Classic Rock Review

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Santana Lotus (1974)


A great record, but geez… maaan… is it overkill. To tell you the truth, as of the time of writing, I have only tolerated one and a half listens, and yeah yeah, I know it’s not fair, but I’m still giving the record a high rating, so I have an excuse. Sorry. My ears are bleeding, and I don’t wanna bleed all over the keyboard.

Getting serious: this is a triple live album recorded in Japan (and maybe somewhere else) in 1973. Since then, it’s been for a long time available exclusively as a Japanese import and long considered a special “fan prize”, until recently it was finally released as a double CD, which currently makes up for about two hours worth of live Santana in their prime.

All of the performances are top notch, All of them. Perhaps the only glaring omission is ‘Soul Sacrifice’, the absence of which I lament very much, plus, I’d eagerly enjoy some of the quieter, relaxative numbers off Caravanserai, but these were probably not deemed fit for an energetic band performance. On the other hand, even the more ‘generic’ Latin numbers off the band’s earlier records (like ‘Oye Como Va’ and suchlike) really come to life, with added packs of energy and extended wailing guitar solos by Carlos.

In general, Lotus seems to feature Carlos more prominently than the rest of the band – the rest of the members are in fine form, but seem to agree to merely serve as background for Carlos. A few keyboard solos and a few vocal sections (not too many) are the only thing to distract us from Carlos’ guitar. Oh yeah, Mike Shrieve gets an obligatory percussion solo on the lengthy ‘Kyoto’, but it’s really tedious compared to his blistering workout on ‘Soul Sacrifice’.

But see, that’s the problem. No, really, Carlos is excellent, he is God and rules supreme. What can be said? The climactic arpeggios of ‘Toussaint L’Ouverture’ are passing through my head right now, and this is some of the best soloing ever captured on record. Amazing, breathtaking, emotional, spiritual… and it rocks. But see, here’s the big problem. All the songs on here sound the same: even the earlier ones, where Carlos’ guitar was somewhat subdued on the studio originals, are given the finger-flashing arpeggiated treatment (remember my complaint about the timid soloing in ‘Black Magic Woman?’ No more timidity in the version found here!).

And no matter how godly and unbelievable this soloing technique may be, after twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty minutes of it (and there’s still the second CD to go through) it just gets tedious. I mean, what the hell, if you were forced to read “Hamlet” ten times per day, you’d get sick of it pretty quickly, wouldn’t you? Lotus simply overfeeds me with classy Santana – I need a break, and all I get is a headache.

The best advice here is: this is a record that no Santana fan should be without (heck, maybe if you only want one Santana album, you could grab this one), but never make the mistake of listening to it in one sitting. Cut it in four equal parts and place distinct intervals in between them. Put on the first part, enjoy it, then go play some baseball or put on some Wallflowers or whatever crap you like to listen to, like the Beatles and stuff. Then put on the second part. Repeat procedure four times, and then the effect will be complete.

In fact, I start to feel its effectiveness now. When I first sat through the version of ‘Incident At Neshabur’ on the second CD, I felt like falling asleep, but the darned sound just didn’t let me. Now I’m listening to it again, just as a ‘selected track’, and it rules mercilessly. In fact, it entirely and completely obliterates the feeble studio version off Abraxas, with a pounding metallic rhythm section and solos that seem like sonic equivalents of destructive laser beams penetrating beneath concrete walls and blowing them all to hell.

Man, how does he do it? Has he got completely desensitized fingers or what? And plus, it’s all utterly beautiful – a rare case when finger-flashing techniques actually coincide with deep emotional resonance. Ah, Frank Zappa only wishes he could be like that…

A four star rating here, because if it were in my power, I’d easily edit Lotus down to one CD, throwing out the stupid drum solo and a couple of exceedingly redundant “spiritual wankfests”, just so that it would go down more smoothly. Such a carefully edited version would get an easy five stars.

March 8, 2013 Posted by | Santana Lotus | | Leave a comment