Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Tiny Tunes

By Michael Henningsen

July 21, 1997: 

Alibi Value Scale Formula:
Total minutes of good music @ 50¢/minute minus total minutes of bad music @ 25 ¢/minute = Value

Eric Johnson Venus Isle (Capitol)
Good Minutes: 11:18
Blah Minutes: 38:39 (no cash value)
Bad Minutes: 9:12
Actual Retail Price: $15.97
Value: $3.31

In the interest of fairness, I am compelled to begin this review with an admission: For a brief moment in my listening past, I dabbled in the mostly instrumental records churned out by artists oft hailed as "gods" of their particular instruments. Steve Vai, a little Joe Satriani ... even overweight bassist Stuart Hamm. And yes, even a bit of Austin's reigning guitar virtuoso, Eric Johnson. It was in part Johnson's Tones release, in fact, that brought about my eventual resignation from the court of the six-string kings. He, at the very least and in glorious spite of his technical mastery of the thing called Stratocaster, played with passion and true fire. Sure, there was an over ... abundance, shall we say, of flurries of notes and scale-like exercises, but the guy had a good sense of melody as well and even made a valiant attempt at writing real songs.

Another independent release, a tour with Monsignors Vai and Satriani, an album with the two of them and a major label deal and major label debut later brings us to Venus Isle. And before going any further, allow me to reiterate that Eric Johnson is an extremely gifted guitarist and composer. But a songwriter he is not. And if he ever had the spark, it has unfortunately been snuffed out as effectively as a campfire surrounded by the brimming bladders of five drunken rednecks on a campout. And you probably have Vai and Satriani to thank for that. So what's left is a musician more in the realm of Kenny G than, say, Stevie Ray Vaughn (to whose memory Johnson dedicated the best song on this record)--technically proficient without any noticeable trace of soul. Can Kenny G play the saxophone and that other thing he plays? Yes, he can. Can Eric Johnson play guitar? But of course. Are the two of them equally painful to listen to? Not exactly. I'd take Johnson over G any day of the week. But there's nothing on Venus Isle that causes my heart to bleed, my spirit to rise or my soul to sing. In fact, Venus Isle inspires very little emotion or reaction in me whatsoever.

So why then, you may be asking yourself, am I reviewing it at all. Perhaps to make a point: While music is as subjective as any art form gets and my opinion is nothing more than my opinion, there is a difference in Kenny G and John Coltrane (other than the fact that one of them is dead). And, by the same token, there's a difference between Eric Johnson and Stevie Ray Vaughn (see sentence in parenthesis above). The difference is soul and technical prowess weighed and apportioned precisely. Done the right way, you get the pleasure of delightful, inspiring, magical music. Done the not-so-right way, you get the pleasure of having a soundtrack to your elevator ride.

This review is dedicated to the memory of John Tesh and Keanu Reeves.

Robyn Robyn Is Here (RCA)
Good Minutes: :48--the dead air in between songs. ($.24)
Blah Minutes: 27:53 (no cash value)
Bad Minutes: 27:53 ($6.89)
Actual Retail Price: $14.97
Value: -$6.65

Boy has it been a slow week. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Robyn is that her fan club is based in Stockholm. Other than that, it's the same old story: great voice, shitty songs and very little artistic vision. Tons of producers, though, all the way down to an "associate executive producer." What the hell is that? Robyn is an artist's rendering of an artist--smoke, mirrors and perfectly posed liner photos. If there was a great song here, or even a standout, I would at least make note of it. There isn't. Just a whole lot of synth bass and smoov groove. Enjoy in a drunken stupor!

--Michael Henningsen

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