April 10th 2020 sees legendary guitarist Joe Satriani release “Shapeshifting”, the latest album in an astonishing solo career that dates all the way back to 1984. That was the year he released his first solo EP before following that up in 1986 with his debut album “Not Of This Earth”.
With those dates in mind it is quite apt that in the year 2020 and 35 years into his famed career he is releasing an album with such a title as his ability to constantly transform himself and his sound yet still maintain such incredibly high standards is testament to the incredible talent he possesses. That drive and desire to keep the sound and interest alive for himself and his fans is quite astonishing and is clearly evident on this release.
I dare say at the start of the year, Joe and his team were planning for 2020 to be a big year for the six string maestro. The new album in the bag, a massive world tour planned to support and promote it, including a 42 date European leg and then the arrival of Covid-19 scuppered it all.
The tour has been postponed and now rescheduled, the new UK dates and ticket links are at the end of this review. He did manage to squeeze in his induction into the 2020 Metal Hall of Fame on the 15th January where he was inducted by his friend and former student Steve Vai. At least, with the album done, he is still able to keep the fans thirst quenched and give them “Shapeshifting”, which is a 13 track sonic delight that has all the hallmarks of being yet another great Satriani album.
The album is being released through Sony Music / Legacy Recordings on CD and standard black vinyl. The D2C store will offer an exclusive translucent blue colored, signed vinyl. Also available, is an autographed CD via pre-order with Newbury Comics online retails store. “Shapeshifting” was co-produced by Joe Satriani and Jim Scott, who has worked with Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, with his long time associate John Cuniberti doing all the mastering. Joe enlisted the help of Kenny Aronoff (John Fogerty) on drums, Chris Chainey (Jane’s Addiction) on bass, Eric Caudieux on keyboards to bring the songs to life plus additional contributions from Lisa Coleman (The Revolution) and Christopher Guest.
There have been two songs/singles released prior to the album to wet the ever growing appetite of his legion of fans. The first “Nineteen Eighty” has a real retro feel to it, that sees Mr Satriani revisiting the time with his first band The Squares.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSayYNy28TA&w=560&h=315]
He recalls, “They dialled back the guitar solo’s and histrionics to try to create a cooler New Wave vibe”. Decades later, here he is, free to attempt to recapture what was on his mind in 1980. Staying true to the sounds of the time, he even used a vintage MXR EVH phaser. “I’ve always been a huge fan of Eddie Van Halen,” Satriani says. “In my mind, he just crystallized that era. The late ‘70s and early ‘80s, he kind of saved rock guitar. So that’s what I would have been doing.” The second track to be released was the awe-inspiring, majestic rocker “Big Distortion” which is available on all streaming platforms to get you in the mood for the albums arrival.
So what of the album itself then. Well that is quite simple, it is 46 minutes or thereabouts of guitar magnificence. It is masterful and full of all the wizardry and swagger you would expect. It clearly showcases where Joe sits in the world of guitaring nobility and I feel totally privileged to have been able to enjoy and review the album before it hits people doormats. I would say shelves but that isn’t going to happen for a while yet I fear.
The title track and opener “Shapeshifting” kicks in with some sumptuous drums and bass that give the number an infectious beat behind some mesmerising guitar work that is just a pure delight on your ear drums. This leads into “Big Distortion”, another exquisite rocker, full of powerful drums, crashing cymbals and hand claps that just gets the extremities of your limbs working overtime. This is outstanding rock riffage at it’s best. Two tracks in and I am absolutely loving it I must say.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR3YVH-cldU&w=560&h=315]
A change of pace on “All For Love”, which is a delightfully beautiful number full of spacey undertones. It is a slower paced tune in which you can hear the guitar almost weeping at times as Joe pulls every bit of emotion out of it. The subtlety and feel in the music on this number are in stark contrast to the opening two numbers and without knowing what else is to come, you get the feeling it is going to keep your ears and mind interested. “Ali Farka, Dick Dale, An Alien and me” follows. This is by far and away the most diverse and oddest track on the album and gives us yet another different guitar style with accompanying knob twisting to give it a real space/alien feel that is in keeping with the track title. Four tracks in and my attention is fully grabbed now but little did I know that for me, the best was just about to come.
“Teardrops” starts for me what is a period of sensual delight with a run of four compelling tracks that I have found myself listening to over and over again, almost in awe and bewilderment at the musical ability of this 63 year old genius who has taken over the stereo and my mind with his magical music.
The track itself has a delicious blues feel to it at times and the plodding bass with delicate drums give the song a fragile feel. I found myself getting really lost in the moment as the vibe to the track meanders through pulling you in as it progresses. Then we get “Perfect Dust”, and all change again as Joe gives your ears the pleasure of some foot tapping, hand clapping blues.
