YNGWIE MALMSTEEN – Blue Lightning

At first, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to hear this album at all. See, I used to be a massive fan of this guy, defending him for all I was worth. When people suggested that he played without feel only relying on technique, I told them they were probably tone-deaf and that they were completely clueless. Yngwie playing without feel? C’mon already. The guy was faster than fast but he bloody well bled his heart out when he was playing. Some said he could play but couldn’t write a decent song to save his life. Rubbish! From his debut instrumental Rising Force album in 1984 up to Alchemy in 1999, the guy and his “bandmates” did very little wrong and I will forever cherish those records. But since then, a lot of things have changed for Yngwie – some in good ways, like he’s been sober for more than a decade. All good there, Yngwie – proud of you for taking the healthy route.

But musically, he has been on a downward spiral for a long, long time now – and it looks like it’s getting worse album by album. Now, Yngwie has always and will always be a brilliant musician. You can say that his playing isn’t to your liking but if you call him bad, you’re dead wrong! Still, I have the feeling that he has stagnated and that he just plays on repeat, nothing new comes out of the guy anymore, which is sad. Go with your brand, but keep on developing. But what’s even worse is that his records of lately are just plain bad on all accounts. Firstly, his records sounds like demos, complete with badly sampled drums and since Yngwie has decided he’s now a lead singer as well, the vocals leaves shitloads to be desired. Also, his song-writing is on repeat as well where everything he’s been doing for the last ten years sounds just like underwhelming versions of his older, good songs.

Live, Yngwie now takes up the whole stage himself, leaving his drummer, keyboardist/vocalist and bassist/vocalist in a small corner. Why things have come to this, I don’t know but I think it’s so sad. When Yngwie now is releasing a new album three years after his latest effort World On Fire, it’s an album of covers. Yngwie has released a covers album before, the underrated Inspiration from 1996, but this one is supposed to be a Blues record. Looking at the titles, it stands clear that it will not be a full on Blues album but a blues-influenced Rock album. Still, what made made me wanting to check the record out after all was that it included artists that I had no idea Yngwie liked. I mean, for him it has always been about Bach, Paganini, Mozart, Ritchie Blackmore and Uli Roth, so to see The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton side by side with more obvious artists like Deep Purple and Jimi Hendrix created an interest in me. Still, with his last albums in mind, I picked this album with fear as much as interest.

The first song I heard prior to the release of the album was the original composition “Sun’s Up, Top’s Down”. On a good note, it’s nice to hear Yngwie break out of his comfort zone and after all, this is supposed to be a Blues record. It’s also nice to hear that Yngwie’s voice fits the song quite well. On a bad note, it’s also clear that the song is decent at best, with lyrics on the embarrasing side. A 15-year old kid could have written a better and less cavernous lyric than this. The second song I heard was a cover of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Written by George Harrison who humbly gave away the solo to Eric Clapton who really made the guitar weep, this was such a good chance for Yngwie that he do play with feel. Unfortuantly, he didn’t and Yngwied the solo to shreds. I mean, the song is called “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and not “While My Guitar Whiddely-diddely-doo”. To (almost) cite the great Ford Fairline: “Eric Clapton is rolling over in his grave and the friggin’ guy isn’t even dead yet”!

The album opens with another original tune, the title-track. It’s not a Blues track per se, more a groovy, Blues influenced hard-rocker that holds some of what Yngwie is all about but the blusier vibes again removes the track from the usual Yngwie-metal, something that also means that Yngwie’s vocals works pretty good on it. He wrote shitloads of songs better than this back in the day but it’s better than expected. Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady”, however, is more or less ruined. Yngwie plays the living daylight out of the song, all the time and everywhere, which makes it hardly recognizable at times. Why he decided on doing yet another version of Deep Purple’s “Demon’s Eye” – it’s also on Inspiration – is unclear. Still, this tune comes with a good groove and it kind of works although Malmsteen’s voice is miles away from Ian Gillan’s. It’s not crap but the Inspiration version is superior.

