Absent Friends - Here's Looking Up Your Address (Album Review)

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Absent Friends - Here's Looking Up Your Address (Album Review)

Have you ever heard a song, only to later forget the name of the song? Perhaps, you heard it on the radio, or in the background of a television show or movie. Yet years, or in my case, decades go by before fate would reunite me with a song that remained in my subconscious but never surfaced. It constantly amazes me how music can unlock memories and if you are interested in exploring this further, I can wholeheartedly recommend John Powell’s Why We Love Music as it explains this topic beautifully.

Despite being a fan of Wendy Matthew's solo career, I hadn’t realised she was a member of the Australian supergroup Absent Friends. The song in question that I had forgotten for so many years was their biggest hit: I Don’t Want To Be With Nobody But You. Perhaps I could be forgiven for not connecting the dots as Absent Friends only released a single studio album and, after forming in 1989, disbanded in 1990. Still, it wasn't until I was perusing Ian McFarlane's exceptional Encyclopedia of Australian Rock And Pop, that the penny dropped. I was like a kid at Christmas and immediately recognised the song. I had waited two decades to be reconnected with a song I had adored in my youth. Immediately, I began to sing along to the song as if I had only heard it yesterday. Somehow, my subconscious mind had remembered every lyric in the song. It makes me wonder what else I have rattling around in my mind! Finding this song again was a wonderful experience and it is an absolute pleasure to be able to share it with you, my dear readers, and look at the body of work that is: Here’s Looking Up Your Address.

Hullabaloo has an incredible groove and is the type of song I immediately associate with Australian pop-rock music. One aspect I don’t like, however, is the spoken word layered behind the vocal and instrumental music as I find it distracting. This element isn’t amplified enough to comprehend what is being said and it reminds me of the audible annoyance when you hear someone whispering.

Mean Streak will get you head bopping and toe tapping. Although, that pig-styled squeal is a little off putting. Despite that, Mean Streak is a great song that really utilises and benefits from the inclusion of a background singer. Is it just me, or are background singers now a thing of the past? I know some artists still utilise the services of backing vocalists, but I feel it is not as prevalent as it once was. Perhaps, I could be wrong, but there was a stage when backing singers were as well known and respected as the lead vocalist. Think Venetta Fields, Lisa Edwards, and Lindsay Fields from John Farnham's band. Farnham is an incredible vocalist, but let’s be honest, these incredibly talented backing vocalists made his recordings and live performances sound exceptional! Similarly, Wendy Matthews' backing vocal on Mean Streak adds sonic depth and an unmistakably catchy chorus. It really is an exceptional tune!

Sister continues the groove fest with Matthews taking lead vocal responsibilities. As you listen to her vocal delivery, you can get an idea why she was destined to become one of Australia's most loved female vocalists. Yes, I know she was born in Canada, but we have adopted her and we’re not giving her back! Truth be told, she is one of the greatest female vocalists in the world and I honestly feel she never received the recognition she deserves.

Hallelujah is a sonically upbeat track, but I find the ad nauseam repetition of the lyric Hallelujah to be fatiguing. It is a B-side and doesn't reach me on an emotional level.

Everybody Up is a fun song. Although, I do wish the lyric was delivered differently as it sounds distant and lacks clarity from the listener’s point of view.

I Don't Want To Be With Nobody But You defies explanation. Simply listen and you will understand why I am left speechless. Matthew's solo effort, The Day You Went Away, is another song that leaves the same impression. Yes, I Don't Want To Be With Nobody But You is a cover, but it is a cover done exceptionally well and is arguably better than the Eddie Floyd original.

The transition to Come Clean is a little rough compared to the easy listening aforementioned ballad as it has a pop-rock groove. That said, it is a great song and worthy of inclusion on the album. As I listen to Come Clean, I can’t help but think of it as a song that is a perfect mix between the musicality of Wham! and Tears For Fears.

