Three years ago, everyone seemed startled when Carlos Santana went for the gold on ”Supernatural”: How could such a bastion of classic-rock integrity pander to the marketplace so shamelessly, albeit successfully? In truth, no one should have been surprised. Like an indecisive character in a cartoon who has a tiny devil on one shoulder and a miniature angel on the other, Santana has been caught between two desires for decades. Part of him yearns to continue making the sort of spiritualized Afro-Latin rock that filled early albums like ”Caravanserai.” But the other craves a basement wall lined with platinum-album plaques. An entire college course on ”Art vs. Commerce in the Late 20th Century” could be devoted to analyzing his career.
The duality of Santana, the man and the band, is laid out in all its highs and lows on The Essential Santana, a double-disc anthology from Sony. The first disc of ”Essential” rounds up the Woodstock-era hits like ”Evil Ways” and ”Jingo” once again, but the timelessness of Santana’s blend of thwacking percussion, pop bombast, and emotive guitar remains a marvel. And it all goes completely to hell on the set’s second half, which chronicles the band’s relentless post-’70s pursuit of a hit single via colorless remakes, prosaic lead singers, and the biggest sacrilege of all — electronic drums.
The Essential Santana