January 15, 1990 12:00 PM

Joe Satriani

The blame can partially be laid at the nimble fingertips of Eddie Van Halen. He, after all, gave 16-year-old boys everywhere the inspiration to play the guitar at warp speed and dip into a bottomless bag of tricks to, let’s face it, impress some girls. Satriani is no teenager—he has been toiling away as long as Van Halen—but the 31-year-old Long Island native is a devout follower of the power-guitar school.

There’s no doubt this cat can play. (Among other things, Guitar Player magazine recently voted him guitarist of the year.) But even in Formula One racing, speed must yield to control sometimes, and Satriani always sounds more likely to crash into a wall than make the turn. Ironically, it’s when he lets up on the finger flying that he’s most impressive. The title track has a moody resonance, and the soaring high notes can take away a breath or two. On “The Feeling” Satriani becomes an acoustic country picker, and the blues-boogie “The Phone Call” shows how effective stripped-down playing can be.

These moments of relief are far too rare however. It’s almost as if someone is holding a stopwatch to see how fast Satriani can get from one end of the neck to the other. He also uses so many recycled riffs on “Ride” and “Big Bad Moon” they sound like ZZ Top leftovers. If only all of this album were as intriguing as one of its song titles: “The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing.” (Relativity)

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