The instrumental “1911 Strut” is an Yngwie original. It blasts away super-fast, all old time Yngwie firing like a maniac over the fretboard, it doesn’t fit on an album that’s supposed to be about the Blues, no matter what you think of the song. I can’t say I hate the tune but the fact is, it’s a thirteen a dozen, latter day Yngwie instrumental  – he’s written so many better instrumentals than this one. That Yngwie loves ZZ Top is actually news to me but he does so a cover of ZZ Top’s “Blue Jeans Blues” is included. For the most part, the song is a success here – slow, heavy and stripped with a beefy groove. On the downside, Yngwie overplays his solos – as usual – instead of holding back some. It doesn’t make this version suck, but it could have been even better. Another Hendrix track, “Purple Haze”, comes along and Yngwie gives it his usual treatment. Upbeat and thunderous, all in Yngwie’s Metal style, the song is again over-played all over which makes it lose its original identity ever so often. Dammit, I know he can do Hendrix justice – he’s done that before on many occasions.

“Peace, Please” is another instrumental and the last original Malmsteen track on the album. It’s slow, atmospheric and very much a classic Yngwie-song. Which means he speeds things up but he also calms down and lets the tune breathe, something that makes wonders for the track. Beautiful melodies, very earthy and melodic with lots of feel. A great track and easily the finest moment on this record. Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” isn’t a Blues tune to begin with and it doesn’t get blusier in the hands of Yngwie. It’s fast, in-your-face much like Yngwie has been doing things lately. It’s completely without finesse, it sounds rushed like he wanted to be done with it as fast as possible. Besides, he has mixed the lyrics up which makes it sound like he don’t even know the song. Horrible version. Deep Purple’s “Smoke On the Water” is already overused and the world don’t need yet another version of it. An unimaginative choice and a nonchalant recording, it sounds like some kid programmed the drums in his basement for fun.

I’m really not that familiar with Eric Clapton’s “Forever Man” but in Yngwie’s hands it becomes a pretty standard melodic Hard Rock tune and I can’t find much Blues in this version. I don’t know how bluesy Clapton’s version is, but this version sounds more like the pop-metal tracks Yngwie used to write back in the day. It’s not bad but I can’t say it sticks either. For vinyl and deluxe CD there are two bonus tracks. The first one is another Hendrix track, “Little Miss Lover”. I love the original but this sounds rushed and unstructured with YM going off on the fretboard as much as he possibly can – not exactly graceful. The Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” blasts away like a wounded elephant, running through the jungle furiously. As a huge Stones-fan, I find this disgraceful and it doesn’t do justice to the original in any way. Horrible.

I must stress that I really hate to give a Malmsteen album a slagging. As a YM-fan since the early 80’s it really hurts that it has come to this. I mean, for starters, this is not a Blues album by any means. At times, it comes with a blues influence and on a good note, Yngwie’s originals here are better than most of his later songs, but almost all the covers here are more or less ruined. The production is muddy and the album sounds rushed and unfinished. Yngwie’s vocals, however, have improved and I can’t hear any auto-tune either, which is a good thing as well. But no matter how bad I think this record is, I just cannot have myself giving up on the guy. He’s way too talented and I’m sure that under the right circumstances there are some killer music lying in wait, but as for now I’m not holding my breath, I’m just wishing. Until then I’ll comfort myself with his 1984 – 1999 albums and if I want to hear him play covers, I’ll just put Inspiration in my player instead.

3/10

More Yngwie Malmsteen reviews:

Spellbound
World On Fire

Tracklist:

1. Blue Lightning
2. Foxy Lady
3. Demon’s Eye
4. 1911 Strut
5. Blue Jeans Blues
6. Purple Haze
7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
8. Sun’s Up Top’s Downs
9. Peace, Please
10. Paint It Black
11. Smoke On The Water
12. Forever Man
13. Little Miss Lover
14. Jumpin’ Jack Flash

 

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