The Water Is Wide is incredible! It is one of the best songs on the album and once again showcases just how talented Wendy Matthews is behind the microphone. Songs like this remind me of why I love music so much.

Harmony is a loose song with jazz elements. While I would generally appreciate this mash-up, it feels forced and therefore it is most certainly a B-side. That said, I can't help but wonder what Matthews could have done with this song. Although, upon further reflection, I just don’t feel the song was well suited to Absent Friends and the overall direction of the album.

I Had A Premonition returns us to a more familiar tone and is an exceptional, must listen, rock track. Just remember, the best experience to be had is when you turn that volume knob to the night. I Had A Premonition has been recorded, mixed, and mastered impeccably well.

Pomona's Place is another exceptional Wendy Matthews song. She just knocks it out of the park vocally. Similar to Harmony, there are jazz elements included, but Pomona's Place uses them as complementary tools to an already excellent pop-rock foundation.

Clemency is a solid song, but it is a B-side.

Here's Looking Up Your Address is an interesting instrumental interlude. From a musical perspective, it is lovely, but I find its inclusion to be disjointed to the overall album experience. That said, if Absent Friends would ever collaborate again, an instrumental album in this blues style would be incredible.

Thankyou, Goodnight is a song that has some nice elements, but it feels disjointed musically. It is subsequently difficult to engage with as the mind is unsure of which beat to follow. However, I do love that saxophone appearing throughout the song and the entire album, but sadly it isn't enough to hold this song together for me.

Hallelujah (Choruses) is an interesting way to close the album. To be quite honest, I'm not sure it adds any value and it leaves me unsure if I want to listen to the album again. That said, other tracks on the album demand my attention, so it will most certainly be enjoyed time and time again.

Here's Looking Up Your Address is an incredible Australian album and it’s a real shame that this would be the only studio album released by Absent Friends. If nothing else, it amplified Wendy Matthews' status on the Australian music scene. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the same impact on ex-Models vocalist Sean Kelly.

For this review, I listened to the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition of the album. Every aspect, from the recording to mastering, was done with perfection. While I would have gone with slightly different mixes, for a couple of the songs, that personal preference is as unique as the decision to mix the album the way they did. This is why music is subjective and we are not always going to agree regarding what constitutes a good song. I'm sure a song I would class as a B-side, would be someone else’s A-side. I don’t know about you, but I find that absolutely intriguing to think about.

Here’s Looking Up Your Address is sadly out-of-print on all physical media. I would love to see a re-issue, but not a remaster as it doesn't need it. In the meantime, you can purchase the album on the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC) or on iTunes. If you prefer streaming, Here’s Looking Up Your Address is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Midnight Oil - Redneck Wonderland (Album Review)

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Midnight Oil - Redneck Wonderland (Album Review)

While it may not have been commercially successful, Redneck Wonderland is captivating and can be seen as an artistic success. The more I listen to Redneck Wonderland, the more I come to appreciate the merging of the new and old Midnight Oil musical styles. Warne Livesey, producer of Diesel And Dust and Blue Sky Mining, makes a welcome return, ensuring a result that will appeal to longtime Midnight Oil fans and newcomers alike.

I also have to say, before we dig into the musicality of the album, the cover of Redneck Wonderland is stunning. It is rough, raw, and clear in relation to relevance and meaning. This album cover, alone, is enough justification to buy the Midnight Oil vinyl box set; especially considering Redneck Wonderland was never released on vinyl.

Redneck Wonderland sounds as though it was conceived in a rhythm-based distorted heaven. The musicality is immediately recognisable as Midnight Oil have gone back to their roots. It is an exceptional song and should be included on every compilation and live set list.

Concrete continues the stripped-down raw rock sound that arguably hadn't been heard since Blue Sky Mining almost a decade earlier. It is a killer rock song and, as with Redneck Wonderland, the instrumental rhythm will have you moving unconsciously. It’s wonderful to see Midnight Oil return to form, following the lacklustre Earth And Sun And Moon and their previous album Breathe.

