This is how it happens. You walk casually across the room, forgetting for a moment where you’ve been and what you’ve done. Then a barrage of sound hits you square in the back of the head. You turn wandering what on earth this assault on your ear drums is; looking at speakers bellowing away your memory lapse fades as you dumbly retrace putting a brand new CD on. Then you fall back in time to your own youth and something registers. What you are hearing bounding out is age old wishful thinking, a dream that Deep Purple Mark III could make Burn II, and you try to hold back a pitiful tear as this wonderful chaos rackets away.
That guitarist Joe Satriani pulls in his patented signature sound cannot be denied, but the runs and riffs feel right, the rhythm section driving that theory home – For God’s sake it’s bloody Glenn Hughes pumping those bass strings, and Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s Chad Smith, a Purple fan himself, on drums. Add to that the fact Satriani himself did a tour of duty with the band when Blackmore bailed prior to an Australian tour, and this is a more legitimate part of a Peter Frame Family Tree than either the current Whitesnake or Rainbow.
That you’re thinking all this and you’re only one minute thirteen seconds in before Satch (let’s call him that, his fans do) begins recycling the middle eight chord run to ‘Lady Double Dealer’ and middle-age-men like me might admit in print to getting a hard-on they don’t need Viagra for. This is ‘Energy’ the first song on Joe Satriani’s new album What Happens Next and even if the rest of the album sucks, you can forgive because this must have sapped an awful lot of personal mega-joules to make. A song built to entertain with a live noisy sound.
What Happens Next. No question mark. A statement. But what is this, Satriani’s umpteenth instrumental album, putting aside a couple of Chickenfoot releases with Smith? It’s fair to say only avid fans of the guitarist will feel he is saying anything new on this album. He’s a remarkable guitarist, gifted with a lyrical melodic edge as much as the virtuoso routines he can pull of, but it’s been a while since he’s produced a memorable song mainstream rock fans could also call out the title of. Thus he could be making himself the butt of the joke here and saying; here’s more of the same. However, in pulling this taught rhythm section together there is a marked difference. True, he’s never far away from his own comfort zone (even if that is a pretty spectacular one), but they ride him hard; he may be paying the session’s bills but these guys are more than just the hired help.
Now, the fat-ended bass riffing that sizes up ‘Catbot’ isn’t too far left of field to more recent Hughes solo albums, so you’d think the bass player would be up for this bit, but he’s also in the groove when Satriani takes it up a notch with some mega- Mahavishnu Orchestra goes-boogie with added dance floor grove. Frankly, I’m waiting for a producer to half-inch this section and put a rap over it to score a hit. Whereas, repeating the same old isn’t for our guitarist as at 2.34 minutes we get some chilled keyboards playing before a more rocking solo leads us out. Then there’s more orchestral synthesised dance music to make out over some symphonic rock on ‘Thunder High On The Mountain’ before it decides to go the fusion route on the back of Mountain’s ‘Mississippi Queen’ riff while sailing in between with some sublime emotive guitar soloing.
Over an effects driven-drum beat and deep guitar sound ‘Cherry Blossoms’ plays with the kind of sun-kissed melodies Satriani favours, taking in wrenched blues and rockier solos along the way. Rhythms go deeper into the jungle for ‘Righteous’ only to give way to a pleasant but rather middle of the road soul disco vibe. Then ‘Smooth Soul’ blasts through your speakers as sweet prog blues with a lyrical melody that if indeed someone had suggested Hughes step up to the mic I’d have opted for him doing so to this one.
‘Headrush’ is big metal boogie with Hughes thumping in some crazy bass lines, Satriani tapping away on solos, and Smith pulling them through some short jazzy changes. It’s a standout track where the tag super group sounds more than convincing. By comparison ‘Looper’ is funky laidback west coast rock with some extraordinary guitar over the top, with title track ‘What Happens Next’ following neatly with its seductive chinking guitars, warm keyboard layers and a guitar melody searching and questioning, but never quite reaching a concluding epiphany.
Despite its name it’s the dirty offbeat guitar sound one remembers most about ‘Super Funky Badass’ and ‘Invisible’ is thoroughly transparent as being influenced both by Deep Purple Mark III and Return to Forever at one and the same time, and pulling off, whereas album closer ‘Forever And Ever’ is pleasant but echoes Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’ a little too much.
A never less than melodic album with some astounding guitar work. Should this band have formed before Black Country Communion or Chickenfoot got together they might have ruled the world, but let’s leave might have been to the past, and genuinely enjoy these moments for what they are; what happens next in the real world must wait.
For information on Joe Satriani’s G3 2018 UK Tour with John Petrucci and Uli Jon Roth at Ramzine click here.