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If you want to hear a master of the electric guitar pushing the instrument to its glorious and melodious maximum, then this is definitely an album to buy. Satriani is a virtuoso in every meaning of the word as, true to the title, strange and beautiful music flows effortlessly form his guitar.
This CD should be played on the best speakers you can get your hands on because every track has a rich tone, full arrangement and interlacing melodies that deserve a sonic super system. That says something of the skill of Satriani and the session musicians he employs, the equipment they use, and the expert production. Although there is never more than about five instruments being played during the tunes, at times, the music feels almost orchestral, such is the detail and intricacy.
Inevitably, some songs are better than others; some of the tracks feel less complete than others and I would view them as concepts that have not quite made the finished article. That said, there is very little filler on this album.
Every track on the album is instrumental: a good idea due to Satriani's weak voice. Also lyrics sometimes spoil your interpretation of a piece of music and are usually wholly unoriginal, with just a few exceptions.
1. Oriental Melody.
A slow burner. On first impressions it doesn't seem very memorable but it will probably grow on you as it did me. As the title suggests, there is an eastern feel throughout, with the verses having an underpinning drone provided by the bass and synths. One of the slower tracks.
2. Belly Dancer.
A more upbeat track than the previous, making use of a wah-wah lead guitar sound. Beautiful harmonising in the interlude, which is reminiscent of Thin Lizzy. Similar to the previous track in that it too has an eastern feel to it, thanks to the pentatonic scales and sitar.
3. Starry Night.
Back to a western style now with both the chord progressions and the accompaniment: acoustic guitars and banjos. A very laid back affair and possibly one of the more unoriginal on the album, critics may even go as far as describing it as cheesy. Nevertheless, a pleasant, easy-on-the-ear track.
4.Chords of Life.
One of the standout songs on the album. Likeable the first time you hear it. Beginning with a Bach-esque harp and guitar introduction, it progresses to a series of beautiful chord progressions as the drums kick in. Then a killer guitar solo, and a return to the star to follow the same format. Very good.
5. Mind Storm.
We start to reach the heavier stuff on the album now. This song is very listenable and has a good melody despite it being heavy metal. It has a very interesting conceptual interlude which makes use of many guitar techniques such as slides, percussive effects and a very impressive sweep picking section.
6. Sleep Walk.
Simply the most beautiful song on the album. A remarkably sweet cover of the original Johnny and Santo verson. The tune is a very peaceful slide guitar ditty that I could picture perfectly as the "slow one" that everyone dances to with their date at the high school prom. I'd be surprised if you hear a more delightful tune all month.
7. New Last Jam.
A much darker track that makes use of an irregular 5/4 time signature in some parts which works well to convey the uneasiness of the song. It then progresses into a more upbeat '80s rock section which reminded me of the theme tunes to those retro action programs.
8. Mountain Song.
This begins with a climbing broken chord accompaniment and a clean, simple lead. The middle section has a busy solo with few notes not played.
9. What Breaks a Heart.
Another lovely tune with slightly unpredictable but still gorgeous chord progressions. The wah-wah on the lead works well as do the harmonies. The interlude sounds a bit like ska as the accompaniment comes in on the off-beat. A pedaltone and a beautiful neoclassical solo follow, one of the nicest on the album.
10. Seven String.
This track rocks! Joe dons his seven string guitar and blasts out the meanest track on the album. Pinched harmonics, string bends and killer riffs are rife. The chords feel so right, you will love it the first time you hear it. Play this one loud!
11. Hill Groove.
A happy kind of track with a memorable tune and a funky little beat. However it does slightly remind me of one of those naff polyphonic ring tones that came with your knew nokia! Ok, but not one of my favourites.
12. The Journey.
This kicks off with a really heavy intro and then goes into a soft verse which provides a nice variation. It's a shame that the rest of the track doesn't quite live up to the start.
13. The Traveller.
Although it takes a while to get going, good things come to those who wait, and this track is lovely. It's one that grew on me and when I listen to it now, I can hear shades of the Foo Fighters, particularly "Learn to Fly".
14.You Saved my Life.
I don't know why, but every time I listen to this song it just seems so cheesy. Sure, it's easy to listen to but the chord progressions are unoriginal and predictable. The other tracks more than make up for this one, though.
So there you have it. The album was quite expensive when I bought it, £15.99. It will surely be cheaper than that now (a quick check on amazon - £6.98), so I really urge you to buy it. Check him out on YouTube to sample his delights, I'm sure you'll be impressed.
To guitarists world-wide, the name Joe Satriani is synonymous with words like technique, speed, melody and "how-the-hell-did-he-do-that?!". A gifted guitarist and musician, Joe Satriani has been releasing he unique style of rock/metal for over two decades.
