Santana: Shape Shifter

Back to basics for album No.36.

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After four albums of rent-a-gob celebrity cameos, Shape Shifter finds Carlos Santana alone in an evacuated studio full of empty Moët bottles, with the caretaker sweeping up around him. He’s back in instrumental mode, and the guitar is once again the star. But can he still cut it without his A-list cast of thousands?

In a word: kinda. At 64, Santana still has a guitar tone that sounds like molten molasses, his touch remains spellbinding, and on standout moments – when his fingers answer the sweep of the orchestra on, say, Dom – it truly feels like he’s telling a story.

It’s frustrating, then, that he doesn’t know how to quit when he’s ahead. Most of these 13 tracks are furnished with a lengthy, widdly outro that finds the veteran guitarist falling back on old tricks – his trademark ‘chirruping’ lick is a constant. And while this is forgivable on roaring moments like Nomad and the acid-flamenco of Mr Szabo, it quickly grates when bolted on to schmaltz like In The Light Of A New Day.

That Carlos Santana is a guitar maestro is beyond doubt. But at 57’ 29”, Shape Shifter is an awfully long solo.

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.