Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Joe Satriani - Unstoppable Momentum - Incredible Electrical Alchemy

Sometimes the pieces just fit together perfectly. Joe Satriani sounds ecstatic - his exuberance is unmistakable, and while he's never less than excellent, this record finds him to be almost shamanic as he leads this journey. Mike Fraser is back behind the recording console, and again makes Joe sparkle with incredible clarity, and force. The tunes are stellar - as fine, if not the finest the six string phenomenon has assembled, and again, I mark this as being a result of wherever Satriani's spirit is currently sailing. His playing is transcendently beautiful across the disc, and his tones are textbook. He even went out and rounded up the perfect rhythm section - bassist Chris Chaney is super solid, and his propulsive push is a wonderful platform from which Satriani launches his melodic forays; then there is Vinnie Colaiuta behind the drum kit - his sheer mass of musicality matches Satriani's every step of the way. Unstoppable Momentum may be Satch's new crowning moment - the puzzle of perfect pieces.

Satriani has alway been melodic, and virtuosic - he settled that issue back in 1987 when Surfing With The Alien went platinum and literally invented the genre. However, the years have been well spent, and Unstoppable Momentum is the best realized package of melody, chops, and magic that Joe has yet mustered. Maybe a few years of working in the school of hard rock writing with Chickenfoot has tempered the more esoteric impulses, and while there's no less technical wizardry, this somehow feels much more complete.

Unstoppable Momentum harkens back to the late '80s in the best sense. The arpeggiated chord pattern, sure footed shuffle, and the summer sweet melancholy of the verses that launch into a tightly harmonized chorus remind me why that era stands so tall in the lore of the electric guitar. I say this a lot, but yeah, if you had played me this track back in '87 and told me that's where Satch would be in 2013, I would have been over the moon - and I am. The fading tail of this tune is one of those rock moments that will become part of the lexicon.

Photo by Chapman Baehler

The summery theme continues with the top down at midnight vibe of Can't Go Back, in which Joe shows that, actually, maybe you can. This is a soundtrack to a David Lynch movie with a happy ending - when the ascending harmonies are launched, all systems are go. Goddamn, this is exciting stuff - a slight return to a golden age. Satriani challenges Beck as the reigning King of the Trem, and his vowel sound wah inflections are to die for. Colaiuta and Chaney play like they've played together all their lives, and again, Chaney's is the perfect masonry on which a drummer could ever want to dance upon.

Nighttime falls upon the disc with the dark, sci-fi stylings of Lies and Truth - shredding hasn't been this gorgeous since Vai was waxing poetic with DLR. Mike Keneally's keyboards are a delightful pastiche of tones and moods that take you right where you need to be to tag along with Mr. Joe's Wild Ride - he just keeps ratcheting up the stakes, and the drama climbs along with the winsome harmonies. There's no shortage of amazing, death defying technical displays, but they are so consummately musical that you almost don't notice your jaw dropping.

The smile hits your face about five seconds into Three Sheets to the Wind, and it stays. Is it Beatlesesque? Djangoesque? Sure it is, but it's all Satriani and when he and Colaiuta go into their brutish, muscular stomp that's announced by Keneally's trip trance to Pepperland, it's all Keystone Cops and Chaplin smiles from heaven upon these artistic souls. The happiest song of Summer 2013, an instant classic.

I'll Put a Stone On Your Cairn takes us across an ocean and into the stratophere of guitaristic beautificense. Yeah, I made that one up. Short sweet, and pretty - play this one when you mean it.

A Door Into Summer is the album's lead track (single?), and it's a great choice - a bit more obvious in its tip of the hat to the best of the '80s, but it's the best reminder we've had in too damned long. I hope Joe takes a few tracks this anthemic down to Cabo the next time he makes the trip. Joe's melodies are sublime and they've managed to make us not miss having a singer on so many occasions. His trademark Ibanez into Marshall tones are captured in HD by Fraser's sure-handed engineering. They make this sound really easy, but if it was, everyone would be doing it.

The movie takes off into adventure hero land, and Shine On American Dreamer has me doing just that. Bolero moments abound and the hero takes to the ring and dances. This is the dream they're trying so damned hard to kill over in Washington, but just by listening this you know they can't win. Souls gotta fly free.

Jumpin' In is a jitterbug gone dinosaur tromp that if you try to dance to, you might just stumble - then Satriani and Keneally throw in some fabulous Middle Eastern mystery that sees Chaney playing some serious bass, throwing down melody, then some solid pop and thumping as Satriani dances across the top with delight. This one is very playful, so make sure you keep it contained. And yes, Colaiuta is wonderful.

Jumpin' Out sees the circus leaving town, and the interplay between an obvious joyful Satriani and his band is astounding - they never miss a step, and they sound like this is the most natural thing in the world to do, but again, this should not be done at home without a net. Joe shows off some ridiculously innovative chops, and barely blinks - makes it all sound so easy for our listening pleasure as he rides off into the sundown.

Classical melodicism enters the picture with The Weight of the World, and Satriani seems to have gone a bit European here, and he does it brilliantly, and dare I say he evokes the rock 'n' roll soul of the sadly missed from the scene Ritchie Blackmore at times. He hits reset several times to lighten the load, but then the returns to the bittersweet refrains, made all the more effective by the brief respites.

A Celebration wraps it up, and it does its job quite well as Satriani takes things higher and higher. He really does sound ecstatic - you can almost hear the guitar smiling - this is how guitars are meant to be played - joyfully, fearlessly, and loudly.

Play this one loudly. And buy it today. Maybe Satriani's best since the '80s, and he's put out a lot of great records, but this one grabs my rock 'n' roll heart and holds on.

Thanks to Joe Satriani, Melissa Dragich-Cordero, Peter Noble, and




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the guitar learner said...
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