Picks and Pans Review: Passion and Warfare

updated 05/28/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/28/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Steve Vai

Faster than a speeding bullet. That's Vai's claim to fame. You may know him as the hired guitarslinger for such chart-climbers as David Lee Roth or Whitesnake. You may recognize him as the devil's favorite musician in the film Crossroads. Once you've heard him play, his handiwork is unmistakable. His quicksilver fingers fly across those frets like a centipede on a hot plate.

Countering expectations, this solo album is not all hammer-and-anvil rock. Many of its 14 songs are surprisingly progressive. Vai's experimentation works at times, as on the pixieish, finger-picked "Ballerina 12/24" or on the sinuous, guitar-braided "The Riddle." It fails at others, such as the portentous "Liberty," which sounds like a towering, blustery version of the Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends."

Vai is still most in his element on such rockers as "Erotic Nightmares," the Van Halenesque "I Would Love To," the metallic "The Animal" and the full-body slam of "The Audience Is Listening." He shows off his hyperspeed abilities best on "For the Love of God" and "Blue Powder."

What keeps his tornado technique from trampling all over the listener is that he folds dreamy, gentle interludes into some of these instrumental sprints. When he's cranked up (which is most of the time), though, his stunning style comes at you so frenziedly that it's like sticking your finger in an electric socket. It's a jolt, all right, but listen at your own peril. (Relativity)

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