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4 stars Steve Vai's career has been one of versatility. From the hard-rocker whitesnake to the late great Frank Zappa, Vai established himself as a bona fide guitarist. On his first solo album, Vai was still heavily under the influence of his former, Frank Zappa. The album is not necessarily representative of his career, but it is definitely one hell of an album. Starting with the crazy Little Green Men, you will hear from the beginning this influence from Zappa. What distinguish Vai from let's say Satriani is his ability as a songwriter, and his always original use of the guitar. The second song is the great rocker Viv Woman with a great riff and extravaganza from Vai. The rythm section is excellent with mister Chris Frazier on drums and the always great Stu Hamm on bass. This is one of the song wich is really original and where he starts to find his sound. The next two songs are heavily Zappa influenced, but Vai still manages to bring his own personal touch. The Boy-Girl Song is still played live today, as it is a song wth great rythm, but prog lovers won't necessarily love it! The next one is the absolutely great Attitude Song, with a real killer riff and a demonstration of Vai's talent as a songwriter and guitarist. Stu Hamm is also great with his slapping! This song alone is worth the price of admission! An asbsolute must-listen. After Call it sleep, wich is good but nothing special, we have the great junkie, with an incredible solo that is not in the shredding style, but that prog lovers will absolutely adore! The last piece of the original version(the one I own) is there's something dead in here, thati personally dinf a bit over the top, but that maybe some of you will like! All in all, a great enjoyable album, and in the top 5 of the virtuosos movement in the 80's. Vai shows what he is capable of, and definitely deserves his status as one of the best guitarist today. 4.5/5
Report this review (#47543)
Posted Tuesday, September 20, 2005 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars With this reputed guitarist's career, one can expect almost anything , but here clearly the emphasis Vai chose for this album is his passing through Zappa's band. To say that Vai does not input any personal touches would be demeaning to such a great musician, but it is rather hard to tell his persona from the influences he received throughout his sideman career. While I am saying this, I must confess that I only have a very partial knowledge of the man's career.

However, this 83-recorded album (and the Left-overs album) is clearly of interest for any progheads wishing to investigate this metallic hero axe man. It is due to the great insistence of colleague reviewer MikenRegalia that I actually started to listen to this album a few months ago. I was expecting a much more guitar-ey album with heavy heroics and fireworks - much like you'd expect it on a Satriani album (or for that matter of fact on other Vai albums) - but here, even if a homemade album, and an ever changing cast of musicians (this is clearly not a group effort), then results are rather flattering for the main man, but to the proghead's ear. Clearly, the man had the urge to record some metallic fusion (in the jazz-rock term) album, but some of those tracks (Call It Sleep) are close to ECM jazz meets Santana, but he fails to convince me totally. In case you are wondering, Billy's Private Parts is not that ballsy;-) and plain boring even if the most experimental track of the album.

If you choose to take the album out of the context of Vai's career, this can be a great album, but knowing his past and his future with Diamond Dave Lee Roth, even if you hear many times his metallic guitar wizardry, this album was a revelation to me. At least enough for me to investigate Vai's career further, but so far, not giving me the urge to actually buy the album.

Report this review (#67569)
Posted Tuesday, January 31, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Flex-able is the debut album from Steve Vai. It was released in 1984 and most of it was probably recorded while he was playing with Frank Zappa. Around the time of this release he was about to join David Lee Roth for studio and touring along with bassist Billy Sheehan and one of the Bisonette brothers on drums ( I can´t remeber which one of them plays the drums, Greg or Matt ?) but the music is deeply rooted in Zappa´s music even though we begin to hear where Steve Vai will be heading in the future.

The music is generally not what we would expect from Steve Vai. He is mostly known for his virtuoso guitar skills and instrumental guitar compositions but here on Flex-able about half of the compositions are vocal based. Little Green Men, Lovers Are Crazy, The Boy/Girl Song and Junkie are all vocal based tracks which many Steve Vai fans won´t enjoy much if you ask me. Personally I find most of them charming and good, but not more than average. It´s in these tracks that the Zappa influence is most evident. There are not many tracks on Flex-able that reminds me of Steve Vai´s later guitar led albums but the live classic The Attitude Song is an exception. This song shows exactly why Steve Vai is regarded among guitar freaks as the best in the world. It´s totally insane. This version isn´t as good as the live version´s on later albums though. Call It Sleep can also be compared to the later style that Steve Vai began on Passion & Warfare even though Call it Sleep seems like a rehearsal to later tracks.

