The Austin Chronicle

Box Sets

Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, July 4, 2014, Music

Joe Satriani

The Complete Studio Recordings (Sony Legacy)

Dedicating his May memoir Strange Beautiful Music "to the visitor from outerspace who saw fit one night so many years ago out on a lonely distant road to beam me up to his space ship [and] teach me how to play guitar," Joe Satriani's only kidding. The Bay Arean's time capsule catalog isn't. Whereas mid-Eighties peers, including Austin's Eric Johnson, Dixie Dregs fusionist Steve Morse, and real life six-string alien Steve Vai, threw off the guiterrorist tag of the movement and settled into conventional jaw-dropping greatness, Satriani stayed the course, generating 14 studio discs of celestial riff exploration between 1986 and last year. A 15th disc of odds and ends caps The Complete Studio Recordings. Save for the occasional vocal sprinkled throughout, 165-plus instrumentals should blur like stars in the sky, and his last decade has: Super Colossal (2006), Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock (2008), Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards (2010), Unstoppable Momentum (2013). Yet starting with debut full-length Not of This Earth, a cosmic cruise missile of texture and tone, the unabashed Hendrix devotee rarely repeats himself or phones one in (Super Colossal). Hydraulic rhythms push his gallops into coastal breakers beginning with 1987 hit Surfing With the Alien, and whether arming bellicose AOR rock (The Extremist) or chopping drum-n-bass (Engines of Creation), the onetime tutor to Vai, Metallica's Kirk Hammett, and Testament's Alex Skolnick unleashes a sheer fecundity of ideas that differentiates every album. Crystal Planet (1998) matches Surfing With the Alien megaton for megaton, but its predecessor enlists production deity Glyn Johns for a bubbling batch of moody blues. Strange Beautiful Music (2002) updates Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk" subtlety for the new century, while Is There Love in Space? (2004) makes the case for an LP-length workout in "Searching," a 10-minute planet of sound and whammy bar instructional. Rare are synthesizers (Super Colossal's "The Meaning of Love"), but a Milky Way of melody erupts at all points (Paul Simon-ish, "Still Crazy After All These Years" echoes on "Littleworth Lane" from Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards). Sole imponderable? How someone who licensed the Silver Surfer from Marvel Comics for Surfing With the Alien could then thud almost every succeeding album cover with his alien mug.


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