Cemetery In My Mind slows the pace of the album, but that isn't a bad thing as it is an exceptional song. The musical introduction, that is featured throughout, creates a worthy bridge that ensures the song is thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end.

Comfortable Place On The Couch has a promising start, but the musicality behind Garrett's vocal is distracting, rather than being complementary. That said, once the electric guitar and chorus come into play, the song kicks into high gear. It isn't a bad song, but it is only half a song in my opinion as the verse is akin to a demo recording.

Safety Chain Blues has a killer bass and piano introduction. This musicality continues throughout and while I feel Garrett’s vocal delivery is concealed in the soundstage, Safety Chain Blues should be considered a B-side with the promise of an A-side should a different mix be permitted. I understand Midnight Oil were aiming for a particular style, I just don't feel it was well executed. Interestingly, the song sounds superior on headphones. The vocals become more present and are less distant in the mix. That is somewhat understandable as headphones bring the music closer to the ear. It is an interesting dichotomy, but I also feel that a well recorded, mixed, and mastered song should not exhibit these variances.

Return To Sender is a groovy pop-rock song, but it does sound out-of-place with the style of the album thus far. It isn't inherently flawed, it just isn't deserving of its place on Redneck Wonderland.

Blot returns us to the raw alternative rock and roll sound Midnight Oil is renowned for. However, Blot is a mismatched mess as the mind is unable to connect with the varying backbeat. It sounds as though Blot is the culmination of three songs that really don't belong together. It is a shame because I do love that guitar riff.

The Great Gibber Plain is a B-side, but I still find it enjoyable.

Seeing Is Believing is a song that will blow you away as it is not only one of the best tracks on the album, but one of the best songs Midnight Oil has ever written and recorded.

White Skin Black Heart is exceptional! While I have always felt it was a little too shrill, I wouldn't want it changed at all.

What Goes On is an energetic song. I love it! I can't wait to hear it on vinyl as I feel it would amplify all elements and I’ll be interested to hear how the distortion transfers, particular from the drums.

Drop In The Ocean is a lovely ballad to close the album on. While it is sonically worlds apart from What Goes On, I feel compelled to listen to the album again and stay within Midnight Oil's catalogue.

Redneck Wonderland really should have been the follow-up to Blue Sky Mining, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Regardless, we have it now and that’s all that matters. It still amazes me that Redneck Wonderland was not more commercially successful, but it just goes to show how fickle us fans can be. That said, you can’t really blame fans for not having faith in a new album, following Midnight Oil’s mediocre mid-90s releases. That said, if you did miss out on hearing this album in the past, I implore you to give it a listen as it really is an excellent release.

For this review, I listened to the TIDAL Hi-Fi 16/44.1 kHz edition and found the mastering to be perfect for Midnight Oil’s musicality. However, it was mastered a little too hot but I didn't find that to be detrimental to the overall listening experience.

Redneck Wonderland is available on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes. If you prefer streaming, it is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Carpenters - Self-Titled (Album Review)

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Carpenters - Self-Titled (Album Review)

Is it just me, or are re-issues of the Carpenters’ albums well overdue? No, I'm not just talking about hastily thrown together anniversary deluxe editions. I'm referring to the record label and copyright holders going back to the master tapes and creating a respectful remaster that would be the definitive releases of their studio albums. I say this because, as much as I appreciate my Carpenters CD collection, none compare to the sonic brilliance heard on the vinyl release of The Singles 1969-1973. It is truly wonderful but, every time I play their third Self-Titled album, I am left wanting more. Especially considering a few songs from this album are present on the aforementioned compilation.