Steve Vai is an extraordinare musician and and even on this album where his guitar isn´t in focus all the time it´s very evident that his skills as a composer was already pretty well developed. It has to be mentioned that former Zappa collegues Bob Harris, Tommy Mars and Chad Wackerman makes contributions to Flex-able.

The production isn´t too good. I´m not enjoying this sound

Flex-able is a very imature and a bit confusing album. There are lots of different styles crammed into the album. Song by song this is good music but as an album Flex-able fails to deliver a cohesive experience. This one is a big 2 rounded up to 3. A strange start to a great solo career.

By the way the cover art on my version of Flex-able is very different from the one depicted here. My version hasn´t got the four last songs So Happy, Bledsoe Bluvd, Burnin' Down the Mountain and Chronic Insomnia so I don´t know how those extra songs sound like.

Report this review (#174111)
Posted Monday, June 16, 2008 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars This album, Steve Vai's first solo album, is not like the rest of his catalog. Sure, there are some unbelievable guitar solos, but a large number of the tracks are poppish vocal songs. Probably because the album came just after Vai's stint in Frank Zappa's band, the album has quite a bit of Zappa influenced music. I would even say that for all of the albums by Zappa alumni, this is one of the most Zappa-like. So, if you like Zappa's music, you will probably like this as well.

Highlights? Well, all of Vai's solos are incredible, but there are some songs that deserve special mention. Little Green Men sounds like a sequel to Zappa's alien visitation opus, Inca Roads, both in subject matter and tone. And Junkie is graced by a solo that just cuts right through you.

But the most magnificent piece on the album is The Attitude Song. This song, released before the album as a flexi-single in Guitar Player magazine, is a shredding showcase of just what a powerhouse guitarist Vai is. And it still may be his most jaw dropping recording ever. And that's saying a lot.

The CD version has a few songs from the "Flex-Able Leftovers" record (later expanded into a full length CD). They add some length to the album, but you can hear why they were leftovers, although I like Bledsoe Bluvd, with Tommy Mars.

Report this review (#557568)
Posted Wednesday, October 26, 2011 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#658772)
Posted Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
4 stars Flex-able is under-rated guitar virtuoso Steve Vai's first solo album, featuring a enjoyable mash-up of song styles and instrumental playing. While it's not exactly a guitar clinic or instrumental showcase, it is completely fun, infectious, and energetic.

Zappa's influence on Vai is all over this album; in fact, if one didn't know better, the album's opener "Little Green Men" could be mistaken for a lost Zappa track. It's a jaunty, highly complex and orchestrated song with diverse instrumentation like flutes and vibes. There's even an enjoyable send up of the Close Encounter's melody. This and the rapidly shifting time signatures and playful vocals/characterizations make a great first impression. It's a fun track that is cheesy enough to enjoy at a superficial level, but such a dense composition that there's actually a lot going on behind the surface. This description goes for much of the album.

That's not to say that Vai is just ripping off Zappa. There is a distinct guitar signature that we hear throughout on later songs. There are numerous instrumental transitions that show off Vai's ambitious and almost vocalized guitar sound. There's no shredding or in your face solos, just a lot of nice axe work incorporated into the fun vibe of these songs. I guess I'd call Vai's guitar playing as being sassy, as we hear in the apply named "Attitude Song". The Zappa influence acknowledged, I actually found just as much Fripp influence as well, as Vai's creativity comes across as the sort of tangled guitar sound we hear on Crimson's excellent Discipline album. Even Flex-able's "pop" songs, "Lover's Are Crazy" and "The Boy/The Girl Song" are too weird for most casual music fans to enjoy.

The lengthiest song on this album, "Junkie Song" is hilarious. It sounds like a send-up of a musical, or film score, and features an open-ended solo filled with crazy effects, bends, time changes, etc. A great song.

With Vai's excellent playing, a great supporting band, fun mix of songs, and hilarious exuberance, Flex-Able comes highly recommended for rock fans in the mood to have a good time enjoying experimental, warm, and eclectic music.

