Flying in a Blue Dream, by Joe Satriani
Suggested by Dan Croft
I love The Karate Kid.
It’s a classic underdog movie, in which the plucky new kid (Daniel LaRusso) overcomes a bully (Johnny Lawrence) and wins the day, under the expert guidance of an aged mentor (Mr Miyagi). Then there’s Cobra Kai, the YouTube Red / Netflix series that continues the LaRusso / Lawrence rivalry into the modern day. If you’ve not watched it, and you remember the original film, the new series is well worth your time.
One of the breakout stars of the original films was Mr Miyagi, played by Pat Morita. He was nominated for an Oscar, losing out to Haing S. Ngor’s performance in The Killing Fields. Morita delivered a career-defining turn, guiding Daniel-San to glory with wit, style and dignity. He received the lion’s share of the plaudits on release, and rightly so.
But the film’s called The Karate Kid. Not The Karate Teacher.
Joe Satriani has left an indelible stamp on the history of modern guitar. As a teacher, his resume is flawless, and the list of Satriani Alum is impressive. There’s Steve Vai of course, ex-Zappa and Crossroads End Boss, the air guitar virtuoso behind Bill and Ted. There’s Kirk Hammett of Metallica fame, plus a host of others: David Bryson of Counting Crows, Larry LaLonde of Primus, Alex Skolnick of Testament, and more.
Unfortunately for Satch, his own career hasn’t been quite as meteoric as those of his pupils. Sure, he’s been successful, but he’s not exactly set the world alight. Flying in a Blue Dream, perhaps Satriani’s Magnum Opus, is certainly testament to his talent. It’s also a little generic, a touch predictable. It’s a musical colouring book with no bold colour choices and nary a pen mark outside the lines.
Satriani chooses to do, well, pretty much everything on this album. He shreds, obviously, but he also sings, and keyboards, and basses, and percusses, and banjos, and harmonicas, and and and and. There’s no doubting he’s a prodigy, but sometimes it’s better to be a master of one trade rather than a Jack of all. His vocals are particularly weak, but I guess most listeners aren’t here for the lyrics. Similarly, there’s a host of styles on offer, but they feel like an exercise in diversity. Look, I can Blues, I can Jazz, I can Rock, I can do it all. Bosh! Box ticked, next song.
Maybe I’m being harsh. It was 1989, after all. And there are some fine tunes to enjoy. The title track, Flying in a Blue Dream, is a particular joy, as is Ride. But overall, I feel the sound is dated, and no amount of twiddling fretwork will change that.
Sadly for all involved, Pat Morita passed long before Cobra Kai was conceived. He’s there in spirit, though, with his teachings and messages underpinning the narrative and his student’s continued philosophy. Similarly, while Joe Satriani won’t be a stalwart in my musical library, his influence in undeniable, and massively appreciated. Sorry, Joe, you get 5/10, with my thanks.