Classic Rock Review

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Joe Satriani Surfing With The Alien (1987)


I had never heard of Joe Satriani until my band mates introduced him to me. They are big fans of his, and as guitarists themselves, it is obvious why they admire him. The first Satriani song I ever heard was “Surfing with the Alien,” but I liked it so much I decided that I had to get this album. The Legacy Edition of Surfing with the Alien includes a remastered audio CD of the original album and a DVD of the previously unreleased concert from the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 15, 1988, which also happens to be Joe Satriani’s birthday.

All I can say after listening to the CD and watching the DVD is that I’m amazed by what Satriani can do with his guitar. And this was 20 years ago. I’ve heard he’s better now than he was before, and if that’s true, I can only imagine how phenomenal he must be now. He does things with his guitar that I never thought were possible. Granted, I’m not very knowledgeable about guitars, but I’ve seen enough to know that he’s brilliant.

Listening to the CD, I fell in love with “Ice 9,” which was inspired by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s book Cat’s Cradle, “Circles,” which has a great melody and an interesting arrangement, “Midnight,” which has a very crisp sound and wonderful melody, and “Always With Me, Always With You”, which he says himself was the best melody he had written for this album, and I agree. “Always With Me, Always With You” is my favorite track in this album.

I didn’t fully appreciate his talent until I watched the DVD of the Montreux concert. It was absolutely mind-blowing, and I’m amazed at the great audio. It’s hard to believe this concert was recorded 20 years ago. I was so drawn in by his passion for the music, and it’s going to be hard to describe it without getting explicit. I’ve often heard people describe music or musicians with words like orgasmic and sensual, and I’d always thought that they were just exaggerating. I must have been missing out on a lot of passionate music before I heard Satriani!

Seriously though, watching him perform on stage was like watching him make love to his guitar. Sometimes he makes wild and sexy love to it, and it screams in pleasure, other times he caresses it gently and it murmurs back lovingly. It was truly an orgasmic experience, and none of the songs were more sensual than “Rubina.” I really can’t find a better word to describe the song than with that word.

Stuart Hamm, who plays the bass, amazed me too with his skill with a fretless bass guitar on this track. “Bass Solo” like its title says, is a bass solo by Hamm, and it showcases his amazing talent. He shows off different techniques of playing which include tapping as well. I have seen my band mates using this technique, but never to the level that Satriani does with “Midnight.” His two-handed tapping technique on “Midnight” is a sight to behold. The drummer, Jonathan Mover, was spectacular too, by the way. At the end of the track “Circles”, he has a drum solo which tired me out just to watch. The speed, coordination, and energy of his playing simply astounded me.

Watching Satriani perform on stage is an experience every guitar enthusiast should have. If you’re a fan of his, and even if you already have the original Surfing with the Alien album, you must get this remastered edition, if only for the DVD. It includes extra tracks like Hamm’s “Bass Solo,” “Memories,” “Rubina,” and “Hordes of Locusts.” They’re great and you shouldn’t miss out on them. The DVD also includes bonus features; an interview with Nigel Tufnel (the fictional lead guitarist in the movie This is Spinal Tap played by actor Christopher Guest), the “Satch Boogie” music video, and the “Always With Me, Always With You” music video.

While guitar isn’t my musical instrument of choice, watching and listening to Satriani made me appreciate the beauty and the potential of the instrument. I’m so glad my band mates introduced his music to me, and I will definitely be looking for his future works.

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Joe Satriani Surfing With The Alien | | Leave a comment

Joe Satriani Surfing With The Alien (1987)


I was 14 years old when Surfing With The Alien was released. For close to two years prior I had been doing my best to learn how to play the guitar — but I was not entirely unguided. My guitar teachers were all my LP heroes — Randy Rhoads, Ace Frehley, Frank Zappa, Jake E. Lee, Jeff Beck, Ted Nugent, and a 10-minute segment of audio from the movie Crossroads that I had extracted onto cassette tape via my brother-in-law’s Tascam 4-track and a set of RCA cables.

I’d record all of my favorite songs onto the 4-track, then turn down the tape speed by half and listen to them, doing my best to pick out what segments I could and attempt to mimic them on my $80 black Yamaha SE-110. Diary of a Madman, Blow by Blow, Alive II, The Wall, Masters of Reality — this was my curriculum.

Then Surfing With The Alien crash landed into my life like a UFO. Suddenly, my world as a budding guitarist was blown wide open. All of my preconceptions of what being a guitar player meant were changed in all of 38 minutes. I had a found a new teacher.

For someone as personally connected to this music as I am, it’s difficult to select stand-out tracks. But there’s a reason why I’m so taken by it all. Contained herein are ten dizzyingly diverse tracks of guitar virtuosity. From the otherworldly rock-n-roll jam of the eponymous opening track, to the spacious and brooding “Echo,” Surfing is a seriously amazing instrumental album!

