There was a time when the release of a new Santana album was a reason to check my wallet, grab the car keys and head off to the record store to get it the same day it came out. Now I buy most of my new music online as there aren’t many record stores to drive to and it’s been a good decade since I greeted a new Santana album with anything but a sigh and a yawn.
I have not heard Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time and the chances are excellent I never will. I haven’t paid much attention to anything Carlos has done since 1999. He caught lighting in a bottle with the mega-selling sensation that was Supernatural. But like Michael Jackson who spent the rest of his career vainly trying to recreate Thriller, Guitar Heaven is just the latest entry in the formula Carlos and his svengali, Clive Davis came up pairing the aging guitar hero with “superstar” guest sings. I have grown very tired and bored with this formula as it has resulted in a series of dull, calculated albums (Shaman, All That I Am) that sound as if they’ve been created by accountants, not musicians and have turned Santana into a supporting player on his own albums.
Do I really need to hear Scott Weiland, Chris Daughtry, Gavin Rossdale, Chris Cornell, Joe Cocker, Nas, India.Arie and Yo-Yo Ma working over the likes of “Whole Lotta Love,” “Bang A Gong” and “Smoke On the Water” while Santana himself again plays the role of sideman on his own record? Why bother when there’s no way they’re goiing to improve on the original (and when did “Riders On the Storm” ever qualify as a great guitar song)?
Santana has a faithful and loyal fan base, but here is one particular fan that would be happy for Carlos the Collaborator to go away and return to just being Santana and his band minus all the superfluous guest appearances.
Back in the day when he was off on a spiritual trip as “Devadip” Carlos Santana, he made some truly weird albums such as Illuminations with Alice Coltrane on harp and the mammoth Lotus, a three-record live album featuring Leon Thomas on vocals, perhaps the worst singer Santana ever had who introduced yodeling to rock.
Santana’s 1972 collaboration with John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender was an eclectic, but blistering collaboration that went far beyond the expectations of what even jazz-rock fusion fans were expecting. He would push the envelope further with Welcome (1973), the second in a series of albums (Caravanserai, Welcome, Lotus, Borboletta) departing from rock and exploring the frontiers of jazz fused with the classic Santana percussion. Any one of those albums are bolder and edgier than the vapid pop sludge Carlos currently cranks out
I would rather pull out those underrated albums or the Brothers album with his brother Jorge and nephew Carlos Hernandez. I wish THAT Carlos Santana would come back instead of this wuss and his lame duets with even lamer “rock” singers like Chad Kroger of Nickelback.
Carlos needs to ditch Davis and his formula in the worst way. Guitar Heaven might have more appeal if Santana paired off with guest guitarists, not vocalists. Trading licks with Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen would have been a thousand times more exciting than another tepid try at coming up with another “Smooth.”
What genius thought Nas rapping “Back in Black” or India.Arie and Yo-Yo Ma—two names that do not rock–on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was a masterstroke?
I haven’t given up hope Carlos will ever again make a record again worth buying and I’d still go see him if he came to town because Santana playing live is never boring. After finally running out of ideas on Borboletta, Carlos recalibrated his sound and with Amigos (1976) celebrated his return to rock n’ roll relevance.
I just wish he’d stop cheapening his immense talent in pursuit of another massive mega-hit song. Most artists don’t get even one big hit in their careers. Hoping to manufacture another one has left Carlos mostly spinning his wheels with ever duller and unimaginative albums. That’s what happens though when you stop making music from the heart and start chasing dollars.
It’s no fun to watch a guitar hero turn into a hack, but the evidence of his sloppily paint-by-numbers approach to music leads me to conclude that is exactly what Santana is dangerously close to becoming.