So there I was, all set to review a genuinely decent album for once (don’t worry, I’ll get around to it soon enough), when it was brought to my attention that it’s been a whole decade since Santana’s “comeback” effort, Supernatural, first came out. A whole decade! You remember Supernatural, don’t you? How could you forget such radio staples as “Smooth” (featuring the dreamy and delightful Rob Thomas)? Or better still, the grammy-winning “Put Your Lights On” (featuring the minty-fresh and flavoriffic Everlast)? How about the #1 hit “Maria, Maria” (featuring The Product G&B, a group so good you’ve never even heard of them)?
Well, yeah. Of course they’re all terrible songs. But you do remember them, right?
All kidding aside, Supernatural did breathe some much-needed new life into Santana’s career, and if it wasn’t on the back of a particularly inspired effort, it at least sparked new interest in his back catalogue and saved an exceptional guitarist and all-around nice guy from fading into classic-rock obscurity. What doesn’t get mentioned, however, are the kinds of albums that put him in such obscurity in the first place. After his late-’60s-and-early-’70s peak and subsequent forays into jazzier terrain, Santana wound up chasing just about any trend he could latch onto, resulting in albums that were irrelevant to both his core fanbase and a record-buying public that had long since moved on.
Even in the face of these reduced expectations, however, Blues for Salvador is still a frustrating listen. It’s frustrating because Carlos Santana’s guitar playing still smokes — it’s just that his surroundings really do not suit him at all. Specifically, those ’80s keyboard tones suck. They suck the life out of everything they touch, they instantly date and ruin every song they’re in, they probably touch children inappropriately when their parents aren’t looking, oh god I hate them I hate them I hate them.
I hate them.
Then again, it doesn’t help that some of the songs are utter garbage. I’m Gone and Deeper, Dig Deeper are both like the ideal soundtrack to jogging in a hideous one-piece suit, wind blowing through your mullet and overly tanned blonde waif by your side – asshole yuppie workout music where everything but the guitar sounds fake and there’s so little of that that it hardly matters. I really can’t stress the horror of this enough: Santana willingly took a backseat to drum machines and SYNTH HORNS.
I guess a highlight of this album would be “Bella,” a track where the keyboards step back, the rhythm slows down, and Santana’s guitar is actually given the space to stretch out. My theory is that the engineers ran out of cocaine, but you’re welcome to bring your own interpretations to the table. Point is that this album was a mistake, and what really kills me is that the rhythm section here was Alphonso Johnson and Chester Thompson, two incredible musicians who had done time in jazz-fusion supergroup Weather Report. Still, this at least proves one thing: people who complain about Supernatural being a sellout move clearly haven’t heard enough Lousy ’80s Santana.
Now, having said all that, I’ve seen this album get some pretty strong reviews (allmusic gave it 4.5 stars out of 5), so maybe my hearing is still damaged from The Whitesnake Incident. Listen and judge for yourself!
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Final Verdict: Stupid, stupid ’80s.