Songwriting: 4 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 3 - Style/Emotion/Replay:5

Report this review (#1458663)
Posted Wednesday, September 2, 2015 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars STEVE VAI hardly needs an introduction after having played with Frank Zappa, Alcatraz, David Lee Roth and Whitesnake not to mention achieving a stellar success in his own right but while he would become the rock world's undeniably most unique and proficient guitar shredder, his early years displayed a much deeper and experimental young VAI whose ties to progressive rock were at the forefront more than any pretensions of rock god status that would take place in a few short years as he would become one of the most technically adept shredders of the 80s.

Fresh out of several years as Zappa's premiere "stunt guitarist" having played on albums like "You Are What You Is," "The Man From Utopia" and "Jazz From Hell" as well as a string of successful live recordings from the "You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore" series, VAI managed to scrape enough money together to buy a small house in the LA suburb of Sylmar and with a mere 5000$ put together his first home studio where he would record a slew of goofy and off the wall music that initially was made for friends but was destined to become STEVE's first album FLEX-ABLE along with the supplemental companion EP titled "Flex-Able Leftovers."

Much of this was due to the fact of his fear of becoming famous and opted to simply make music that he wanted to instead of pursuing any commercial endeavors. Having stated he was simply living in the moment, he created new music to distribute amongst close friends with no preconceived notions of any sort. Released in 1984, FLEX-ABLE may come as a shock to anyone who encountered this zany album after growing to love STEVE's more technical instrumental albums such as "Passion And Warfare." This album in many ways sounds like a completely different artist with few clues as to the direction Mr. VAI would detour but it was this first album that made STEVE VAI a star in the rock and metal world for its unorthodox and hyper creative guitar playing.

VAI was inventive from the very start and FLEX-ABLE displayed a plethora of disparate ideas ranging from creative uses of the whammy bar, advanced hammer on abuse, alien sounding musical scales, compositional mastery as well as a healthy love of extraterrestrial life and all things spiritual, esoteric and eclectic. Add to that, VAI showed a mastery of the business aspects of music as well. FLEX-ABLE was innovative in becoming one of the first truly independent albums (another Zappa trait). While the album was deemed too personal for public consumption, VAI was convinced to release it but found that record companies not only wanted to usurp his publishing rights but would only pay mere pennies on the dollar in royalties. VAI opted to self-release and off this one album alone that has sold around 300,000 copies to date, STEVE has made millions.

As is commonly known, STEVE VAI was the ultimate nerd guitarist having studied at the Berklee School of Music and played with the late great Frank Zappa. FLEX-ABLE displays even more Zappa connections with fellow band members drummer Chad Wackerman, trumpeter Bob Harris and bassist Stu Hamm as well as a large extended guest list that make FLEX-ABLE the ultimate musician's party album. Like any given Zappa album, the instrumentation was wide and varied and included not only guitar, bass, drums and keyboards but also more exotic instruments such as bell lyre, vibraphone, piccolo xylophone, clarinet, flute, sax and violin amongst other various chimes and bell-like percussion.

While originally conceived as gag gifts for friends, the idea was to press up a limited run of flexi discs (also known as phono sheets, Sonosheets or Soundsheets, a flexible vinyl sheet with a molded-in spiral stylus groove that played like a normal record). You know those think little bendies that are often attached in the middle of magazines and the like, thus the origin of how FLEX-ABLE got its title. A combo of a changed plan with the spirit of a can-do attitude and thus the ultimate description of one of rock's most innovative guitarists indeed. After turning down the exploitative record labels, VAI created his own Akashic Records, found a distributor in the form of Important Records and received an unheard of amount of 4$10cents for each album sold.

And the album become a hit in the underground guitar world not only for VAI's guitar playing technical prowess but for its sheer audacity to take the listener into VAI's own universe designed by his own warped sense of humor. The album has since become a cult classic. It has been released with two album covers. Firstly with a cover donning a jet black background and a pink/purple hand tugging on an elastic pink/purple heart and then again with a cartoonish caricature of STEVE on an orange stage alongside an alien and rubbery guitar. The latter contained bonus tracks that would find their way onto the "Flex-Able Leftovers." (these tracks include: "So Happy," "Bledsoe Blvd," "Burnin' Down The Mountain," "Chronic Insomnia" and was my intro to the album.

