review by: Roberto Martinelli
Is Joe Satriani hugely popular because people like him, or because people are told to like him? Is it a self-sustaining, symbiotic circle?
Take a look at any popular guitar magazine. Any issue. Any month. Any year. Thereís some goddamn article about Joe Satriani. Every. Single. Month. Youíd think the man is perpetually recording a new album. And in 20+ years, heís done 14 studio albums. Not bad. But a feature every month? My guess is guitar magazine editors dispatch a writer every time Satriani brushes his teeth.
Icons like Joe Satriani mystify me. Rather, it mystifies me how the public will continue to buy publications that single-mindedly go on and on about the same core group of people that are deemed as superstars through some combination of talent and corporate backing that spins that talent far beyond what the music really is. The drum world is filled with a similar set. Is Jason Bittner really that amazing? Was Jon Bonham so great that we need to be reminded of his greatness every month for the past and next 30 years?
Whatís particularly hilarious about all this apparent paradox is when you actually hear the recorded work of an icon like Satriani. Surfing With the Alien is considered a "classic," and to further drive that point home, the Sony record label has deemed it worthy of "Legacy" status, and thus the re-issue of the re-mastered album comes with a bonus DVD and fancy packaging, which is attractive. I admit Iím a huge fan of the Silver Surfer.
Certainly the popularity and impact of Joe Satrianiís music is not entirely fabricated. Certainly albums like Surfing With the Alien did inspire and capture the imaginations of many guitar players. At the same time, however, you have to wonder why... and more poignantly, who?
Surfing With the Alien is a pretty lame record. Hereís why.
Even re-mastered, the album sounds like demos. Like someone who could play guitar well bought a pretty decent keyboard back in the day, a keyboard that came with a setting called "full band backup," and recorded a bunch of half-baked tracks along to that on a four-track. It sounds like youíre playing "Gran Turismo" while listening to some generic, mainstream "rockiní" tracks that Sony hired someone to whip up.
Joe Satriani can definitely play, and play well, but beyond his guitar parts, the other instrumentation on this album is bland and simplistic to the extreme. Yes, itís a guitaristís album, but isnít instrumental godliness even more so when the medium the musician is playing in offers more of a complete experience of musical depth?
The cheesy simplicity of the tracks on Surfing With the Alien further accentuates the naked feeling the album has from being devoid of vocals. Listening to this album is a little like checking out the utterly dispensable "Love of Lava" CD of Trey Azagthoth guitar leads that Morbid Angel put out with the limited edition of the Formulas Fatal to the Flesh album. You listen to it, get its gist, and then ask, "ok, whereís the real album so I can hear this one-dimentional representation of a body of work in its proper medium?"... except with Surfing With the Alien, thatís all you get (and fairly, itís much more enjoyable than "Love of Lava.") Itíd be like having an album released of Richard Christyís The Sound of Perseverance studio drum tracks with just the guide guitar, except that would be better since the music that Christy recorded to isnít the most banal, simplistic material imaginable.
This is a lot of energy focused on railing against Joe Satrianiís popularity. But in some way, no matter how small, it has to be said. People are morons and will go along with whatever theyíre told to believe is amazing. Joe Satriani is definitely a superb guitarist, and he shouldnít be stopped from recording the music he wants to record. However, there are a practical infinite variety of guitarists (in the rock/metal world alone) that are at least as good as he is, and, far more importantly, release vastly more interesting and worthwhile music. Want a recommendation of tasty, soulful, meaningful guitar work? Try Opeth. Or about 500 others. Donít buy into the hype. (3.5/10)
PS: Hey, I think Joe Satriani just sneezed. Better get someone with a camera and recorder on that.