I’ve been having a bit of a nostalgia-fest for Steve Vai music of late. I went through a massive Vai phase when I was in my teens and twenties. But he died off a bit for me, when it all started to seem a bit contrived. The billowing hair in the on-stage glory fan, the seeming disinterest with playing in tune, the re-hashed licks played sloppier than his 80’s self would ever have allowed past his notoriously meticulous self-censoring process.
But then I remembered the album ‘Sex and Religion’. In 1993 (Jesus, was it really that long ago?!) and following on from huge international successes as both a solo artist with ‘Passion and Warfare’ and as the side-kick to end all side-kicks, in the post Van Halen David Lee Roth solo band, Vai along with Devin Townsend on vocals, Terry Bozzio on Drums and T.M. Stevens on bass, made his first serious attempt at conquering the world of chart-sound leaning rock music.
This unfortunately coincided with the rise of the ‘grunge’ scene. Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam saturated FM rock radio the world over and affordable satellite television came to the UK, bringing with it MTV and a plethora of similarly fickle all-about-the-image nothing-about-the-music “pop”. So, despite a huge following and album sales in the millions, the three minute thirty second attention span of music journalists couldn’t accommodate that extra guitar solo and in all but the musician’s music press, ‘Sex and Religion’ was put down to an interesting but ultimately irrelevant experiment.
Looking back on it all these years later, it’s easy to see why large-scale commercial success was never going to happen for a band who had already effectively broken up by the time they reached Europe. Bozzio was off erecting 90 piece drum kits, T.M. was getting together his solo career and Devin, despite giving perhaps the most intense and committed live performances I’ve ever seen, never seemed completely happy having to shut up or leave the stage entirely for the all important 20 minute guitar solos.
Overall, however, the rose tinted passage of time lends the album a certain timelessness. ‘Here and now’, ‘Dirty Black Hole’ and ‘Down deep into the Pain’ sound like they were recorded in a belladonic optimistim of a more vibrant and vital tomorrow world. The guitars seem to float above the impossible, as if Vai finally managed to get wire and wood to sound like they were supposed to sound; the controls of an alien space-craft, as it careers out of control, towards the sun.
If you’re completely new to Steve Vai, the above mentioned tracks, together with ‘Answers’ and ‘I would Love To’ from the album ‘Passion and Warfare’, ‘Building the Church’ and ‘Midway Creatures’ from the album ‘Real illusions / reflections’ and ‘The Attitude Song’ from the album ‘Flex-Able’ are probably going to be the best place to start. So get yourself to iTunes and do that thing, you sexy arsed babe.