That’s usually why I am embarrassed to like certain music… because at times it’s worth being embarrassed about. Musicians like “Satch” (also embarrassing) generally veer into cheezball territory at least once per album. But in general, people who aren’t music geeks tend to look down on instrumental rock albums and “guitar hero” musicians like Joe Satriani.
But Satch differs from a lot of these “guitar hero” types, in that his songs aren’t just scaffolds draped in virtuosic shredding wankery. He has a great sense of melody and works hard to develop songs with a proper structure. There’s plenty of shredding, of course, but it’s confined to solo breaks in songs that are remarkably “song-like,” despite the lack of singing. (Well, most of the time. He does sometimes sing. But most of his albums are completely instrumental.)
Another big problem I have with guitar hero albums is that there’s usually a colossal ego involved. It’s all about the guitar, and the other instruments are confined to very basic supporting roles. I feel like that’s often the case with Satch too, and to be honest the bass is mostly relegated to the background on this new album, Shockwave Supernova, but the outstanding drumming of Marco Minnemann and Vinnie Colaiuta — two of the best session drummers around — gets almost equal spotlight with the guitar.
Satch sounds amazing, as always. Even better than usual, I think. His precision is unmatched, and he demonstrates a remarkable diversity of techniques and tones. And with this album he even managed — I think — not to produce one single “cringe ballad” that I find myself skipping over. The day I got it, I listened to the album straight through four times and never got tired of it. Even the songs I don’t love have parts I really like, and no song wears out its welcome.
Apparently this is a concept album. As someone who has recorded plenty of instrumental concept albums myself, I can see how it may be hard for anyone other than the musicians themselves to get the concept when there are no lyrics. But then again, the concept is basically an exploration of the stage persona Satch takes on when he performs. So… yeah.
Joe Satriani’s picture is on the cover of every album he has released. I guess that’s commonplace with solo musicians, but it still seems pretty egotistical. And often the cover art just really isn’t very good. But I love the cover of this album, and it’s even cooler when you have the physical CD, because the letters are die-cut out of the cardboard. It becomes an interesting object that is worth owning, instead of another ordinary paper booklet inside a plastic jewel case. Of course I just ripped the CD and filed it away, but I took a few moments to admire it first, which doesn’t happen very often anymore.
Is this Satch’s best album? I’m not sure. There’s a certain sameness to this kind of music, and it definitely is immediately recognizable as yet another Joe Satriani album. But the quality is there. I’d put it in his top 3, and if you’re someone who might be inclined to check out his music (and somehow haven’t already), I think it’s a great place to start.