It is not necessarily a terrible idea for an album, having Santana interpret classic rock standards. Carlos Santana is one of the great rock guitarists and he has a jazzy interpretative bent, cutting duet albums with no less of a heavy hitter as John McLaughlin back in the ‘70s. It goes without saying that those were different times and that the Santana of 2010 is not the Santana of 1972, although he’s remarkably close to the Santana of 1999, the one who gave himself over to Clive Davis for a shot at chart success. Davis once again follows his patented formula of teaming Santana with guest singers, having his team of producers polish everything so it will glisten on as many cross-platforms as possible. This worked remarkably well on 1999’s Supernatural, thanks to the freshness of the concept and the presence of powerhouse pop tunes like “Smooth” and “Maria Maria,” but Guitar Heaven isn’t Supernatural, no matter how much the producers try to replicate its success, right down to bringing in all the superstars of 2000 -- Rob Thomas, Chris Cornell, Scott Weiland, Jacoby Shaddix, Gavin Rossdale, Pat Monahan, Chester Bennington -- to act as frontmen, along with Chris Daughtry who feels like he should be part of this class. They’re balanced by a handful of non-rockers (India.Arie, Nas), a blues guitarist in the form of Jonny Lang, and, for old fans, Joe Cocker singing Hendrix, but it doesn’t matter who is singing because every track is produced as a pop tune, not a rock song. The vocals are pushed to the front and little room is left for extended solos, so Santana winds up tossing off frilly fills while the vocalist is singing and each cut winds up as a cheery bright wall of sound constructed from constrictive computer loops. There are no reinterpretations -- not even the Nas-fronted “Back in Black” changes the song much -- just restatements of riffs and replicated effects, each familiar element offering a reminder that Santana, Davis, and company chose to take the easy road by settling for gauche pop instead of guitar rock, winding up with a truly terrible album.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine