Steve Vai is perplexing. It might just be his finest attribute. The wilfully unpredictable guitar icon may have mellowed considerably since his post-Zappa Flex-able days, but the star has lost none of his ambition. He may no longer be writing barmy satires about little green men and salamanders, but The Story Of The Light is far more courageous than anything his iconic peers could hope to muster.
Vai can turn on a dime. In a startling three track run at the album’s outset, Vai masterfully manoeuvres from the swooning celestial expanse (“Velorum”), via a muscular instrumental workout, that migrates into a devastating gospel-soul attack (“John The Revelator”). It doesn’t stop there. “John The Revelator” shoots off in a seemingly inconceivable direction. It soars into a demented musical number fit for the West End stage. The call and repeats are infectiously ludicrous, and the handclaps become increasingly frantic as the tone becomes more and more hysterical. Rufus Wainwright would be astounded, not only does Vai nail the big show tune first time of asking, he manages to underpin the track with some insanely intricate fretwork, and when the time is right, some bruising outbursts.
The opening mini-musical is a testament to both Vai’s compositional skills and his judgement, while his playing is routinely dazzling, he remains utterly enslaved to the mood of the piece. If he needs to lay low and pick his moments he will. Elsewhere, The Story Of The Light is more conventional, mixing the familiarly spacious and smooth sounds of early-80s prog with tinges of Eastern mysticism. While his tone is routinely beautiful and inherently reflective, he does occasionally lapse into the kind of jamming that became passé 40 (“No More Amsterdam”) and 30 (“Weeping China Doll”) years ago respectively.
It really is a shame, as The Story Of The Light for the most part offers genuine career renewal for Vai. Embracing mysticism but taking it off in directions that are both humorous and enlivening. Such are his compositional skills that Vai never sounds ragged or truly on edge, a sense of control exudes at every level of his playing, but he can still catch his audience off guard. Three decades into his career and Vai is remains at his best when he embraces his own eccentricities and risks alienating half his adoring public. It’s not perfect, it’s not wholly original, but The Story Of Light might just be the best, and certainly the most intriguing, (mostly) instrumental guitar album of 2012.
Buy If:You want to hear a guitar legend riffing on mysticism and flying between the serene and the ridiculous.
Sell If:Big musical numbers and mystical instrumentals sound tortuous.
Best Track:“John The Revelator/Book Of The Seven Seals”
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