The centerpiece of Freedom, Santana’s fifteenth album, is “Songs of Freedom,” one of the most petulant songs in rock history. Over an aimless funk groove, Buddy Miles, Santana’s latest singer, bellows, “Everybody tells me, we love your songs/Your soul is precious, but it just ain’t good enough/You need a single to help you through/Program directors, they all make the rules…. What about the Constitution, freedom of expression?” In other words, those who play Santana on the radio help keep this nation free and those who don’t are agents of oppression.
Carlos Santana’s ill humor is unfortunate, because his six-string work on Freedom is his best in years. On “Veracruz,” he rams riffs down the throat of the song and violently nourishes it. Carlos could always be counted on for half a dozen soulful solos on all but his most desultory albums, but his terse flames burn deep holes in every tune here. On two instrumentals, the gorgeous “Love Is You” and the smoldering “Mandela,” he draws phrases like circles and tightens the knot until the songs’ essence pops out. Santana can certainly find a less overwrought singer than Miles, and the unfocused animus behind “Songs of Freedom” is despicable, but when Santana lets only his guitar do the talking, he remains a compelling voice.