Yngwie Malmsteen – Blue Lightning (Mascot Records)
According to Yngwie Malmsteen, the day he picked up his first guitar, on his fifth birthday, was the same day he began a lifelong love affair with the blues. Aged eight he’d mastered Deep Purple’s Fireball and even at that tender age he’d identified the vital link between classic rock and its heavy blues roots.
And Blue Lightning – a glorious amalgam of carefully selected covers and urgent new tunes – is proof positive that a virtuoso guitar player known for his neo-classical flamboyance and rapid-fire fretwork is, conclusively, rooted in the blues. This is Malmsteen’s best work since he hooked up with former Purple and Rainbow frontman Joe Lynn Turner to produce the career-defining classic rock masterpiece Odyssey.
And what’s so refreshing about Blue Lightning is its chief protagonist’s bold take on so many classics. Think you know Foxey Lady? Think again. This vibrant version is far removed from the Jimi Hendrix Experience original and yet it works a treat. The same is true of Malmsteen’s dazzling version of Demon’s Eye (one of two Purple tracks here) and his brilliant take on ZZ Top’s Blue Jean Blues (check out the simply delicious intro.) – the inventive Swede somehow managing to imprint his own inimitable style on two stone cold 70s classics.
Of the new material – and it’s always exciting when there’s new Yngwie material to digest – the title track is only eclipsed by the groove-laden Sun’s Up Top’s Down. It’s not difficult to picture Malmsteen blasting out a made-for-summer anthem as he cruises down the freeway behind the wheel of one of his many, shiny, red Ferraris.
And it’s just as easy to imagine one of the 21stcentury’s most formidable musicians having the time of his life inside Miami’s Studio 308 as he swapped between blues-influenced originals and the soundtrack of his formative years. If there was an audio equivalent of a beaming grin then Blue Lightning would be it.
Twenty-one albums into a prolific career and Malmsteen should be a far bigger star and own an even more extensive fleet of thoroughbred Italian sports cars. Too many creative missteps and, arguably, a serious case of self-indulgence, have served to restrict the ultimate guitar hero to cult status.
But Blue Lightning – with Malmsteen complementing his trademark axe work with some surprisingly accomplished vocals – could usher in a fresh round of long overdue praise. Here’s hoping.