Sunday, December 24, 2006

Satch, Nature Boy, and The Viking

So, last week I was talking about greatest guitarists, and I mentioned that I thought Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai were absolutely technically brilliant, but lacked soul. In the same breath I rated Jo Satriani as the fifth greatest guitarist of all time.

A few commenters agreed, a few did not. Let me clarify my opinions here.

I LOVE Steve Vais work. It's absolutely brilliant; and he does have soul, but it's lacking in comparison to other players. He clearly sacrifices soul for some of his technique. If you listen to him talk about guitar, it's an intellectual fascniation for him. The man is a musical genius, and guitar is how he exprecesses his understanding and appreciation of the structure of music; it's not an end in and of itself, nor an outpouring of his soul.

Thus, while I believe he is technically the second greatest rock guitarist of all time (behind Malmsteen), he's only ninth on my list (and Yngwie is tenth).

Malmsteen, when he's on his game is simply faster, more precise, and can jsut do MORE different things with a guitar than anyone in the history of rock...

But his work is cold. Even when it's angry or loud, it's cold. Yngwie plays guitar as a cynical "fuck you" to all his classical music teachers. If he'd never picked up the guitar he'd be first chair in the Swedish Philharmonic, or he'd be conducting it. Yngwie doesnt express himself with the guitar, he uses it to our out advanced musical theory and show you how much better the is than everyone else.

Yngwie is also a drunken abusive bitter bastard who everyone hates. Surprise Surprise.

Satriani though, he's different. Satch is not only a truly great technical guitarist, and a great musicion; he SPEAKS, and sings with the guitar. His work, when it's more than jsut the technique, is emotionally and spiritually expressive in a way that Vai can't quite match, and Yngwie doesn't even try for.

I'mna give you an example right here:

This is Yngwie, Vai, and Satriani all on the same stage, playing Hendrixs Voodoo Chile; which is a kinda twisted classic blues tune.

Listen to what all three of them are playing, and you'll see exactly what I mean. This song is Hendrix absolutely busting a gut with soul... but Yngwie isn't even close.

Listen to Yngwie play, and the notes are there, a hell of a lot of them in fact, but he isn't SPEAKING to you; he's just wanking the guitar.

Then Vai comes in, and you can hear him singing a bit with his solo; teasing it in, getting a bit of expression in. He's playing less than Yngwie is, but he's saying more.

Then Satriani starts to play; and he's absolutely saying something. He's getting the emotion across. He's playing half as many notes as Yngwie, but he's saying ten times as much.

THIS is what I'm talking about when I say Vai and Malmsteen lack soul. Vai at his best can express his soul through the music, but most often it's an interesting intellectual excercise and a bit of fun to him. Malmsteen simply cannot put soul into his music; the closest he gets is ego and arrogance. Satch, is just natural. The soul pours out when he's playing.

Now, you want to hear Vai absolutely tear it up, and really get the low down grunt into it, none of this supersolo arpegio from hell, wanking stuff? Find a live version of "Bad Horsey" when he was playing with Billy Sheehan on bass and crank it up.

Yngwie can't do that, and actually neither can Satch. Stevie has one thing over both of them, in that he's absoltuely great in a band. Satriani never seems to really FTI into a bands music, and Yngwies ego is to big to let anyone shine but him.

Oh and one thing about Yngwie. He's so technically great, that even near crippled he can still do that. Why do I say near crippled? Because when he filmed this he was so drunk and high he could barely stand or speak; and that's how he spends most of his time. Yngwie is the portrait of a genius so angry at the world that he destroys everything around him. Oh, and I think he's got a serious Paganini fetish. Seriously I don't think he can do anything without invoking Paganini at least once.

Update: Here's some more of what I was talking about; in this clip, the three of them play "Little Wing", one of Hendrixs most emotional and experssive songs (I think Vaughans version was better, but that's a rare opinion). If you listen to Yngwie, he's just shredding. Vai is treading the line between technique and soul. Satch though... it's jsut flowing out of him. He's saying more, with less; and to me it has a far greater voice.