The guitar-instrumental genre was already outdated when Joe Satriani – in his thirties at the time – landed not one, but three singles from Surfing with the Alien (1987) in the Top 40. He did it again with Flying In A Blue Dream in 1989. The feat was unheard of since Classical Gas, and remains so today. Satriani, in contrast to the cheap, metalized aesthetic of his Shrapnel Records emulators, never distanced himself from the sound and the Silver Surfer iconography on which his success was founded, even if the genre is quite dead. Nevertheless, he’s back at it with Shapeshifting. Everything evokes his halcyon days: a pose recalling Flying In a Blue Dream, lyrical lines, microtonality, saturated and compressed timbres on the neck pickup, square, Eliminator-style rhythms, pop sensibility, a nuanced harmonic vocabulary, but above all a youthful glee in “playing fast” (and damn well). The single “Nineteen Eighty” sets the tone by referring to AC/DC, Van Halen and… Satriani. It would be unfair to reproach him for self-reference when, despite his erudition and his professorial influence, he never gambled on audacity: the album doesn’t sink into self-pastiche, although the weaker tracks of the album, intending to be more ambitious, recycle some old tricks. The “Satch” recipe is revisited; “All for Love” and “Perfect Dust” are redos of “Always With Me, Always With You” and “Satch Boogie”. The title piece is an obvious quote from The Extremist (1992). Satriani, however, flirts with self-deprecation by inviting the “real” Nigel Tufnel (yes, that one!) to join him on the last track. Shapeshifting could have been released 30 years ago – we’re certainly talking asset management here. Is it any good? At times. If the work as a whole runs out of steam, some of the more indulgent kid-stuff tracks will certainly find a good fit in a Mustang convertible.
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