It didn't take me long to give into "The Game of Love," the single from that newish Santana album that Michelle Branch sings--maybe four or five times on the radio, then one or two on the CD as I checked the liner notes to see if they actually gave a songwriting credit to one-time New Radical Gregg Alexander or just figured the eight people who bought Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too were hardly gonna write into ASCAP or who the hell ever. That's a big improvement over "Smooth," the one that Rob Thomas sang a couple of years back; even now--having heard it as many times as, say, "I'm Too Sexy," or maybe that "King of Wishful Thinking" thing from Pretty Woman--I'm not totally sure I didn't start liking it on the off chance that it'd stop showing up every five minutes to try again. I suppose it's great: Branch does a cool falsetto thing in the chorus, and the guitar solos you bought the album for weave around her vocal in a way that doesn't seem all that showy (at least considering the circumstances); they function more like ripples in Branch's wake than proper melodic elements, which they haven't really been since, like, 1987 anyhow. As he gets better at this pop-song thing, though, Santana is quickly losing touch with the rock-auteur vibe he once championed; his trick these days is product, not process. I'll be disappointed if you have to hear the inevitable Murder Inc. joint to know it by heart.

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