The last two years have given a distorted sense of time, and it only feels like yesterday that Satriani’s excellent Shapeshifting album was released, yet, that was two years ago now. He returns with The Elephants Of Mars, his 19th studio album, recorded remotely with his band and released via his new label, earMUSIC. Will it match his own high standards?
Joe Satriani – The Elephants Of Mars (earMusic)
Release Date: 8 April 2022
Words: Sid Kissinger
There is something rather incredible about Satriani, who has spearheaded a range of international musical phenomena. He can apply himself to anything and make it a success: from creating the all-star G3 tours, which show off the world’s best guitarists, to Chickenfoot, a more mainstream rock band. When you hear his guitar, you immediately know who it is, yet the style or format you will hear will vary across the musical spectrum.
However, one of the aspects that impresses the most is how listenable his music is. Many guitar virtuosos have phenomenal technical skills, yet for a lot of people, the self-absorbed fret noodling can fatigue the ears. Not Satriani, though.
You could happily absorb an entire album before thinking something like, ‘hang on a minute, there weren’t even any vocals? How does he do it?’. The Elephants Of Mars is no different. You have here an outstanding guitarist in a league of his own.
One of the aspects that springs to mind after numerous play-throughs is the increased spectrum of the sound on offer. The freedom of time constraints provided by lockdown allowed Satriani to push himself musically. “I want to show people that an instrumental guitar album can contain far more creative and entertaining elements than I think people are using right now,” Jos says. And there is no doubt he’s totally nailed it.
You only have to listen as far as the opening track, Sahara, to hear the musical journey this album takes you on. You have the exotic guitar sounds that range from that futuristic signature sound which may remind you of the famous Surfing With The Alien. But then the song turns, and the guitar slips into some beautiful neck pick-up mellow tones before diving back into the searing screeches of a guitar being put through its paces.
Underneath all this is the never-ending groove of the band. The range of sounds spanning futuristic tones to match his silver Ibanez guitar and the rich and cooler tones overlaying what sounds like a lute in the background is just perfect. The virtuoso at his creative best. As he himself says: “We did everything. We tried the craziest ideas. And we entertained every notion we had about turning something backwards, upside down, seeing what could happen.”
The next song, The Elephants Of Mars, continues to give audible delight with heavy stomping riffs intertwined with sounds that can only be described as giving the impression of floating through space. Following this is Faceless, a firm favourite of anyone searching for quality in guitar tone. More soothing in nature to the others, but no less in value in terms of the sheer quality of tone, which eludes so many guitarists.
Blue Foot Groovy is yet another turn along this adventure of Satriani sounds: groovy is definitely the word here. You won’t be able to resist moving to this number. Very different from a lot of his normal solo work, perhaps, but an absolute gem in the middle of the album.
Each song on this album has its own unique vision and is very distinct, and yet the unmistakable guitar sound just about manages to link these all together with a common feel, from the musically tugging of Tension And Release through the cinematic feel of Doors Of Perception, to the heavy funk of Pumpin’.
It might feel musically overwhelming to listen to all the songs at once, but there is no doubt that Satriani has managed to meet his own challenge of finding a new platform of his own design, against which we can measure instrumental guitar albums of the future.
Joe tours the US from September 2022, with UK dates set for May 2023. can be pre-ordered from oe-satriani.lnk.to/TheElephantsOfMars