According to the merchandise description on Santana’s website (www.santana.com), the new CD Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics Of All Time is a concept album. If the concept was bloated, over-produced, pedestrian, uninspired covers of somewhat dubious “guitar” classics then I’d say they hit the mark.
I was hoping Santana would soon drop the “guest star” albums but apparently Clive Davis, Chief Creative Officer of Sony Music Entertainment Worldwide, was able to talk our easy-going hero into yet another foray into listless pabulum. There must be people out there buying these things by the dozen otherwise they’d move on to some other gimmick or (gasp) let Carlos go back to being Santana. Remember Santana? They gave us songs like Jingo, Oye Como Va, Baila Mi Hermana, Europa, Soul Sacrifice, Everybody’s Everything, and Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen. I miss that band. If you want to hear some excellent Santana music, buy Sacred Fire. It’s a live album and the last before Supernatural sucked out Carlos’ soul and replaced it with a twitching ghost-of-Miles-Davis conjuring commercial glutton. As I listened to Milagro (the last Santana band studio album) back in 1992, I never would have guessed that nearly 20 years later I’d be hearing Carlos cover Def Leppard’s Photograph. I would have been appalled at the suggestion. I’m appalled now.
I had my fingers crossed in hope that Carlos would focus on reworking these songs into the Santana style with open arrangements, Latin grooves and copious percussive accents. Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love has an elastic riff that could have been turned and twisted in to a Havana street jam ala Tito Puente with horns and Carlos’ guitar battling it out for supremacy. What did we get? Chris Cornell, whose been compared to Robert Plant for the last 25 years, singing a bar-band version of one of the few true guitar classics on this album. My finger became uncrossed with only one left standing as my hopes were dashed by a tidal wave of predictability.
It doesn’t get any better until the fourth song into the CD some imagination pops up. India Arie and Yo-Yo Ma breathe some fresh air into the Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps. If the rest of the album was this adventurous and beautiful it would be a timeless masterpiece.
Back In Black is the sly, urbanized attempt to seem relevant to a younger hip-hop crowd. It features Nas speaking and rapping over what is an otherwise interesting musical arrangement. Too bad I’ll never listen to it again. Why do rappers always name themselves in their songs? Is it because of the utter lack of musical distinction and their inner admission that it all sounds the same even to them? This track represents all that is wrong with the music industry. It’s insipid lowest-common-denominator dreck that pop radio will probably love. I don’t love it and I hope you don’t either.
At this point, I was longing for those golden olden days of track three: Rob Thomas singing Sunshine Of Your Love. Ah, good old track three; version one million four of the Cream classic. And who would have guessed that Rob Thomas would be appearing on this record. Oh, right. Everyone.
Briefly capturing my attention was “Riders On the Storm.” I’ve never seen this one on any list of guitar classics but Carlos makes a strong case for it with a slight re-arrangement and inspired playing. There’s also a blistering rendition, in the style of the Jeff Beck Group, of the Howlin’ Wolf classic I Ain’t Superstitious featuring the usual overwrought vocals of Jonny Lang.
Elsewhere on the disc we have Scott Weiland singing Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’, an indescribably banal Smoke On the Water featuring Jacoby Shaddix, Van Halen’s Dance the Night Away featuring Pat Monahan; a limp Bang A Gong featuring Gavin Rossdale, and Hendrix’ Little Wing featuring Joe Cocker – and a more spiritually lacking rendition I have never heard.
I’ve always believed that albums of cover songs are rarely a good thing and often signal that a band or musician is out of ideas and is ready to retire. Guitar Heaven only strengthens that belief. Don’t even waste your time downloading it for free.
In fact, this is album illustrates best why record labels are against downloading music: anyone who downloads this piece of crap would probably never buy it. The record companies feel better knowing they got your money upfront before you learned what a turd they had wrapped inside that CD case. Sorry, no returns on open merchandise.