How To Buy: Steve Vai


Mag 16 2007, 11:10

This is basically a stolen idea from a large number of magazines. I've been thinking of doing it for some time, but another journal I saw today made me think it was worthwhile to do it now. I might turn this into a series of journals, who knows?

The basic idea is an article naming the album that a new listener should buy first by a particular artist, two runner up albums and two that I'd advise people to avoid until last. As I saw one of these for Steve Vai in Total Guitar magazine recently that I disagreed with, I thought I'd start with him.

Buy first:
Passion & Warfare

TG put Fire Garden first! Can you believe that? Passion & Warfare is probably unequaled among Vai's solo albums for every song having its own unique identity. It only takes one listen through to learn which tracks are which. Liberty is a great opening track with a melody that can be easily hummed and memorised. A great composition in my opinion. Maybe not quite as flashy as some other Vai stuff but don't worry, that's coming. Erotic Nightmares and The Audience Is Listening fulfil the heaviness quota for the album, with EN's intro riff being one of my favourite riffs ever. TAiL definitely stands out as unique, if you've heard it you'll know what I mean. It'd be silly for me to list every track, as with the exception of about two near the end they are all among Vai's finest work in my opinion.

And of course there's also For the Love of God. Many say its overrated, but (although I've never counted) I suspect many more list it as one of the greatest guitar tracks (and solos) ever often putting it up there with Stairway to Heaven and Eruption.

Then buy:
Alive In An Ultra World

David Lee Roth's Eat 'Em and Smile and Skyscraper are great albums featuring Vai, but for me Skyscraper is a little bit better. There are a lot of tracks on both albums co-penned by Vai, of which Knucklebones and Skyscraper are standouts. Sure there's no Yankee Rose but the song writing is better...I think.

As for Alive in an Ultra World, its a concept album, so I'm maybe overly partial to it. Whispering a Prayer (The song written for Ireland but ultimately recorded in Argentina) is a brilliant instrumental ballad, while Giant Balls of Gold flies the flag for heavy metal, shred and Poland. Light of the Moon (Australia) (for some reason that's the way it's tagged on is in my opinnion one of his greatest vocal ballads (along with The Ultra Zone's I'll Be Around) While not always completely obvious, the traditional national music Vai must have assimilated to write this album makes very interesting listening. Did I mention its a live double album?

Leave 'til last:
The Ultra Zone
Slip Of The Tongue

Well, TG said Slip Of The Tongue and Flex-Able Leftovers, of which, the Whitesnake one isn't great (mostly because it was really an album of its time), but I refuse to count Flex-able Leftovers as an album, the same way that I've not mentioned any 'best-of's.

The Ultra Zone was, for me, the next one in line to take the place of Flex-able Leftovers. There are some very good songs on it, mostly in the vocals section of the album. Asian Sky is pretty good, as is Here I Am and the previously mentioned I'll Be Around. Also, from the instrumental section, the title track and Fever Dream are pretty good in my opinion. Most people will hear Jibboom before they buy this album, and it sounds good at first, but it gets really tiresome. As for the rest of the album? It's pretty sub-par to say the least. The opening track The Blood & Tears is seemingly an attempt to be cultural and a warm up for Alive in an Ultra World (as is, (possibly) Lucky Charms) but I can't stand either of them. The album is littered with what appear to be gimmicks that don't really work. Or that's my opinion anyway.

Okay, if a potential new Vai fan reads this journal, then I hope its helpful to them. Feel free to post feedback.

On the other hand, if you're a big time Vai fan then I'd still love to hear from you: do you agree or disagree with my picks? don't forget, if you're disagreeing, to try and justify your differences. No "OMG Ultra Zone RULZ!!!oneone1!" Cos that doesn't help anyone.


  • evilpandawrath

    Just my personal preference, but I think Real Illusions: Reflection should probably be up there instead of Skyscraper (which I would leave till last; I never really got into his DLR material). But anyway, Real Illusions is a brilliant album, pretty much all the songs on it are fairly strong, particularly Building The Church, Glorious and Freak Show Excess. Plus Under It All is a hell of a track to end the album on, the guitar is so damned intense! (you're so right about For The Love of God being one of the greatest guitar solos of all time, though I would put it well above Stairway)

    Mag 17 2007, 7:28
  • evilpandawrath

    Oh I forgot to mention how jealous I am that you're going to see Paul Gilbert this June!!

