"Turn it off, Brett. It hurts."
That would be Mrs. McCallon's six-word review of the inimitable Mr. Vai's efforts. And while it's an altogether accurate review, Splendid has this word-count-minimum thing that means both you and I have to devote a lot more attention to Archives Vol. 4 than we ever wanted to.
The concept is actually kind of neat: this volume of Archives is intended to gather not only the standard B-sides and also-rans that most such compilations include, but also some of Vai's sideman work on other artists' albums. Were such an approach applied to the history of a more multifaceted and less ostentatious musician -- one who had better taste in choosing projects, one whose contributions weren't so consistently, horribly over the top -- it could yield quite an interesting product.
However, this is a Steve Vai collection, so whaddayagonnado? To wit: Archives kicks off with a particularly dated piece of hair rock courtesy of Vai's stint in Whitesnake ("Sweet Lady Luck"), and also includes several tracks Vai recorded with PiL in the '80s. At first, you might hope that these would be superior to the rest of the dross on Archives, but that's just music-geek snobbery. Forget the seminal late-'70s work. From, say, 1985 'til now, John Lydon hasn't contributed any more memorable music to the canon than has Vai. Of course, the pairing of these two is a mistake we might have hoped to avoid, but c'est la vie.
And so it goes, with a couple of wankathon instrumentals (like "Noah's Ark"), some high-concept, symphony-backed abortions of Jimi Hendrix songs ("Drifting" and "Bold as Love") and a late-period Alice Cooper track ("Feed My Frankenstein"). The piece de resistance, though, is a Vai-tacular reading of the "Queen of the Night" aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute. No, you didn't misread that. Yeesh.
Yes, the guy is a tremendously talented guitarist, and there's no doubt that some of you Zappa lovers out there are rushing to type angry e-mails in defense of the man's early work with Frank. It boils down to this: if you're still quietly hoping that flashy guitar solos will return to their onetime place of dominance over the musical landscape, this might be your album of the year. Otherwise, caveat emptor.