Another new year, another new album from Chickenfoot Joe. Satriani seems to create new tunes like some people create CO2 – he just breathes them out effortlessly. From 1986’s Not of this Earth to the more recent Shockwave Supernova, plus his side project with Chickenfoot he’s a creative whirlwind. His guitar playing also never sounds that technical… all his songs sound like they should be easy to play. But they aren’t!
What Happens Next is Satchmo’s 16th solo album in thirty years or so, which is incredible. Especially when you see how often he tours. As well as his own headline tours, he introduced the “G3” line-ups which have been around a couple of times: co-headlining tours with other guitar masters. Coming this year are Joe with John Petrucci and Uli Jon Roth. Dates down the bottom!
Talking of trios, making up the instrumental triumvirate for this album are Glenn Hughes on bass and Chad Smith on drums (who previously partnered with Satriani on the aforementioned Chickenfoot project).
So what new material will Satriani be bringing with him on tour this time? Well, there are twelve tracks on What Happens Next and, as ever, they’ve been perfectly named. You read the title, use your imagination and usually you’re in the ballpark as to what to expect.
Things kick off with “Energy” which fizzes like it’s flowing out of a damaged plug socket – the perfect track for opening a live show; toe-tapping and head-nodding. “Catbot” sounds sci-fi and robotic, right? So that’s what you get. A stomping rhythm and a ton of effects to give Satriani’s guitar a staccato / squeaky sound. Short, muted riffs a-plenty with air of the Frampton “guitar trying to talk” about it.
Smith belts in the opening to “Thunder High on the Mountain” with a chest-rattling bass drum, soon wrapped in floating guitars and epic bursts of what sound like strings. This is as close to heavy metal as the album gets… it wouldn’t go amiss on a Maiden album. Smith again brings “Cherry Blossoms” to life, but with more of a tribal drum sound. I imagined this one may be a little Japanese in tone – the country being famed for its pink trees during the right time of year – and I was right. It’s by no means a full on Far East influenced track, but there are some little rhythms each time the drums fade that definitely sound oriental. Otherwise, it’s a lovely pairing of gentle, floating notes and driving drums… until the midpoint where it gets all heavy. I guess that’s the chainsaws.
“Righteous” is the first track that, for me, would really work well with vocals. Drag in someone like Springsteen in his 80s heyday and you’d have the perfect lyricist. Instead, the guitar takes the vocalist’s place in this rocking number. It’s followed by the so-mellow-it-makes-you-melt “Smooth Soul”, and its complete counterpoint “Headrush”, the only track on the album that has more life to it than the opener.
Blues comes to the fore with “Looper”, another track where the guitar could be replaced with someone singing. This time, I’m thinking a female vocalist… Aretha Franklin, perhaps? Perhaps a duet with a male? Listen to the track and (hopefully) you’ll see what I mean. The title track is just Satriani at his fluid, flowing, floaty, airy best. Like the best stories, it has a beginning, middle and end and leaves you wanting more.
I’m not even going to describe “Super Funky Badass” as the title does as good a job as I ever could. “Invisible” kicks off the way some bands finish their shows – a big, explosive flurry. As the track really kicks in, Hughes gets to show his chops with a quality bass riff that Satriani ties up in a bow with his six strings. “Forever And Ever” pays tribute to Hendrix with an opening that sounds more than a bit like “Little Wing”. Hardly a bad thing, and it’s only the first few seconds or so before the influence becomes less obvious and Satriani’s own brand of fret-sliding genius takes over.
Let’s be honest, you can’t really be let down by a Satriani album unless he sings on all the tracks. He sings on none of them here and, as such, you have a dozen great instrumental efforts. I can’t tell you which are better or worse as they’re so diverse. Blues fans will like some, rock fans others, and the metalheads will be surprised by how much “Thunder…” appeals.
In other words “What Happens Next” for Satriani in this case is more of the same high quality guitar-led rock. Another for the collection.
G3 tour dates
- Tuesday April 24 – Southend Cliffs Pavilion
- Wednesday April 25 – London Eventim Apollo
- Thursday April 26 – Bristol Colston Hall
- Friday April 27 – Manchester Apollo
- Sunday April 29 – Portsmouth Guildhall
- Monday April 30 – Birmingham Symphony Hall
Header image by Stephen Fourie