Twenty years after its initial pressing, famed guitar teacher and virtuoso Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien still stands as an album that revitalized instrumental music and made him a household name in rock, one of the best in the business.
More than selling millions of records, it inspired legions of guitarists to follow his path and even made instrumental rock music a genre cool enough to earn Grammy nominations, of which Satriani himself has earned fourteen. This year, the album got the remaster treatment — courtesy of Epic/Legacy Recordings. Along with a bonus DVD featuring a full Satriani concert, the total package stands out as one of the most notable reissues of 2007.
It’s easy to forget that SWTA was Satriani’s sophomore effort, with 1986’s Not Of This Earth being his first foray into the instrumental rock world. It was solid and technically impressive in its own right. But the array of diverse sounds and moods of SWTA’s ten tracks, along with Satriani’s technically precise playing made this record a masterpiece.
From beautiful emotive love ballads like “Always With Me, Always With You,” swinging blues rock boogies like “Satch Boogie,” impossibly fast, complex hard rockers and strange or classical-sounding music, it’s all there.
Original producer John Cuniberti was chosen by Joe to remaster the album, and there is a noticeable difference in overall sound, not as much in his lead guitar playing as in the backing guitars, drums and other percussive instruments. The sonic textures of the instruments that compliment his guitar work are more crystal clear or explosive-sounding than ever before.
In the liner notes, Satriani gives some valuable insight into both what went into the production of SWTA and his experience playing the 1988 Montreux Jazz Festival, the full performance of which is included in the DVD portion of this re-release. Nigel from Spinal Tap tells some pretty amusing stories of his encounters with Satriani on the DVD as well. You also get to see a couple of old videos from this era, including a black-and-white video of “Always With Me, Always With You.”
Satriani’s versatile technical skills and incredible songwriting abilities are on full display throughout SWTA, as his many adoring fans and musicians already know. But whatever the reason, the audience at the 1988 Montreux Jazz festival gave mostly respectable applause throughout Satriani’s SWTA-heavy set most of the time. In fact, as Joe recalls in the album’s liner notes, much of the crowd left as soon as his band started playing!
They were supposed to hit the stage at midnight on July 15, 1988 but got pushed back to 4am because prior bands played well over their set times. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Satch was told to cut down his set time as well. Unfair as it was, the band still rocked the joint, and it’s a shame that the crowd who stayed didn’t have anywhere near the energy the band did. As to those who left, apparently they didn’t know what they were missing.
True, it was a jazz-oriented audience and Satriani was not yet as famous as he would later become, but there was some awe-inspiring musicianship on that stage, not only from Satch but from bassist Stu Hamm as well. While Jonathan Mover isn’t the greatest drummer I’ve ever seen, he kept pace with those two throughout the 58-minute set and like Hamm, got the stage to himself for a few minutes to show off his soloing skills.
Speaking of midnight, the song “Midnight” really stood out from this show, just as it does on the album. On the DVD, you get to actually see Satriani recreate the majestic beauty of the baroque-styled instrumental. Skill-wise, it’s a challenging song to pull off either in studio or live, and Satch does his two-handed finger-tapping work on stage with ease at this late hour, creating lovely and tense, minor-keyed melodies with two-to-four fingers (using both hands) at a time! It’s the type of song that truly is best appreciated live.
In all, Surfing With The Alien: Legacy Edition is highly recommended to all Joe Satriani fans — even if you have the original CD (or cassette tape, remember them?). Besides a remarkable improvement in the sound of the original album, getting to see him and his band live in concert early in his solo career is rare, and is what makes the total package truly valuable and worth the purchase price.
Note: For those of you going music shopping this weekend, you still have time before 3pm ET on December 31, 2007 to buy this reissue and use the secret code on the card that comes with it to win a Satriani Gear package, watch exclusive Satriani performances and more.