Music

Joe Satriani's 'What Happens Next' Is His Most Rocking Album

Photo: Joseph Cultice (Noble PR)

Melodies and shredding galore power Joe Satriani's most rocking release to date.

What Happens Next
Joe Satriani

Sony/Legacy

12 Jan 2018

Shredding legend Joe Satriani has embraced science fiction and fantastical visions of the future for most of his career. Practically every release since his 1986 debut Not of This Earth is steeped in the wonder of the universe and space-age imagery with their titles (Surfing with the Aliens, Crystal Planet, Is There Love in Space?) and cutting-edge sonic spectrum. Along with this cosmic grandeur, Satriani has retained a reputation for being one of the most accessible and song-forward guitarists of his ilk. No matter where he travels musically, Satriani always focuses on keeping the songs as clear and melodious as possible. Buckets of notes, of course, but never at the cost of a tuneful melody.

What Happens Next represents a new thematic direction for the legendary six-string showman. With his latest Satriani steps away from the space imagery and focuses on more grounded vibes. Divorced from the alien alter ego of 2015's Supernova Shockwave, What Happens Next rocks more than it ponders the wonders of the galaxy and beyond. Satriani records with a trio here, recruiting bassist Genn Hughes from Deep Purple and drummer Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Chickenfoot (where he plays alongside Satch). What Happens Next is probably the most rocking entry in Satriani's catalog, a fun ride that show's the bald maestro at the top of his game.

The aptly titled "Energy" opens the album with a decidedly rawking attitude, a straight-ahead headbanger that serves as a calling card for the album's overall vibe. The intro riff to "Thunder High on the Mountain" takes cues from AC/DC's "Thunderstruck with its hammer on/pull off on a single string motif. "Righteous" and "Forever and Ever" are pure Satriani gold with their heavy grooves and soaring melodies. Aside from unexpected turns like the synth dance vibe of "Catbot", much of the album sounds like classic Satch filtered through a heavier rock groove. Gone is the space age ambition, but What Happens Next still overflows with catchy hooks and screeching leads.

Pairing down with a power trio was a bold move that pays off in spades. Hughes and Smith make up a watertight rhythm section. The two play with an early Van Halen-flavored abandon on "Headrush" without sounding careless or messy. The cocky strut of "Super Funky Badass" is held up by Smith's solid backbeat while Hughes plays the ever-loving hell out of his "Catbot" bass line. At times the pulse is a little too forward, just a touch too rigid to truly let the music breath. The funk groove of "Looper" is tight, undeniably so, but perhaps loosening up would have brought a new dimension to the album.

As tight and melodious as the album sounds, it does lack a certain sense of nuance and dynamics. 4/4 beats and screaming solos are inherently irresistible, but Satch and co. seem to be running on all cylinders throughout all 12 tracks. You don't hear the same subtlety as classic Satriani tunes like "Always With Me, Always With You" or "Cool No. 9." Sure, What Happens Next has a mission to rock, and rock it does. There are not as many angles to the record, and introspective tracks like "Invisible" and "Cherry Blossom" are forced to find their way to shine past the distortion.

Satriani fans will likely dig the album, newly grounded direction and all. It's an all-out rock album, and even with a subdued scope, it's still a killer spin for instrumental guitar devotees.

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