STEVE VAI – Flex-Able (1984)

Review by: A.A
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

This sounds like a heavier, slightly kitschier 80s take on Hot Rats – with an interesting backstory to boot! From the horse’s mouth himself:
“This was my first real solo album. I saved up all the money I earned working for Frank [Zappa] […] and put a down payment on a house on Fellows Avenue in Sylmar, California. […]
There was never less than 5 people living in the house on a given day and we were all as close as friends could be. Having all those people live there allowed me to play the guitar and build the studio while they paid the mortgage. […]
I bought this book called The Audio Cyclopedia. […] I studied this book and rebuilt the tool shed into a 2 room recording haven completely by myself. […] I christened the place “Stucco Blue Studio” and commenced with all the nonsense.
Everything and anybody was recorded if they got too close. There is a vault full of tapes from that period. I took a handful of this stuff and put it together for release on an Evatone Flexi-disk. After it was completed it sounded like it could make a quirky yet entertaining record. I thought… “Who’s it gonna hurt?” […]
No record company in their right mind would want to release this stuff, it was too eclectic. So I industriously got to work with my then manager at the time and dear friend, Laurel Fishman. We started a label called Akashic Records that was later changed to Light Without Heat Records. It was quite easy to start the label. It cost $10.00.”
So Flex-Able is basically an experimental metal/rock outing influenced by Zappa-esque techniques and humor. Quite an unusual start for the guitar-shred-virtuoso figure Vai would go on to become famous as, though a substantial amount of guitar virtuosity is still visibly propped in its place here too.
Interspersed with whimsical metaphysical tales (Little Green Men) about alien munchkins invading and mating (Vai was into Eastern mysticism and UFOlogy around the time), odes lamenting surreal junk addiction scenarios (Junkie), and maudlin love duets (Lovers Are Crazy, The Boy/Girl Song) are several instrumentals that showcase young Vai’s instrumental prowess (Viv Woman, Salamander in the Sun, The Attitude Song, Call It Sleep, There’s Something Dead In Here – that last one sounding like something a horror-prog band like Shub-Niggurath would come up with had they been more metal). Indian classical music influences, weird sound bites, exotic quasi-prog-jazzy instrumental arrangements (long-time mentor Zappa loaned a lot of his gear for the sessions) and a silly sense of humor add to the record’s freak-experimental vibe.
Musically the record encompasses crazy sonic experimentation antics, metal riffage, smooth or wailing guitar solos and technical shredding. The bonus tracks version of the record comes with four additional tracks in the same capricious vein as the rest of this odd yet not unentertaining 80s curiosity.
The downsides to this release? Some of it exudes a fair amount of cheesiness, and though it seems to aspire, it does not quite hit the endearing Zappa-level zaniness. Also for me as a reviewer the record does not resonate highly on a personal, subjective level in part because I’m not really big on virtuoso guitar-fests.
Oh, and Vai provides occasional vocals here but these duties are more prominently shared by the duo of Bob and Suzannah Harris (aka Irney Rantin and Ursula Rayven), two of the several vagabond friends-musicians inhabiting with Vai in the makeshift studio dwelling during the eight or so months it took to setup studio and record this almost-accidental album. A whirlwind experience, I’m sure, and as Vai fondly recalls it, quite the time of his life. He says an occasional spin of this does not fail to remind him of a more blithe, naïve era back in his early-twenties!
60 / 100

Author: tomymostalas


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