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Review: Joe Satriani – “What Happens Next”

Joe SatrianiWhen it comes to instrumental rock, there’s nothing quite as exciting as the release of a new Joe Satriani album. “What Happens Next” marks Joe’s sixteenth studio outing, and 31 years since his debut, “Surfing With The Alien”.

I remember seeing Satriani playing for the first time way back on the “Flying In A Blue Dream” tour in Glasgow 1990 (back when he still had hair). While there were quite a few virtuoso guitarists around in the 80’s and 90’s (the ‘Shrapnel Records’ label being notable for churning out a vast number of talented musicians), there weren’t many that could fill a venue the size of the Glasgow Barrowlands back then. Even now, there aren’t many solo instrumental rock guitarists that can fill a venue much larger than a small club. While there were many technically brilliant guitarists around, Satriani managed to break away from the pack by not just being a guitarist’s guitarist, but also managing to capture the imagination of non-musicians too. At the time of writing, Joe Satriani has sold in excess of 10 million albums, making him the biggest selling instrumental rock guitarist ever.

The new album features a re-vamped line-up of musicians consisting of some very familiar faces. While “Shockwave Supernova” featured quite a number of musicians, this time around the band has been reduced down to just a trio. On drums, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ and of course Chickenfoot, is Chad Smith. Completing the rhythm section is world renowned bass player Glenn Hughes (most famously known for his work with Deep Purple and Black Sabbath’s “Seventh Star” album). On Satriani’s website, he explains the reasoning behind this: He was hoping to replicate the sort of energy he was getting when working with Chickenfoot.

From the very first few seconds of the first track “Energy”, I’m immediately impressed by the Mike Fraser’s production. He has worked on a number of Satriani’s previous albums (“Unstoppable Momentum”, “Super Colossal”, “Crystal Planet”, and a load more). I have to admit I wasn’t overly enamoured with the sound on “Shockwave Supernova” where the production was handled by John Cuniberti. Mike, however, has done a great job on this new album, and it really is a return to form sound wise. The guitar is very upfront in the mix; very crisp and crystal clear. “Energy” itself is very much a straight ahead rock song with a “Summer Song” upbeat energy to it. A great way to kick off the album.

Many of the songs have a familiar feel, and don’t stray too much from the sound we expect from Joe Satriani, but the second song “Catbot” is probably the greatest exception to that. His description is “The melody sounds like a robot trying to talk like a cat“. This is a sound I haven’t heard before from him, and it sounds a lot better than the description. The intro starts with a rhythm guitar with quite an extreme octave style effect on it.  It’s a striking, unusual sound.

The album is full of quality tracks, with styles ranging from ballads such as “Cherry Blossoms”, through funky songs like “Super Funky Badass”, the chilled out “Forever And Ever”, to the boogie rock of “Headrush”. There really is something here for everyone. As with many of Satriani’s albums, the emphasis is on melody and songwriting, and it’s this that sets him apart from many of his peers.  It’s a very enjoyable album which gets better with every listen. I haven’t lived with it for a long time, but I already rate this higher than 2015’s “Shockwave Supernova”.

It’s hard to fault a Joe Satriani album. His playing is always flawless, he’s an exceptional player, and a joy to listen to. If I was nitpicking, I’d say there aren’t many surprises here, and Satriani isn’t pushing the boat out much as far as experimentation goes. Instead, what we have here is quite a happy upbeat sounding album, packed with straight forward rock songs that will sound great live. If you’re already a fan, and enjoyed his past few albums, then it really is a no brainer… go out and get yourself a copy of this album. If you’re new to Satriani’s style of instrumental rock, then this is as good a place to start as any. Another great instrumental album. Highly recommended.

Available January 12th, pre-order here. 

Review: Martin Patterson.

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