Joe Satriani: "What Happens Next"

February 2018

Legacy 19075802312
Format: CD

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

All hail the riff. From the elemental, slow-motion growl of Link Wray’s “Rumble” through Keith Richards’s just-woke-from-my-coma fuzzy progression of “Satisfaction” onward, guitar-based rock has lived or died on memorable note choices. As advanced as amplification, electronic effects, and recording technology have become, it still comes down to how you make that joyful noise on your six strings.

No one knows that better than Joe Satriani, the 61-year-old instrumental virtuoso who has passed his knowledge on to many other top guitarists and influenced two generations of wannabes. Despite his wealth of technique, the power of his music still rests in the degree to which he can make you shake your shoulders or hum along, and nowhere is that more evident than on this set of power-trio rockers. Eschewing the sci-fi and alter-ego conceits of his recent work, What Happens Next is straight-up rock, with the guitarist soaring over the top of his Chickenfoot bandmate Chad Smith and bassist Glenn Hughes.

What Happens Next

As Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, and only a handful of others have demonstrated, fronting a power trio demands guitar chops that go well beyond being a compelling soloist. Stitching those solos together is even more important, unless your aim is to sound like some of rock’s clunkier trios -- Grand Funk Railroad and Mountain come to mind.

The album opener, the aptly named “Energy,” is a case in point; Satriani charges out with a repetitive nine-note pattern over Smith’s slamming beat and syncopated bass. Twenty seconds in, a downward gliss introduces a transitionary rhythm pattern, which quickly shifts into the principal theme, a trebly line that Satriani plays in a few different octaves. Just after the one-minute mark, he moves into his solo, which is a series of trademark breaks -- essentially a textbook illustration of his advanced techniques. If you’re a guitarist, after 90 seconds of this opening salvo you’re either ready for the woodshed or you’re headed to eBay to post an ad for your cherished Ibanez JS.

While guitarists will likely take inspiration from what Satriani does on What Happens Next, his ubiquity as one of the most influential players since Hendrix is because a lot of what he plays here sounds almost like a meme because it’s so familiar to the ear. Is he being ironic with the dramatic harmonics on “Thunder High on the Mountain,” or just reminding everyone that he taught guys like Eddie Van Halen the way? Is that a nod to riff pioneer Steve Miller on “Righteous” and a poke at everyone who’s copped a Satriani move on “Catbot”? There is barely a contemporary guitar tone or technical cliché that is not included here. You want a catchy wah-wah chorus? Got it. A fuzz-drenched solo? Check. Some mind-bending shredding? Of course.

What Happens Next

Not to say that, taken together, all these rock-guitar masterclass demonstrations don’t add up to a lot of fun. They do, and when Satriani takes things down a notch for the loping rhythm and sing-song melody of “Looper” or the liquid balladic introduction of “Smooth Soul,” you can’t wait for him to kick it back up into high gear.

This is a slick ride through Riffville, with Satriani’s panoply of sonic signatures out front. The sound isn’t particularly expansive, but it does effectively capture the leading man.

. . . James Hale

More SoundStage! Videos

  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)