Steve Vai

Picture of Steve Vai

Passion And Warfare

Steve Vai - Passion And Warfare ©1990 Epic
1. Liberty
2. Erotic Nightmares
3. The Animal
4. Answers
5. The Riddle
6. Ballerina 12/24
7. For The Love Of God
8. The Audience Is Listening
9. I Would Love To
10. Blue Powder
11. Greasy Kid's Stuff
12. Alien Water Kiss
13. Sisters
14. Love Secrets

Über-musician Steve Vai was at the height of his popularity when he released his masterwork Passion and Warfare: he'd just spent a few years in David Lee Roth's band at the peak of Roth's solo career, he'd just signed on with Whitesnake at the perfect time in the band's and MTV's history, and guitar virtuoso music was still going as strong as it ever would in the marketplace. Always a shrewd businessman with a strong sense of artistic integrity when it comes to his own material, Vai decided to ride that wave and release his most ambitious album to date, with mind-blowing musicianship, prototypical Vai silliness, and just the right amount of ear-friendly guitar-rock tunes complete with colorful videos ("The Audience Is Listening", "I Would Love To") to appeal to pretty much anyone who had been following his career. His unprecedented visibility allowed him to spend as much time and money as was necessary to achieve his grand vision; several high-profile equipment manufacturers were more than happy to develop innovative gear to Vai's specs; and any artist he may have wanted to work with was glad to help. The result is a stunningly rich album replete with elaborate compositions, unheard-of sounds ("Love Secrets", "Alien Water Kiss"), fantastic production and extraordinary arrangements, not to mention some of the most virtuosic playing on the planet from Vai and all the other musicians involved.

At this point, anybody with some interest in Vai's output is familiar with the album's best-known tracks ("For the Love of God", "The Audience Is Listening") and gonzo guitar antics, but these songs are actually not what makes this record the musical masterpiece it really is. Tracks like "Ballerina 12/24", for instance, highlight the breadth of Vai's creativity and musicianship: in this beautifully melodic three-voice composition, Vai plays one voice and the other two are performed by a diatonic pitch harmonizer and a delay effect, resulting in a complex layered piece with a deceptively simple melodic theme. The extraordinary ballad "Blue Powder", originally composed as a demo piece for a guitar amp, features superb emotional playing and unusual recording machine tricks. And the quiet "Sisters", with its clean-tone chord melody, anticipates a few tracks with similar approaches Vai would record many years later ("The Boy From Seattle" on Alien Love Secrets and "K'm-Pee-Du-Wee" on Real Illusions: Reflections). These along with rockers "The Riddle" and "Erotic Nightmares" are the meat (or tofu patty) of this record, and serve to both distinguish Vai from the morass of lesser fleet-fingered long-haired robots that polluted CD manufacturing plants in the 1990s and confirm his position as one of the world's pre-eminent musicians, composers, arrangers, instrumentalists and musical innovators.

Having said that, the album is certainly not perfect, and a couple of tracks are either so experimentally indulgent as to be unlistenable ("Alien Water Kiss") or annoying guitar rock with barely enough interesting guitar work to make them palatable ("Greasy Kid's Stuff", "The Audience Is Listening"). But the substance throughout Passion and Warfare is most definitely enough to make up for those tracks, whose purpose was probably to give Vai an outlet for his intense silliness as well as a way to get radio and television airplay. Regardless, Passion and Warfare is a testament to Vai's immense talent and a watershed album that must be heard.

Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier

Review date: 03/2005

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