REVIEW: JOE SATRIANI – “The Elephants From Mars”
In the last 5 years or so I have been really listening to some Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and also some more instrumental bands like Scale the Summit and Syg:Ar: Tyr. I wanted to go beyond my boundaries as a music fan and concentrate on the music itself, and for once not think about the singer. I had a fixation that if the singer was awful, I could not concentrate accurately on the music, so I had to shake off that bad habit. That’s where I finally found the beauty in instrumental music but especially for all the back catalogue of the legendary Joe Satriani.
Well, it’s 2022 and he is releasing his new album called The Elephants from Mars. This is his 18th(!) studio album in almost 40 years of his career. This is rather mindboggling, and he has been extremely productive and active compared to many of his compatriots in the genre. He is still relevant and has some pretty cool tricks in the sleeve that’s for sure.
I was exposed to instrumental music pretty early on in life, especially New Age Music but as a young man back then, it was not my cup of tea. I always felt it was a one-dimensional thing and something that create boredom in the worst way. I always wanted the whole package, every instrument, some substance in everything I listened to.
I would say that back in the mid to late nineties, my brother started listening to a whole lot of guitar masters like Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Joe Satriani. I was definitely intrigued but never really put the time and effort into listening to them. It took me a few decades later to truly appreciate the art of guitar work and how emotionally driven it can be. I was probably not mentally prepared for that type of music and I had to mature as a music fan. Sometimes you have to be honest with yourself…
You do not need to play 1000 notes per second to show off your talent, you have talent on one side and eccentricity on the other side. You have to have some real balance between both aspects of guitar playing yet you have to deliver some real emotion while playing. I am a fan of Malmsteen and Michael Angelo Batio but I always thought it was all smoke and mirrors. Hey, look how fast I am playing and how I can be such a show-off, the spotlight has to be on them. It’s always something that really got on my nerves progressively throughout the years but listening to Joe Satriani is a whole new story on its own.
I think working with Ayreon mastermind Arjen Antony Lucassen back in 2020 instigated some really cool concepts and he consistently learns from his different projects of the last few decades. He picks the brain of every artist he collaborates with and comes out of it an even more accomplished guitarist. I really can see him being a magnet for information and listening to so many artists from around the world. He is an overly creative person and is able to channel this while recording his music.
This Elephants of Mars is his most complete album since The Extremist, which is no small task obviously. He does go in various directions, yet it makes for a consistent album and the flow is quite smooth and seamless. I was quite happy to see him go into a more ethnic and exotic brand of music for his first single, Sahara. It reminded me a bit of a few songs from the last Derek Sherinian solo album. You felt transported into the mystic faraway lands. The music video is a sight to see and is directed by Joe’s son ZZ Satriani. It’s pretty trippy and it controls the narrative of the concept of the song itself.
He goes back to his early 2000’s roots of Crystal Planet on the song Sailing the Seas of Ganymede. It has some electronic music elements and has this science-fiction feeling about it. It reminded me of a lot of songs from Star One’s Victims of the Modern Age. The keyboards are inspired by that and made me recall this incredibly solid album. The past is not an unwelcome visitor at all, and he does take it all in and uses some of those elements to carve the landscape of some of these songs off this new opus.
I was also pleasantly surprised by two songs, that showed the more under-the-radar talent Joe can show off at any time.
On 104th St NYC 1973, he truly shows respect to the ultimate blues master that is Miles Davis. This is an all-out homage to him and shows his more Blues-Rock side and he nails it out of the park. This is the most enjoyable track I listened to on this album and made me recall how much Miles Davis has had an influence on decades of musicians. Like the title of the song, it really transports you back to the Blues era of the early 70s, a smoke-filled speakeasy, and everything.
He shows off his funky side on Blue Foot Groovy, he channels his inner Niles Rodgers and it really had those ’70s vibes. It’s the most surprising track off this new album and he goes where he wants to go on this album. He shows off his stuff in the most unique ways and he is no one-trick pony. Any long-time fan will be thrilled with ‘The Elephant from Mars’ and even newer fans will find something great to listen to. It’s the best of both worlds and truly one of the very best albums of 2022. Don’t sleep on this release and Joe Satriani is not showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon!