I started to see some talk of Joe Satriani’s new album Unstoppable Momentum begin to show up recently describing it as his best work in years and tracing similarities back to some of his early work. I can tell you that the production on this album reminds me of The Extremist, a very hi-fi and open recording that sounds like a band playing live rather than a studio style recording where each part is tracked separately like for instance Professor Satchafunkilus and the musterion of rock. Obviously the records still has the usual Satriani layered instrumentals, I’m talking more about the feel and the way that the band seem to react with each other. In particular there is much more space left for Keyboards this time around, Joe obviously feels a strong connection with Mike Keneally and the way that they play off each other. Joe has stuck with the forumla that worked so well for his previous album Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards and recorded the album at Skywalker Sound in San Francisco with a great band of musicians including Vinnie Colauita (Sting, Jeff Beck) on drums, Chris Chaney (Janes Addiction) on bass and on keyboards, Mike Keneally (Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, Dethklok).
Unstoppable Momentum includes eleven tracks which are pretty varied in styles which is no surprise to Satriani fans. Below is the first single from the album A Door Into Summer, a classic Satriani straight ahead rock track reminiscent of The Extremist album track Summer Song but this is probably the most commercial Satch track on the album hence the release as a single.
A Door Into Summer
The opening track and also the title track is what I was hoping to hear, a 5/4 time signature, harmonised melodies and a heavy middle section that allows Joe to really go crazy in the solo. The second track Can’t Go Back, while a more uptempo track than the opener is a bit softer and the melodies more reflective sounding and then Lies and Truths totally changes pace once again and begins with Drum & Bass style rhythms from drummer Vinnie Colauita. Joe’s rhythm guitar parts in the intro play off against each other almost like having a short delay, but actually playing different rhythmic riffs similar to what Steve Vai did in the intro to David Lee Roth’s Hina back in 1988. This track definitely reminds me of Satch’s older work, a hint of Not Of This Earth but with his evolved style.
Ok now for a track I don’t like so much, the fourth track Three Sheets To The Wind. The intro has a single melody part over Piano and is just a bit too Beatles sounding for me, and I don’t like The Beatles (yes I realise I’m in the minority here!). This motif becomes the main chorus style theme throughout. In between this figure are some great parts such as the solo which leads into quite a dark sounding section but then it goes back into the intro motif now with fake sounding keyboard Brass band. I don’t normally dislike anything Satriani does but this track just doesn’t sit so well with me.
Following ‘Three Sheets…’ is I’ll Put A Stone On Your Cairn a short instrumental just featuring guitar and synth, think The Bells of Lal (Part One). It’s nice to hear an interlude track like this again on Joe’s albums.
Shine On American Dreamer is another stomping rock track with a bass and drum track almost identical to Flying In A Blue Dream although this is much fatter and heavier. The main chorus melody has a second guitar tracked an Octave above for that classic Satch sound.
Jumpin’ In is a very cool track with a Satch Boogie kind of vibe to it to begin with but changes direction throughout always keeping the same funk style and Joe uses the Whammy pedal for his signature alien sounding solo passages. Towards the end is where things start to get a bit unusual, the underlying harmony is such that it allows Joe to take his solo into some pretty dissonant areas. The solo goes quite “outside” which we are definiely not used to hearing Satch do but definitely pushing the experimental side which is ultimately what I was hoping for.
This track is followed by a track called Jumpin’ Out which uses a similar (if not the same) rhythmic pattern as the boogie style intro from Jumpin’ In but with a totally different melodic riff, this is actually an even funkier track with the hammond organ backing Joe up throughout. It has more of a spacious feel to it like there is less layering and that gives it a very live performance feel. At this stage after 10 or so listens to the album this is actually my favourite track and I hope Joe plays this one on tour.
The Weight Of The World is the penultimate track and is very Synth based to begin with, quite retro 80’s TV theme tune sounding but with epic sections that are almost Classical in style. Slap bang in the middle of the song the track breaks into a Wah drenched Whammy solo with a pounding rhythm section and all of a sudden you could be listening to The Extremist… left me wanting more of the middle section and less of the synthy parts.
The closing track on Unstoppable Momentum is called A Celebration and has the same drum beat that Joe used in Ceremony from Crystal Planet that kind of fast shuffle rhythm although A Celebration is a little faster and the bass line moves around more. The track is pretty short at 2:47 but pretty uplifting which I guess is a good way to close the album.
I have bought almost every album Joe Satriani has ever released, yes I’m a bit of a fan boy and have been since I picked up the guitar back in 1988 so I’m trying to be as objective about this review as possible. In answer to the question is this his best work in years, I would say it is as good as other albums he has released in recent years but I actually preferred Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards overall as an album as I felt it had stronger and more memorable tracks. This album definitely gets better with each listen and grows on you but it didn’t have the same blown away factor that I had with Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards where I love every track from start to finish.
Check out this video of Joe Satriani talking about the creation of the album:
Want to learn how to play the intro riff for Jumpin’ In? Here is my free lesson: