Supernatural (Legacy Edition)
Sony Legacy, 2010
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/18/2010
For those who care to remember, the 1990s was not just the decade of Justin, Kurt, and Britney. Oh no, beyond the glistening realm of shiny manufactured pop and the plaid emotional ramblings of grunge, there was an explosion unlike anything we had ever seen…and that explosion was Latin music.
To be fair, Latin music had been around much longer than the ‘90s, but I think it would be fair to say the American fascination with the genre took hold during the Clinton years. Some of you may be trying to recall those days through the fog of your own memory, so allow me to briefly remind you of what I’m talking about: Rico Suave, Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, and, of course, no list of Latin music in the ‘90s would be complete without mentioning the massive, worldwide hit that was the “Macarena.”
So in many ways, the massive success of Supernatural was by no means a surprise. By the time the ‘90s were coming to an end and the Naughts (Can’t we find a better nickname for the just recently departed decade? The Naughts just don’t grab me: why not go with The Double Zeros?) were coming into focus, the ground was fertile for Santana to come along with his proud background of Latin/world flavored music and take us all by storm all over again.
Truth be told, the real genius stroke of Supernatural came not from Carlos, but from Clive. The longtime label magnate convinced Santana of the potential for bringing in outside writers and performers to accompany the guitar virtuoso on the incoming album. Not many septuagenarians would still have their pulse on the music industry, but give credit where credit is due and heap praise on Clive Davis for recognizing an opportunity when he saw one.
I will admit it is fun writing this review about a decade after Supernatural first dropped. The advantage of listening to the record without having to hear “Smooth” playing on the radio 24/7 allows me the advantage of a more unbiased approach (poor Chris Thelen didn’t have that opportunity.) What became readily apparent was that the highs on Supernatural reached the stratosphere, but the record isn’t as transformative as I would cared to remember.
Let’s just start off with the good times: the hits from this record were completely deserving of their status. “Smooth” caught Rob Thomas at the relative height of his Matchbox 20 fame, and made the transition from incredibly-overplayed super single (some say it is the most popular single in the history of Billboard) to that one song you just can’t get out of your head when it makes its appearance on the radio today – a classic in every sense of the word.
“Smooth” may have received all the attention at first, but that shouldn’t take anything from the following two singles, “Maria Maria” and “Put Your Lights On.” I’ve always appreciated the evocative acoustic pickings from Santana on this track; they ground the song while it attempts to also deliver a taste of R&B. “Put Your Lights On” pulled a 180 and moved off into a realm approaching hard rock, with Santana delivering a decidedly Hendrix-inspired solo, while featuring Irish-American rapper Everlast on vocals (the same man who wrote and performed “Jump Around;” figure that one out).
Honestly, the collaborative efforts on Supernatural carry the record through the moments when Santana returns to his roots. The instrumental pieces/sections are hit-or-miss. The brilliant dueling guitar piece “The Calling” brings Eric Clapton into the mix in a completely organic fashion; one would be hard pressed to identify just who is playing what. “Migra” breaks the language barrier and comes across as just an appealing piece of music, regardless of someone’s grasp of foreign language. But for the most part, the skip button was making an appearance when a strictly Santana track made its way through the track listing.
Of course, since it has been a decade since the release of Supernatural, it has been ushered into the pantheon of albums deemed deserving of an extended look – hence the Legacy Edition portion of the title. The usual suspects are all present: heretofore unreleased tracks, instrumental versions of hits, and various remixes. Nothing here is terribly essential listening, but nevertheless, one does get a more complete sense of what the goal/purpose of these sessions were. There is no question that the additional discs provide a chance for Santana to stand out on his own talent, rather than sharing the stage with his collaborators on the official record. The original numbers “Angel Love” and “One Fine Morning” should have replaced some of the weaker pieces on this disc without question.
Supernatural is one of those records that everyone over a certain age remembers, regardless of whether they actually liked it. It spawned an entire genre of such records, and Santana himself has yet to veer off the beaten path that was blazed by this album. It is not the Abbey Road of our generation, but if you were asking me to pick a record from the ‘90s that actually had some substance, this would definitely be on the list.