Review: Joe Satriani – “What Happens Next”

Satch’s energy and work output seem to have no chance of exhaustion.  He releases fairly regular albums, always including a smattering of greatness, and making his peers sometimes seem lazy.

What Happens Next is Joe Satriani’s 16th solo album in thirty years or so, which is incredible. Especially when you see how often he tours. As well as his headline tours, he introduced the “G3” line-ups which have been around a couple of times: co-headlining tours with other guitar masters. Coming this year are Joe with John Petrucci and Phil Collen.

Talking of trios, making up the instrumental triumvirate for this album is Glenn Hughes on bass and Chad Smith on drums (who previously partnered with Satriani on the Chickenfoot).

Things kick off with “Energy” which fizzes like it’s flowing out of a broken plug socket – the perfect track for opening a live show; toe-tapping and head-nodding. “Catbot” sounds sci-fi and robotic, right? So that’s what you get. A stomping rhythm and a ton of effects to give Satriani’s guitar a staccato / squeaky sound. Short, muted riffs a-plenty with an air of the Frampton “guitar trying to talk” about it.

Smith belts in the opening to “Thunder High on the Mountain” with a chest-rattling bass drum, soon wrapped in floating guitars and epic bursts of what sound like strings. This is as close to heavy metal as the album gets… it wouldn’t go amiss on a Maiden album. Smith again brings “Cherry Blossoms” to life, but with more of a tribal drum sound. I imagined this one might be a little Japanese in tone – the country being famed for its pink trees during the right time of year – and I was right. It’s by no means a full-on Far East influenced track, but there are some little rhythms each time the drums fade that sound oriental. Otherwise, it’s a lovely pairing of soft, floating notes and driving drums… until the midpoint where it gets all heavy. I guess that’s the chainsaws.

I’m not even going to describe “Super Funky Badass” as the title does as good a job as I ever could. “Invisible” kicks off the way some bands finish their shows – a big, explosive flurry. As the track kicks in, Hughes gets to show his chops with a quality bass riff that Satriani ties up in a bow with his six strings. “Forever And Ever” pays tribute to Hendrix with an opening that sounds more than a bit like “Little Wing.” Hardly a bad thing, and it’s only the first few seconds or so before the influence becomes less apparent and Satriani’s brand of fret-sliding genius takes over.

You can’t be let down by a Satriani album unless he sings on all the tracks. He sings on none of them here and, as such, you have a dozen great instrumental efforts. I can’t tell you which are better or worse as they’re so diverse. Blues fans will like some, rock fans others, and the metalheads will be surprised by how much “Thunder…” appeals.

What Happens Next is another fantastic album from Joe Satriani.  8/10

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