Unfortunately, I find the CD exhibits a very clinical digital harshness in tonality. Yes, it is a digital transport method, but it is fatiguing to listen to. Perhaps it could be suggested that my Pro-ject Debut Carbon (fitted with an Ortofon OM20 needle) is more musical than my Oppo BDP-103. I would, however, have to disagree with that as I get exceptional sound from the Oppo, provided the music is mastered correctly. Comparatively, I have some terrible vinyl pressings that no turntable could present favourably. As always, it really comes down to how the album was mastered. I'm sure some of you may think I am overstating the variances, but I can assure you the difference is night and day. Now that isn't to say that vinyl is incomparable, but it is closer to how I believe the Carpenters should sound and there is no listening fatigue.

I have also listened to the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi and, despite being different releases, similar sonic limitations are present and I would go as far as saying the TIDAL Hi-Fi version is noticeably inferior when compared to the CD, using the same DAC and overall settings. Surprisingly, the CD has a warmer and more pleasing tone than its TIDAL counterpart.

If you have an original, unmolested, vinyl release of this album I am truly envious and can only assume it sounds incredible. It is important to note that some people are less than impressed with the vinyl re-issue of The Singles 1969-1973. Apparently, it is a shadow of its former self and how the original sounded. I have no doubt, but it is still the best sounding Carpenters album I own.

Also, while I'm criticising things, let’s talk about the CD artwork and overall packaging. Housed in a standard jewel case, you get a rather bland CD and liner notes are non-existent, unless you call the reprinting of the rear cover a linear note. Surely, they could have included printed lyrics, but alas it is about as barebones as you can get. No wonder streaming music has taken off so quickly. Convenience is, of course, one key element, but I have numerous albums, on a variety of formats, that are simply not worth owning because their presentation offers no value-added proposition for the consumer. I also find it hilarious that the CD lists the tracks as being on either Side One or Side Two. Yes, double-sided optical discs do exist, but with a runtime of 31 minutes, it isn't even utilising half the capacity of the CD. This is just pure laziness. If I worked for a record company, pumping out substandard products such as this, I would be ashamed. While I understand re-issuing is all about financial return, it is my belief that an album shouldn’t be remastered, or re-issued, unless it is going to be done properly and with the respect it deserves. As music lovers, we really shouldn’t have to put up with such variations in quality,

Okay, so now that I have had my little rant and got all the depressing aspects out of the way, join me as I take a listen to the most important element; the music!

Rainy Days And Mondays is simply gorgeous. While I prefer listening to the song on the aforementioned vinyl compilation, I would listen to, and enjoy, this song on almost any speaker known to man. It is addictive and my mind plays it over and over as if it were a broken record.

Saturday is a campy B-side. I simply do not get any enjoyment from this attempt-to-be-funky tune.

Let Me Be The One thankfully brings Karen Carpenter back to the microphone. I'm sorry, but while Richard Carpenter is incredibly talented, I listen to the Carpenters primarily to hear that gorgeous vocal. Karen Carpenter was one of the greatest female vocalists in history and Let Me Be The One is an exceptional Carpenters tune that validates that opinion.

(A Place To) Hideaway is a beautiful song and one of the best on the album. Despite my complaints about sonic quality, this song is simply magical.

For All We Know is another lovely song, perfectly suited to the Carpenters’ style, but the sonic quality of this particular song sounds concealed. Still, as with their other songs, I can sometimes get past the substandard mastering as their songs are incredibly relaxing and a pleasure to listen to. Although, the aluminium foil sounding hi-hat cymbals, throughout For All We Know, is challenging to look past.

Superstar is one of my all-time favourite songs. This song on vinyl is beyond amazing. That said, other than being a little shrill on the CD, it sounds darn impressive.

Druscilla Penny isn’t a bad song and I certainly appreciate the upbeat approach as it suits Richard Carpenter's vocal style. However, what is with that beat that sounds strangely like a speck of dust on a vinyl record? It doesn't sound out of place, it just sounds wrong.

One Love is sensational. It is the definition of Easy Listening as my eyes subconsciously close, when this song is played, as I visualise the performance.

