I had a rather interesting discussion with Marty Friedman at the end of last year, whereby he expressed total displeasure at overuse of the word "virtuoso", which he deemed as redundant in the way people choose to perceive, digest and describe his music. To quote the man himself: "Who buys an album of a virtuoso? I mean, ďheís a virtuoso, let me go and buy that recordĒÖ Iíve never heard that. And those type of words get tossed around too much anyway. Iím just like, if you like my music, fantastic. I donít have to be a genius or a virtuoso or any of those things; you either like it or you donít." It's a very interesting point he makes, and a particularly valid one. I mean, I've been guilty in the past of hailing various guitarists for their virtuosic fretboard abilities. Simultaneously, though, I've always retained awareness (as most people would) that a virtuoso (on any instrument) doesn't necessarily translate into entertainment. It's a content over form debate. Substance over style, if you will. And, despite Marty's indubitable virtuosity, it's all about the content for him... or, at least, this is precisely what he prioritises and favours.
So, just where does Joe Satriani fit into this debate? Well, when 'Shockwave Supernova', his fifteenth studio solo album, arrived for review, before I even spun the disc, at the forefront of my mind were Marty's comments. I would even go as far to say my listening expectations were primed by Marty's astute assertions and, perhaps for the first time, found myself, from the off, experiencing a new Satch album in a far less cognitive manner than normal, and without being weighted towards the man's technicality as a musician. I simply let the music flow through me in what transpired to be a more somatic and emotive epiphany, free from any kind of cognizant analysis or concentration on the virtuosic aspect of Satriani's playing. After all, the high level of musicianship he's always maintained is a given; he's always been showered with critical credence for such and, I guess, always will be. The biggest question should always be around the album's entertainment value, free of virtuosic givens. And while 'Shockwave Supernova' is another technically accomplished effort from Satch, more importantly (which will please Marty!), it delivers on the content front too.
With Satriani recording alongside the album's core lineup of his regular keys man since 2010, Mike Keneally, renowned sticksman Marco Minnemann and bassist Bryan Beller (with the exception of a small handful of tracks that sees Vinnie Colaiuta behind the kit, and Jane's Addiction's Chris Chaney on bass), each man is at the top of his respective game in helping to reify Satch's compositional prowess in every single track. Stylistically varied, with an equal amount of tempo variance in the album's pacing, 'Shockwave Supernova' never falls into the sonically homogeneous trappings of many an instrumental album. And, at fifteen tracks that clock in at over an hour in length, that's no easy feat; at least one that shouldn't be taken for granted. Nor does it fall into the muzak trappings of ever becoming merely background music; quite the contrary, the album remains a both an engaging and absorbing listen as each new melody (and it's chock-full of 'em) weaves its way through the mix, sometimes hitting the truly sublime mark such as on closing track 'Goodbye Supernova'.
In short, Satriani has proven himself master of the instrumental guitar album time and time again, and 'Shockwave Supernova' is no exception. And I gather the music will soon have some kind of visual concomitance as he has a sci-fi themed animation series called 'Crystal Planet', which is soon to be unveiled. An intriguing concept, let's see what that's all about in the coming weeks. For now, though, you'll have to make do with conjuring your own images in your mind's eye - the music on 'Shockwave Supernova' certainly has enough depth, space and provocative sonics to stimulate such. And you'll also have the wonderfully designed packaging as eye candy - a multi-panelled digipak that reveals the album's title in cutout, fragmented lettering as each panel is unfolded. This is a thing of beauty in itself. But, of course, the real beauty resides in the music.
Review by Mark Holmes
24th July 2015
1) Shockwave Supernova
2) Lost in a Memory; 3) Crazy Joe
4) In My Pocket; 5) On Peregrine Wings
6) Cataclysmic; 7) San Francisco Blue
8) Keep On Movin'; 9) All My Life
10) A Phase I'm Going Through
11) Scarborough Stomp
12) Butterfly and Zebra
13) If There is No Heaven
14) Stars Race Across the Sky
15) Goodbye Supernova
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...Satriani has proven himself master of the instrumental guitar album time and time again, and 'Shockwave Supernova' is no exception."