STEVE VAI – Real Illusions: Reflections

STEVE VAI - Real Illusions: Reflections


Epic Records
Release date: February 22, 2005

Vocals: C+
Guitars: A
Bass: B+
Drums: B
Recording Quality: B+
Lyrics: B
Originality: A
Overall Rating: B+

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Mr. Steve Vai is undeniably one of the best, if not the top, rock guitarist on the circuit today. One thing is certain, Vai has an unbelievable penchant for making a guitar sing, moan, hum, whine, and take on a voice and vocal chord all of its own. While creating albums full of musical pyrotechnics and guitar prowess, he still manages to exude a tongue-in-cheek writing style, meaning he always has fun and never takes himself quite too seriously. Perhaps this is a trait he learned from one of his late, great mentors: Frank Zappa. Take, for example, a quote from the liner notes of his latest opus, Real Illusions: Reflections, as he states that this album “… is the first part of a multilayered menagerie of vignettes based on the amplified mental exaggerations of a truth-seeking madman who sees the world … Oh, never mind.” It’s comments like these that leave the listener pondering if Vai is really being serious or not.

This release is subtitled “a rock fable” and is once again a mixture of instrumental and vocalized tracks. Each track of this album is accompanied by a section of liner notes depicting a piece of the story that the track represents. Unfortunately, the story seems to be broken into pieces, and is slightly off-kilter when trying to follow. Either that, or quite possibly it requires a slightly maniacal mind like Vai’s to follow. Even so, a complete understanding of the story being delivered isn’t required to enjoy the accompanying musical sound odyssey contained within.

Our story opens someplace in Midwest USA Wherever-You-Live, with Captain Drake Mason found trembling in an alley, who utters the words, “It’s all very clear to me now.” The album opener entitled “Building The Church” is a typical, enjoyable, instrumental rocker Vai style. “Dying For Your Love” is the album’s first track to contain vocals, and, while not awful, comes off sounding average. “Glorious” is another mid-tempo instrumental rocker that will surely please all Vai fans. Oddly enough, the strangely named “K’m-Pee-Du-Wee” track comes off as an album winner due to its inspiring emotion, driven purely by Vai’s powerful “talking guitar.” It’s amazing how Vai pulls off a timely bend or a staccato run to give the listener a sense that the guitar is vocally portraying a story, in this case, about love for an infant.

The next track is a daring, jazzy piece full of trumpets, saxophones, trombones, various percussions, and a slightly different instrument: Vai’s voice! The opening of “Firewall” has Vai using his voice in a scat-like way, portraying (what seems like) a vocalized set of drums. The track has a slightly jazzy-bop feel to it that almost seems to pay homage to old Zappa, and quite frankly works remarkably well! The remainder of the release has wonderful instrumental rockers like “Freak Show Excess” and “Midway Creatures” sandwiched around tender and quirky moments like “Lotus Feet,” “Yai Yai,” and “I’m Your Secrets.” The closing track, then, “Under It All,” weighs in at a little over 8 minutes long, and is broken up by spoken pieces of the story’s characters praying out loud.

This is arguably not the most end-to-end rocking Steve Vai album to be released and probably won’t be an instant classic with every Vai fan. It certainly has its moments of self-expression and story-weaving, while maintaining its unique sound presentation. At this point, Vai has earned enough respect from his listeners and the musical community to be afforded some latitude in his expression. With a few repeated listens, though, Vai fans will acknowledge that this opus is a worthwhile addition to their collection.

Interestingly enough, the touring band, dubbed “The Breed,” is acknowledged in the credits and features a group shot of the band (Vai, Sheehan, Tony MacAlpine, Colson, and Dave Weiner) in the CD’s tray liner.


Billy Sheehan: Bass
Jeremy Colson: Drums
Steve Vai: Everything else except where indicated


  • Scott Jeslis

    Scott is one of the partners at Metal Express Radio. He handles a lot of Metal Express Radio's public relations, screening of new music and radio scheduling. On occasion, he also does reviews and interviews. He has been a proud member of the Metal Express Radio crew since 2004.

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