Whether Joe Satriani’s move away from the muscular rock of Chickenfoot towards the smooth prog-structures of 2010’s Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards was a shrewd move or a disappointing regression is entirely a matter of taste. For those with a penchant for devil horns and head banging it was a letdown, but for the fan who prefers to hang back and let hallucinogens take effect it was a welcome return to the heady days of Surfing The Alien. In truth, the results were more solid than spectacular, but Black Swans…. serves as a fitting foundation for Satch’s latest effort, Unstoppable Momentum.
Despite what the title might suggest this isn’t an impetus laden thrill ride, instead it’s a considered but still daring exploration of Joe’s signature prog-boogie sound. It feels both more challenging (for the artist, not the audience) and less indebted than it’s predecessor. Post-70s, pre-metal, prog is the order of the day, but Joe does routinely step outside of his comfort zone. “Jumpin’ In” steers a delectably sleazy riff and some metronomic drum-work towards ever knottier territory, while the misleading title track is a squealing, thudding, onslaught held together by the tiniest thread of control and direction.
On the whole Satch still lives in a phased instrumental world of laser canons and Sci-Fi landscapes. The jazzy infusions and Joe’s ability to continually inject a sense of menace into even the most serene arrangement (“Lies And Truth”) keep Unstoppable Momentum from feeling remotely decrepit, but it becomes increasingly hard to shake the image of a man out of time. The victim of a cruel transporter malfunction even Joe’s most vigorous work feels dated. His sound captures the smooth harmonic optimism of Gene Rodenberry, unfortunately we’re living in the bold and brazen world of J.J. Abrams. Translation: whether it’s the driving panoramic rock of “A Door Into Summer” or the purring, shimmering future-scape of “The Weight Of The World”, Satch is noticeably behind the times.
Thankfully, Joe Satriani remains a guitarist of the highest order. He certainly sounds engaged and youthful across this tightly packed and deftly assembled collection. Every track has real swing and an unmistakable sense of endeavour. “A Celebration” might represent an old idea but it’s delivered with vim and there isn’t an inch of fat to trim. He’s precise without ever feeling calculating, and even his synthetic visions of the future sound organic, expansive and easy. “Three Sheets To The Wind” should be a goofy throwaway detour, but Joe handles this jaunty little jape with such an assured hand that it becomes a charming standout.
Therein lies Satch’s secret. Whether he’s dealing with the old or the inane, the stern or the supercilious, he imbues each and every track with an unmistakable sense of warmth. Listen to “Three Sheets To The Wind” and try to avoid cracking a smile. Like the great pioneers of EDM (electronic dance music) Daft Punk, Joe is taking sounds that the world has deemed kitsch and giving them a heartfelt life of their own. If Unstoppable Momentum shows what Joe Satriani can make of his own past, imagine what he could do if he embraced modernity and created a fresh vision of the future.
Buy If: You want to hear Satch push at the fringes of his trademark sound and breathe life into some vintage arrangements.
Skip If: You’ve got your fill of Joe’s undeniably classic prog-boogie and are waiting for his next sonic departure.
Best Track: “Three Sheets To The Wind”
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