Classic Rock Review

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Santana Welcome (1973)


A hard-to-tell record. Obviously nowhere near as close to the masterpiece that was Caravanserai, it is still far from a pure return to the unabashed Latino-thumping days of old. I’d say that at this point Santana’s well-promoted spirituality had finally gotten the best of him. I mean, on Caravanserai his spirituality prompted Carlos to take up his guitar and play beautiful solos, and it also prompted him and the band to pen some excellent atmospheric numbers.

But Welcome seems to be just a vastly puffed-up record that seems to tell the listener: ‘sit back and relax and wonder at how very spiritual we all are, be like us’. But it forgets to back that claim with well-written melodies or atmosphere that would be as equally compelling as on the last record. There are no advances at all, and in some respects, there is regress.

For instance, neither the opening nor the closing cut don’t do anything for me even if they are supposed to. The grand Mellotron lines that open ‘Going Home’ and seem to be lifted directly from Genesis’ ‘Watcher Of The Skies’ (coincidence, of course, but an unpleasant one) are way too pretentious for their own sake, and when the guitar finally arrives it does nothing but croak out a limited, monotonous set of pseudo-moody phrasing.

Same goes for the title track – over a six-minute running length it does little but give the impression that it’s going to be cut off any time soon, but instead it just goes on and on, slow, droning, repetitive, poorly performed, a generic “heavenly bore”. One might remark that Caravanserai also had a similar percentage of ‘proto-ambient’ tracks; but they were done much better, and they could also be treated as tasty ‘introductions’ and ‘conclusions’ to the real meat of that album.

But there are problems with the “real meat” on Welcome. First of all, what the hell happened to the instrumentation? Sure, the band does sound like the Santana of old – but only on the surface. Neither Rolie nor the other band members do not offer us any interesting solos, and Carlos himself lets rip only a couple of times (‘Yours Is The Light’ is the sole major guitar highlight on the entire album). Well, come to think of it, Rolie couldn’t offer us anything interesting – he’d already left the band, replaced by Tom Coster, and much as I sneered at the guy in the earliest days, I sure miss him on this album.

On the other hand, the generic Latin jams are back: ‘Samba De Sausalito’ and a couple other tracks are the same acceptable, but completely conventional dance-it-up stuff that we had in spades on Abraxas. You like it, you get it; but I was kinda hoping that Carlos had already superated that stage. I was sure wrong.

The funk element is also back again – ‘When I Look Into Your Eyes’ is the perfect epitome of routine background funk, even if the flute is nice, Leon Thomas’ singing is competent and the final section, dominated by a strange “hoarse” synthesizer tone, will certainly raise a couple of eyebrows. And Santana is at least trying to bring in some relative diversity, relying on African rhythms (‘Mother Africa’).

But the vocal tunes on here are fluffy (‘Love Devotion And Surrender’, reminding us of the ill-fated Mahavishnu collaboration, is pure cheese, and the other songs with lyrics are forgettable as well), and the lengthy marathon ‘Flame-Sky’ is only vaguely attractive in a couple of places.

Overall, Welcome strikes me as a mostly unsuccessful attempt to marry Santana’s unpretentious dancey past with the more spiritual approach of Caravanserai. Maybe he was a little frightened by the start of his commercial decline – after all, the material of Caravanserai was hardly radio-friendly – and so wanted a healthy compromise that would allow him to be true to his soul and his gurus as well as rake in some badly needed cash, too.

But unfortunately, the public didn’t buy into the hybrid – the record nearly flopped, and it’s easy to see why: one part of the public wanted their “Latin headbanging” back without any compromises, and the other part, dazzled by Carlos’ astonishing work on the previous album, was mightily disappointed (like me) at his understated presence here. Still, it ain’t necessarily a bad record – I don’t see how it could be worse than Abraxas, in all honesty – and Santana fans can hardly go wrong with it. It’s just miles away from his cathartic peak.

April 14, 2013 Posted by | Santana Welcome | | Leave a comment