It’s quite possible that in 1990 there wasn’t a bigger Santana fan on the planet than me! I wrote the band’s name on my pencil case, and on my army surplus canvas bag. You were supposed to write things like MC Hammer and New Kids On The Block on school bags back then. I had The Kinks and Santana and SRV (for Stevie Ray Vaughan).
I mean, lol right?
Anyway, I had got hooked on Santana when I saw the 20th Anniversary screening of Woodstock and when my dad bought home the Greatest Hits album with the dove on the cover – as our home’s very first ever CD. Well it was a twofer that day, Santana and The Animals (also had that name on my bag. So another lol).
It was pretty terrific being completely unfashionable (not that I’ve ever known any different) – and if you were lucky, and it happened a few times, the band you’d just got into that had a big back catalogue and a greatest hits album or three might drop a brand new record. It happened for me with The Rolling Stones (Steel Wheels) and Eric Clapton (Journeyman) and Bob Dylan (Under The Red Sky) and The Grateful Dead (Live Without A Net) and a few others…and they’re all crap albums I love. All of them. Because of the time and the place and the weight of it – the brand new album by the big name legacy band. The chance to have “new” music by an “old” band/brand. You knew the legacy, but they were making music in your time. It was a chance to feel a distinct ownership. So you went right in to bat for that crap album eh.
In 1990 I was at the height of my Santana fandom, I just loved the band. Carlos could do no wrong. We would have a decade to wait and a certain Matchbox 20 collaboration to prove that wrong. And now it’s hard to listen to anything he did after 1977 – and I know that’s being pretty generous but I still think the first decade of Santana music is astounding. I don’t often want to listen to any of it actually but it’s great. I’m happy just knowing that.
But when Spirits Dancing came out I was amped. Hyped. Pumped. And in 1990 I was also at the height – or approaching it – of my Stephen King fandom. And guess what? Stephen King has a spoken-word cameo at the very start of this album. So I thought that was incredible. Even after actually hearing it.
I was also getting massively into Curtis Mayfield. Being an uncool kid didn’t at all mean I had bad taste – it just meant I had to wait for a few people my age to catch up. And so the idea of Santana covering Gypsy Woman was special too. Again, even after actually hearing it. Ditto: Who’s That Lady by the Isleys.
Spirits Dancing In The Flesh has horrid Living Colour-styled guitar vibes (Mother Earth) it has a Jimi Hendrix tribute (Third Stone From The Sun, and I probably don’t need to add, but will, that 1990 was a big year for me and Jimi too). And everything on this album – as was the way in the very blatant CD-era – is big. And loud. And so unbelievably proud. It’s all coloured in felt-tip pin. Scribbled. Hard.
And holy shit this is hard to listen to. But I love it. Because I did. And now I listen to it about once every eight years, max. And I know every word, and every turn. Some incredible percussion work – most obviously always a feature of this band. And though I long ago grew so sick of Carlos’ tone and his shtick and actually his sound, I did once love him so much. And the last vestiges of him sounding vital are gathered together here. And unfortunately, they’ve been smeared onto the wall with a concreting trowel.