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Main Category: Guitar Heroes
Also applicable: --------
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Joe Satriani fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Joe Satriani fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1986

The better a "shredder" is, the less "shredding" he actually does - I guess there are multiple exceptions to the rule, but then again, what I'm actually trying to say is that the more I listen to the uppermost class of guitar technicians, the more I become convinced that these guys were anything but soulless hacks caring exclusively about playing complex chord sequences as fast as possible.

Not Of This Earth, Satriani's debut on the recording scene (he'd already been renown in guitarist circles as an excellent guitar expert and teacher for many years by then), sports a somewhat uncomfortable title, and on a basic aural level, doesn't really give that impression. Then again, it's hard for me to judge: my knowledge of musical theory is minimal, and I'm certainly unqualified to make any judgement about the "superhuman" capacities of "Satch", if they are indeed superhuman. But the important thing is, I'm not a guitar player and not a musicologist, and yet I enjoy this album as good as anybody, which brings about the inevitable conclusion - this music was recorded for everybody who loves music, not everybody who loves analyzing music.

Satriani doesn't go for long blinding dazzling solos on here. Nor are there any supah-dupah crushing riffs anywhere to be found (oh okay, 'Hordes Of Locusts' has a good riff, but it's so simple even The Seeds could probably play it). In fact, pretty often he goes for minimalist techniques; the "moments of flash" are few, and they are scattered around in such a subtle way that you almost never get the feeling the guy is just showing off. Instead, it looks just like a normal rock album, minus the vocals. There are energetic rockers, moody ballads, and an oddball goofy piece now and then.

I guess that the oddball pieces are actually the ones where Joe's mastery shows through the best of all. Like the short "boogie" piece 'Headless Horseman', with just a galloping percussion rhythm and Joe's rhythm guitar (and a few cooky whistles overdubbed here and there) to attract your attention. And it is a boogie - but a boogie that fully illustrates the guy's amazing "tapping" facilities. I wonder if Eddie Van Halen could do that stuff with just as little effort as Satch. Probably could... but never did. On the other hand, the equally short 'Brother John' is more jazzy in essence, with chord changes slightly similar to the ones Pete Townshend used on 'Sunrise' - but, of course, much more complex and tricky; it's also very atmospheric, with that slight feeling of sadness and maybe loss you sometimes get from listening to minor key jazzy acoustic pieces.

There are also a couple more "normal" instrumental ballads, like the lengthy 'Rubina', and they're decent pieces, but personally I'm more attracted to the rocking numbers and the "bizarre" ones. 'The Snake', for instance: now there's one of the coolest fusion numbers ever written. The main guitar line and guitar tone remind me of Stevie Wonder's 'All Day Sucker' (that should give you a basic idea - I'm assuming if you're curious enough about Joe Satriani of all people, you've already done your Stevie Wonder homework, right? Right?), but that's only one small bit, because pretty soon Satch goes into all directions, from imitating turntable scratching with his six-string to siren wailing to bits of hammering-on to a weird distorted riff that seems to be copying a traditional Russian motive to medieval acoustic phrasing to industrial noises to whatever - the mid-section in the song is one of the funniest instrumental passages I've ever heard, and it's awesome how it all actually fits together seamlessly.

That's just one of the highlights, though. The title track is done a bit in Eighties-Rush mode, but with memorable riffs and carefully constructed solos, something that I couldn't accuse Eighties Rush of. 'The Enigmatic' is set to an absolutely paranoid rhythm track, which gives Satriani an excellent background for unfurling some of the fastest passages on here, and it also seems to be influenced by Discipline-era King Crimson (personally, I recognize some of the guitar lines on here as taken almost directly from certain KC compositions of the period, but not that I mind - KC ripped themselves off much more often than Satriani does that). 'Driving At Night', as every Satch fan will tell you, perfectly matches its title, with that steady fast beat, "dark" guitar soloing and an overall spooky feel - maybe you shouldn't actually try this one on while driving at night. And, like I already said, 'Hordes Of Locusts' has one hell of a crunchy riff; actually, it's the only true heavy metal song on the album, but even there Satriani breaks every metal cliche by making his guitar imitate a sitar, for instance.

It does matter that this is easily Satriani's "lightest" album, and it's rarely a fan's favourite just because it's so different from the heavier, speedier Satriani that would follow. Part of this actually stems from the fact that this was a nearly homemade recording - Joe didn't have much of a budget for it - but it doesn't really matter; it still gives us a very important side of the guy that's often missed by those who are ready to lump all the "shredders" together in one boring narcissistic mess.



