Classic Rock Review

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Santana Moonflower (1977)


Actually more interesting than any other Seventies’ album Carlos ever put out since Lotus; tucked in between some of his less compelling pieces, it may easily become lost in the sea of filler, but I’d advise you try to grab it by the goatee and pull it up anyway. This is a double album, half-live, half-studio; the difference from the usual pattern is that the studio and the live stuff are interspersed with each other, which gives the album a rather confused feel but, on the other hand, works better in the ‘assimilating’ aspect.

I suppose, for instance, that dragging out all the studio stuff would only qualify this studio part as a small notch above Festival, but when it’s scattered around and meshed in with the live performances of ‘classics’, it gets a wee bit more intriguing, if not necessarily more melodic or anything.

The live half of this hardly holds a candle to the energy and vigour of Lotus, but at least it doesn’t wear you out like Lotus does. I’d say that the only serious misfire here are the live renditions of three Festival numbers in a row – since the record had just come out, these tracks are performed strictly by-the-book and aren’t all that different from the studio versions. Of course, they do the blistering ‘Jugando’ on there, but they also do the murky ‘Carnaval’, so let’s just shut up on that matter.

Instead, let’s concentrate on ‘Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen’ (great version with great singing) and a reworking of ‘Soul Sacrifice’, done in a slightly more hard-rockin’ and chaotic manner than before, so it’s inferior to the Woodstock version, but it still kicks, and Graham Lear does a great job in taking over Mike Shrieve’s drum solo duties, even if, alas, he’s no Mike Shrieve. Poor Mike Shrieve, where are you?

Throw in a faithful rendition of the ‘dance-prog tune’ ‘Dance Sister Dance’ and a stunning ‘Toussaint L’Ouverture’, and the live performance is as worthy as possible. Oh well, we can’t always get that spark of genius that happened to visit the band during the Lotus performances, but shouldn’t a good word be put in for pure, unhindered professionalism? Good lads. The studio stuff, then, is not tremendously interesting – but at least it’s not such an obvious exercise at selling out as on the previous two albums.

The tracks are relatively diverse, and there’s not even a single generic Latin dance number, although there are a few generic Latin ’emotional’ instrumental ballads like ‘Flor D’Luna’. Can you spell ‘Latin elevator music’? This one’s close, mid-tempo elevator music as opposed to the slow-tempo elevator music of the intro to ‘Europa’ (off Amigos, also unfortunately present in a live version on here).

On the other hand, you get a thoroughly unexpected, excellent cover of the Zombies’ ‘She’s Not There’, done tightly, with verve and even featuring Carlos having a little bit of Hendrix-ey guitar fun near the end, unappropriate as it might seem in a Zombies’ cover. But hey! It’s my cover and I’m covering it any way it’s gonna be covered! Plus, ‘Zulu’ is rather gritty and even spooky in places, and ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ is a decent fusion exercise that mostly gets me yawning but I’m just not a fusion kind of guy, you know? I can respect this stuff but it hardly moves me. I’d better stick to mad guitar passages in ‘El Morocco’… oh shit, it also seems to be a fusion piece.

Santana almost sounds like Jeff Beck on there. Or was it Jeff Beck who… nah, wait, all those Beck albums came first, actually. Ah well. I dig fusion as long as it kicks some serious ass, i.e. displays some stunning guitar solos, and this one sure does. Is it just me or does Carlos really let loose on some tracks on here, toying with a bit more distortion and fuzz than he used to before? He sure gets some dirty tones on here – he always used to play clean. But maybe it’s just my superstition, and anyway, he’s not Mr Tony Iommi to really play all those ‘dirty’ notes. He’s Mr Clean-Cut Carlos Santana.

My biggest question about the album, though, concerns the lyrics of ‘Transcendence’: ‘Hello I’m back again/To share with you/My heart and soul/Are you surprised? I said I would/So here I am’. Yeah, sounds like a love song, but isn’t this some kind of a message? “You thought I sold out, well I did, but now I sold in”. The song is very good, by the way, deceivingly starting out as yet another adult contemporary piece of pap, but then cleaning itself up with a beautiful solo and speeding up later… with a second beautiful solo. Hmph. Oh yeah.

Moonflower is tremendously inconsistent, but it’s rather good than bad, and although I’d never agree with Wilson & Alroy that this might be the only Santana you’ll ever need (simply because if you’re gonna buy one Santana album, it should necessarily be an album featuring the classic Santana, not the ‘New Santana Band’), it’s still a worthy and serious effort. Definitely worth buying as a super-expensive Japanese gold edition import with 25-th anniversary special rare bonus track attached for extra price. Classic.

Sure beats out late period Beach Boys, if I might make a particularly painful and completely unnecessary reference.

March 18, 2013 - Posted by | Santana Moonflower |

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