Sometimes, success comes at the price of creativity and quality. Santana had been in the wilderness for so long when crossover collaborative album Supernatural catapulted them back into the spotlight, that it was hardly a surprise that they tried to replicate the formula. However, the returns were ever diminishing, so it’s a welcome surprise that new album Shape Shifter strips it all back. Way back.
Scrapping the system that worked so poorly on last year’s Guitar Heaven record (Carlos Santana paying tribute to classic rock songs by getting a mixed bunch of vocalists to do karaoke over his trademark guitar style), they have made the first Santana album to REALLY sound like a Santana album in a long, long time. And it’s all the better for it.
Not only are the special guests axed entirely, but the focus is put on the music by being almost entirely devoid of vocals, with just some Native American chanting at the start and some Spanish vocals on Eres La Luz. Hardly the kind of chart bait that has been Santana’s stock in trade recently, and it won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s so refreshing and put so much emphasis on the beautiful sounds of Carlos and his guitar.
Of course, the classic Santana sound was a mixture of instrumental genius and catchy vocals, so there is something missing on Shape Shifter in that respect, but tracks like the Latin-infused Macumba in Budapest are just as catchy without the singing as they would be with it. There’s enough of a mixture of different sounds to prevent things getting dull, which is important.
Some tracks see Carlos letting loose with the riffs, like Dom and Nomad, while others are delicate and melodic, like Angelica Faith and In The Light Of A New Day. Occasionally these softer tracks risk crossing into New Age territory, but that’s not necessarily such a bad thing, particularly when it’s just a part of the mix of genres that has always been at the heart of Santana’s music.
It’s been a while since we were able to look forward to a new album from these legends, but after reaching a nadir with Guitar Heaven, it’s such a delight to see Shape Shifter living up to its title and transforming them back into a great band. Hopefully it will act as a kind of palate-cleanser for their career and lead them towards a happy middle ground between selling their souls for attention and making instrumental rock albums.