By Greg Kennelty, January 19, 2018
Front to Back Album Review: Joe Satriani - What Happens Next
- Released: January 12, 2018
- Label: Sony Music
- Producers: Mike Fraser
4 Play Buttons
Joe Satriani has been debuting various alien personas to the music-loving public ever since his aptly-titled 1986 debut album Not Of This Earth. Now over thirty years and 15 albums later, Satriani is shedding his otherworldly skin and stepping out onto terra firma as none other than Joe Satriani, the human being. Or as Satriani himself says in a new documentary about his music, "As I was doing the last few legs of the tour [for 2015's Shockwave Supernova], I started to think 'Wow, maybe this is real life.' I am feeling like I should just drop this guy and figure out a way to do something very different ... I'm thinking, 'No science fiction, no time travel, no songs about distant planets or aliens or anything like that.'"
With a new persona and musical style comes a new lineup. Satriani employed Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and Deep Purple bassist Glenn Hughes instead of a full-on band, and laid down a few rules for his new trio.
"I said to Chad in an early text, 'No odd time signatures, no progressive stuff, pure rock and soul.'' The last two records really showed that I was enjoying playing with progressive elements, and when I reached the end of Shockwave Supernova, I said, ‘I think I’ve done it. For some reason, I don’t feel like going back over that anymore.'"
The result is What Happens Next, an album that touches on what Satriani has done with his alien alter egos, yet adheres to a simplistic rock mantra. What Happens Next ultimately feels like a more focused, less showoff-y, and clearly more humanized version of Satriani’s much-lauded 1987 album Surfing With The Alien. For example, Super Funky Badass could’ve been the backing track to some celestially mechanized shredding on Surfing. Instead, Satriani and his crew take a level approach to the song by laying down tons of memorable melodies and leaving enough sonic space to make each instrument plenty interesting on its own. In essence, What Happens Next is less about the “look at him go! Go Joe Satriani, go!” factor and more about songwriting and letting the whole band speak as one unit.
Musically, What Happens Next is phenomenally engaging. Catbot will suck you in with its delicately marching, oddly broken-sounding guitar lines and assembly-line-precise drumming, while Glenn Hughes’ bass playing on Invisible is more than enough to captivate anyone with its constant switches between whole notes holding down the melodies and incredible lead runs. Then there are the harder-to-define tracks like Cherry Blossoms which introduces gentle strings and finger picked guitar leads, and then explodes into raucously distorted basslines and pounding drums.
Production on What Happens Next varies from song to song, but suits each composition perfectly. Cherry Blossoms gives the song a muted quality until its climaxes into full-on rock, at which point Hughes and Smith gain their own, clear grounds within the mix until being joined into an amorphous singular entity that acts as a distant background noise to the strings and guitars. The opener Energy offers no such dynamic and just attacks you straight on with a gigantic, roomy sound that places each member of the trio in their own sonic space.
If you’re looking for a Joe Satriani album where it’s sixty minutes of Satriani shred and nothing else, you’re not going to like this one much. If you’re looking for a genuinely musical album that ebbs and flows with its raw rock fury and who clearly puts an emphasis on songwriting, then What Happens Next is what should be happening next to your ears.
Listened via Tidal on KEF EGGs plugged in via USB port.