by Tom Faddis
Joe Satriani is back with his 16th studio album, What Happens Next. The twelve songs are a high-energy album that again shows the legendary guitarist as a composer, player and never-ending seeker. The all instrumental album features a power trio of Satriani on guitar, along with two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees: Deep Purple/Black Country Communion bassist Glenn Hughes and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. This stunning rock rhythm section gives What Happens Next a new dimension of groove that sets it apart from Satriani’s other work. Teaming up again with producer/engineer/mixer Mike Fraser who has recorded and mixed every AC/DC album since 1990s, each track showcases Satriani’s never ending quest for evolution and reinvention, we hear new sounds, textures, techniques and styles, but most importantly, Satriani has not lost focus of his ability to compose and perform melodic music that is easy to relate to, and full of style and passion. As for What Happens Next? Well it seems Satriani is bringing in more soul, R&B and jazz into his arsenal, and that’s a good thang!
“Energy” kicks things off with Satriani’s amazing rhythm guitar sound, laying down a soulful rock groove. The melody is energetic, singable and Hughes and Smith create a pocket that Satriani digs into and delivers. The song is along the lines of Satriani’s early recordings, but the feel and maturity of the story telling reflects the guitarists three-decade solo career. Satriani has a way of saying the most complex things in the simplest way on the guitar, and that is perhaps the cornerstone to his long career as a successful instrumental rock guitarist.
“Headrush” has a seamless up-tempo rock/swing/soul vibe that the trio just eats up! Satriani’s lead tone is so lyrical, distorted with delay, but with a clear full and round sound. The composition takes us to many feels, colors and sections. The overall vibe is loose like a jam session, but these three are always in total control.
The title track relaxes a little, here Satriani’s phrasing and vocabulary certainly reflect the new soul/rock/jazz vibe. His use of space, the pushing and pulling, the rhythm and his development of motifs are the key to the before mentioned sonic qualities. Every nuance adds to the music, the way notes are given vibrato and the articulations are all purposeful. The same type of phrasing can be heard on his solo in “Super Funky Badass.”
Once again Satch finds a way to musically re-invent himself and bring us excellent instrumental rock guitar. Satriani is musically taking on the question of change; maybe he did go to a mountain top and receive special guidance as to What Happens Next, we may never know. What we do know is that Satriani is a musician that is always evolving and pushing himself to be better and expand, both as a musician and a person, and on this album it shows!
Tracks to sample first: “Energy,” “Cherry Blossoms.” The song to take a chance on is “What Happens Next.”