Review Summary: Santana coming back to life.
Over the past decade, Santana has done nothing but feeding his mainstream appeal with albums that featured a myriad of renowned radio artists that were better or worse. Trading the heart of his songs for money, of course many of the songs were hits and the albums sold more than ever. Also, a whole new fan base was created and most of these people probably haven't even heard his truly fine records or even if he was releasing albums before Supernatural
. However, everything found on these albums followed the same formula, a simple beat with added guitar licks that in the end were all going in the same direction. This damaged a lot his reputation as an innovative guitar player and when the sales of these records started to lag, Santana decided to go back to his signature sound, more or less.
is 13 track mostly instrumental record. Santana also took control of the production, further fueling his decision to reinvent his sound or at least to prove that he still has the mindset and creativeness to explore newer grounds. Still, the new record holds the same simple and somewhat repetitive rhythm section, stripped here of almost all the signature percussion and keyboards, while he plays the hell out of the guitar. The result is somewhere in between his records, new and old: there are a number of cuts that shine here through his melodic guitar play, while the others don't bring anything more than standard Santana to the table. The positive aspect is that nothing here sounds as Supernatural
or All That I Am
. Even the only track containing vocals here, "Eres La Luz", goes more for the 70s aspects of his vocal tracks, but with a modern touch and a flamenco-tinged feel.
The title track is one example of the better tracks, showcasing some of Santana's most powerful guitar soloing in a long time, dueling with keyboard player Chester Thompson who rips the Hammond B-3. Everything harkens to the band's heyday, but this is not enough to hold the whole record on its feet yet. The next two tracks are even more interesting. "Dom" and "Nomad" follow the same pattern of a repetitive rhythm section giving way to endless guitar solos. Santana successfully turns these two into highlights by showcasing the fact that he can still churn some effective, melodic and emotive solos after so many years. The former boasts new wave synths and drum pattern akin to Depeche Mode's 1987's "The Thing You Said" and the solos are more stop-start, while the latter sounds more natural and hits harder as a whole, with a more powerful instrumental backing him up.
is rich in ballads, some of them being really beautiful without actually sounding cheesy. "In The Light Of A New Day", along with the short coda-like "Spark Of The Divine" might be the most beautiful ones here. They're nothing pretentious or overcrowded, so these two songs just stand out in their sheer simplicity. Santana also revisits some of his early jams, first his jazz era through "Never The Same Again", channeling some ideas from his own "Song Of The Wind" off 1972's gem, Caravanserai
. The smooth, laid-back feel makes this track a gorgeous listen, giving even more signs of life out of this record. Album closer, "Ah, Sweet Dancer", goes the same way, having a lounge jazz feel, being a lovely duet between Santana's guitar and his son Salvador Santana, on keyboards. It really stands up as one of the best moments here, coming so unexpected at the end of the record and it's definitely a highlight. "Angelica Faith" also features some licks from early era, this time from "Samba Pa Ti". Even though is not as effective as the aforementioned cut, it's nice to see Santana going for his earlier sound and mindset, rather than his recent lifeless output.
In the end, even though there is a fair number of good songs here, these highlights would've been enough for Shape Shifter
, which overstays its welcome. At almost an hour, it's hard to follow the whole album and keep the listener attentive. All the tracks follow the same path more or less, so beside the better ones, the rest of them only add to quantity, not necessarily quality too. This does not mean they're lacking, given Santana's 40 year experience in the genre, it's just that they don't have enough spark and strength to shine for themselves. Nevertheless, Shape Shifter
is the record that most of the hardcore fans, that stuck with his earlier output and still follow him today, awaited for such a long time. Right now it may be too late for Santana to make any history, but this album is at the very least an interesting addition in his expansive discography.