Artists | Issues | CD Reviews | Interviews | Concert Reviews | DVD/Video Reviews | Book Reviews | Who We Are | Staff | Home

Steve Vai

Real Illusions: Reflections

Review by Gary Hill

It seems Zappa alumni's make some of the most inspired and creative musicians. I suppose that makes sense consider the degree of talent necessary to get into that outfit. Not only that, but working in a highly technical band that somehow placed humor on an equal level with talent and lack of musical borders certainly contributes to an adventurous nature. Whatever the reason, one can automatically assume a certain level of excitement, creativity and musical talent of anyone who ever played with FZ. Steve Vai has definitely proven himself over the years to be no exception.

Throughout his remarkable career Vai has produced a string of critically acclaimed albums and worked with artists as diverse as Motorhead, Billy Sheehan (who adds his bass skills to this release), Glenn Hughes, Joe Lynn Turner, Gregg Bissonette, Whitesnake, Joe Jackson, Al Dimeola, David Lee Roth, Public Image Limited, David Coven, Alice Cooper and Joe Satriani. His latest solo album, Real Illusions: Reflections is part one of a trilogy conceptual composition.

The album creates a musical landscape that is both prog and pop in nature. While influences from artists ranging from King Crimson to the Beatles can be heard, the mix is very unique and all Vai. In addition to the aforementioned Sheehan, Jeremy Colson handles the drums, and Vai is responsible for everything else you hear on the album. There are really no weak tracks on the disc, although some are certainly stronger than others are. The concept, though, although Vai explains it in the liner notes (the instrumentals even give descriptions of the story line they represent) is really hard for me to grasp. Perhaps it's above my head, or perhaps Vai keeps it intentionally less than transparent. Another possibility is that without the other two albums in place the story doesn't make sense. What I was able to glean is that it represents one man's spiritual journey. Truth be told, you don't really need to understand the concept to enjoy the disc. The music speaks for itself.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 2 at

Track by Track Review
Building the Church
This starts with frantic guitar based prog, then turns crunchy for a time until the central melody segment enters with a fusionish prog instrumental take. This is a potent and entertaining instrumental that serves as a nice intro to the album.
Dying For Your Love
This one comes in with an almost industrial texture, but as an eastern sound enters the track has a rather distorted prog sound. The vocal segment feels a little Beatlesesque, but quite weird with an almost symphonic sound and a definite Crimsonian arrangement. This is a very unusual and intriguing soundscape. There is a weird atmospheric break later in the track.
This one is fast paced and crunchy, but the instrumental is all prog and features an incredibly cool (albeit weird) keyboard sound that I can best describe as "a singing cat". This is a catchy and quite cool piece that gets very heavy at times. This one really smokes.
A fusion oriented guitar sound starts this instrumental and slowly builds. This one is definitely a guitar showcase, Vai weaving all sorts of intriguing lines. Still, the bass is also very interesting here. 
A frantic scat singing starts this. As the instruments enter it's in a furious funky jazz textured prog rock groove. It features a horn section and an intriguing slightly off kilter arrangement. This one is very cool. It also has a stellar instrumental break, and the scat singing returns later.
Freak Show Excess
This starts with a weird psychedelic texture and eventually jumps into an oddly timed Rush-like segment before fusion oriented modes take the track. This is a killer prog instrumental, running through a lot of themes and varying segments, but remaining consistent and very potent. It evolves out into a metallic screaming fusion jam later. It drops still later in the cut to something that feels a bit like an early Yes take on the psychedelic strains that started the cut. As this sections moves back out into harder edged fusion it borders on noodly at times. The Yesish elements return late to carry the cut through.
Lotus Feet
This tastefully orchestrated balladic cut is a much-needed restful contrast to the track that came before. It is pretty, powerful and expansive. This live instrumental is a quite awesome and one of my favorite pieces on the disc. It wanders into weirdness to end.
Yai Yai
A strange electronic spoon jam sound starts this, becoming a talk box take on the words "yai yai". This stays mellow and is a very interesting jam in terms of the melody and arrangement. Odd as it is, this is another of my favorites on show here.
Midway Creatures
This rocker is a cool textured number that works quite well. It is hard edged, but definitely prog oriented. This one is another exceptionally entertaining instrumental.
I'm Your Secrets
Percussion starts this, and acoustic guitar enters to keep it company. This becomes a bouncy ballad style as it carries on a bit like an Adrian Belew or King Crimson type piece. The vocal arrangement here is among the best on the CD.
Under It All
At just over eight minutes, this is the longest track on the album. Frantic textures start this and carry it forward. This has some of the heaviest elements of the disc and also shows some King Crimson leanings, but Rush also comes to mind. It gets very dramatic and full in its arrangement at times. As the vocals enter this feels a lot like a modern Crimson sound. The vocal arrangement is another very cool one. It drops to a mellower melodic jam later before working back up to the fast and frantic. Then a percussion-based movement with another awesome vocal segment takes it. They then move it to an acoustic guitar dominated ballad segment with spoken prayers arranged around in the background. Then it wanders to many assorted life stories spoken by varied people over top. This jumps up through this to a dramatic and powerful prog section that feels a lot like Magellan. It's an awesome way to end the album.
Return to the
Steve Vai Artist Page
Return to the
Sons of Apollo Artist Page
Artists Directory

   Creative Commons License
   This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    © 2024 Music Street Journal                                                                           Site design and programming by Studio Fyra, Inc./