2015-11-30

Album Review: Joe Satriani - Super Colossal

Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

In 2006, Joe Satriani released Super Colossal, and at the time I couldn't have cared less. At the time, I was too far immersed in other music styles, although I have to admit that in hindsight I fail to see what was so attractive to me at the time. The only albums released during the early 2000s that seem to have passed the test of time are albums like Super Colossal.

Joe Satriani is one of those artists that requires a substantial amount of musical maturity to fully appreciate. His approach to melody is interesting and unique. One requires a great familiarity with scales and modes to appreciate how Satriani uses them to highlight different aspects of the chords he's playing in a given song. One also has to be familiar enough with the Satch oeuvre to be able to differentiate between his improvising, his planned attacks, and his purely emotional note explosions. If that last sentence doesn't make very much sense, it could very well be because you haven't spent as much time really absorbing Joe's approach to guitar as I have. (And, heh, maybe that's a good thing.)

But for all Satriani's musical depth, Super Colossal stands apart, to me, as an especially accessible album. The level of experimentation on this record is comparatively low, by Satch standards. On this one, we don't get the two-hand tapping of songs like "A Day at the Beach," and we don't get complicated scale explorations like "The Enigmatic." We certainly don't get something as conceptually risky as the Engines of Creation album. No, on Super Colossal it is strictly the basics. So if you like your guitar music as straight-ahead as it gets, this might be the Joe Satriani album for you.

Having said that, there are a few standout songs on this album that I think should be on everyone's private Joe Satriani playlist.

First among them is a stunning ballad called "The Meaning Of Love," which features - in my opinion - the very best melody Joe Satriani has ever come up with. The way that song builds and releases tension over the warmhearted keyboard track and tender rhythm is a testament to what this guy can do with a guitar.

Another one of the album's strong songs is plodding piece called "A Cool New Way." (One in a long line of Satriani songs with "Cool" in the title.) The song is ostensibly a jam. Joe starts things off with a sparse melody, which he allows to evolve into a solo. Throughout the piece, though, the backing instruments play minor variations on the same thing. The lead guitar is drenched in reverb, making it seem as though it's coming at us from afar. Panned wide are clean-toned guitars playing natural harmonics that echo and decay into that same sonic "distance." The result is a piece that sounds like it belongs as part of a film soundtrack.

And as it ends, up rises another filmy song, "One Robot's Dream." This is what I'd peg as Super Colossal's final standout. It haunts the listener in much the same way that "A Cool New Way" does, but the beat is faster, the melody more deliberate, and the mood slightly more unsettling. This time, the guitars are tight and close. The two tracks feel like two sides of the same coin, each seemingly exploring the same set of emotions, but from different sonic angles. The result is a one-two punch of Satriani brilliance that absolutely makes the album for me.

It is probably true that Super Colossal will never be the Joe Satriani album to remember, the one to get, the one to start your journey with. But if you've taken as a deep a dive into Satch's work as I have, you'll find this album extremely rewarding.