Santana's embarrassing guitar 'classics'

00:55, Sep 27 2010

This is the name of the new Santana album: Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time.

I am listening to it right now. It is embarrassing. It is beyond horrific. It follows in a now long, gnarled line of Santana collaboration albums - a road that gets scarier and more twisted the further you head.

Where the previous albums (1999's Supernatural, 2002's Shaman and 2005's All That I Am) allowed for collaborations on new songs - however incongruous some of the cobbled-together arrangements and pairings may have seemed - this album's theme is announced in the title.

There are so many things wrong with it - we could nitpick that songs like The Doors' Rider on the Storm and Def Leppard's Photograph stray somewhat from the brief; these are hardly "guitar classics". T-Rex's Bang a Gong might seem dubious also, Van Halen's Dance the Night Away and The Rolling Stones' Can't You Hear Me Knocking might not be the right choices to represent those bands - but we can certainly allow half of the tracklisting to at least sneak by given the titular theme (Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love, Cream's Sunshine of Your Love, Jimi Hendrix' Little Wing - for example).

But that is all secondary nitpicking.

The big nit to pick is that this watered-down watercolour, trace-around sound feels like it was recorded in a bedroom with Carlos Santana playing himself on a Playstation Guitar Hero game and recording that through a Walkman to release, expecting people to pay money to hear it.


Another big nit to pick is the lineup of guest vocalists. We're recasting rock, paying tribute to the classics and we've got Gavin Rossdale on board? Chris Daughtry? And from the let's get really stupid with our collaborations files we have India.Arie, Santana and Yo Yo Ma destroying While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Is it as stupid and awful as you might think? No - it's far worse! Have a listen.

(Just remember, I listen to these albums so you don't have to).

Carlos Santana is one of my favourite guitarists. And it mostly comes down to one album - Lotus. I've written about that double live album here at Blog on the Tracks before. I even suggested a while back that Carlos be played a copy of that album before he is allowed to hit record again.

And of course there are other great Santana performances and albums. The appearance at Woodstock was one of very few that actually benefited the performer - Santana's name was made, in part, by the band's Woodstock efforts and it still stands as one of the great sets from a patchy-at-best celebration of the hippie ideal.

And if you want to try a great Santana studio album beyond the obvious suggestions like Abraxas, Santana III and Moonflower, my two favourites are Caravanserai and Welcome. So there's a body of work there - and one that extends beyond any Classic Rock Radio Station Endorsed Best Of.

But it's all been diminishing returns, artistically, for Carlos since bagging up all those Grammy awards in recognition of the ultimate sellout, or whatever it was he was rewarded for.

Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time manages to not only make Carlos Santana sound like a redundant, sad hack, it actually takes a few good men down with him.

NaS is one of the more revered of the mainstream hip-hop MCs, particularly in recent years, managing to return to his early greatness - but his involvement here does him no favours. He collaborates on a truly horrid version of AC/DC's Back in Black (listen here if you dare). It sounds like one of those hodgepodges thrown together for an awards ceremony - maybe Carlos will play off in the shadows to himself winning more Grammies? - and Joe Cocker, who has been rasping thinly for years now (also a Woodstock survivor, in fact someone who pretty much has a career because of his Woodstock appearance), sounds like he will not make it through Little Wing; at one point I thought he died mid-song. I am not joking. He splutters and hacks and appears to actually lose his voice during the tune. It is awful.

Johnny Lang helps close this rather ridiculous chapter with a cover of The Jeff Beck Group's I Ain't Superstitious; it is easily the best thing here, which is rather like commending the food at a concentration camp as being serviceable.

The worst single track has to be Smoke on the Water, but it's a toss-up between that and six or seven others. I'm going with Smoke though, because every guitarist past the age of 13 can play it. As a non-guitar player, at age 12, I had a better grasp of the rhythm of the riff when I was using my thumb to hack out what I thought was a version of the bassline of the tune. And I'm serious.

Santana has surpassed Jeff Beck in the so-talented-but-I-don't-know-what-to-do guitar stakes. He has made an album that should never have been released. It does rock no favours. It does the guest vocalists no favours - Chris Cornell practically soils himself to be Robert Plant on the hammy, tasteless version of Whole Lotta Love that opens this debacle.

And Chester Bennington of Linkin Park (a guy who just cannot sing - sure his band is awful, but here that's irrelevant, because teaming up with Carlos has actually made Linkin Park seem like the second-worst band in the world now behind this one) makes a mockery of Riders on the Storm. And then Carlos scribbles a messy, out of place solo all through the middle section - as if to proclaim the tune to now be a Guitar Classic.

He might as well be writing his name on a brick wall in urine, a slight sashay of the hips, a head full of bad memories thanks to a night of amber, fizzy promises of glory.

This is the worst record of 2010.

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