Sound — 7
Venus Isle is probably the weakest album of EJ's studio output, which of course is a small amount to begin with. But there are some moments of trademark EJ greatness that makes the album worth owning. The guitar playing is outstanding throughout; it's just the over-produced gloss of EJ's vocals (never a strength of his) that tend to thread a near over-inspirational aspect through the fabric of the record. At times the overall production feels over-cooked and too bogged down by the overbearing adult-contemporary sound. Thankfully, tracks like "All About You" (with a cool ascending guitar riff), S.R.V. (a cool jazz-like instrumental tribute to his fallen friend), "Camel's Night Out" (more bluesy and reminiscent of his past work), and "Pavilion" (a signature Johnson song) remind us of why EJ is such an incredible guitarist and songwriter.
Lyrics — 5
The lyrics in the songs on "Venus Isle" thematically seem connected with the narrator searching for love or belonging. There is an over-arching theme of love and spirituality combining to reach a kind of nirvana. Eric Johnson can sing, it's just his vocal tone has a thin, almost Brian Adams-ish pop feel, which serves his music well (especially on "Tones" and "Ah Via Musicom" but doesn't always ride well alongside some of the heavier, faster songs.
Overall Impression — 6
This might not be the most important Eric Johnson release, but for the fan of instrumental guitar, virtuosic rock, or experimental pop, it could be interesting. This album is not bad; it just seems like its ideas are either too cluttered with over-production or maybe a little too elemental as far as the atmosphere it creates. But it makes for an interesting listen nevertheless.