Surfing With The Alien

Joe Satriani

Relativity Records, 1988

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


In an industry filled with masters of the six-string, what separates a truly great guitarist from the rest of the pack?

The answer is simple, really - it has nothing to do with how fast the person can play, or how hot their solos are. It is if they are able to give the instrument its own voice, as if the guitar was the lead singer.

In 1987, a relative unknown named Joe Satriani burst forth on the scene with his second album, Surfing With The Alien, and turned the guitar world on its ear. Here was a musician who was capable of making a guitar talk, and was a very capable (and fast) player. For the longest time, this remained his best album.

The title track sets the mood perfectly, with a groove defined by Satriani (who plays guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion and - drum programming? AAAAAAAAHHHHH, NONONONONONONO!!!!!!!). The multilayered lead and rhythm guitars make this sound as if Satriani had an entire band behind him, and you can hardly tell the difference. (Later on, Satriani added bassist extraordinaire Stu Hamm to the lineup.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Even on the first track, you can hear the influence Satriani will have on guitarists just like Eddie Van Halen did before him. It is one thing to have the know-how to play a million notes in a second; it is another to make each note count, as well as knowing when to slow things down. This is the mark of a professional.

Other cuts like "Ice Nine," "Satch Boogie" and "Always With Me, Always With You" show the range Satriani has. Especially impressive is "Always With Me..." which has the groove and feel of a ballad as if it were sung by a quality vocalist. For the first half of the album, Satriani is the picture of perfection.

However, the second half of Surfing With The Alien sags a little bit, as it seems to follow a concept. The opening track "Hill Of The Skull" is the first sign of trouble, clocking in at under two minutes. The theme seems to be a darker one, and it is just not suited to Satriani's style.

The album does rebound a bit with "Circles," which revolves first around a well-written rhythm guitar riff. which explodes into the guitar "vocal". Of the remainder of the album, only "Echo" stands out as a decent track, though the rhythm gets a little old after a while.

This is not to say that the weak portions of the album are bad; they just don't stand up to the level of quality that Satriani built up on the first half. And ten years after its release, Surfingt With The Alien still sounds as fresh as the day it came out. (Apparently it is out of print at this time, though you should still be able to find it at used record stores.) (Editor's note: At the time of this re-posting in 2002, the disc is back in print.)

I can only think of one guitarist better than Satriani (and I'll eventually talk about him here on "The Daily Vault"), but he still is a guitarist who can make my jaw drop in admiration. Of all his albums, Surfing With The Alien ranks as one of the "must-own" albums in his discography.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Relativity Records, and is used for informational purposes only.