Three and a half minutes of whiskey drenched heaven later and the repeat button got pressed as I sat there staring out of the window, lost in thought in being in one of those dark, dingy, smoke filled bars of yesteryear that the song was written to be played in.
Lead single “Nineteen Eighty” sees our man giving a little nod to the talents of a Mr Edward Van Halen at the start with a full on shred attack. The drum beat gives the track an almost boogie feel which perfectly adds to the intended feel of the track as it is a clear nod to the those bygone times.
A brilliantly simple, unassuming straight ahead rock track that completely fits the mood and moment as intended. “All My Friends Are Here” is a really happy, easy going track that comes built around a riff that just gets inside your head and won’t leave. It reminds me of something but I don’t know what…I don’t care either as the more I listen to it the more I enjoy it.
“Spirits, Ghosts and Outlaws” is another full on uptempo rocker. What has really struck me on the album so far is the songwriting. This is not an album full of guitar for guitars sake. Each and every track is a proper song, it has a beginning, a middle and an end and for me makes it so enjoyable and this song is no exception.
“Falling Stars” kicks in with a bass line that is in some ways reminiscent of a James Bond theme. The guitar work is really laid back and gives a chilled feel to the number, almost Pink Floyd-esque at times. The bass and drum sequence helps build the track into an audible masterpiece and the guitar parts are created in such a way that each time you think Joe is going to let rip you can almost see him going nah, taking a deep breath and just chilling back out again. Truly captivating!
Now for the final chase to the finish. Starting with “Waiting” that has children laughing and a piano intro before Joe’s guitar just drifts in over the top to create yet another beautifully crafted piece of ear candy for your listening pleasure.
It is only two and half minutes long but that two and a half minutes is long enough for it to pull you in and take you to a magical dreamland full of every pleasure and delight you could ever ask for. As we leave that world, a bit more shapeshifting takes us onto a white sandy beach with crystal clear waves lapping at your feet and the reggae vibe of “Here The Blue River”.
Full of smouldering guitar work that just meanders and weaves its way throughout, it shows the versatility in not only Satriani’s playing but the band he has recruited as well. Then we are there, the final number which is “Yesterday’s Yesterday”. Again another change in form to bring the album to a close. Complete with whistled opening, acoustic guitar and country feel, the track is probably the most simple on the album and a real curveball to close out with. It is tranquil and leftfield compared to what has gone before but equally nothing less than what you may expect and brings the album to a close superbly.
I have had the pleasure of listening to this album over and over again and can honestly say, hand on my heart that it is an impeccable release. There is something on it for everybody and in this strange time where we are all stuck at home could well be the perfect partner for some time alone away from all the histrionics of the Corona Virus affected life we are currently living. Stick it on, close your eyes and just get lost in the enchanting guitar work of the six string sorcerer that is Mr Joseph Satriani.
JOE SATRIANI – “SHAPESHIFTING” TRACKLISTING
- Big Distortion
- All For Love
- Ali Farka, Dick Dale, an Alien and Me
- Perfect Dust
- Nineteen Eighty
- All My Friends Are Here
- Spirits, Ghosts and Outlaws
- Falling Stars
- Here The Blue River
- Yesterday’s Yesterday
PRE-ORDER “SHAPESHIFTING” FROM
Due to coronavirus, Joe has rescheduled his Shapeshifting UK and European Tour until April and May 2021. Tickets for his May 2020 UK tour remain valid for the rescheduled 2021 dates. Tickets are available from: www.satriani.com/road
RESCHEDULED “SHAPESHIFTING” UK TOUR DATES
RESCHEDULED “SHAPESHIFTING” UK TOUR DATES
Friday 30th April 2021 Birmingham Symphony Hall, Broad St, Birmingham B1 2EA www.thsh.co.uk
Saturday 1st May 2021 Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion, Marina, Bexhill-on-Sea, TN40 1DP www.dlwp.com
Sunday 2nd May 2021 Manchester Bridgewater Hall, Lower Mosley St, Manchester, M2 3WS www.bridgewater-hall.co.uk
Tuesday 4th May London Palladium, 8 Argyll St, Soho, London, W1F 7TF https://lwtheatres.co.uk/theatres/the-london-palladium
Wednesday 5th May 2021 Sage Gateshead, St Mary’s Square, Gateshead Quays, Gateshead, NE8 2JR https://sagegateshead.com
Thursday 6th May 2021 Glasgow O2 Academy, 121 Eglinton St, Glasgow, G5 9NT https://academymusicgroup.com/o2academyglasgow
JOE SATRIANI ONLINE
Website – www.satriani.com
Facebook – www.facebook.com/joesatriani
Twitter – www.twitter.com/chickenfootjoe
Instagram – www.instagram.com/joesatriani
YouTube – www.youtube.com/JoeSatrianiOfficial
Apple Music – https://music.apple.com/us/artist/joe-satriani/466941
Review by Darren Smith for MPM