Thursday, 12 July 2007

Top 100 Albums - #96: Super Colossal (2006)

Joe Satriani's most recent effort is his lowest entry on the chart, with Super Colossal coming in at number 96.

For the American instrumental guitarist, best known for albums like Surfing With The Alien (1987) and Flying In A Blue Dream (1989), the early part of the 21st century had been a quiet one. With the popular tide turning against 'the shredders', and guitar rock in general with the implosion of grunge in the mid-1990s, artists like Satriani were being forced back to the drawing board. Satriani's later, more experimental efforts - like Strange Beautiful Music (2002), which also appears on the chart - received mixed reviews, as did his own efforts with guitar supergroup G3. After the G3 concerts in 2003 and 2005, an anthology or two, and the well-received Is There Love In Space? (2004), 'Satch' was ready to re-establish himself at the forefront of experimental guitar.

The title track of Super Colossal kicks things off very nicely. The simple drums not only keep things together while Satriani bends and flails around, but it has the sort of hooks that characterised his career in the 1980s, albeit in a more subtle, layered way. 'Just Like Lightnin'' continues this, with the rhythm part this time provides the hooks. It's brighter, less in your face and catchingly repetitive, all the qualities which marked his peak. Using what sounds like a Wah-Wah pedal in the middle, Satriani moves things up the scale of emotion just a touch, and it ends crisply.

Having set you up, however, we are then treated to the suprising and uneven sound of (the ironically-named) 'It's So Good'. This number has a very off-putting, almost Martian beginning, and throughout it cannot make up its mind over whether it's a summery, feelgood number or a space rock headbanger. This trend of unsuccessful experiments continues on both 'Redshift Riders' and 'Ten Words'. The former starts soft before mutating into that most unique of things, a soft metal song. There is some awful effects put on at about 1:24 which will cause many to shudder. The latter starts better, like a piece by The Verve, but it stays like most songs The Verve wrote - they're very light, airy and don't have a lot of point to them (the exception being 'Bitter-Sweet Symphony, but that masterpiece was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and not the talentless Richard Ashcroft).

'A Cool New Way' gets us nicely back on track, with an intro which not only features good high-note plucking from 'Satch', but also - for the first time on the album - bass work that is prominent enough to take things up a gear. Although, like its predecessor, this is relatively relaxed in tempo, this is not a bad thing when the sound of the guitar is at its most graceful and soulful yet. There is also a rather attractive, one-note returning riff which pops up at the right moment. Add some Nick Mason-esque drumming and you have a very promising little number. 'One Robot's Dream', however, sees both Satriani and its bassist lose focus temporarily, as well as one fatal error - using keyboards, or what sounds like them. The whole thing is too slow to justify its (awful) opening, goes on way too long, and it sounds like Satriani is warming up or else just having a lazy bit of fun.

The second half of the album is a great deal more consistent - all the songs from hereoin in are four-star numbers. 'The Meaning Of Love' is a good one to start with, its delayed and distorted guitar setting an appropriately romantic tone; this then builds with restrained guitar and drum work to create a beautiful piece in the right setting. 'Made Of Tears' has a very catchy and attractive intro, which acts as the perfect foil for the drums and later the guitar, which this time has a bluesy, almost rockabilly edge to things, though some jazz creeps in a little later on.

'Theme For A Strange World', probably the best track on the album, combines metal-esque drums with slurry guitars, yet manages to keep everything in control, producing a great anthem. I have often said that the best Satriani songs ae those that put lyrics into your head, even if the song's don't need them - and this is a textbook example. 'Movin' On' does what it says on the tin, abandoning metal for a more Bruce Springsteen, 80s US pop rock style. Without stealing too much from The Boss, it pays tribute to his style (discussed in my review of The Rising, #99). 'A Love Eternal', with its distinctive, romantic chord progressions, is faintly reminiscent of 'You Saved My Life' off Strange Beautiful Music, but if anything this is better, more focussed and more emotive.

The closer, 'Crowd Chant', appears to have been designed specifically for the stage. A question-and-answer shredding session between guitarist and crowd, it feels a little out of place, and the interpolation of Gabriel Fauré's 'Pavane' at the end is a little weird, but be that as it may, it's intensely enjoyable and you will find it difficult not to join.

Super Colossal, with the exception of a couple of tracks, never really lives up to its name. You come away frustrated: you preferred the second half for its consistency, yet acknowledge that without the first half to get you there it would still be a flawed record. It's a good effort by Satriani for displaying his many skills, and is testament to his reputation as one of the best in the business. But the guitarist nicknamed 'The Genius' should for his next effort choose wisely with his effects and genres instead of throwing everything around in a blender in a desperate bid to appear relevant.

3.69 out of 5

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