Year Of Release: 1987

Well first things first: this is a legendary album, the one that made Satriani The Penniless Guitar Teacher into Satriani The Long-Haired Guitar Starman, and when it was released it raised guitar playing standards to an unprecedented high level or so I've been brainwashed by those who know better than me.

Second things second then - I was somewhat bored by it. Yup, you heard. Maybe my own standards of "unusualness" are slowly on the goddamn rise, I dunno, but I liked it much less than the far more experimental and, in my opinion, daring Not Of This Earth, and in fact, I was going to rate it much lower. Fortunately, I caught myself in time and said, 'Hey! Wait a minute! So what if on that record the guy was trying to find as many new textures as possible and on this record he's just trying to kick your ass? Why should one be worse than the other? The important thing is - listen to that guy kicking your ass!' And sure enough, I listened. And I got mine kicked so hard it's still aching, so whaddaya know, I rated 'em both the same in the end.

Seriously now, this record is much more accessible. It's also a lot more heavier, in fact, it's stylistically a heavy metal record, pure and simple. So, all you scary droolin' metalheads out there - you're welcome to share your testosterone with Mr Satriani's, as he just burns the place down with the opening track. Some stupid opening crowd noises, an interstellar vessel crashing down, and then you get just about one of the most intense instrumental hard-rockers ever recorded. God, does that tone Satch gets out there totally rule - sharp, venomous, fuzzy, and yet so distinctive and "clean" at the same time! And you can almost feel the cold, rigid mathematical precision with which this guy delivers his solo passages and ultra-complex riffs, precision which his notorious predecessors like Ritchie Blackmore and Eddie Van Halen never really got. Spontaneity? Fuck spontaneity! This stuff tears! Who needs spontaneity? Really now, I'm all for spontaneity, but when you get such an absolute master of technique as Satriani, you can sacrifice spontaneity and still come up with a total winner. But don't you try this at home!

Anyway, immediately establishing himself as hard rock guitar god on this one track, Joe then further solidifies his reputation with 'Ice 9' and 'Crushing Day'. The first one of these are slower and "moodier", but just as aggressive overall, and this is where the shredding starts in earnest: blast after blast of gazillion-notes-per-second sequences, alternating with schizophrenic whammy bar torturing and noises that sound like a three-headed dragon's throat when cut, I guess. Well, Joe never really goes overboard with this shredding stuff anyway - again, only a few tracks on here, this one in particular, seem to be valuing speed for speed's sake, and even so, only at given moments, because the tune still stands by itself; it's got a decent moody riff and a sense of development. Likewise, the faster 'Crushing Day' has a solid main theme all right - a riff, a little variation on it here and there, a pyrotechnical mid-section, and even a little bit of boogieing here and there.

Although the real boogie, of course, is to be found on the appropriately titled 'Satch's Boogie'. Ever tried getting "primal rock'n'roll excitement" with a guitar wiz like Satriani at the wheel instead of some sloppy "genuine" rock'n'roller like, uh, Ted Nugent, for instance? This track proves that it is, indeed, possible. We may rant and rave all we want about how true rock'n'roll can only be played when you know your basic three chords, but the fact remains that it is not so. This here guy has a real feel for rocking, and if he also has the guts to match it with some of the most technically perfect playing ever captured on record, well, it's his right. I can see where he's coming from. Mind you, I also dig Motorhead as much as the next guy, so don't you touch me on the subject.

In short, the only misstep on the first side of the album is the "ballad" 'Always With Me, Always With You' - which further confirms my suspicions that Joe really wanted very much for this album to sell, so he even stooped to including some sort of instrumental power ballad to lure the customer. Granted, he can get away with pretty much everything: some of the passages on the song are dazzling, especially when he starts demonstrating his hammer-on technique again. But the main theme is kinda elevatorish, if you know what I mean.

The second side is a bit of a letdown, I guess, but maybe I just don't get something - it's possible that he just went for a bit more subtlety on there. Like with the subdued introduction to 'Circles', for instance (later on it becomes a shredfest again). Or with 'Lords Of Karma', where the echoey high-pitched guitars in the backgroud make it sound like a Doom theme or something. And the concluding atmospheric number 'Echoes' is just plain dull. But on the other side, we do get to revisit his jazzy runs on the 'Headless Horseman' sequel 'Midnight', and we do get to experience some weird, almost Eastern-flavoured pompous runs on 'Hill Of The Skull'. (Eh! Who's responsible for the titles?).

Overall, this one's for the general Satch fan - and very much so. Those who like a little less headbanging with their music and a little more barrier-shattering, would be better looking at Not Of This Earth. Me, I guess I can stomach both. But I think a better title here would be Of THIS Earth Definitely!


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