    Mag 17 2007, 7:29
  • GrantRS

    I never really got into the vocal tracks on RI:R, and Yai Yai was in my view just a gimmick...So, after you discount those you've already lost half the album. I don't think I managed to listen to Under It All all the way through more than twice, I just can't stand his singing on that track. It's nice to see opinions voiced coherently though. It was pretty tough to pick runners up though, Firegarden, RI:R, Sex & Religion and Alien Love secrets were all fairly close, but I went for a Roth one for some variety. If I'm advising someone to buy Passion & Warfare and Alive In An Ultra World, I generally think I'm quite close to overkill on the instrumental side of things. Bad luck on not being able to see PG though, with any luck he'll come round again at some point. I hope so anyway.

    Mag 17 2007, 11:20
  • evilpandawrath

    I guess it's all down to what you personally prefer in the end really, I actually don't mind the vocal tracks though I think it should be weighted more toward instrumentals. I hope enough people read this to get you to do another one, it's always good to have a fan's opinion instead of a magazine's, there's always another motive behind their articles it seems... Would you mind tellin me how the Paul Gilbert gig goes by any chance? Would love to know what I'm missin out on this time round so I'll try harder to get to a gig next time

    Mag 17 2007, 14:02
  • GrantRS

    Actually, I just did A Joe Satriani one two hours ago :) I'm wondering who to do next, because obviously you need to have nearly every album by an artist who has at least six albums for it to work. I think I could do Paul Gilbert or Iron Maiden, but after that, I'll probably need ot buy a few more albums to have a complete view on some artists. As for the PG gig, sure I'll try and remember to tell you about it.

    Mag 17 2007, 15:06
  • Shining_Yrael

    Great journal. A+. 10/10. Would read again. AFK Fapping to how brilliant it was. Note: I'm serious.

    Giu 3 2007, 17:18
  • ShredHeadVaiGuy

    Ah, magazines... How they manage to screw everything up? If I see one more Kurt Cobain 'guitar solo' listed among the greatest of all time, I might just do something drastic. Fleeting sanity aside, great journal as always. Firstly, the good: Passion and Warfare is a fine, if cliche, choice for top album. It's undeniably awesome. Similarly, The Ultra Zone is an undeniably phenomenal disappointment. Even 'Windows to the Soul,' Vai's trademark 7th track ballad, doesn't really do it for me. I couldn't sing the melody on the spot if someone asked me to right now. I would have put Sex & Religion in the other spot. Devin Townsend is held in extremely high regard here on, but on Vai's disc, he gets in the way. All is not lost because the album has the breathtaking Touching Tongues and Rescue Me Or Bury Me, but the rest of the album is largely forgettable. I recognize that you're going for a variety of an artist's works with these, so I can't fault you for including the David Lee Roth or Whitesnake records on the list. I myself haven't yet brought myself to listen to them, so I have nothing to add. My main complaint here (you knew one had to be coming) lies with the only album I have left to mention, Alive in an Ultra World. My case against it is simple: this is a recommendation for listeners new to the artist. I think if you're already including a David Lee Roth record among the three recommended, the other two should be more representative of Vai's typical (though yes, what is typical Vai?) works. Alive in an Ultra World has about 4 or 5 solid Vai tracks (on a 14 track double album), but the rest a more eclectic departure from the skills for which Vai is really known. The way I see it, Alive in an Ultra World is a treat for the seasoned Vai listener more apt to listen through varied music for the great moments within it, but a new listener might lose interest and turn it off. I'd suggest, as an alternative, Alien Love Secrets. It was hard for me to choose an album with 7 tracks, but when I thought about it, it more than any other album completely sums up the many styles of Steve Vai. 1)Bad Horsie - shows Vai's unparalled mastery of the wah pedal and propensity for tackling odd concepts and subject matter 2)Juice - the up-tempo, foot-tapping rocker 3)Die to Live - just Vai, a bass, and drums. Simple but excellent. 4)The Boy From Seattle - Vai shows off his abilities with an undistorted electric 5)Ya-Yo Gakk - one of my all-time favorites, exemplifies Vai's absurdism 6)Kill The Guy With The Ball - my least favorite track, but a fine example of Vai's continuing search to make sounds with his guitar like no one thought possible 7)Tender Surrender-the classic Vai 7th track, where he pours his heart and soul into his guitar