'Strange Beautiful Music' was released in 2002 and, like most of Satriani's studio releases is an instrumental album and as such finds Joe playing various styles and types of guitar, from his normal electric and acoustic guitars with a rock theme, to a reggae-esque style with many different things in between. Thrown into the mix are banjos, keyboards and what been credited as a 'Frippitronic' guitar, (played by Robert Fripp of King Crimson himself no less). Quite what a Frippitronic guitar is I'm not entirely sure, but Fripp's appearance on the album is impressive, even if it is for only one track. The album also features a harp played by Pia Vai, (who from what I've been able to deduce on the internet is Steve Vai's wife). Joe and Steve's lives have been intertwined for years and I always enjoy these little cross overs that they have from time to time.
Produced by Joe along with John Cuniberti and Eric Caudiex we find him and his backing musicians, (Matt Bissonette on bass, Jeff Campitelli on drums, Eric Caudiex handling keyboards and "computer stuff" [sic], and John Cuniberti dealing with percussion) on excellent form. The band performs the tracks to a high standard, effortlessly playing at both fast and slow tempos and complimenting each other with the way in which they play the songs - both the playing and the production on 'Strange Beautiful Music' are excellent. Joe almost always uses overdubs on his albums, but this doesn't sound too clinical, instead more as if it's grown naturally than it's had to be produced. Rock music, in particular instrumental rock, always runs the risk of being over produced and sounding as if its been done by some sort of machine, but no such issue arises here and it's pleasant to listen to the music itself, rather than to the recording.
All the songs are new recordings and, with only one exception, have been written by Joe for this album. I particularly like the fact that Joe's guitar sound changes from track to track, keeping the album interesting, but whilst still retaining Joe's distinctive tone and without destroying the sense of continuity created by the songs.
The one track not written by Joe is a cover of 'Sleep Walk'. I couldn't tell who the original artist were, but I do recognise the tune and I quite liked Satriani's laid back approach to the song.
Like many of Joe's album, this is something you tend to have to focus your attention on. Personally, I wouldn't have this album as background music as I find too much of my concentration drawn in by it.
The album sleeve is stylish yet simple, featuring a black background with the title in white, and underneath a photo of Joe himself. For any fan searching through a record store, the image is instantly recognisable; I managed to spot this one from a bit of a distance as it's very clearly Joe Satriani on the front.
The sleeve opens out to reveal some photographs taken during the recording and it certainly looks as if everyone involved had great fun recording the album. Looking at these photo's it seems that the guys get on really well and this has probably had a beneficial effect on how the album has come out.
The sleeve also contains the usual 'Special Thanks To' and technical information about the songs and the recording.
One criticism I have of the album is that not all the songs are as captivating as others. Some of Joe's solos do sound a little like I've heard them before on other albums. However, these are few and far between and don't really detract from the album as a whole, which I find very entertaining and enjoyable to listen to.
I've seen this available for about £12 or so on Amazon. For fourteen tracks that are enjoyable and of a high standard, I think this is value for money, though I wouldn't want to pay much more than that. As this is a full studio album, you're unlikely to find it for much cheaper, but I'd still shop around to if you could.
I'm surprised 'Strange Beautiful Music' has received relatively little critical acclaim, as it is an entertaining album. Far from Satriani's best work, but certainly one of his best in recent years, I would genuinely be surprised if fans of Joe's didn't enjoy it. If you're not a fan of Joe, but are curious about him, whilst I would recommend this album, I would say there are more important albums to buy before this one, such as 'Surfing With The Alien' or 'Flying In A Blue Dream'. A worthy, if not quite an essential, album to have in your collection if you're a fan of instrumental rock.
Strange Beautiful Music sees Joe Satriani retreading familiar axe-chopping territory in a slightly contrived attempt to reconcile himself with fans alienated by the techno-inflected Engines Of Creation. They will be pleased to know that Strange Beautiful Music is much more stylistically straightforward than Engines, and its sound far less uncompromisingly hard-edged. Consequently, however, it is also less brilliant than that record, primarily because Strange Beautiful Music is androgynous in its quest to please. The fourteen new recordings it proffers are played with too much energy to be written off as insipid, but make no mistake: this is Satriani going through the motions, and, aside from some token uprated guitar sonics, there’s nothing new here. Admittedly, the low points are bland rather than rubbish, but it is an abundance of OK material that stifles the best songs – ‘Oriental Melody’ has a suitably Eastern vibe, ‘Mind Storm’ is a thumping rocker that’s likely to become a staple of Satriani’s stage performances and the sweet single, ‘Starry Night’, hits the mark. Elsewhere, Strange Beautiful Music has its moments but it fails to deliver them as consistently as Crystal Planet. For the first time in his remarkable career, Satriani seems blighted by a lack of focus – despite covering all the requisite bases, the album doesn’t offer a unifying sound, while occasionally aimless solos and a fine but pointless cover of ‘Sleep Walk’ smack of pure indulgence. Fans will lap this up and be left wanting for more, but those excited by musical innovation will be left in despair. It seems the God of Guitar has become as much a slave to, as master of, his art.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Oriental Melody
2 Belly Dancer
3 Starry Night
4 Chords Of Life
5 Mind Storm
6 Sleep Walk
7 New Last Jam
8 Mountain Song
9 What Breaks A Heart
10 Seven String
11 Hill Groove
12 The Journey
13 The Traveler
14 You Saved My Life