I’ve been humming “Always With Me, Always With You” for twenty years, warming up my fingers by playing the Van Halen-esque “Satch Boogie,” and sharpening my flexibility attempting to recreate “Midnight.” But unlike when listening to other guitar virtuoso/shredfest instrumental albums, you don’t need to be a guitarist or even a musician to appreciate the timeless tunes on Surfing With The Alien.

The Legacy Edition is a two-disc set that features remastered audio, live concert footage, music videos, a forward and liner-notes written by Joe Satriani with individual track-by-track stories, where he tells stories like how a friends newborn child inspired “Echo,” and about one of his heroes Kurt Vonnegut, who inspired the blusey “Ice 9,” and more.

Disc two features an hour-long video performance by the trio of Satriani, bassist Stu Hamm, and drummer Jonathan Mover from the Montreux Jazz Festival, filmed shortly after the release of Surfing with the Alien. Highlights from the concert include loads of majestic fretwork by Satriani, extremely welcome close-ups of the mind-blowing, finger-tapping opus “Midnight,” and an amazing classically-infused bass solo from Hamm. The disc also contains an “interview” with Spinal Tap guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and the videos for both “Satch Boogie” and “Always With You, Always With Me.”

Take it from somebody who knows … I’ve had this album for 20 years and if you have too, don’t hesitate, pick up this reissue. And for all you aspiring young guitarists out there, this CD/DVD is a mandatory addition to your collection.

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Joe Satriani Surfing With The Alien | | Leave a comment

Joe Satriani Surfing With The Alien (1987)


In the years leading up to the release of Surfing With The Alien, Joe Satriani spent his time working a studio repairing Blue Oyster Cult guitar tracks in the studio in exchange for recording time of his own. The result of these sessions was a masterpiece of virtuosity, musical genius and overall proficiency in every sense of the word.

Surfing With The Alien is THE ESSENTIAL Joe Satriani album. Joe poured his soul into every track, and it shows. Surfing With The Alien raised the bar for musical prowess, and this is how:

Surfing With The Alien
The album aptly named after this song, this is a true masterpiece. Joe shreds like hell and pushes the instrument to do more. If this is the first track you hear on the CD, you won’t be disappointed. 10/10

Ice 9
WARNING: BAD PUN AHEAD! This song, like its name, is pretty cool. It’s interesting the way Joe mixed up clean and distorted fills to make this song a definite keeper. 9/10

Crushing Day
By the name, I think Joe means he’s going to crush our skull with his extremely rock-ified rhythm and lead skills. This song contains some of the coolest rhythm/lead correlations on the album. 10/10

Always With Me, Always With You
This was the song that got me into Satriani. Joe spares shredding (for the most part) for a calm background rhythm with an emotionally grasping lead part making this, by far, the most emotional song on the album. 10/10

Satch Boogie
Joe could boogie all night with this track. Aptly named, Joe knocks in with a fast, boogie-woogie riff then pulls one of the most drastic whammy bar tricks on the album. From there, Joe doesn’t turn back, soloing for a straight minute on what is one of the best examples of knowledgeable shredding one could have. After a bout of two-hand tapping, Joe knocks the main riff in our heads again, and then leaves us out to dry. 10/10

Hill of the Skull
The shortest track on the album, this is a slow-paced death march-style piece. There is no shredding, it’s a good change of pace but just not enough for me 7/10

If you want to talk about a change of pace from Satch Boogie, this is it. With what I think is the best rhythm on the album, Circles starts out very mellow and relaxing, then pounds our heads against the wall with Joe’s inhuman soloing ability. 10/10

Lords of Karma
This is the most eastern-style track of the album, another example of Joe’s musical prowess and his mastery of music in general, not just Western rock. It’ll make you feel like you’re in (insert stereotypical desert country here). 10/10

This song is just plain cool! Joe uses two-hand tapping throughout the entire song. All this song consists of is Joe’s guitar, various percussion and a barely noticeable bass rhythm. At first listen, though, one would think Joe had enlisted an entire army to record this song. 10/10

The bass rhythm takes an extreme precedence here. Again showing us that shredding is not necessary to prove virtuosity (though it sometimes helps), Joe does some excellent lead/rhythm correlation in this track. A worthy ending.

I have not a single complaint about Surfing With The Alien. Well, actually, I have one, and that is that this album proves Joe is better than me. With his unbelievable shredding ability, and his knowledge of his music, Surfing With The Alien has something for every level of player, and it shows us what can be done with six strings placed on a block of wood. Joe is a master of the instrument, and this is the proof. Overall, 5/5

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Joe Satriani Surfing With The Alien | | Leave a comment