What's a guitar hero to do now that the masses prefer electronic beats and rap-metal to killer scale runs? Joe Satriani seeks that answer on Strange Beautiful Music. Satriani set himself apart from other would-be kings of the six-string in the 1980s by combining impeccable technique with great feel and pop hooks. With those qualities, he produced great guitar-driven albums like Surfing With the Alien and Flying in a Blue Dream. On his 2002 release, Satriani tries to make his music fresh by incorporating world music influences and a bit of techno flava. To his credit, he succeeds more than he fails. "Belly Dancer" combines straight-up rock riffs with Middle Eastern-twinged melodies and faster-than-sound runs up and down the fretboard. On "Oriental Melody," Satch's world music sensibility shines with the help of ping-pong delay and keyboards. He still has a knack for great hooks, too, as is evident on "New Last Jam," which features a melody that bounces around in your head for days. But none of these tracks approach the pop brilliance of his Surfing With the Alien songs. In many ways, the experimental nature of songs like "What Breaks a Heart" hark back to his Not of This Earth release. But Strange Beautiful Music suffers from inconsistency. While the mix-and-match approach works on "Belly Dancer," it can also result in the bland discontinuity of "Chords of Life," which at times sounds like "All Along the Watchtower" and at others resembles scale and chord exercises from Yngwie Malmsteen -- not an enticing combo. And "Starry Night," while a nice ballad, feels like an attempt to rewrite his masterful ballad "Always With You, Always With Me."
AllMusic Review by Mike Gowan