EVER SINCE some rabid rock fan scrawled "Clapton Is God!" on a London wall, the adulation lent guitar heroes has been hard to ignore. Times change, it's true, and for many younger fans Eric Clapton doesn't hold a candle to Edward Van Halen, but the fact remains that flash guitarists still hold an allure denied bassists, drummers and keyboardists. And, as these recent albums demonstrate, there is no end of aspirants for guitar godhead.
YNGWIE MALMSTEEN -- "Rising Force" (Polydor 625 324-1). There's no denying the ability of this 21-year-old Swedish sensation; few, if any, guitarists can play complex figures with the speed, accuracy and clarity Malmsteen commands. But that amounts to little more than fretboard gymnastics on this album as Malmsteen squanders his talent on licks that barely update Richie Blackmore, while his best tune, "Icarus Dream Suite," is an uncredited theft of Albinoni's Adagio in G. Hardly a promising debut.
CHET ATKINS -- "Stay Tuned" (Columbia SC39591). Even though this album finds sly old ace Atkins matching licks with the likes of George Benson, Larry Carlson, Earl Klugh, Mark K. Knopfler and Steve Lukather, the result is pretty much slim pickings. It isn't that the playing is lax, for Atkins and company work out like the pros they are. But the performance is so low key, and the tunes so consistently dull, that you barely notice the technical highlights.
ALAN HOLDSWORTH -- "Metal Fatigue" (Enigma 72002-1). Long esteemed as a guitarist's guitarist, Holdsworth has demonstrated his speed and agility both in fusion jazz and progressive rock formats. Here, he delivers a compromise between the two, avoiding overt flash for richly detailed rhythm work and serpentine jams for carefully foced compositions. As a result, the instrumentals make rewarding listening even for non-guitarists, while the vocals suffer only from Holdsworth's taste in singers.
LONNIE MACK -- "Strike Like Lightning" (Alligator AL 4739). Stevie Ray Vaughan claims Mack as a major influence, and listening to the razor-sharp runs and stinging, bent-note flourishes that populate this album, it's not hard to understand why. Of course, it helps that Vaughan is on hand as producer, and that Mack is backed by a solid and familiar rhythm section. But what really makes this music come alive is the lack of pretension in its down- home groove. Worth seeking out.
HENRY KAISER -- "It's a Wonderful Life" (Metalanguage ML 24). Now for virtuosity of a different sort. Sounding almost like the Charles Ives of electric guitar, Kaiser uses an odd array of guitars and even odder techniques to generate these clanging, buzzing sonic abstractions. But though the music is often difficult, Kaiser's persistent invention and sure sense of direction keep it from becoming unapproachable, making this a taste worth acquiring. (Available through New Music Distribution Service, 500 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10012.)