A Surfer’s Travelogue
Joe Satriani takes us on another epic cosmic journey with his 19th album: The Elephants of Mars (8 April, 2022; earMUSIC).
Perhaps Satch’s greatest skill is being able to draw in people who might not otherwise listen to instrumental guitar music. Yes of course he can shred like the best of them, but he can also conjure up sublime Dune-like soundscapes and constantly surprise with flourishes of jazz or funk; piano and synthesizer. And that is why he has shifted over 10 million records, been nominated for 15 Grammys and has continued at the top of the game – despite all those young guns on Youtube – for nearly 40 years.
On this occasion Satriani was restricted, like many others, by the pandemic, so he ended up virtually collaborating with his band via California and Australia. Bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Kenny Aronoff ensure a tight rhythm section, and Eric Caudieux produces, but this time the guitar wizard has included an ominous-sounding talkover by his comic-book writing partner Ned Evett on the marvellous Through A Mother’s Day Darkly. You can tell his team has embraced the unusual circumstances and heeded his call to raise the standard: “Okay, we’re all stuck at home, no chance of getting in a room together, now’s the time to raise the game,” he explained in one interview. “Then I looked at myself and said, ‘Hey, don’t limit your playing. Bring the absolute truth of the story into the song and to the audience.’”
Satriani’s travels starts with the gorgeous lead single Sahara, which evokes a desert scenario with its Middle Eastern tones. On the accompanying futuristic-style video, the guitarist plays his Ibanez JS2400 signature electric, but interestingly dispensed with Marshalls and all his vintage amps in favour of a single set up: “I recorded DI [direct input], and as we went through reamping into real amps and using modelling software and stuff like that, all roads always led back to the SansAmp plugin. Every guitar sound is my guitar, DI with the SansAmp plugin; it’s blown my mind!”
The title track The Elephants of Mars also ‘blows the mind’ as it takes us on a sonic rollercoaster that features a hushed central section before ending big. This trip is echoed on the accompanying psychedelic video that might be seen as a kind of Surfing With the Alien on magic mushrooms. Don’t miss it!
Satriani says he wrote the wonderfully funky Tension and Release in a rapid creative moment; while Sailing the Seas of Ganymede features a spacey guitar sound that also manages to keep your feet tapping. Doors of Perception takes us back to the East, but the soundscape refreshingly shifts again for both E 104th St NYC 1973 and Pumpin. Satch set himself the target of not limiting his playing, and nearly every track provides proof of that. In fact Dance of the Spores and the closing track Desolation are the only cuts that really fail to spark.
The Elephants of Mars continues the journey that Satriani began in 1986 with Not Of This Earth, and after four decades he is still pushing the envelope. “We did everything; we tried the craziest ideas,” he says in conclusion. “And we entertained every notion we had about turning something backwards, upside down, seeing what could happen.”