JOE SATRIANI - "ENGINES OF CREATION" (EPIC)
"Whoa, Joe, what have you done now?!"
Had Joe been in my room with me while I listened to the first notes on "Engines of Creation", that is what I would have said. Whereas his previous effort, "Crystal Planet", harkened back to his guitar hero days without becoming boring, his latest is once more quite an experiment. This time he has worked together with one Eric Caudieux to form a rather industrial-influenced album.
Joe has been and always will be an innovative guitar player with impeccable chops, but "Engines of Creation" will require some flexibility from the side of the fans. It is difficult to believe that the same guitars from which he can coax "Rubine Blue Sky Happiness" and "Always With Me, Always With You" now regularly sounds very harsh and cold, with a lot of distortion going on. On top of that, there's only one song that has a 'live' drummer ("Until We Say Goodbye"); the rest uses drum computers, which also tends to sound unemotional.
Perhaps that's the whole idea that also reflects from the artwork: Joe and his Ibanez axes are but machines of creation. This automatically excludes words like 'sensitive', 'soothing' or 'beautiful' to apply to any of the tracks on the album. It's my guess that he will lose some of the fans who were more into him for the sensitive tracks.
"Engines of Creation" seems to be a more aggressive, angry album. There is some awesome guitar work going on, but the drums and keyboards often lead to an almost industrial-house kind of vibe (listen to "Flavor Crystal", for example). Some other tracks have this driving beat, too, but somehow it works better - "Borg Sex" and "Attack", for example, which are really cool tracks in fact, despite the harshness of the overdrive and the relative lack of any human emotion through use of electronics across the entire spectrum of sound. Still, Satriani's amazing guitar work gets plenty of space to show through, for example in the opener, "Devil's Slide", where he performs a pretty wild duet with himself, alternating between distorted and cleaner-sounding guitar. On "Clouds Race Across the Sky", a ballad-type track, there's some blinding guitar work to enjoy as well.
So, after the album closes off with the very nice title track (reminiscent of some of the things we know from "Flying in a Blue Dream"), it leaves you flummoxed. Or, at least, it did me. I am not a fan of the coarse coldness of industrial music, but I have to admit that Satriani in general uses it to very good effect. Some sections will never be my favourite Joe moments, but on a whole this is quite an excellent album for those open to diverse influences.
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Written March 2000
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