will make that aspect of the record not work for them. But if you like both, as I do now, this is a singular achievement in the history of experimental guitar.

The two "pop" songs, "Boy-Girl Song" and "Lovers are Crazy" are mildly interesting but not nearly as as other tracks. "Junkie" is a wierd painful lament with a huge guitar solo. "Viv Woman" is more of a typical Vai track, very much foreshadowing the songwriting style he brought to David Lee Roth. (Aside from the Zappa bridge) There are few quirky transition pieces, and the almost fully avant "There's Something Dead in Here."

This is a 4.5 album that I'm very near to giving a masterpiece rating, but I'm backing down for now. There really are only 3 monster tracks, with 2 still strong songs, and some oddities. Still, I would put this in the essential albums list for guitar nerds, ahead of the more famous PASSION AND WARFARE.

Negoba | 4/5 |


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