When this record came out I was just starting to get into the less popular ’60s bands. I was familiar with Santana’s biggest songs from that era, but no their albums. I would get their a few years later and listening to those albums would confirm my impression of this record’s hits: this was a cynical cash grab posing as an attempt to use Santana’s general fame plus some contemporary artists which had little in common with him to make everyone a lot of money. Did I listen to the album to form that opinion? I sure didn’t.
But for anyone even remotely familiar with the sound of Santana in the 1960s – a fairly radical fusion of latin music, blues and jazz, even if Fleetwood Mac had already done the latin blues thing before Santana did – it’s hard to reconcile that sound and those songs with “Smooth” and whatever else. It feels like some kind of unholy fusion of Boomer Nostalgia with Adult Contemporary which, unsurprisingly, turned out to be a very good idea from a commercial perspective. But it’s the opposite of what Rick Rubin did for Johnny Cash, or what T Bone Burnett has done for countless others, or for what Eric Clapton (who guests here) did for himself (on more than one occasion, as he vacillated between traditional and more contemporary records for a time). The singles don’t feel like an update and revitalization of Santana’s sound, they feel like Santana is guesting on a bunch of relatively unrelated contemporary songs that are definitely more for your parents than for you.
But that’s not actually the biggest problem with the record, and it’s a problem I was entirely unaware of, having ignore the album for 20 years. The problem is that the other half of the record is just a normal Santana album! It’s like these songs are trying to pretend the all star guest songs are on some other record. And it’s utterly bizarre and incongruous. At the very least, if you are going to sell your soul to the commercial dictates of Adult Contemporary, you could sell your entire soul, rather than half of it.
I mean, who is this record for? Is it for people who know Rob Thomas or Everlast or Lauryn Hill or whom ever and think it’s cool that they’re collaborating on catchy songs with some guy from their parents’ music collection? Or is it for Santana fans? Or is it for these parents, who forgot about Santana for the last 25 years and wanted to be reminded of him by these younger artists (they’ve never heard of) who make their old music tastes seem slightly less old? If you are in any of these groups of people, except the latter you will be disappointed. And if you’re in the latter group… well, I’m sorry.