Ryan Alexander-Tanner

Once upon a time it was 1999. And in 1999 this country sat upon a precipice, with no guarantee of either safety or beauty in the future—with no guarantee, even, of that future. In retrospect it was a simpler time, which seems insane, because 1999 seemed like the most far-out, Phillip K. Dick-ass time to be alive in human history. We were all convinced a phenomenon was on its way, with our minds, hearts, and eyes drifting toward the end of the calendar—the end of the millennium.

When Y2K finally went down, it was underwhelming—not only because it didn’t lead to a global technological collapse, but also because six months earlier we’d been rocked by a much more powerful event. On June 15, 1999, Carlos Santana dropped a life-changing 75-minute mélange of everything that had ever been on the radio, dipped in Latin rock and launched out of a shiny pop cannon hidden away somewhere in the villas of Sausalito.

Carlos’ masterpiece landed in the CD players of Honda CRVs, the patios of wine bars, the hearts of mothers, the boats of fathers, and the consciousness of everyone who was even half-conscious. The album’s name was Supernatural—and brother, it was.

But that was Supernatural then. What about Supernatural now? Have the past 17 years been kind to the album? Is it a masterpiece to be hung in a museum for all time, or is it a sunset, whose transcendent beauty can never be recaptured, never be retold? Well, dear reader, I’m here to examine that very question.

Over the next month, for no reason other than pursuit of the pure beauty of truth, I will conduct a deep dive into Carlos Santana’s Supernatural—and by deep dive, I mean I’m going to listen to it for the first time in fifteen years, and report back with my findings.

Supernatural opens with the single percussive note of a slapped bongo drum and a guitar riff that is so purely “Santana,” I wouldn’t be surprised if it had its own tiny hat and mustache. The song? “(Da Le) Yaleo.” The vibe? First Thursday. The second this song starts, you’re transported to an art gallery full of ugly sculptures; someone’s very blonde second wife explaining what ceviche is; glasses filled with white wine or whiter wine. The song picks up, gains steam. The bongos bongo, the chorus chants. It exits the art gallery and strides confidently into its proper role as the second song during the closing credits of a movie you forgot Catherine Zeta-Jones was in.

Honestly, at this point, I can’t tell if this album is any good. Whatever “(Da Le) Yaleo” is... it seems like it’s the most version of whatever it is possible. It sounds like it could have been on any single one of Santana’s albums. It’s fast, fun, and bad, but it certainly doesn’t warn you of what’s coming around the bend... and what’s coming around the bend happens to be our first guest of the album, Mr. Dave Matthews. But we’ll check back in on that next week.