I know I already said that M.I.A.’s Maya was the worst album of 2010, but that was before I found out about Santana’s Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time. I don’t really have the words to tell you how awful this album is, much less to describe how much it personally pisses me off.
But allow me try.
Back in 1998 or 1999, Carlos Santana broke all the charts right in half with his smarmy Rob Thomas collaboration, “Smooth.” The song was huge and it was terrible. But the album upon which it appeared, Supernatural (I think. I really don’t care), became the blueprint for every album Santana will make for the rest of his life. Why? Because it earned him a swimming pool full of money. I’ve mostly been able to ignore Santana (so much so that I forgot to put him on my list of the ten most overrated guitar players of all time, despite the fact that he is highly – highly – overrated as a guitarist) and his insipid collaborations with every corporate, top-40 flavor of the month that will give him the time of day. But I can’t ignore Guitar Heaven because I saw this fucking video on YouTube. That’s Gavin Rossdale (formerly of Bush, currently living off of Gwen Stefani) mangling T. Rex’s “Get It On (Bang a Gong)” with the help of Carlos Goddamn Santana. That video, which was taken from the American Music Awards, tells you pretty much all you need to know about what sucks in American music today. Not just the bludgeoning to death of a glam rock classic, but the crowd shots of other top-selling morons trying to awkwardly groove to Rossdale’s wooden vocal performance – seriously, Gavin Rossdale did to T.Rex what Mel Gibson did to Hamlet (and if you think that’s a compliment, I want to have a word with you. Well, my fists want to have a word with you).
So anyway, I done got the deluxe edition of Guitar Heaven (because if I’m gonna torture myself with this shit, I’m going all in – I need the version that includes Scott Stapp singing CCR’s “Fortunate Son”) to try and see just how furious it can make me. Turns out, it can make me plenty fucking furious. Even the songs on here that I’ve never liked (like “Whole Lotta Love” which Led Zeppelin stole from Willie Dixon) deserve better than Santana and his brute squad of talentless art-butchers give them. Except “Riders on the Storm.” That song has always sucked and Santana’s cover, with vocals from one of the Linkin Park assholes, just makes it suck more and helpfully proves that it will always suck.
Santana tries to play the intro to “Whole Lotta Love” with what I can only assume that he assumes is a certain Latin flair, but it ends up sounding dull and lifeless, which is actually kind of perfect because Chris Cornell comes in a few seconds later and removes any doubt about whether or not he will ever be good again. I swear, youngsters, there was a time when Chris Cornell was awesome. It lasted until about halfway through Down on the Upside and I fear those days are never coming back. “Whole Lotta Love” is one the first pieces of ordnance I launch when delivering my standard “Fuck Led Zeppelin and Here’s Why” lecture, but Santana and Chris Cornell have actually made me feel kind of bad for Led Zeppelin, which only pisses me off more. How dare Carlos Santana make me feel compassion for my enemy!
But what of the songs I like? For instance, the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’,” which is sung by Scott Weiland, the sometime Stone Temple Pilot and all-the-time rehab dropout. Say what you will about Keith Richards, but his guitar tone fit the Stones’ good songs like a comfy pair of jeans. Carlos Santana’s tone is all wrong for the song and so is Weiland’s. He spends half the song sounding like Kid Rock. Come to think of it, I’m kind of surprised Kid Rock wasn’t tapped for this album. Maybe they wanted to get him for a song but then realized that with Scott Stapp and Rob Thomas already committed to the project, they would achieve some sort of critical mass of assholes.
So yeah, Rob Thomas is back and this time he helps Santana skull-fuck “Sunshine of Your Love” to death. This is one of the only Cream songs I like, and Santana and Thomas have smoothed (no pun intended) all of its rough edges and turned it into a guitar and vocal wankfest, which, come to think of it, is a fairly succinct description of the entirety of Guitar Heaven. Except the vocal performances are almost uniformly terrible and the guitar bits are the same fucking guitar bits that Carlos Santana has been regurgitating for the last twelve years. In fact, every track on Guitar Heaven is so sterile and bland that I’ve begun to wonder if maybe Santana secretly hates these songs and wants to destroy them. That’s the only explanation for something like the version of “Back in Black” that appears on Guitar Heaven. The song, originally by AC/DC (a band for whom I have no small amount of affection), is stripped of its signature riff and has the vocals handled by powerhouse rock ‘n’ roll vocalist… um… Nas. The rap guy. Carlos Santana hates “Back in Black” (and, presumably, all of humanity) so much that he teamed up with Nas to turn the song into a clubby rap-rock tune. By the time I made it through this track, I was beginning to wish this album was a person so I could hit it in the face with a brick.
Setting aside the fact that Santana and company just completely fuck up every single song on this album (don’t even get me started on what they did to “Little Wing”, which just happens to be my favorite Jimi Hendrix song. It makes me wish Carlos Santana was a person so I could hit him in the face with a brick), one glaring issues remains: whoever decided that these songs were the “greatest guitar classics of all time” has probably survived on a steady diet of paint chips and their own paint-fumed feces, because there are tracks on Guitar Heaven that even the lowest-functioning retard (Sarah Palin) wouldn’t mistake for a “guitar classic.” Fucking “Riders on the Storm” isn’t even a guitar song! It’s a meandering, bullshit electric organ tune that proves beyond all doubt that the use of electric organs in music should be tightly regulated. How do you make an album of great guitar tracks and not include at least one early Black Sabbath tune? Or “Search and Destroy” by the Stooges? Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad some of my favorite guitar songs didn’t suffer at the hands of Carlos Santana and his flying monkey squad of songfuckers. But the logic in terms of track selection is mind-boggling and it underscores the utter stupidity that clearly drives the whole project. These aren’t the greatest guitar tracks of all time – they’re just some guitar tracks from select periods in time and, in many cases, their greatness is subject to serious debate. Who, even among people who can stand the fucking thing, thinks “Under the Bridge” is one of the greatest guitar tracks of all time? This album isn’t an anthology of great guitar songs at all; it’s just a place where some rock tunes went to die.
At the end of the day, people whose priorities are so fucked that they made time to vote for Chris Daughtry on American Idol (and also made time to get angry when he didn’t win) might find something to like on Guitar Heaven, but just like the fundamentalist view of Christian heaven, the whole things strikes me as perverse and wildly unimaginative. If Kirk Cameron’s Heaven is the “right” one, who would really wanna go? Cameron’s god is an abusive (possibly alcoholic) stepfather who would’ve sent Ghandi to hell, and if you’re willing to condemn Ghandi after the life he lived, you’re fucking nuts. But you’d probably enjoy Santana’s Guitar Heaven.