As is usually the case, Satch arrives with a new album at a time when music is in desperate need of him.
While kids by the score risk permanent digit injury attempting to emulate the antiseptic, Nintendo Metal of bands like Dragonforce on Guitar Hero, along comes Joe Satriani to remind us what the experience of music should be all about: hearing incandescent people, more intense and dazzling and far more gifted than people we encounter in life, doing things that approach the divine.
Recently, MusicRadar was treated to an advance listen of Satch's new album, Professor Satchafunkilus And The Musterion Of Rock. It's a silly title for a deadly serious album, one that is brimming with humanity. Which isn't to suggest a dearth of guitar firepower. Make no mistake, in terms of sound and performance, it's an earth mover, a ground shaker, one that matches the audacity of Satch's supreme gifts with the full surge of his heart's most urgent commands. Brilliantly conceived, articulately written, filled with deeply penetrating emotions and breathtaking performances, it covers a broad spectrum of genres, from beguiling ballads (Musterion, Revelation) to jacked-up funk-swing (Professor Satchafunkilus, Diddle-Y-A-Doo-Dat) to crunching metal (Overdriver, I Just Wanna Rock). But it is with the two-song closer, the Middle Eastern-flavored Asik Vaysel and the flamenco-strummed Andalusia, that Satriani boldly travels to new places. His disinclination to indulge in a non-stop shredathon - been there, done that, and way too easy anyway - is perhaps one of his greatest strengths, and on the new album, it's a conviction that pays off handsomely.
January 23rd, we spoke with Satriani, and over the course of a fascinating and often laugh-filled conversation he elucidated the album's almost metaphysical origins, fast-paced recording sessions, and how he found the greatest challenges (and rewards) in doing less.
"From the very beginning, I was adamant that this was going to be a succinct statement," he says. "Two reasons went into that: A) CDs are way too long nowadays. We don't need albums with 17, 18 tracks. Too much information; the messages get lost. And B) I thought to myself, If I'm going to make a powerful statement, one that expresses where I'm at as a person and a musician, I have to use a smaller canvas so the ideas and emotions don't get lost. I tend to try to do too much - too many songs, too many notes, you name it. With this album, I realised that 10 tight tracks were the way to go."
The song's opening cut, Musterion, as Satriani explains, tackles questions so essential that they're practically unanswerable - "until you figure out that the mystery is that there's no mystery at all; that having faith is about giving up the idea that it's a mystery. Basically, you have to believe profoundly in the mystery in order to dispel it." At first, the song signals dire portent, but by the end it's soothing, bathing you in splendor - the mystery has been solved.
Written during the summer of 2007, Satriani convened with longtime producer and engineer John Cuniberti, drummer/percussionist Jeff Campitelli, and bassist Matt Bissonette in the fall of that year at the Plant in Saulsalito, California.
"Tracking was more of a breeze than usual," Satriani says. "I think the fact that I had very firm ideas and was very intent on making a tight album helped. But the fact that I chose to make a record with only 10 songs on it doesn't mean they're all three-minute radio pop ditties. Some of these things are five, six minutes - they take you places. And I did have a song that was originally written as a 15-minute opus, but it got too unwieldy."
Satriani admits that an 11th song was recorded ("just in case I wanted to break my 10-song rule"), but in the end he stuck to his guns. "Plus, when we listened to the album with the 11th song in the sequence, it didn't work. It wasn't as fleshed out as the other ones, it didn't fit - my original instincts were correct."
Professor Satchafunkilus And The Musterion Of Rock is scheduled for release on April 1. In the weeks prior, MusicRadar will present an exclusive podcast interview with Joe Satriani. Be on the lookout.
By Joe Bosso