Review: Yngwie Malmsteen – ‘Blue Lightning’

The 21st studio album (yep it’s really been that many) from Sweden’s inspirational neoclassical shred master Yngwie Malmsteen may come as a bit of a shock to some of his fans. The highly influential guitar maestro has decided to diversify with his latest opus and pay homage to, of all things, the blues. The idea initially came from Mascot records as Yngwie recalls “I have always played around with old songs, both live and also in the studio. I did a similar album a while ago (1996), and it was Mascot who came to me and suggested I do a blues record”. Not only is Yngwie playing guitar on this album but he also tries his hand in the vocal department too (his singing is actually very impressive). Now I like the Blues and I like Malmsteen, but I also like steak and and I like ice cream. It doesn’t necessarily mean I want them served up at the same time. Malmsteen has played bluesier rock numbers in the past such as ‘Bad Blood’ (from ‘The Seventh Sign’) and the instrumental ‘Blue’ (from ‘Alchemy’). These are good songs but I have to admit I approached this album with a sense of trepidation. Malmsteen’s playing really is the antithesis of the blues. If you can think of a less bluesy player I’ll eat my baseball cap (sorry I don’t own a hat as such). Where blues players tend to rely on feel, tone, dynamics and subtlety, Malmsteen basically shreds at superhuman speeds. His famous quote “I have a philosophy: More is more, less is less. The idea that less is more is illogical” doesn’t really bode well for this genre of music and immediately alarm bells start ringing. Along with covers from the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, The Rolling Stones etc… Yngwie has also penned four new tracks for this release. The album kicks off with one of these new tracks: ‘Blue Lightning’. There’s some nice bluesy guitar licks at the beginning of this one but once we get past the minute mark the solo’s change gear and we’re back into familiar full-on neoclassical widdling territory. If you had any notions that Yngwie doing a blues album might mean he will change his guitar style to suit the songs then you’d be sadly mistaken. ‘Blue Lightning’ is probably the weakest of the four original tracks on here and not really the best opening to the album but it does set the tone for what’s to follow. The other three originals ‘1911 Strut’, ‘Sun’s Up Top’s Down’, and ‘Peace, Please’ are the best songs on here. Yngwie shines when playing over his own material and his playing very much suits these numbers. ‘Peace, Please’ in particular, a neo-classical instrumental style ballad, sounds like it could have come straight from one of his earlier albums and is a great example of Malmsteen at his best. In a recent interview Yngwie said ‘This track is completely my kind of music. I also wrote this during this session. I wondered if it should even be on the album, because if you listen to it closely it doesn’t have any blues feeling at all. “But then I thought, “Fuck it. I like it. It’s good.”‘. When it comes to the covers on the album it can be fairly hit and miss. Unfortunately it’s generally miss. Type O Negative’s ‘Summer Breeze’, Beseech’s ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ and Turisas’s ‘Rasputin’ all worked well as covers as they were songs outwith the genre that these bands audiences would normally listen. They were also changed stylistically to match the band’s current output. Yngwie however has chosen really well known classics that everyone is so familiar with to the point where it would be very difficult to top the original. Everyone knows ‘Foxey Lady’, ‘Purple Haze’, ‘Paint It Black’, ‘Smoke On The Water’ and ‘Jumping Jack Flash’. Unfortunately the original versions of all these tracks are so much better than what’s on offer here. Yngwie and his band are all talented and outstanding musicians but they can’t hope to capture the magic of what made these songs the classics that they are. Instead they come across as poor imitations and vehicles for Yngwie to show off his guitar skills. No one can doubt that Malmsteen excels as a classically influenced rock guitarist. Generally musicians are an expert in one particular style and it seems rare for them to cross over into others. Gary Moore successfully did it but if I’m honest I preferred his rock albums. Anathema and Opeth have made the transition from heavier material to proggier stuff so it’s not completely unheard of. This album however is probably one of his weakest and it just doesn’t really seem to work very well. If you’re a blues fan I couldn’t recommend this to you, there are countless blues albums that convey the blues better than this. If you’re new to Malmsteen I’d recommend pretty much any other album he’s done over this one. So who is this album for? My guess would be existing fans who will buy everything Malmsteen related. Existing fans will find tracks on here that they will enjoy but probably more than a few where they’ll press the skip button. It’s a mixed bag at best. Hopefully he’ll get back to the rock/metal material we all know and love him for. I don’t think neo-classical blues will become a thing anytime soon so I’ll be looking forward to Yngwie’s next rock album. Review – Martin Patterson]]>

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