Have you ever wondered what separates "Not Of This Earth" from "Surfing With The Alien"? I think the question is relevant, since Satch's debut has a very similar style to his follow-up, yet in terms of popularity and accessability "Not Of This Earth" doesn't even seem to come close to "Surfing With The Alien". That is not to say either album is bad - it just seems striking how much of a difference in reception the two albums have received. Maybe we can learn something from there when we compare the two. Let's go.
So first of all, I think the difference dos not lie in the quality of the shred, or the shred in general. On both albums Satriani seems to employ what people might refer to as his style - the legato lines, some tapping, 'Satch-Shred' in short. So for this article I'm going to ignore that part. As I've laid out elsewhere, I'm also not a fan of the 'It's All Only Feel'-approach without looking at mechanics and technique, so to me the whole 'it was just more inspiration' thing also goes out the window. So what does that leave us with? Let's take a look at the first tracks of both albums (since let's face it, first impressions don't do nothing).
And here I think we find the 'deciding' differences - "Not Of This Earth" starts off with somewhat jazzy, complicated chords, takes quite a while to bring in some rhythm (which also isn't the easiest to get into, certainly not something you're used to coming blindly I'd say) and it doesn't have a long flowing melodic theme (that part only comes up later in the solo).
"Surfing With The Alien" on the other hand (after the short non-musical intro) starts off with a rocking rhythm, barely any harmonic information (both of which I'd argue make it instantly accessible and easy to 'feel along') and then comes a nice long melodic theme. And just this little difference in set-up, the difference in the presented sequence you hear (and react to) I say makes the huge difference in reception of the two albums.
Interestingly enough, the aspects I laid out there can also be found on the other tracks of each album - more 'complicated' setups with little melody (save for shred) on "Not Of This Earth", directly 'attacking' easier feel-good rhythms and a lot of melodic themes on "Surfing With The Alien". Does Satriani think that way? I'm not sure - however it seems
obvious that he stuck with that "Surfing With The Alien"-approach after "Surfing With The Alien" - not everywhere, but it seems to be predominant among his more popular songs. Regardless of that however, what can we take away from this?
First, I think it's interesting to think that a Shredmeister like Satriani is dependant on good accessible arrangements - the shred on "Not Of This Earth" did far less for him than the shred on "Surfing With The Alien", which brings us to the conclusion that it's probably not really the main selling point (or at least certainly not the only one). More importantly rather, Satriani has learned to present his shred in more popular and accessible formats - which, if you look into his history, makes complete sense. According to him, he has an extensive history with performing pop, rock and even disco before venturing into shred-territory, meaning he had and has the experience and knowledge to pull that kind of stuff off. Secondly, if you want a lot of people to listen to your music, you better know how to write for a lot of people - 'popular' does imply accessability by a lot of people after all.
When we look at Satriani's two debut albums, we see how his move towards more accessible song formats made him more popular - without compromising on his shredding skills. So the lesson we can take away from that is probably that uber-mega-skills best work when presented in the context of 'accessible' formats that make it easier to get into. So if you like your shred, maybe consider learning to arrange music like a pop-song - if you are interested in accessability. If my overtly populist views here disgust you and your artistic feelings - by all means, don't do it and downvote
David Sertl is a composer and guitarist based in Vienna, Austria. He also runs David`s Music Guild, the Youtube channel tellign you everything you (n)ever wanted to know about music.
He independently released his album "Elegie" in April of 2015, which is available from Amazon and other online outlets.
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