Joe Satriani is a household name among guitarists. He taught big names like Steve Vai, Kirk Hammett, and Andy Timmons, toured with Mick Jagger, Deep Purple, created the G3 tour, and is currently playing in the band Chickenfoot with Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, and Chad Smith.
On top of all of that, Satriani’s mark has been left by his impressive and varied solo career, into which he has just entered his newest album, What Happens Next. Satriani is described by his fellow guitarists as focus on soundscapes, rock/blues boogie, and melodic composition, and these elements shine on the newest album.
Kicking things off is “Energy,” a throwback to the glory days of rock ‘n’ roll. Big chords and riffs, a fat hook, and varied leads help start this album off in a strong way. The amount of time put into production is very apparent, and listeners would do well to listen to this album through some good speakers or headphones.
There is a certain width of sound that I’ve always loved about Satriani tracks. Every instrument has its own space, but still fits in the mix. While this is incredible from a listener’s perspective, it also really helps when trying to learn the techniques used in the songs. “Catbot” is on the stranger side, employing a heavy groove underneath an over-saturated fuzzy lead tone which lends to a robotic feel to the track. Then the chorus kicks in for a nice dose of classic sustain before transitioning to an interlude/solo that will blow you away.
“Thunder High on the Mountain” starts off with a cool open-string hammer-on riff that has a cinematic build, compliments of some strategically placed strings, before diving into a head-banging 80’s metal verse. This is all proof of Satriani’s incredible compositional ability. “Cherry Blossoms” and “Smooth Soul” show off the softer side of guitar, with jangly arpeggiated backing guitars and lead tones that sit just in the middle of clean and distorted. Satriani has a signature guitar and distortion pedal, so it would be interesting to see if he was able to achieve these varied lead tones with that gear.
“Righteous” has an excellent harmonized middle solo as well, keeping the middle of the album solid. “Headrush” finds the pocket to deliver a three and a half minute hi-speed boogie-fest as only a few guitarists can deliver, and also gets my vote for coolest riff on the album.
“Looper” and “What Happens Next” are laid back jams that are rife with the signature Satriani verse/chorus themed leads. There are a lot of virtuoso guitarists, but not many can deliver the type of emotional guitar playing that Satriani can lay down seemingly at will. His ability to make a guitar “sing” the notes lends a lot of appeal to a genre that normally finds a niche market.
“Invisible” features some awesome tremolo picking and lead work, and what sounds like the same or similar drum beat as “Unstoppable Momentum” from the 2013 album of the same name (Though I can’t complain because that drum beat is cool as hell), before finishing off with the fresh “Forever and Ever” which feels like a distinct track from the rest of the album, while still being a killer song.
For a guitar player and gear nerd, I sometimes have a tendency to come down hard on guitar albums or nit-pick them to death, but What Happens Next is an amazing album that showcases why Joe Satriani is not only one of the best guitarists of all time, but also has taught some of the best. His style and ability to compose produce a melodic, rock inspired instrumental effort that never feels overworked or busy. Every note, every sound, every layer has its place.