Black Light Syndrome

Bozzio Levin Stevens

Magna Carta Records, 1997

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Jeff Beck, eat your heart out.

You've been trying for three decades to make the ultimate guitar-oriented instrumental album, but you've always fallen short in some aspect. Even when working with such instrument wunderkinds such as drummer Terry Bozzio, you've come close, but haven't quite hit the mark.

Well, Jeff, step aside, 'cause Bozzio (who cut his teeth with Frank Zappa and Missing Persons) has teamed up with two other virtuosos, Tony Levin and Steve Stevens, and created one of the most incredible stream-of-consciousness albums I have ever heard, Black Light Syndrome.

If you think about it, this was a very volatile mixture. Take one of the premier rock drummers of our time, add in one of the most in-demand bassists (Tony Levin) and a guitarist who only recently has earned the respect he deserves (Steve Stevens), and record an album in only four days with only rudimentary planning of songs. What could have been disastrous, in fact, turns out to be one of the best albums I've heard all year.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

You can tell this is going to be a magical event from the opening notes of "The Sun Road." While Stevens' guitar is often the leading instrument of the group, Bozzio Levin Stevens is definitely a gathering of ego-less players. All musical styles and genres are embraced; each musician is given ample time to step to the front and display their mastery without showing off. And most of all, this is what sets it apart from Jeff Beck's work - it's not boring in the least.

The transition from jazz to rock is seamless as "Dark Corners" kicks in; this song shows just why Bozzio is one of the few people I would call a master of the drum kit (the other being Rush's Neil Peart). But, in all fairness to Bozzio and Levin (who has earned his stripes with Peter Gabriel and King Crimson), this is Steve Stevens' moment to shine. If you, like me, only thought of Stevens as the guitarist for Billy Idol in his heyday, then you are in for one hell of a shock. His classical/flamenco work on "Duende" is powerfully beautiful. If anything, Black Light Syndrome helps Stevens shed any last vestiges of being a "hair band" player and puts him in a limelight he rightfully deserves.

There is not a single weak moment on Black Light Syndrome. I was prepared to say how I wished that Levin had been brought out into the mix more often. However, the more I listened to the disc, the more I heard his influence - quiet, but just as powerful as his other two bandmates. Check out the opening of the title track to experience what I mean - wow!

One might be scared off of listening to this disc because none of the tracks clock in at under seven minutes, "The Sun King" coming in at 14:37. My advice: ignore the timer on the CD player, and just let the songs flow. You'll be surprised how quickly the time passes, and how often you'll find yourself going back to this disc.

It is rare when I offer high praise about any album, and even rarer when I can't stop myself from singing the joys of a particular work. Black Light Syndrome is one of those albums - an instrumental album for even those who hate instrumental work. For my money, this now ranks as the best release of 1997.

Rating: A

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Magna Carta Records, and is used for informational purposes only.