Bacharach/David Medley: A: Knowing When To Leave, B: Make It Easy On Yourself, C: (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me, D: I'll Never Fall In Love Again, E: Walk On By, F: Do You Know The Way To Jose is a fantastic medley that I simply adore. Some of you may be wondering what the song transition is like. Well, it can be summed up in a single word: masterful.

Sometimes is a lovely song, but I feel it is unbalanced as the instrumentation is featured for too long before the lyrical element begins. Subsequently, the lyrical delivery, while beautiful, is over too soon. I also don't like the ending of the song as I feel it concludes abruptly. It doesn't leave me compelled to listen to the album again or stay within the Carpenters' catalogue. If the medley was the final track on the album, I dare say my opinion would be vastly different.

Overall, the Carpenters’ Self-Titled album is an exceptional release from a musicality perspective. If I have been overly tough on the mastering of the CD, it is only because I’m aware of how incredible their music can sound and I truly hope someone is working on an archival project that will bring us closer to the original master tapes.

This review is based on listening to the Australian issued Karussell (PolyGram/A&M) release; cat: 550 063 2.

The Carpenters’ Self-Titled third album is available for purchase on CD, the TIDAL Store, and iTunes. If you prefer streaming, it is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Air - Talkie Walkie (Album Review)

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Air - Talkie Walkie (Album Review)

Unless I plagiarise the artist information from TIDAL, I have absolutely no background information to share regarding the French band Air as, until recently, I didn’t even know they existed. I merely saw Talkie Walkie at my local record store and made a mental note to check it out.

The cover artwork is intriguingly bland, yet it is strangely compelling. What are these two musicians looking at? Why are there mathematical formulas in the background? Well, math was never my forte, hence it is pure gibberish to me. Although, it does make me feel more intelligent by mere association. Remember when Encyclopedia ownership was a sign that one was well-read and intelligent? Similarly, vinyl ownership also has an air (no pun intended) of superiority. The more unique a collection, the more knowledgeable one must be about music. While I don’t intend to claim any superior knowledge, I do love sharing my subjective opinions on the music that touches my soul. Hence, it is time to explore Air's Walkie Talkie album.

Venus is sonically relaxing and nothing but a pure pleasure to listen to. The composition is dynamically layered, thereby creating a beautiful soundstage that envelops the listener.

Cherry Blossom Girl continues the Easy Listening style and is simply gorgeous. It has a vocal overlapping harmony that reminds me of the style used by the Bee Gees. The soundstage is massive and audibly creates a painters palette of sonic imagery for the mind to interpret. It is exceptional!

Run shifts the musicality to a more eerie feeling with elements reminiscent of Enya's musical style. It isn't a bad song but, while I appreciate the Enya-inspired harmonics, the eeriness of the track results in mental confusion that prevents relaxation.

Universal Traveller has a gorgeous musical introduction and rhythmic beat throughout the entire song. This is a perfect song to listen to via a good set of headphones and a dedicated headphone amplifier/DAC. Your ears will thank you! However, if you don't like repetition in music, you may want to give this song a miss as the harmonious lyrical context is repeated ad nauseam.

Mike Mills is a sensational sonic wonderland!

Surfing On A Rocket is a killer track. If you only listen to one song, make it this one. It is certainly one of the best songs on the album and while the lyrical content is repetitive, it is never dull.

Another Day has me swaying, toe-tapping, and head-bopping. In this case, actions speak louder than any words I could write.

Alpha Beta Gaga has an interesting introduction that is unlike any other song on the album. While it has taken a few listens for me to truly enjoy this composition, my daughter was immediately drawn to it as she has proclaimed her love for this track in particular. The whistle element, instead of lyrical delivery, is superb and you will find yourself whistling along without a second thought. I have a feeling that is what makes it so appealing to my daughter.

Biological is a quirky song and I find the distorted bounce beat to be rather distracting. I understand the intention, I just don’t feel it works well. While Biological isn't my favourite song on the album, it doesn't feel alien to the overall theme or musicality of the album.

