Santana’s PurgatoryBy: José Manuel Simián
If you came of age in the ’80s and ’90s and were into classic rock, you probably thought Carlos Santana was awesome. In short: he and his band had been part of the original late-’60s explosion, he had played at Woodstock, and had lived to tell the tale. He was a palpable connection to that party you had missed.
More importantly, Santana was the Latino member of that crowd, and he had developed a Latin form of classic rock. And even if you happened to live in a remote place like Chile the way I did, that meant something special. You didn’t know exactly what (Latino-ness is a rather vague concept if you live outside of the US), but special indeed. You may have bought or borrowed a few of his albums, and even seen him live. And all along you were happy that Santana was still around, even if you were starting to get bored by his solos.
But then, in 1999, when he was starting to get cornered in the oldies touring circuit, Santana released Supernatural. It was his first album for Arista, and one tailored to become a comeback of sorts, pairing Santana’s signature sound with contemporary artists. It had hit singles, Santana became “relevant” again, and you were still happy for good old Carlos. And even when you’d cringe every time you heard Rob Thomas singing that “Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa” song and other gems on the radio (i.e., many more times than you could stand), you still had to acknowledge it was an okay single.
In the 15 years since, Santana released a couple more albums of original material, but nothing came close to having the impact of the pop collaborations of Supernatural. What to do, then? You guessed it: let’s repeat the formula! Let’s bring stars, most of them Latin, and record safe-and-tried songs! Let’s call it something easy to remember, like... Corazón!
In case we’re not making ourselves clear: we’re not that happy anymore. We still think Carlos Santana is an incredible guitar player, and that things like the first seconds of “Samba Pa Ti” are worth the careers of many other musicians combined. But this record is not only boring: it brings together all the lazy ideas—both musical and corporate—about what Latin music is or should be. It sounds like the music spreadsheets in a corporate office in Miami make instead of the sounds you should expect from the original Latino guitar hero.
Do we need a predictably faithful cover of “La Flaca” sung by Juanes? Not really.
Do we need to hear Diego Torres singing in English? You guessed it.
Do we need a version of “Mal Bicho” that is weaker than the original one? No.
And more importantly, why is Pitbull defiling “Oye Como Va,” the Tito Puente song Santana made immortal here? We have no words for that one. But we’ll say this: Corazón is a purgatory for moribund ideas—both musical and political—about what being Latino means in 2014. Which is another way of saying this album will probably win a couple of awards.
LOGISTICS: Corazón by Santana, available now