“The Story of Light” by Steve Vai

Picked this album up last week, and holy crappola is it awesome. I had been waiting for another Vai album since his last release, Real Illusions, came out 1,000 years ago. I’ve enjoyed the live albums he’s put out in the meantime, don’t get me wrong, but a Vai studio album is always something special.
This album is a real hodgepodge of all things Steve! I can hear the complexity of Fire Garden, the polish of Real Illusions, the, er, passion of Passion and Warfare… it’s a little bit of everything we’ve heard from Vai throughout his solo career. Overall, i’m very satisfied. Let’s take a song-by-song look at it!

The Story of Light: This song seems to pick up right where the last track of Real Illusions, “Under it All”, left off; complex drumming, HUGE 7 string guitar chords, and very unsettling melodies. There is some Russian language spoken word throughout the song which i could live without just fine, but it doesn’t ruin the song or anything. Absolutely awesome solo, probably his most “composed” and structured since The Ultra Zone’s “0000”.

Velorum: a good friend of mine recently said that when she heard the new Fiona Apple album, she connected with it so much that she felt like somehow Apple was writing music just for her. I can completely understand that after hearing this song! Its like everything i like to hear in music all happening at once. Not only my favorite song on the album, but one of my favorite Vai songs ever! Absolutely gorgeous tones, HUGE complex rhythms on a 7 string, lots of key changes… Completely wonderful. I love everything about it.

John the Revelator: it seems like this song is generating a lot of hype among listeners. You’ll either love it, hate it, or think its okay. At first listen, i can’t lie, i totally hated it. I just never get along with heavy blues stuff, and (sorry Steve) i usually don’t get into Vai’s bluesy playing (unless its something completely vulgar, like The Animal). This one features Beverly McClennan from “The Voice”, and her vocals are completely insane. Upon a few more listens, i’ve started to appreciate this song.

Book of the Seven Seals: haha yeah, this song is frankly terrible. BUT, i can understand where it came from… Vai has always expressed a DEEP love for Broadway musical scores (especially Leonard Bernstein), so i’m sure there has always been something in him that wanted to put together a big musical number like this one. I just happen to loathe ensemble singing, especially in a gospel (ish) setting. Next.

Creamsicle Sunset: Lovely song. Very minimal and laid back. Very “un-Vai” in a lot of ways! Even his gear for this song was a departure from his norm; he apparently used an Eric Johnson Strat through an old Fender Bandmaster head. The tone is very clean, and very pure. I kept waiting for this song to eventually blast off to Venus (ala Boy from Seattle), but i’m glad it didn’t. Amazing amount of articulation and control in this song.

Gravity Storm: Well this one is just badass. Vai at his raunchiest! I think this song came from the same place as Bad Horsie and The Animal. The song is covered in these pre-bent notes that droop and sag like they were played on a melting guitar, if that makes sense. I think this is the first song on the CD where you really get a taste of Vai flat out nuking the guitar. Some interesting rhythmic figures in the middle of the song, and i love that octave divider he uses on most of the song. Killer.

Mullach a’tSi: Unbelievable. One of the prettiest songs i have ever heard. Vai’s touch and control on every note is unreal… he never goes as far as to performing any sort of guitar acrobatics or anything, its all really simple melodies and all, but the amount of nuance and feel he puts into every note is amazing. This track could make Jeff Beck blush. Again, super minimal instrumentation. Its Vai on electric and acoustic joined by a harpist, and some really minor percussion. One of the best “7th Songs” Steve has ever done.

The Moon and I: Jawdropper. Vai’s vocals at the first of the song are fantastic and heartfelt; and the solo might be the most emotional, raw thing he’s done since Tender Surrender. There are moments in here that are really up there with the legendary For the Love of God. Even at its most intense moments, every note is played with so much feeling that its hard to comprehend. A real standout of the album, and of Vai’s career. Unreal track.

Weeping China Doll: Another 7 string track! Makes me happy to see Steve rocking the 7 so much on this disc. While this song is good, i do think it would have done better elsewhere on the album; the last several tracks have been so emotionally heavy that its almost exhausting to listen to them all in sequence. This song also features some very emotive soloing on it, and some BIG, creepy melodies towards the middle. Again, Vai is rocking these massive 7 string chords that just sound incredible.

Racing the World: This song is freaking awesome!!! Just a fun, somewhat straightforward, instrumental guitar rock kind of song. Almost has a vintage Satriani vibe to it. I love the cheesy synth chords during the chorus, its extremely catchy. Wonderful tone on this song, too. I can’t seem to get tired of this one at all, one of my favorites on the album for sure. I could picture this song on the soundtrack to F-Zero.

No More Amsterdam: this song was a big surprise to me. Aimee Mann and Vai’s vocals work extremely well together! This song is also a shred-free zone. Its mostly all acoustic! It has a few parts that remind me a little of All About Eve, another of my favorite Vai vocal tracks. Great vocal melodies on this one. Just a nice tune, and a good breather from all the complexity of the other songs.

Sunshine Electric Rainbows: This is kind of the after dinner mint of the album. Just a nice, palatable, easy to digest song. This one reminds me of Vai’s other chord/melody songs, like Boy from Seattle, Die to Live, or Natural Born Boy (a criminally overlooked Vai song, btw). Nice melodies, HUGE tone.

I should mention, too, Vai’s band does a great job on this record! I mean, the guitar playing is obviously the focus of every tune, but the backing tracks are really great too.

Overall, i really enjoyed it. It features his playing at perhaps its most complex and simple we’ve heard it yet. I feel like Vai has realized that there are 80 billion people out there who can “out shred” him (in terms of speed and technicality), so he’s better off focusing on what makes him, well, Steve Vai! His command over the guitar is unparalleled, and his melodic sense is amazingly unique. I can go on Youtube and easily hear innumerable players who can play really fucking fast; but there is only one person out there who can touch a guitar like Steve does.

I think my only real complaints are that awful Seven Seals song, and the feeling that the tracks could have been arranged in a different order. But really, every Vai album (minus Passion and Warfare) has a song or two that i don’t care for on it.

If this is the direction Vai is heading towards, i cannot wait to hear what he cranks out next! Hail Steve!

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~ by ben eller guitars on 08/27/2012.

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