Updating The Worst

SIMON SWEETMAN
Last updated 11:23 04/04/2014

So there I am, just walking around the house buzzing the fly-spray out of the can in time with the percussion breaks on a Santana record - pretty standard, really. Then I start to think about where my life is going and what it even is. And as the live version of Oye Como Va finishes just as I run out of fly-spray and - fortunately - flies I think, 'well it could be worse. At least I'm not Carlos Santana'

You see the album is Lotus - one of the records I've listened to the most in my life. And one of a handful of Santana records that mean the world to me; Lotus was recorded on the back of the Welcome album and that was the first non-compilation record I heard from Santana. Man, this music set my world alight. I was taken with it. Instantly. I was 12, 13 years old. And I was discovering all of this music - grabbing with both hands whatever I could from the 1960s and 1970s (and the 1950s for that matter). It was all a revelation. Exciting, because my folks were rediscovering it, they were building a CD collection out of memories of what their record collection once was. I took whatever was left of their record collection and bought tapes, then CDs, then replacement-LPs...

Carlos Santana has had the biggest fall from grace. That's my belief. I realised this when, four years ago now, or nearly, I had to listen to his embarrassing idea of "Guitar Classics". Nobody needs to hear that.

It's the worst!

Now, sure, a lot of the Santana music isn't much chop after Welcome/Lotus - there's a few gems, but the wobbles start to kick in pretty swiftly. But in that first half decade you hear a band so vital, a guitarist so fluid, so inventive. There's power and majesty in that music. There's grace, there's enchantment. Sixteen minutes of Incident At Neshabur? F**k yes! Those live versions of Se A Cabo and Samba Pa Ti? Oh man. Forget about it! Wonderful. And the Welcome and Caravanserai records. And everything before that - Abraxas obviously... the performance at Woodstock...

And then, slowly, surely, the slide.

He won about eight Grammys one year for one of his terrible collaboration albums - which, for those keeping score at home, makes him about four times as good as Lorde. And then a few more collaboration albums. Each one worse than the one before - and then finally that Guitar Classics bulls**t. Hey, look, I reckon you could see him (and the version of Santana) and it would be an okay concert. But the records are disgusting.

People seem to love to talk about Phil Collins and Sting and Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart as the people who fell the furthest from grace. And I'm not saying they didn't. Collins went from playing drums on records by Brian Eno and Robert Plant and Brand X and Genesis   to singing on his own albums and on records by, er, Genesis...Clapton and Stewart have been taking the piss for the best part of 35 years now. Sure. Sting? Well, nobody likes him, really, but he can sing. He can play. And I've seen him deliver stunning sets as solo artist and with the reunion of The Police. I've also heard his Christmas album, his sonnets performed on the lute (no, really) and most of his new - ghastly - musical. I'm sure he's a jerk. And a lot of his music is awful. But it's really no surprise. That was always going to happen.Awful

But Carlos Santana? I'm dumbfounded by this failure. Alright, there's the ugly album covers and inlays, the dedications to Sri Chinmoy and the conscious aping of A Love Supreme as some sort of philosophy. It's all a bit New Age Goo. Sure. But he played the guitar like an angel. Or quite possibly - if you prefer - like some f**king demon. And then - all of a sudden those horrible, horrible albums with people from bands like Matchbox 20 singing. You know, not even real bands...

A duet with Michelle Branch? Nah, I'm doing better walking around the house timing my fly-spray parps to the timbale hits on Oye Coma Va. Seriously. I'm good. Cheers.

Carlos Santana's best music makes my head spin - still. It knocks me over. I'm powerless. I surrender. I know so much of it inside and out and yet I'm floored every time, bowled over and made to feel like a fan for the first time.

You see I was spraying the flies around the house in time to Oye Coma Va because, as with yesterday's post about Grant Lee Buffalo this was about rediscovery. Here it was Santana's Lotus album - and then Welcome and Caravanserai too. All music I found again on the same hard-drive. I have the vinyl versions too, absolutely. And sometimes they get an airing, sometimes they even get taken out of the house but there was some joy in loading them up to the iPod, remembering when I first loaded them up back on my first iPod. The stories that travelled with those albums. Worst

Now it's a case of bittersweet moments listening to anything from Carlos Santana. I love the best of his work, so deeply. But it can only - also - make me think of the very worst, of the grotesque guitar-strangulations he's calling music, and all in the name of selling out to whoever will buy, seemingly the very opposite to his approach originally.

I go from listening to Santana to the new album from Linda Perhacs; it arrives over 40 years after her debut. No selling out there.

Perhaps Carlos Santana will make it as an entry into my series about the very worst. I think he deserves too. He's gone from being one of the good guys to so terribly lame, vile even. His music so bad now, it's so disconcerting.

When I told you all about The Worst a few weeks ago I had eight posts in that series. I have a few more now so I thought I'd give you an update.

9. When The Guardian Totally Stole My S**t, Claimed It As Their Own - pretty self-explanatory this, centred around my Damon Albarn interview and the British newspaper that decided to just run the story as if it was their scoop.

10. Reviewing What THE KIDS Are Listening To - when you end up at gigs that you probably shouldn't be at, because it's the job.

11. I Was The Wedding DJ But Someone Else Had Other Ideas - I have told you about this already, when it was relevant - but here I'm just linking to it to line it up as part of the series.

12. Being Mark Reid; Film Reviewer - my time under a pen-name brought with it a run of largely terrible movies.

13. Wellington's Jazz Police Out In Force! - I don't get to review jazz gigs all that often now, because the Jazz Police said no!

So a bit of Friday/weekend reading for you there - if you choose.

And outside of that do you agree that Carlos Santana has sunk close to the very worst? Who else do you think of when you think of name-musicians taking the plunge down to the lowest of the low, where once they scaled the heights?

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