Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Steve Vai - Fire Garden CD (album) cover


Steve Vai


Prog Related

3.87 | 100 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Prog Reviewer
4 stars I've been playing all kinds of guitars for almost half a century. In that time I've gotten to where I'm competent due more to trial-and-error experience than natural, God-given ability but, as Dirty Harry once said, "A man's gotta know his limitations" and I do. One of the first things I had to come to grips with in the beginning was that there were a ton of players locally much better than I'd ever be and that there were a select few in the world that were able to do things on the instrument that defied my comprehension. Back in the 60s it was the likes of Hendrix and Beck that cultivated my awe. After that era each new generation of axe men would produce a handful of prodigies that did things with their calloused fingers I could only marvel at with envy. Toward the end of the 20th century I became aware that Steve Vai was one of those elite virtuosos and listening to his art is often an exercise in both intrigue and befuddlement. His 1996 album, "Fire Garden" is no exception. The generous amount of music it contains is highly accessible but his guitar mastery is like something beamed in from another dimension.

Vai starts off with the alarming "There's a Fire in the House" and the heat it generates can keep you toasty all winter long. After a siren-filled intro he and his cohorts settle into a hard-hitting rock groove over which Steve sets the torrid tone for what's to come. The rhythm section of Mike Mangini on drums and Philip Bynoe on bass along with keyboard flavorings tossed in by Mike Keneally gave Vai a virtual dream team of musicians to assist him on this project and their cohesiveness makes this one of his best records. On "The Crying Machine" strong drumming propels this song throughout and, despite its congenial melody, it still possesses a pair of sizeable testicles that keeps it from being pedestrian. I also appreciate Steve's respect for dynamics that cause this tune (and most of the album, for that matter) to have a level of sophistication that I instinctively gravitate towards. "Dyin' Day" is a gutsy mix of acoustic and electric guitars layered over a forceful beat. "Whookam" is an odd vocal-masking deal and a very short vignette that leads to "Blowfish," a heavy-as-Gibraltar ditty containing a buzz-saw guitar effect that cuts a wide swath through your psyche. "The Mysterious Murder of Christian Tiera's Lover" is next, a brief solo spasm of spectacular guitarisms that soar over my head like F-16 fighter jets. "Hand on Heart" follows and it's a pretty number with deep tones of aural colors shifting behind the infectious melody line. In a very progressive way, Vai doesn't play it safe at all, allowing the track to build on its own momentum. "Bangkok" sounds like you're caught in a swarm of flies that finally disperses to reveal a stately theme. It then takes you on powerful detours into realms of Asian grandeur before it all segues into the most impressive instrumental on the album, "Fire Garden." Here Steve further explores Indian-styled melodies and instrumentation as the epic constantly grows more challenging and complex on a multitude of levels. The peaks he ascends to are breathtaking but at one juncture he drops into a metallic segment where he shreds with abandon, bordering on spontaneous combustion. Not only is this suite wholly enthralling, it's one of the finest prog rock instrumentals you'll ever encounter.

The second half of the disc was a real surprise for my ears the first time I listened to it because I had no idea that Vai could sing, too. And he ain't too shabby, neither. "Deepness," a relatively simple vocal/guitar exercise, eases you into this new phase and then he hits you up aside the head with his powerful singing on "Little Alligators," a driving rocker with honorable Hendrix overtones and attitude. His guitar work is phenomenal here. Gee whiz, can this guy play his tushy off or what? "All About Eve" displays even more of his vocal skills as he navigates flawlessly through a very progressive chord pattern like there's nothing to it. I really like the places he takes my mind to in this song. "Aching Hunger" is a great change-of-pace cut that sports a kind of funky reggae feel but not at the expense of its rock roots. Once again I'm caught off-guard by Steve's singing acumen and musically I must reiterate that only a tiny minority of humans can play guitar this brilliantly. "Brother" has a slower, bluesy groove that I find refreshing at this point. Vai vocalizes with just the right mixture of raw passion and consistent pitch control. Who knew? "Damn You" is a vicious pile driver of a song with a stringent vocal aka Paul Stanley leading the charge. In fact, this number is what Kiss could've sounded like in their heyday if they'd been vastly more talented and adventurous. (I know that's weird but I'm just being honest.) Vai obviously knows about the intrinsic value of timing so his humorous sidetrack into silliness with "When I Was a Little Boy" is taken in the fun-loving spirit it's given. "Genocide" is a group-sung chant that reminds me of late 70s Queen but his guitar burns hot as a picnic in Hades and it works because of it. Steve chooses to end with the classy instrumental, "Warm Regards." This interesting, highly-melodic tune is a tour-de-force of his other-worldly imagination at play on the fretboard while showcasing his unbelievable technique. The man has no known boundaries and it's humbling to witness.

"Fire Garden" is an excellent album that any progger would be happy to have in his collection. Yet to say that Vai is the greatest guitarist would be presumptuous because there is no such thing. When you get up to this plateau of players that regal connotation ventures into the sticky territory of personal preference and the result of such an argument is usually vehement discord between opinionated individuals if not bloody fisticuffs. I prefer to place musicians like Steve Vai in a lofty category all their own and let them be whoever they want to be. I may not cotton to everything they produce and there may be times when they overindulge in their bedazzlement schemes but, for the most part, records such as "Fire Garden" satisfy a lot of different hungers growling in this old guitar picker's gut and few things are as gratifying as having a full stomach. 4.2 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Share this STEVE VAI review

Social review comments () BETA

Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives