Santana, ‘IV': Album Review
For all of his fiery theatrics, Carlos Santana is only a guitar player. He’s dependent in no small way on those he collaborates with to complete his vision. Record execs copped to it when they brought in a bevy of stars to complete Santana‘s 1999 comeback Supernatural, and it’s what girds his stirring reunion with his early-’70s band on IV.
The return of singer and keyboardist Gregg Rolie, Santana’s most important early foil, draws out new complexities in his playing, as Neal Schon – once Santana’s teen protege – adds metallic counterpoints to the old master’s liquid asides. They all scamper to keep up with percussionist Michael Carabello and drummer Michael Shrieve, Woodstock-era vets who shower every track with insistent, sensual rhythms.
The only real issue might be naming it IV, positioning this album as the sequential heir to 1971’s III – which reached No. 1 and was the first to feature Schon. This new project can’t touch the group’s fervent, early-era sense of discovery or its unbound attitude. The musicians have come too far – and, quite frankly, know too much about their craft – to replicate the loose intensity they exhibited 45 years ago. Instead, IV captures the overt feel of FM radio staples like “Everybody’s Everything” and “No One to Depend On” – both of which found Schon tangling with Santana – while adding new dimensions of maturity and grace.
The rest of it, illustrated by the laughter that opens “Anywhere You Want to Go,” is just pure joy. “Echizo” brings in everything they’ve learned along the way, as Santana and Rolie skitter over eruptive salvos by Carabello and Shrieve while Schon – who left the band with Rolie to form Journey in 1973 – unleashes a series of stinging retorts. “Choo Choo” incorporates a house beat, when they might have settled for more familiar rumba or carnival rhythms in the old days. Similarly, world music influences permeate “Come as You Are.”
Santana eventually find their way home: “Leave Me Alone” leads the group back to that hip-wagging “Oye Como Va” groove, while the instrumental “Fillmore East” ends up as a nostalgic remembrance of their earliest days when Bill Graham was their manager. Meanwhile, “Suenos” boasts the suave atmospherics of 1972’s Caravanserai, the last project to feature Rolie and Schon.
It’s all held together on IV by the kind of chemistry that comes when deep friendships are renewed. Even the more meditative “Blues Magic” is notable for its striking emotional calibration, as Rolie and the guitarists take a twilight stroll through heartbreak. They sound like they’re finishing each other’s sentences, and that rediscovered camaraderie opens the door wider for the carnal vocal asides from the Isley Brothers‘ Ronald Isley on “Love Makes the World Go Round” and “Freedom in Your Mind.” Where guest-packed recent albums like 2014’s Corazon sometimes felt phoned in, there’s a presence about IV – a sense that they’re all in the room – that carries everything forward.
Maybe that’s why Santana can get a bit long-winded on IV. Clearly emboldened by their reconciliation, and understandably inclined to let everyone join in the conversation, a few songs simply go on too long. But that also traces back to Santana’s earliest days together as a band, and so – to paraphrase the title of a seven-plus minute workout that closes out this 16-track album – we forgive.
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