|Joe Satriani - Strange Beautiful Music|
|Music Disc Reviews SACD|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Tuesday, 10 September 2002|
As an impressionable guitar wielding teen in the 1980’s, the first time I heard Joe Satriani’s benchmark record Surfing With The Alien, everything changed. I had been diligently going to my guitar lessons and working on my more conservative Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page chops with the occasional (but not too complicated) Jimi Hendrix riff mixed in. Now everything was different.
I took my electric blue Fender Squire Stratocaster down to the local guitar shop, promptly installed a bright pink DiMarzio pickup and jacked the tremolo bar as high as it would go. The problem was that I just couldn’t get the tone or the huge harmonics that Satriani was getting on Surfing With The Alien. As I reached the mature age of about 15, I realized I needed to get a different guitar – one just like Satriani’s. This guitar is still in my collection today.
In 2003, we are all a bit older and popular rock music sounds completely different that when I first found Satriani. The guitar solo has almost completely disappeared as an element of a pop or rock tune. Listen to any modern FM rock or pop station for an entire hour and count the guitar solos you hear. If you are lucky enough to hear one or two, they are generally a boring regurgitation of the song’s melody. Satriani has much more to say with his guitar, and he goes at it with a vengeance on Strange Beautiful Music, a beautiful multi-channel SACD mastered by Stephen Marcussen.
Strange Beautiful Music derives its title from Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced” and the Hendrix influence shows up periodically throughout the record. Strange Beautiful Music was one of the first surround SACDs I received that has a really well-done surround mix, which starts in from the first notes. Because Satriani now sings exclusively with his guitar (there was a point where he was singing vocally on his records with disastrous results – see the album Flying in a Blue Dream for examples if needed), Strange Beautiful Music is an album that could be mixed without as many preconceived notions as where things are supposed to be placed. The first track, “Oriental Melody,” starts out growling with synthed bass lines and rhythm guitar all working towards bringing Satriani in with a highly delayed and echoed lead guitar. The chorus has a soaring melody that is soothing and somewhat triumphant. The verses are far more mysterious. In the second verse, Satriani gets into a darker jam that pulls on more of his bluesy roots. His riffs are as tight as ever on this track and, thankfully for lifelong guitar students, the choruses give you a rest to relax and try to comprehend what you just heard. It is tantamount to a nine-handicap golfer watching Tiger Woods hit a drive 340 yards right in front of your eyes.
Satriani always did ballads on past records, but in recent years, the composition of his music has lightened up a bit overall. This has given him the ability to have “his people” license it to TV commercials and use it in movies, which can be a very lucrative addition to a career. The tune “Belly Dancer” is a good example of a more lighthearted track. It does get down and dirty for a middle section where Satriani goes off in what sounds like some sort of two-handed, fret-tapping barrage. Later in the track, he returns to some sounds like big-gated drums with reverse echo that harkens back to recording techniques from his earlier albums. As the track picks up, the solos begin from the rears, then work their way all over. There is always another track of guitars coming in on this record, which keeps the surround mix alive. You never feel as if that rhythm guitar should be in that speaker. You are more transfixed as guitar solos happen all around you.
Predictably, the fourth track is the ballad, which contains heartfelt melodies and, you guessed it, develops into some pretty amazing solos. Personally, I skipped this track more times than not in anticipation of greater things on the horizon on Strange Beautiful Music, specifically “Mind Storm,” a more Korn-influenced groove that has groaningly low bass. The chorus has rhythmic solos that rattle through chords that grace your rear speakers as strong as they do the fronts. The layering is amazing on this track. You need 10 spins through this song to hear all that is going on and appreciate the complexity of the mix. In the bridge, Satriani spins out some sweeping harmonics that stretch crazy sections of the fret boards in ways I have never dreamed possible.
Strange Beautiful Music is a complex work by a modern-day guitar genius. Every guitar player with intensions of rocking the stage with blistering solos should own this record as part of a musical library. For SACD enthusiasts, this is one of the better surround mixes for the format derived from a modern recording, so that all of the elements sound smooth and dynamic, mixed into a compelling 360 degree sound field. You’ll be glad you have six speakers and wish you had six fingers to try to play some of these Satriani chops.