Steve Vai: Alien Love Secrets

Steve Vai: Alien Love Secrets (1998)
Image Entertainment
Extras: Interview, Commentary tracks

Everyone who ever went through a guitar-shredding phase and anyone who enjoyed listening to guitar-based music must have heard the name Steve Vai. Considered by many to be a guitar god because of the dexterity of his amazing fingers, his most striking skills are his versatility and vision as a musician. Steve has now given his fans the greatest gift he could have possibly created: a DVD version of the "Alien Love Secret" EP that is the new benchmark for music releases on DVD. By the time the name of Steve Vai surfaced in the minds of rock guitarists, his credentials in the music industry were already well established. He was a collaborator with the great, late Frank Zappa. "Zappa was a musical genius", Steve notes, and the work he did was extremely visionary and elaborate. It took exceptional musicians to bring Zappa’s music to life. One of them was the young Steve Vai, a man who loved the guitar and possessed technical playing skills that were second to none. Steve was also completely fluent in written music and a long-time music transcriber, which helped immensely in recording and maintaining Zappa’s work. Even today, Steve is regarded as the most fluent rock guitarist when it comes to written music, sheet playing, and transcribing even the most difficult arrangements. On the side, Steve would record and produce his own recordings, such as the extremely raw but masterful album "Flexable".

When David Lee Roth abandoned Van Halen in 1985 to start his own band, everyone’s eyes were set on the guitarist he would pick to fill Eddie Van Halen’s shoes. Roth chose the fairly unknown Steve Vai. Steve Vai soon left no doubts that he was a more-than-able replacement for Eddie Van Halen. From the first moment, it became apparent that Steve was one of the hottest guitarists on the surface of the Earth. Later, he had a temporary gig with David Coverdale’s "Whitesnake" but the band’s mainstream leanings and highly commercial music left little room for Steve’s aggressive playing style. Shortly thereafter, Steve decided to go his own way, and ever since he has conquered the world with some of the most spectacular albums in guitar history, such as "Passion & Warfare". He has completely redefined the rock guitar and influenced both legions of aspiring guitarists as well as hardware manufacturers, the latter of whom immediately tried to create effect pedals that allowed everyone to create some of the most amazing effects Steve was exhibiting on his recordings.

To dismiss Steve simply as a guitarist would never do justice to his truly universal skills. Not only does Steve play most of the instruments himself on his various recordings, he also engineers and mixes his own albums. He has an impeccable talent few musicians truly possess. He has an overall view of music that transcends the six strings of the guitar or seven, as Steve often proves. Steve is a musician. He is driven by music and uses the guitar simply to express himself, making it the instrument of choice for its expressiveness. His compositions often take the shape of opuses and break through the self-imposed barriers of many rock musicians. He uses classical approaches as well as traditional orchestration to create tapestries of music layered upon each other until he has reached a density in his music a full orchestra could not reach. Most amazingly, he also knows how to reduce music to its elemental emotions, as proven by many of his songs and his live shows. Steve combines energy with skill, talent with education, and noises with music. He is singular in what he does and his work displays a perfection and complexity that is always breathtaking and ever surprising. No exploration of Steve’s music would be complete without touching upon his guitar play, though. Steve, like Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen, is certainly one of the most skilled guitar players ever; he has re-invented the instrument by taking a new approach with an unconventional mindset. His technical skills are trained to perfection; many guitarists who tried to copy some of his playing styles have had to give up when facing the stretches and the daunting speed of the master. Setting aside his technical abilities, however, Steve has never been a "shredder". What sets him apart from the legions of guitarists in the rock world is the fact that his expressiveness almost exceeds these technical skills – hard to imagine, but true. While Eddie Van Halen is a total "gut-player", Steve is the mechanic without ever sounding overly analytical.

All his work is refined to the point of perfection. Every single note is meaningful in the context, squeezing the utmost emotion out of it at any given time. Not a single line is played by accident. With ease, Steve turns his guitar into a lyrical singer, a rampaging monster, a cold machine, a shuffling boogie-man, or a roaring animal within seconds of each other. The ferocity and versatility Steve displays in his playing and guitar arrangements is singular and mind-boggling. I have never heard another artist who managed to completely establish the guitar as a leading instrument like a voice and release a number of records of instrumental music without boring his audience for even a second. Steve Vai is clearly the acme of modern guitar playing.

"Alien Love Secrets" was a project Steve worked on between his faltered "Sex & Religion" project and the amazing "Fire Garden". What is so special about the DVD version of this EP is that it is so rich in content that every Steve Vai fan will be simply floored. The disc contains performances of all seven songs from the album, four of them even offering multiple angles. These alternative angles usually focus in on Steve, giving the viewer a perfect look at his fretwork. Ever wondered how he played certain phrases? This disc reveals it all with the openness of an instructional video, while keeping it in the context of the actual songs. Every subtle move, every hammer-on, every tap, and every one of Steve’s skillful bends can be closely examined on those titles.

The disc also contains <$commentary,commentary track>s to each one of the seven songs. These commentaries are invaluable and lend a depth to this release that I have never seen before. All of a sudden you don’t have to pick up a guitar magazine only to get second-hand information on the songs. You don’t need to read through lengthy articles – like this one – to gather information. Here, you just watch, listen, and let it all sink in. Steve talks about the ideas that led to the songs. He discusses technical problems and issues he had, pointing out highlights in the songs and most of all, he reveals much insightful information about his playing style and the sounds used on each song. He covers all aspects his fans might be interested in and he does so in an informative and entertaining way.

The disc is fascinating and highly entertaining, inviting you to rummage through the material over and over again. The disc is of exceptional quality. The image material is very good and well compressed, reproducing the stark colors of the music videos without any noticeable flaws. Most importantly, the disc contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> re-mix of the "Alien Love Secret" album. It is a driving mix that is just as aggressive as Steve’s playing. It has a fat sound that beats the Dolby Stereo soundtrack that is also supplied on this disc hands down.

Steve is a very enigmatic, yet highly charismatic character. The disc’s "Fire Garden EPK" interview gives some insight into Steve, the man although very limited. He answers questions about where he comes from, how he grew up, where his roots are, his work with Frank Zappa, and more. It is rather short, but still exciting.

Steve Vai’s "Alien Love Secrets" is an exceptional DVD from an exceptional artist. Even if you have never heard of Steve before and are unfamiliar with his work, this disc will open your eyes and ears to what possibilities modern rock guitar offers in the hands of a virtuoso. Check it out and you will fall in love with Steve’s work. This DVD is a good way to start.