You used to know what you were getting from a Joe Satriani album. High-speed guitar work, moody enigmatic sounds, soaring instrumentals, but What Happens Next? offers something a little different.
Working with only three musicians; Satriani on guitars and keyboards, bassist Glenn Hughes and on drums Red Hot Chilli Peppers' Chad Smith, the instrumentals contained here offer a more sombre mood. There are still moments of unbridled joy, such as, on 'Energy'or with the dirty funk on 'Headrush'. It's the same with the effortlessly funky bass rhythms or, with the part-techno, part-reggae, feel-good vibe of 'Looper'. Other songs such as, the title track, 'What Happens Next?' have a much more cautious feel to them. The guitar theme, when it emerges, is more hesitant, more soulful, as it is also the case on the Hendrix-like closing track, 'Forever and Ever', with its ballad chords and whammy bar main.
The rhythm section is particularly strong on the album, with sympathetic bass and drums adding to the keyboard and guitar work, which is Satriani’s calling card. Although he has always been one of the more melodic guitarists on the instrumental guitar scene, he has also been one of the more sonically adventurous and technically proficient ones as well. Employing all of his prodigious gifts to fine effect on this release.
The humour that also characterised much of his early work is on display on some of the pieces, such as 'Catbot', with its humourous sonic tale of a robot cat, all thick bass, and heavily treated guitar work. 'Thunder High on The Mountain' is all swirling keyboards, and deft two-handed tapping, with a screaming guitar solo and heavy funk chords. 'Cherry Blossoms' is a ballad with a techno drum part, whilst 'Righteous' is one of those upbeat rockers, with harmony guitar parts and piano that dove-tail together at the right time.
As a composer, Satriani has always been open-minded, putting ballads and stirring themes next to simpler songs that illustrate the joy that he finds in playing a highly amplified, heavily distorted guitar. His playing is still mind-bending, his tunes' still stirring, and this side of his character is shown to a particularly fine effect on this release.
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