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Steve Vai - Passion And Warfare CD (album) cover


Steve Vai


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3.59 | 147 ratings

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4 stars My first exposure to Steve Vai was via the 1986 Ralph Macchio film "Crossroads." As a movie it's entertaining and worthwhile in its own unassuming way as a tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek fantasy loosely based on legendary blues man Robert Johnson's alleged deal with the devil. In the climactic scene young Ralph seeks to get out of his soul-binding contract by besting the reigning king of the guitar hill, a formidable foe by the name of Jack Butler played by Mr. Vai. When he appears on the screen not only does Jack Butler look like the prototype guitar god, exuding undeniable cool in attitude and wardrobe, but he then proceeds to shred like a demon on meth, instilling shock and awe in both the plot's make-believe audience and those watching the flick. My unfiltered, spontaneous reaction as a guitarist was "WHO THE F*** IS THIS GUY?" It wasn't that I'd never heard anything like it before but in most cases I'd been prepared somewhat for what I was about to experience due to word-of-mouth rumor but this dude came charging right out of left field and I had difficulty in retrieving my jaw off the floor. Steve Vai made an indelible impression on my psyche and that's putting it mildly.

However, my limited budget for acquiring albums in those lean years prevented me from investigating his prowess further and it wasn't until recent times that I finally got to hear some of his music firsthand. As I understand it, he initially got noticed by Frank Zappa (no slouch on guitar himself) and ended up on several of that genius' recordings. Vai got to release a solo project in '84 done in his home studio that did fairly well but it didn't exactly make him a household name, either, so he joined up with David Lee Roth and, later, an incarnation of Whitesnake for several years. The exposure he gained from the aforementioned film and from his association with those high-profile acts made demand for another solo album rise among the general populace and 1990's "Passion and Warfare" was the result. Recording once again in the comfort of his own facility, he was able to take his time and bring in the highest caliber musicians to assist him in making the kind of music he'd been envisioning and hearing inside his brain for six years.

He makes a gallant entrance with "Liberty," a fitting, processional-like piece that's very grandiose. "Erotic Nights" is a killer. A hard-rocking track with a metallic edge and plenty of spectacular fretboard runs, it also includes some fascinating detours into psychedelic territories. For "The Animal" a no-funny-business hard rock beat anchors this guttural growler and Steve's guitar ride is mind-blowing as he shifts seamlessly from melodic phrases to menacing outbursts that'll tear your head off. "Answers" is a cleaner, more fusionistic number that's extremely punchy in places before it segues right into "The Riddle," a much heavier tune where his tactful blend of guitar effects creates a highly imaginative soundscape. The important thing is that Vai performs with genuine fire and emotion, essential ingredients for eliciting the admiration of this aging guitar slinger. "Ballerina" is a short novelty piece that fits in well at this juncture but is anything but fluff. "For the Love of God" is next and it has a slower-paced, bluesy foundation roiling underneath the catchy central melody, setting the stage for Steve to exploit his other-worldly acumen for dazzling the senses. I read that he recorded this during a period of fasting and I don't doubt it because he certainly seems to be floating on another plane of existence here. Did I say the man is a freak of nature?

Vai displays an uplifting, humorous side of his art during the spoken-word portions of "The Audience is Listening," a suitably over-the-top raucous, ball-busting rocker wherein he zips in and out of the track at the speed of light. "I Would Love To" possesses a Van Halen-ish pop rock vibe but with glorious overtones and kickass accents added to make it his own while his guitar soars like a screaming eagle. "Blue Powder" calms the waters slightly but it's still filled with skyrocketing guitar runs that alternately increase in intensity and then draw back into quieter, more subtle movements. Bassist Stuart Hamm gets to shine a bit but not for long and if I have any criticism of Steve it's that he becomes a little too caught up in his quirkiness and it sometimes detracts from the song's momentum. "Greasy Kid's Stuff" follows and it's a rowdy tune that sounds similar to what's transpired earlier yet part of me says if you've got it, flaunt it! It's what he does. "Alien Water Kiss" is pretty much a noise-fest that was probably fun to put together but it doesn't do a lot for me. A highlight of the album comes in the form of "Sisters." I really like the subtler attack he employs on this number. It shows he has a delicate side and the exquisite aura that surrounds this song causes me to think that maybe he should've put more of this in to provide a broader degree of variety. There's absolutely nothing wrong with playing pretty. A trippy intro for "Love Secrets" leads to one very wild ride that veers into the more eclectic and proggy side of jazz/rock fusion, leaving you fully satisfied that he certainly gave it his all and all.

"Passion and Warfare" cracked the top 20 on the album charts so the public was obviously ready to be blown away by Steve Vai and his unbelievable virtuosity. He was no longer just a guy in a good band but a bonafide star in his own right. I do suffer from bouts of sensory overload at times while listening to this record but that might be my age and my unabashed jealousy of his immense talent showing through. I simply can't fathom a lot of what he pulls off. Every musical instrument has a limit to what it can produce in the hands of even the most proficient of artists. Yet there always seems to be a small cadre of practitioners who can conjure notes and sounds out of that same instrument no one else can. (Jeff Beck springs to mind.) Steve Vai is a member of that special, exclusive club and we mortals who presume to consider ourselves above-average guitarists can only gape in mystified wonder when they do their thing. 3.8 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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