Monday, June 22, 2015

Joe Satriani - Shockwave Supernova - Ziggy Played Guitar

It finally sounds like Satch is having fun. Shockwave Supernova is the guitarist's fifteenth studio album, and while it continues a very long winning streak of largely instrumental guitar records, there is a palpable difference at play here. It's almost as if he has released the need to work under the constraints of musical theory and composition, and to embrace his inner Jimi Hendrix. There are some familiarities to what's come before, of course, but there is also a freshness and a sense of relaxation as he flexes his musical muscles. It's almost as if he's finally mastered all the rules, laws, and science, and is just making music.

When he rocks out on this record, and he rocks out a lot, it all sounds a bit less precious and predetermined - it rocks. You still have a wide variety of stylistic range, in fact, the first four tunes are all as different as night and day, but they work together because Satriani transcends genre at every turn, and makes it Satch music.

Photo by Chapman Baehler
"Shockwave Supernova" is one of the best hard rock masterworks I've heard in some time, deliciously heavy, but with a sultry, sexiness that is often absent in heavy rock. A fabulous way to lead off the album with everyone advancing at full power. This is heavy metal bolero, full of emotion, grit, and beauty. Next up we get a very sic-fi soundtrack for "Lost In A Memory", that suggests the alien has returned, and he sounds reinvigorated and freed of any constraints. There's a melodic undertow here that's been missing since the eighties, is this the sound of hope? It sounds to me like music for music's sake.

"Crazy Joey" sees Joe riffing sassily, and almost sloppily (well, for Joe) over a fatback beat and a brutal bass line from Chris Cheney that evokes a Jamaican holiday. Mostly it sounds like everyone is having fun, and I hope that Joe was smiling from ear to ear as he laid this one down. There's almost a sense of poking fun at his more high minded outings of the past. This continues as he breaks out the acoustic guitar, and skips his way into the slippery funk of "In My Pocket". I can hear where he may well have been thinking Chickenfoot when he composed a lot of this record, and this would have been their best yet. When he hits the bridge here, he gets wonderfully melodic, but soon gets chased back to the big beat by a treated harmonica, and they are again off to the races.

"On Peregrine Wings" does sail, and it's in full flight - I can see where a strong visual sense is at play, and perhaps all will be revealed when we see what Satriani has up his sleeve for his Crystal Planet animation project which is said to be following on the heels of this record. "Cataclysmic" is another very science fiction sized epic that has Joe flying over the top of a very, very heavy rhythm section. This will be fantastic onstage.

Photo by Chapman Baehler
"Keep On Movin'" features the brilliance of Mike Keneally on the intro, and fittingly, this is one of the album's less structured tunes, and a chance for band and listener to catch their respective breath after such an ambitious beginning. A fusionistic flight of fancy that serves as a palate cleanser between courses.

"All Of My Life" is a mid-tempo workout that's big on mood and melody. A nice, nice showcase for Marco Minnemann's fabulous drum work. The concept seems to get back on track with "A Phase I'm Going Through". Big and bold rock, this is another one that would have worked well with a vocal over the top, but as always Joe Satriani proves that he don't need no stinking vocalist, and he goes it alone with great aplomb and success.

There's almost a sixties scheme working on "Scarborough Stomp" as Satriani and band skip there way through the park. You can certainly hear the influence of Jimi Hendrix on this if you listen closely. "Butterfly and Zebra" has a Townshendesque Who-iness about it that suggests the operatic influence of the concept at play here. We have the furious first act, a second act that reminds us of where this all came from, and we're ready for the finale.

The gears get cranked up again for "If There Is No Heaven", and I'm thinking that this is the long lost album of the eighties. It's very today sounding in terms of sounds and styles, but the melodies keep harking back to a time when the sky may have been a bit more blue, and the air a bit fresher. This continues with the wonderful percussive percolation of "Stars Race Across The Sky". Satriani floats over this one with sophistication, confidence, and a certain freedom to many of the lines, riffs, and familiar notes we find at play.

"Goodbye Supernova" sees the starship sailing back out to the stratosphere, and it's appropriately sad to see it go. An epic ending to an album that I think shows us a guitar hero in transition. To where? Well, that's hard to say, but this feels more like at the end of a chapter than a new beginning. It's as if there is a completeness to this record that covers a lot of bases we've seen covered before, but with a touch of freedom that signals the dawn of a new horizon. This is another great record from Joe Satriani which I certainly recommend to everyone, and also perhaps an announcement of a changing of the guard.

Joe Satriani’s new album “Shockwave Supernova” is released by Sony Music/Legacy on Friday July 24th. 
His 9-date UK tour with special guest Dan Patlansky kicks off at the O2 Manchester Apollo on November 1st. Tickets:

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