Released: 2016, Epic
Once in a while some music news will come to my attention that will blow me away. People coming and going from bands or new alum releases or concert tours being announced are cool but seldom will something really big makes me go ‘Wow’!. This new album by Steve Vai called MODERN PRIMITIVE is one of those news items. Apparently in the six years between his debut FLEX-ABLE in 1984 and his timeless classic PASSION AND WARFARE IN 1990 Steve Vai recorded an entire studio album! I had no idea! I just figured he was busy touring the world and writing and recording with the two big Dave’s, working for David Lee Roth and Whitesnake. This is amazing news for fans, an entire unreleased Vai album has been sitting in the vaults for over three decades and is now seeing the light of day.
A while back Steve Vai announced the 25th anniversary of PASSION AND WARFARE tour where he would play that album in it’s entirety. To commemorate that he reissued the album and added four bonus tracks. That in itself is very cool. But what is even more remarkable is the 13-song, 71-minute full-length studio album that comes with it. It is almost the other way around in one sense because MODERN PRIMITVE is the front cover, so technically, PASSION AND WARFARE is he bonus disc on this two-disc set. It is nicely housed in a digi-pak with two complete booklets, one for each album. The booklet for PASSION AND WARFARE is a faithful reproduction to the original with the exception of a few additional liner notes from Vai about the four bonus tracks. The booklet for MODERN PRIMITIVE is also well done, full lyrics, lots of liner notes and 16 photos from across the ages including some old black and white snap-shots from his band back in the day.
Musically this album is a natural bridge between the bizarre debut and the slickness of his third album. In the liner notes Vai says, “Modern Primitive’ is the missing link between those two records. It’s sort of Cro-Magnon Vai”. That si a good description, there is lots of quirky stuff but lots of song-craft as well. The album is loaded with guests, people now who are the whose who of session work and the prog world, Stu Hamm, Chris Frazier, Devin Townsend, Mike Mangini, (Annihilator, Dream Theater), Philip Bynoe (Ring of Fire, Warlord) and more. There are a few cover tunes, but these are more re-workings of older obscure songs from his older pre-solo career days. The album is nice mix of vocal songs, sung mostly by Vai who has a decent voice and instrumental stuff. Even upon the first listen these songs were warm and familiar, even though I had never heard a single note before, but it just feels and sounds like vintage Vai. The playing is stunning naturally, as Vai in the early stages of his career is building his song-craft to blend with his unique playing talents. This album is very slightly mellower than his next effort, you could see more of the Rock/Metal element in his playing in the early 90's, and the album could have even used a couple faster (showcase, show-off) songs in my opinion, but it is still a very sweet listen.
This is a really rare treat for Vai fans, and even fans of guitar heroes in general. It is rare we get to hear an 30 year old unreleased album, let alone one as good as this. I ranked it a bit lower for a broader audience, this album could be a bit of curio, but for the true fans of Steve Vai, crank the rating for this amazing double disc set up to 4.5. MODERN PRIMITIVE will rank as one of my most pleasant and welcome surprises of the year.