Guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani is back with his latest instrumental masterpiece, What Happens Next, ably supported by the talents of bassist Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Country Communion) and drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Chickenfoot). This all-star cast unsurprisingly put together a killer rock ‘n’ roll album, with elements of Metal, jazz and funk just to keep things interesting.
The album kicks off with the heavy rock ‘n’ roll attitude of ‘Energy’ – fiery, Summery, and just plain hot! Satriani quickly weighs in with his melodic lead, while Hughes keeps the track pumping with his inventive bass. It’s excellent to hear Hughes presence throughout the album, because as he points out, this is the first album he’s appeared on without singing throughout his entire illustrious career. Satriani, meanwhile, is fast but not overdone, giving the virtuosic performance he’s known for while at the same time staying true to rock ‘n’ roll simplicity. The track becomes more grandiose however as it fills out with synth, and ramps up to a powerful crescendo.
The groovy and bass-laden ‘Catbot’ is a significant change of gears, with loads of synth. In fact, it’s almost a club track. The melody would lend itself easily to vocals, though there are none on this track or anywhere on the album. Satriani’s presence is less pronounced with the understated guitar parts, but his technical proficiency does remain on display. The bridge is particular is typical Satriani, grand and emotive, but bigger than much of his earlier work in a similar way to the more recent Unstoppable Momentum.
‘Thunder High on the Mountain’ begins with Smith’s pounding drum intro, while Satriani’s guitar work is reminiscent of Muse’s Matt Bellamy. Hughes supports a move into a heavier riffing space that is more Metal, almost bringing Metallica to mind before the track steps down into the more subdued, transcendental, emotive mood of Satriani. There’s perhaps a little influence from Satriani’s former protégé Steve Vai, and maybe a little Jimi Hendrix towards the end, too.
‘Cherry Blossoms’ starts with a cool beat, but a much slower entrance from Satriani. Where ‘Energy’ was fiery, this track feels almost tropical in its soothing tones. Interestingly, there’s still a touch of Muse about it. The piano is a nice touch when it comes in, but overall slows the track down a bit too much. When the track kicks back in, there’s a lot more energy, and Hughes stands out just as much as Satriani as the two weave the soundscape together, though Satriani of course leads the experience.
‘Righteous’ continues in the soothing mode, and is in fact a little romantic, certainly hopeful, even joyous in an understated way. Satriani’s lead is Metal in an unusual way once the track gets moving, leaning more to Prog than anything. Overall, it’s powerful, but in a light-hearted way.
Things slow right down with the funky ‘Smooth Soul,’ which does exactly what it says on the label. This jazzy track may remind the listener of Mark Knopfler’s early post-Dire Straits solo work, though Satriani’s guitar tone is very different. While it is unique, this is also probably the weakest track on the album.
‘Headrush’ kicks the energy back up in a way that recalls both Satriani’s and Hughes’ days in Deep Purple. It’s edgy and very rock ‘n’ roll, with terrific bass groove and fast guitar, while the more understated moments lean back into celestial Prog territory. Smith’s drumming really stands out in this track as fast and inventive, right alongside Satriani’s performance. Overall, this track really highlights how Satriani, Hughes and Smith come together as a solid creative unit. There are some great moments of building tension to keep the energy high, at the same time giving space for real bass prominence courtesy of Hughes.
‘Looper’ takes it down again into a very relaxed track. Satriani is back at the forefront with his chilled grooves that eventually get funky and a little distorted, taking the listener on a wild and mildly psychedelic ride.
Satriani takes the lead again slowly in the low, bass and piano-driven ‘What Happens Next.’ This moody track has a lot of time to breathe, but his melodies become very moving as they increase in prominence. ‘What Happens Next’ grows into another hopeful and joyous track, opening out beautifully.
‘Super Funky Badass’ is a chunky, crunchy rock ‘n’ roll journey with a slow bass groove. The track becomes more melodic as the listener rides the waves of Satriani’s guitar before the funky groove comes back. The longest track on the album at over seven minutes, it takes all the time it needs to make its rock ‘n’ roll statement. Throughout the track, there are some hints of a little influence from another of Satriani’s G3 alumni, Dream Theater’s John Petrucci. The track develops a moody edge when the piano takes up the melody, then the rock kicks back in more powerfully than before, resolving a pattern that seems to recur throughout the album. Finally, it resolves into a big, bold expression of the track’s themes.
Though Satriani plays fast in ‘Invisible,’ the track maintains a laid-back feel, once again nodding to Muse. Hughes contributes some very funky bass in the moments he takes control of the track.
The album rounds out with the quiet, laid-back and whimsical ‘Forever and Ever,’ which once again seems reminiscent of Muse, not least because it feels like it could easily have been built up with electronic elements in a similar manner to ‘Catbot.’
Overall, Satriani’s latest album is highly enjoyable, leaving the listener with a light-hearted serenity, and at the same time a positive outlook and energy – no doubt exactly what the trio were going for!