    Lug 17 2007, 14:20
  • ShredHeadVaiGuy

    And I purposely left out Sound Theories. I personally didn't like it at all, but it's so far from a real Vai album, it shouldn't deserve consideration anywhere. Oh, and I'm sorry you don't like Real Illusions: Reflections more. It's one of my favorites. Under It All can drag, but the guitar solo in the middle, particularly the section from 4:09 to 4:30 is what I would without hesitation offer to anyone as what I think is the most beautiful musical idea ever put to a recording. We dislike the same songs (Firewall, Yai Yai, and I'm Your Secrets), but the rest of the album is solid, with some really great moments.

    Lug 17 2007, 14:31
  • GrantRS

    I wrote this before Sound Theories came out, so I didn't even consider whether it would make the bottom two slots. You make a good point about Alive in an Ultra World, it is perhaps more suited to a seasoned listener. I just love it so much and think it's so awesome that it deserved to be up there. It was a decision partially made for quantity as I basically consider Alien Love Secrets a five-track album because Kill The Guy With The Ball and Ya-Yo Gakk aren't (IMO) his best works. I disagree with you on: [quote]Alive in an Ultra World has about 4 or 5 solid Vai tracks[/quote] I think there are only 2 or 3 weak tracks on it. I guess that's just a difference of opinion. It's a really tough decision, in my mind AIAUW is a better album than ALS, but your points have made me a lot more uncertain about which one I'd recommend people to get first. I think I'm still slightly in favour of AIAUW for recommendations, but it would depend on the person I'm recommending to, I guess.

    Lug 17 2007, 15:25
  • quickSS

    Excellent topic and yes I do realize I'm more than a year late to jump in with comments......Never-the-less......This is written from a Vai fan who has listened (and read) his work since the 1980 and Cavin Amp era.........New Vai listeners should get a sample of the early stuff. The album "Flexible" should maybe be the 2nd purchase. Flexible defines Vai in my opinion. The 3rd or 4th purchase should be either Eat em and Smile (DLR) or Skyscraper (DLR) as suggested and this is essential to have. The DLR work shows Vai's writing skill and that he has an ability to work with a band. That's important and not all genius musicians can do that. Also the rhythm guitar work in the DLR records is wonderful.....lots of things great things and hear in there.......Long time Vai fans might consider listening to the DLR stuff.

    Gen 4 2009, 12:14
  • GrantRS

    Maybe I should repost this journal to get it back to the top of the related journal lists. Feedback has been mostly positive, even over a year and a half after posting! Thanks for reading and commenting quickSS! Valid points indeed, I'll have to listen to Flexible again though, I've never really thought it was particularly representative of Vai, but I don't spin it often. Time for a re-evaluation, I think.

    Gen 4 2009, 15:12
  • quickSS

    Hi Grant, agree. Maybe bringing some of your journal stuff forward would be useful simply for very new members of such as me. I found this journal entry by a link to the right of some Via cut I was listening to today and cannot remember the specifics....I do have a thought on your thought of re-evaluation of Flexible and your opinion that it's not particularly representative of Vai. That brings up your perspective and my perspective on Vai. My awareness of Vai and his unique sound and style developed from his early work and so that is what is burned into my brain as the Vai character. And so anything I hear from Vai 20 years later sounds to me like Vai, yes, but it sounds like the Vai I have always known. Maybe I'm only talking about guitar style and not song style. Song style is vastly different from then to now. yes yes? What and when were your early Vai listenings of? I'm wondering of perspective has anything to do with how we 'hear' things....Karl Ellwein, USA

    Gen 4 2009, 16:25
  • Headbanger62695

    I actually really enjoyed Slip of The Tongue. I thought it was a great album and the guitar work in Wings of the Storm is phenominal.

    Lug 15 2009, 1:35
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