Originally released last year as part of the 25th Anniversary package of Passion and Warfare this collection of outtakes and off-cuts, Modern Primitive, now receives the standalone-release treatment, perfect for Vai/guitar fans that didn’t want to fork for “just another copy of Passion and Warfare”.
Modern Primitive is a single disc compilation of oddities recorded between Vai’s Flex-Able and Passion – the material arriving anywhere between 1984 and 1990 – and sounding like it!
There are some great cuts here, some that have gone on to inform the post-Warfare sound too (vocal tracks, such as Fast Note People).
Flex-able was such a strange album – but even that makes more sense to revisit hearing this “bridging” collection.
The opening vocalese/guitar-scat, synthetic funk of Bop! takes us back to the Zappa period of Vai’s wizardy, Dark Matter has a cornball-funk riff that you could almost imagine David Lee Roth mugging over, and tracks like Lights Are On and Upanishads have the overall sound of the Passion and Warfare project – liquid-silk, lightning quick guitar solos splashed and flashing across super-session-muzak backing tracks.
The solo on And We Are One is a reminder of Vai’s glorious glory days, Never Forever is the best thing Joe Satriani never did, and the pedestrian-rock of No Pockets is a reminder that Vai’s vocal cuts never really – quite – er, cut it…
But 15 year old me feels like he’s uncorked a message in a bottle.
The three-part Pink and Blows Over, which concludes the record, again takes us back to Zappa’s heavy metal be-bop and through the orchestrations of guitar that have crystalised across the last decade of Vai’s playing and releases.
It’s a staggering range here that bridges his first two albums and all but encapsulates the essence of his entire solo career. Put another way: some of it is mesmerising, some of it is garbage.
I’ve always felt that way about Vai – though there’s no denying the sheer talent. Taste would be another thing though of course.