in The People's Album

What, you thought I was done doing these?  No, of course not.  The People’s Albums are still going strong and especially now that I’m comin’ back at ya with an album that is, well, probably one of the more irrelevant albums I’ve talked about.  But regardless, let’s whip out the congas and dig into an album that has very little use now other than being a very colorful drink coaster.

Album: Supernatural
Artist: Santana
Release Date: June 15, 1999
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 13 Million

Why Was This Popular?

Because America Loves Acknowledging Latin America As A Thing.  Also, America Really Really Really Loves The Song “Smooth”.

If you were paying any attention whatsoever to pop music in the late ‘90s, besides the general shittiness of the situation, there were two prominent trends you probably remember.  One of them was the fact that the foremost pop artists were selling a shit-ton of records, which of course would be the peak of the record industry’s Olympus just before it’s inevitable leveling in the wake of this little thing called the internet.  Another thing you might recall from this period was the whole “Latin Music Explosion” of the late ‘90s that included your Ricky Martin’s and your Jennifer Lopez’s and… others that I can’t recall, since in hindsight this seems less like an explosion than a well-placed cherry bomb in a boy’s room toilet.

Among those willing to dip their toes in this toilet was Carlos Santana of all people, a guy who as far as I know hadn’t done anything memorable since that “Winning” song in the early ‘80s (assuming your definition of “memorable” is laughably terrible).  Fortunately, by his side during the conception of this 1999 comeback was music biz guru Clive Davis, who compelled Santana to instead of just making another Santana album that nobody cares about, make a Santana album that’s interspersed with collaborations with what were then “today’s hottest artists”.  Many of which included artists that now seem remarkably dated (Eagle Eye Cherry, Everlast), and one that is remarkably not that dated at all (Cee-Lo Green).  But by all accounts, it’s a concept that seems like it should’ve garnered the interest of basically no one, yet was somehow a big, giant success that earned Santana a whole bunch of Grammys.

I would have to chalk Supernatural’s confounding success mostly up to the almighty power of “right place at the right time”-ism.  Clearly, Latin-tinged music’s brief influence on popular music intersected almost perfectly with what was then Santana’s first proper album in seven years.  Also, I think you have to remember that even though the late ‘90s was a time when lots of young people were buying music, you can never underestimate the power of a nostalgic baby boomer.  Because I’m sure there were plenty of open-minded boomers that wanted to appreciate this whole Latin music explosion thing that was happening, but were probably turned off by the sexiness of say, Enrique Iglesias (Hey!  I remembered one!)  Then enters Santana, a guy who literally played at Woodstock, and thus brought a familiarity while also intermingling with a bunch of “hot new artists that the kids are into”.

But really, it’s all about “Smooth”, right?  As I stated in my entry on Matchbox 20’s Yourself Or Someone Like You, “Smooth” was enough of a pop juggernaut to help push that album past the 10 million mark despite the fact that it wasn’t even on that album.  So I obviously have to assume the main catalyst for Supernatural’s success was “Smooth”, as well as Supernatural’s less remembered, other number 1 single, “Maria Maria”.  And looking at “Smooth” objectively, I can see why it’s one of the most successful pop singles of all time.  It’s got a little bit of everything.  It’s got just enough of a Latin flavor to appeal to that demographic.  It’s got just enough guitar interludes to appeal to the boomers.  It’s got just enough of a detached swagger to appeal to the meatheads and moms that enjoy Rob Thomas’s watered-down take on alternative rock.  And just when you thought “Smooth” had missed the mark by appealing to almost every demographic other than black people, in comes the forcibly soulful sounds of “Maria Maria” to turn Supernatural into a Soundscan behemoth, even despite the fact that it’s hardly any fun to listen to at all.

Did It Deserve To Be Popular?

First off, I’ll say that I am a fan of Santana’s late ‘60s/early ‘70s stuff, even though prior to writing this it’d been a while since I’d listened to any of it.  But I do think the original Santana’s potent mixture of Tito Puente-infused rhtyhms with San Francisco-born physchedelic rock made Santana a vital and unique part of that era.  That said, if you wanna see why Supernatural’s instrumentals lack the combustable energy of those early Santana albums, I will point you to the band member timeline on Santana’s wikipedia page.  Other than the fact that, holy shit a lot of people have been in Santana, you’ll probably notice that the only person from that original line-up to play on Supernatural was the dude who’s name also happens to be the band’s.  And don’t get me wrong, Carlos Santana is a fine guitar player.  But to me, he was just one piece of the ensemble that made that earlier Santana such an intense, cohesive unit.

By the time Supernatural was recorded, the band was several decades and several line-ups removed from Abraxas, so who even knows who’s playing on this album.  It sounds like a bunch of studio musicians, because man this thing is slick.  And maybe that’s the point, since it’s possible that this album was made with the intent of moving as many units as it did, but I have a hard time believing that.  Instead, Supernatural feels like a weak attempt at Santana trying to recapture his glory days, but instead had this other element of multiple guest singers coming in to put their spin on the album’s non-instrumental songs.  Though perhaps it’s not entirely fair that say this album stinks because it lacks the intensity of the early Santana albums, since those songs have the kind of fiery energy that can pretty much only be expressed by young, hungry musicians playing their hearts out.  However, it does help point out just how weird this album’s success was.

Since I don’t have much else to say about Supernatural’s instrumental tracks, other than that they kind of sound like Kenny G’s backing band went on tour with Phish, let’s talk about the album’s more collaborative songs.  Firstly, I can tell you that the worst collaboration would have to be “Love Of My Life”, because it shows what it’d sound like if this Kenny G/Phish supergroup was fronted by Dave Matthews, which I believe is the definition of my musical nightmare.  The aforementioned “Maria Maria” is a song that was popular for some reason, even though it’s pretty terrible, while the Everlast collaboration “Put Your Lights On” is exactly as forgettable as you’d think it would be.  Meanwhile, Lauryn Hill and Cee-Lo’s “Do You Like The Way” is almost passable because it sounds like a Lauryn Hill song from The Miseducation era, but with some unnecessary guitar licks thrown on top.  Then there’s the Eric Clapton guitar duet “The Calling”, which sounds like one of Clapton’s outtakes from the Lethal Weapon soundtrack, except if the saxophone was substituted for a black lady church choir, which is exactly as awful as it sounds.  This then makes “Smooth” the best song on the album by default, since at least it’s super catchy, even if it’s catchiness lost any meaning years ago.

Would I Pay Money For This?

Again, maybe if I was in the market for some coasters, since I have to assume whatever used music store that would even bother carrying this album would probably sell it for next to nothing.  But now that I think of it, I could probably find cheaper coasters, since they’re usually just thin scraps of cardboard.  So nah…

Next Time On The People’s Albums: Prepare to either get comfortably numb or run like hell as I take apart Pink Floyd’s The Wall, brick by brick.

  1. A “Kenny G/Phish supergroup fronted by Dave Matthews”. Haha, that sounds so fucking terrible.

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