Guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani has released his latest studio album, titled Shockwave Supernova. The California native’s all-instrumental record explores a fairly loose, abstract concept of an alter ego, named Shockwave Supernova. The songs outline and follow this superhuman persona through journeys across stages both worldwide and intragalactically.
This 15th studio album, with 15 tracks, released in 2015, has an interesting numerical parallel: it’s like an exceptional, well balanced musical fertilizer for listeners’ ears and musicians’ practice catalogs. Continuing along that train of thought, songs from this album will enrich a listener’s experience, and depending on how they apply that experience, may foster their growth as both fans and musicians. As exploding stars fertilize their nearby galactic neighborhood with all of the known elements, this disc peppers the genre with new ideas and expands on existing concepts.
Backed by a world class rhythm section comprising two-thirds of The Aristocrats: Bryan Beller on bass guitar, and Marco Minnemann on drums, Satriani is free to explore both his usual rock stomping grounds and bits of genres less frequently visited, like fusion or jazz. Longtime collaborators, keyboardist Mike Keneally and engineer / co-producer John Cuniberti teamed up with “Satch” again to help create this disc, meant to be either a piece d’resistance or another fantastic instrumental rock album. Listeners are free to choose, of course. Esteemed guest musicians Chris Chaney (Jane’s Addiction, Rob Zombie) on bass guitar and Vinnie Colaiuta (Frank Zappa, Sting) on drums add accent and flair to four tracks: “Keep On Movin’”, “In My Pocket”, “Crazy Joey”, and “Scarborough Stomp”.
Casual fans will recognize that this is not the first time sci-fi buff Satriani has delved into outer spacey themes (Not Of This World, Surfing With the Alien, Is There Love In Space?, etc.), nor is it his first rodeo regarding development of characters (Crystal Planet). Some may miss a very subtle trick borrowed from pop-rock – the incorporation of important names, places, or phrases. Shockwave Supernova cleverly weaves in something unexpected, and interesting. The alter ego concept’s creation and development bears a very strong resemblance to one of rock and roll’s biggest icons, namely David Bowie and his otherworldly, larger then life Ziggy Stardust. Song title sequencing on Satriani’s disc is similar to the pillar of classic rock that is Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, but “Satch” is hampered by a lack of lyrics to help develop a listener’s mind’s-eye vision of his persona. This deficiency will apparently be solved with the Crystal Planet animations being developed to shore up this novel recognizance, but in the meantime, listeners are left free to interpret each song’s themes, melodies, and rhythms as they see fit.
Most tunes stick to Satriani’s chosen genre of rock, without veering too far from the path into less accessible genres such as fusion. While he and co-producer Cuniberti do incorporate elements from jazz, fusion, New Wave, pop, and funk, these influences are more of a spice then a staple. All tracks feature the smooth, supple ideas that he’s worked so diligently to instill in his listeners’ ears. There isn’t the angularity of metal or modern hard rock blues hybrids. Notes ease in and out of existence, devoid of fuss. The disc on the whole has a familiar and fairly formulaic sequencing, with heavier tunes closer to the beginning. Production, engineering, and mastering on the disc are excellent, as is to be expected from “the world’s most commercially successful instrumental guitarist”. Instrument balance is very good, with no instrument buried in the mix. Layering is done with taste, subtlety, and sophistication. The sound is clear, crisp, and vibrant, with the band sounding energetic and lively.
As rock songs, Satriani’s latest musical missives have a familiar verse-chorus structure that is easy for a listener to “understand” and assimilate. A lot of ground is covered. From the mid-tempo rocking opener that borders on heavy metal “Shockwave Supernova”, to the mellow, very melodic and pretty delivery of “Butterfly and Zebra”, to the shred-head insanity of “On Peregrine Wings”, and the natural fitting end which is “Goodbye Supernova”, the album sports a lot of variety. The disc is packed with a wonderful assortment of tones, and a ton of techniques to keep even the most hardened listener’s ears piqued.
Shockwave Supernova sports the overall smooth, clean excellence that fans have come to expect from Joe Satriani. The entire album is cohesive and well thought-out, with good notes in the right places. The outer space theme ties closely into his previous works and simultaneously establishes a channel for him to progress. The forward motion gained since Unstoppable Momentum is undeniable. For a fan of metal or hard rock, this album is superior to Unstoppable Momentum in that there is more ‘obvious’, heavier, nearly shreddy fretboard blazing on show. This is an album that fans of ‘featuring guitar’ music, of rock music without vocals, and especially fans of his guitar explorations, are quite likely to enjoy.
Lost in a Memory
In My Pocket
On Peregrine Wings
San Francisco Blue
Keep on Movin’
All of My Life
A Phase I’m Going Through
Butterfly and Zebra
If There Is No Heaven
Stars Race Across the Sky
Band Lineup (studio):
Joe Satriani – Guitar
Mike Keneally – Keyboards, Guitar
Bryan Beller – Bass guitar
Chris Chaney – Bass guitar
Marco Minnemann – Drums
Vinnie Colaiuta – Drums
Note: Joe Satriani’s new album “Shockwave Supernova” is released by Sony Music/Legacy on Friday July 24th.
His 9-date UK tour with special guest Dan Patlansky kicks off at the O2 Manchester Apollo on November 1st. Tickets here.