Reflections on Real Illusions

Well, I’ve spent almost two weeks listening to Real Illusions: Reflections and its time to sit down and write a review.

I’ve written before that most times that Steve Vai comes out with an album there is a lot to absorb. You usually have to listen to it quite a few time to get the nuances of what is going on. This is especially the case with the last two Vai albums. I spent a lot of time listening to Ultra Zone before I finally decided I liked it. This album was no exception. But the final verdict is its a hell of an album.

So here’s a track by track review of the album for those who are looking for it:

Vocal Tracks
I started out skipping through the vocal tracks, with the thought of listening to them later. This is just normally what I do. Eventually I get around to them and wind up liking them. I’ve listened to all of them quite a few times now.

“Dying for your Love” is one of those songs that I’m sure I’ll like at some point, but right now I’m not “feeling the love” with it. For some reason it feels too “chaotic” for me. I’m not sure how to explain it, but it seems very choppy and disjointed.

“Firewall” initially annoyed me, but I’m really starting to like it. As my daughter would say, it “Rocks Out”. There’s a lot of energy in this one.

“I’m Your Secrets” – I actually like this one a lot, though it reminds me a lot of “Good Times” off of the “Skyscraper” album. There are differences, but the main guitar track sounds almost just like it, at least to me.

“Under It All” – don’t like it. Don’t know why, but just don’t like it. I’m going to have to focus on this one at some point because there are a lot of times that I listen to a song and hate it and it winds up one of my favorites. I just have to pinpoint what I don’t like about it. The interesting thing about this one is in other reviews I’ve read, people really seem to like this one – so it’s pretty obvious I’m missing something.

Instrumental Tracks
There is not one instrumental track on this album that I don’t absolutely love. This is probably some of Vai’s best work, in that the feeling and sometimes just the complexity of them keeps you on your toes. I’m really impressed with all of them.

“Building The Church” is the song that opens the album, and rightly so. This is a rockin’ song perfect for an opening for an album that took so long to create. The rhythm guitars are tuned down to what sound like ‘D’, giving you that deep rhythm that hits you right in the gut. I spent a lot of time rewinding this song and playing it over and over again.

“Glorious” is ok, but I haven’t really gotten into it — yet. Sounds too “synthy” or “whiney” to me. Most likely at some point that will change.

“K’m-Pee-Du-Wee” sounds like Vai from the Flex-Able years. Really sweet sounding. There is something about the sound that Vai had on his earlier albums that just made you feel emotions that you couldn’t explain. This is one of those songs. It’s a sweet, melodic song. This is another one I listened to over and over again. If “Lotus Feet” didn’t exist, I would nominate this one for the seventh track of the album (for the significance of the seventh track, see “Lotus Feet”).

The next instrumental on the album is “Freak Show Excess” and this one is nothing short of amazing. In the April 2005 issue of Guitarworld Magazine Vai has the first of a series of articles showing you how to play this song and how he put it together. If your lucky enough to get a copy of the magazine with the CD, there is a video lesson with him as well. This song is amazing and excessive and shows what an incredible player Vai is from a technical perspective. This is another one I listened to OVER AND OVER again.

“Lotus Feet” is the anticipated “seventh song” on the album. Each time Vai puts out an album, the seventh track is the one he feels is the most “spiritual and uplifting” song on the album. Some of these songs have included “Touching Tongues”, “For the Love of God”, “Windows to the Soul” and the grammy nominated “Whispering a Prayer”. There was one point years ago where I created a CD with the seventh song from each album because I liked them so much. Months later walking through Best Buy and doing my mandatory flip through the Vai albums — “just in case something was released and I didn’t know about it” — I found that Steve had already done all the work for everyone with Seventh Song, a compilation of all of these songs. Lotus Feet is right up there with all of these songs, only this time it was recorded live with a full orchestra for The Aching Hunger radio program. It’s a very uplifting and beautiful song.

“Yai Yai” – A little weird and according to Kelsi, not a song to “rock out” to. However, it’s interesting to listen to none the less.

“Midway Creatures” is the final instrumental track on the album at track 9. This is a really cool song, but out of all of them on the album (aside from maybe Yai Yai) it is my least favorite. A lot of cool guitar stuff in it, but a little too chaotic for me.

Final Words
It’s no secret that I’m a hard core Vai fan. I love almost everything the guy does musically. He is, in my opinion, probably one of the most inspired musicians alive today. Overall, this is a hell of an album, but its a little hard to get into right away. This album is very conceptual in nature – and therefore can be kind of hard to grasp until you let go of the conceptual part and just listen to the music, which is why you are sitting in the car with the CD in the first place.

Bottom line is, Reflections is a lot different than any Vai album you’ve heard. But if we wanted the same thing with every album, we wouldn’t be Vai fans. Steve is out on another plane, and trying to bring us out there with him. Each album has that little something that makes it “Vai” that goes beyond the insanely great guitar playing. I’m not really sure how to explain it, but this album has a certain quality that I haven’t heard on any other of his albums.

Buy it, listen to it a few times, and see if you can see what I mean.

The absolute gems on the album are Building the Church, K’m-Pee-Du-Wee, Freak Show Excess, and Lotus Feet (not necessarily in that order).

Update 4-13-2005
Pictures from the Chicago Real Illusions Evo Experience are available here.