And the music! This album contains some of the wildest tracks ever! While STEVE's virtuosic guitar shredding does debut here, it is limited in small doses with the highlight on the metal rocker "The Attitude Song," which would eventually be included on the Guitar Hero video game series. However the rest of the album is completely different. One of my favorite VAI tracks of all time opens in the form of "Little Green Men," the ultimate Zappa tribute complete with a frenetic off-kilter jazzified parade of whimsical satire and adroit virtuosity runs of vibraphones and time signatures run amok but also conveys a sophisticated yet playful story about how aliens are amongst us and kept from our knowledge through careful control of perception. Perhaps one of the most hilarious tracks of all time :P

"Viv Woman" displays hard rock attitude but also a healthy horn section whereas "Salamanders In The Sun" is another Zappa inspired flirtatious flute driven melodic track that is light and fluffy but also incorporates some stellar guitar playing. "Call It Sleep," one of the most experimental tracks sounds like a sleepy guitarist waking up and having a hard time getting it together but ultimately prevails in a stunning guitar workout. This one has cool guitar slides and what sounds like tuning manipulations. "Junkie" begins like a music box, a vocal driven sorta jazzy track about a drug addict and includes some extraordinary unorthodox guitar weirdness. "Bill's Private Parts" is a tiny snippet of percussive bombast whereas "Next Stop Earth" debuts VAI's unique ability to make the guitar "talk." It is 34 seconds of two guitars having a conversation, a technique fully utilized on future releases.

"There's Something Dead In Here" is an atonal, non-melodic horrific sounding progressive rock on acid type of recording. This is probably the most "out there" track which is only for the most hardcore. The only two tracks that i'm not really found of are the corny combo of "Lover's Are Crazy" and "The Boy/Girl Song." These two tracks are prominent because they appear near the beginning of the album and are the most commercial sounding which for better or for worse debut another aspect of VAI's music, my least favorite, the schmaltzy ballads with stupid lyrics. While i can understand the desire to keep the album from getting too wild, these two tracks just seem out of place.

While my first experience of the album was with the four bonus tracks which are some of my favorites on the whole album and some of the most creative, i'll have to save criticism for them on the "Flex-Able Leftovers" album which is where they made their first appearance. FLEX-ABLE is a nerdy album through and through and will probably fly over the heads of non-musicians. There is nothing "normal" about this album. This was the creation of a highly developed musician making music on his own terms with little regard for public consumption. Luckily, this sort of music had a cult following with yours truly being a part of.

This was definitely a grower but perhaps the most consistent of VAI's many lopsided albums save a couple tracks. While often cited as his low point, if you can get past the fact that this is not shredder's paradise (and i'm a shredding fan for sure), you can experience a fantastically creative album unlike anything else ever made even by VAI himself. Historically speaking, FLEX-ABLE is a brief moment in time between the adventurous Zappa years and VAI's metal god status with David Lee Roth and Whitesnake. It displayed ALL of VAI's musical talents far beyond the lightning speed fret abuse he has become more known for. This is the dawn of not only a talented guitarist, but also a producer and business entrepreneur as well as composer and arranger of talents. A one of a kind album that deserves its cult status.

Report this review (#1950118)
Posted Saturday, July 21, 2018 | Review Permalink
The Crow
4 stars The first thing that catches your attention when one faces Flex-Able is that already with Little Green Men, it is clear that we are listening to Steve Vai.

Aside from his undeniable abilities as a guitarist, Vai has a unique personality and compositional ability, apart from an inherent eclecticism that in this debut is even more pronounced than in later works.

In addition, on this album Vai was less focused on shredding, which allows us to enjoy his many facets with the guitar beyond that hyper-speed that characterizes him.

So, if you the 90's and 2000's Steve Vai albums and you still haven't dared with Flex-Able yet, give it a try, because it will surely surprise you.

It still sounds fresh and original, almost forty years after it was published!

Best Tracks: Little Green Men (video game music and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, all mixed together), Viv Woman (groovy, and with absolutely crazy horn arrangements), The Attitude Song (here Vai shows us his incredible skills with the six strings) and Junkie (strange and psychotronic mini-symphony)

My Rating: ****

Report this review (#2577483)
Posted Thursday, July 8, 2021 | Review Permalink

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