Fifteen studio albums into his career, you could forgive Joe Satriani for making a bad record every now and again, but the Long Island native remains one of those rare players/composers who never disappoints. Not only is he prone to never playing beneath his talents, but he also seems incapable of repeating himself. Shockwave Supernova finds Satriani working in a more stripped-down format with much of his playing sounding raw and direct: cable, fingers, guitar, amp. It suits him and the 15 pieces that take us on one of Satch’s most memorable adventures.
Satriani has never been one to bludgeon listeners with his brilliance, and though some misguided critics and listeners have labeled him a “shred” player he’s always been about delivering ace compositions and nuance. Though this latest volume opens with the kind of arena-level rocker you might expect, we’re still eased into the experience and slowly seduced with gorgeous, lyrical playing in “Lost in a Memory” and “Crazy Joey”. In the latter the rhythm section of Vinnie Colaiuta and Chris Chaney lay out an unstoppable groove alongside Satriani in a song that the listener doesn’t so much hear as breathes it in. The same might also be said of the aptly titled “In My Pocket”, an early favorite from this record and one of several destined to become longtime fan favorites.
If Shockwave has a close relative in the Satriani catalogue it may be 1989’s Flying In A Blue Dream as the tones and cosmic abandon heard in “Lost In A Memory” and the Latin-influenced “All Of My Life” hold some of the same bold imagination and passion heard across that now classic recording. Passion, imagination and pure musical expression about on the album’s other great arena-ready number, the aptly named “Scarborough Stomp”, which finds keyboardist Mike Keneally delivering some of his best work on a Satriani recording to date—and maybe channeling just a little bit of Keith Emerson along the way—and captures the whole band really going, as they say, for the one. It’s easy to forget how together Satriani’s rhythm parts are but a close listen to his playing there suggests that while many of us have been trying to figure out how the heck he creates all those amazing leads we should really be listening to how he lays down the law in that most basic of ways.
These big, stomping numbers will certainly satisfy live audiences as Satriani gets them on the ropes and delivers benevolent blows deep into the night, reminding how much fun music can be. Of course a Satriani album is not a Satriani album without ballads, and once more the maestro does not disappoint. Witness “Stars Race Across The Sky” and “Butterfly and Zebra” as well as the gorgeous, Eric Johnson-influenced “San Francisco Blue”, which is also destined to become one of the radio staples from Shockwave. Moreover, it’ll have kids spending their nights and weekends hunched over their guitars trying to master the song’s deep, deep vibe and brilliant guitar orchestration.
That number also spotlights the crazy good rhythm section of Bryan Beller (bass) and Marco Minnemann (drums), the duo that handles said duties for most of the album and shines especially bright on numbers such as “Goodbye Supernova” (maybe Satriani’s grandest statement to this point) and the out-and-out weirdness of “A Phase I’m Going Through”. The immutable fact which emerges from repeated listens to Shockwave is that this is a combo for the ages and maybe the best one we’ve heard on Satriani record to date. One hopes that we’ll hear at least one live record from this outfit as this seems like a group that must be heard on the boards to be fully appreciated.
Longtime fans will rejoice at the return of co-producer and longtime Satriani friend John Cuniberti, the man who was there at the very birth of the artist’s recording career. They’ve made good records without each other but they’ve made even greater ones together. (Longtime chum Mike Fraser is also on board here.)
Best of all, this is a record that will please the casual listener as much as the musical scholar, the woodshedder who just has to figure out those fast runs and master that tone, as well as the air guitarist who may or may not have his or her hands in the right positions, who may not even be wailing away in time but who can feel the warmth emanating from these compositions and still be in awe that there is beauty such as this in the world.