Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien was an instrumental rock guitar album showing off some truly stunning fretboard pyrotechnics. I was just starting to pursue the electric guitar at a more advanced level when this album was released, and after seeing the unmitigated praise it was getting in the guitar magazines, I bought it.
I thought I was doing pretty well with the guitar before I heard this album. Upon playing the tape for the first time, however, I immediately realised how insignificant I was. Although the guitar work is highly elaborate and intricate, it’s very musical – definitely not just shred for the sake of shred. It’s always a big handicap releasing an album with no vocals or lyrics, but Surfing With The Alien did well commercially – you don’t get that success unless you’re coming up with valid and memorable music.
Perhaps one of the most notable things about the album, other than the dazzling guitar playing, is that Satriani doesn’t use a band. He plays the guitar, bass, keyboards and percussion himself, as well as programming some of the drum machine parts. There are some real drums on the album too – played by Jeff Campitelli, but in truth, most of the drum parts sound, and indeed are, artificial.
In the mid ’80s there wasn’t really much available in the way of convincing drum machines. I’ve never seen any official confirmation of which beat box(es) was/were used, but much of it sounds like a Linn to me. That was always acknowledged as the ‘rock’ beat box in the 1980s, and the big, hollow snare sound on this album matches up as far as my ears are concerned. The drum sounds themselves aren’t uncovincing, but with ’80s drum machines you couldn’t build subtle changes in timbre into the programming, so every ‘hit’ sounds alike. It’s too monotonous to be mistaken for a real human being, but ’80s music was full of that kind of ‘processed-into-oblivion’ feel.
The cassette is a genuine CrO2 chrome with Type I EQ and a Type I shell. Sound quality is typically high, and in a nice cassette deck this album still sounds very attractive indeed. Where’s that quarter of a century gone, eh?