Alone In Kyoto is another wondrous sonic presentation that closes the album out beautifully. Without a doubt, I feel compelled to listen to the album again and explore more of Air's catalogue.

Talkie Walkie is an incredible sonic journey that just about any music lover will appreciate. I know that I do, and I continue to listen to this album on repeat. It is really that good!

For this review, I listened to the 16/44.1 kHz TIDAL Hi-Fi edition. Perfection is not a term I use lightly when it comes to mastering, but it is nothing short of sonic perfection. I would love to hear Talkie Walkie in MQA, but it isn’t currently available. Fingers crossed we won't have to wait too long for it to appear as a TIDAL Master. In the meantime, the CD-quality edition will have to suffice; that is until I track down a copy on vinyl.

Talkie Walkie is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes. If you prefer streaming, the album can also be heard on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Nirvana - "Bleach" (Deluxe Edition Album Review)

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Nirvana - "Bleach" (Deluxe Edition Album Review)

Nirvana first appeared on my radar with Smells Like Teen Spirit from the incredibly successful Nevermind album. Nevermind is exceptional but while I continued to follow Nirvana in the Grohl era, I somehow missed their debut album "Bleach".

Interestingly, "Bleach" reportedly only cost $600 to make. Remember, this was in a period before prosumer tools were available to the masses at an affordable price. As I listen to "Bleach”, it is difficult to fathom this limited budget when compared directly to the quality of the album. Part of my reasoning for undertaking this review is I noticed a vinyl reissue was available and as I have never heard the album in its entirety, I wanted to give it a go and see if it would be a worthy addition to my Nirvana collection. While this review is based on the Deluxe Edition, the vinyl re-issues are available in both standard and deluxe editions.

Blew has a killer bass intro. I absolutely love the bass guitar and it is featured prominently throughout the entire song. Blew is an exceptional song that highlights the musical skill and sonic adventure Nirvana was capable of taking us on.

Floyd The Barber has an intense beat and rhythm that is extremely addictive. You'll excuse me if I don’t write more, my body is subconsciously convulsing to the beat. Exceptional!

About A Girl is a mellower song, but one I absolutely adore. I have surprisingly heard About A Girl numerous times and it is easily one of Nirvana's greatest recordings.

School has a killer guitar riff and beat. While I thoroughly enjoy this song, I find the lyrics to be a little mundane. However, the musicality is off the charts.

Love Buzz is GROOVY! Novoselic's bass work is pure perfection.

Paper Cuts is a B-side, but worthy of inclusion. However, I feel it is a little mismatched with the rest of the album as it sounds as though it was still in the demo phase at the time of recording.

Negative Creep is an all-time favourite of mine. I can't remember when I first heard it but I was always impressed with the hard hitting soundstage. Numerous songs of this nature can be musically crowded and end up sounding horrible, that is absolutely not the case here as there is plenty of air between the instrumental and vocal elements.

Scoff has an incredible drum and bass beat foundation. It doesn't get much better than this!

Swap Meet is another song that sounds like a demo. It isn't bad, just not fully realised in my opinion. That said, I really dig the rhythm.

Mr. Moustache has an incredible rhythm, but I dislike the lyrical delivery as it sounds disjointed to the musicality of the song.

Sifting has an impressively deep and dynamic drum beat. It is raw and is one song off "Bleach" that I feel is most transparent to the actual sound captured in the studio. It is an excellent song and while it is on the B-side of the album, it is anything but.

Big Cheese has a killer intro and overall composition.

Downer is the final track before the live recordings enter the mix. As the final studio recording, it is a B-side but, it ensures I remain interested in listening to the core album again, as well as continuing onto the live recordings captured at the Pine Street Theatre in 1990.

Intro (Live) should have been left off the album as the high-pitched distortion really takes you away from the musicality of the album.

School (Live) isn’t a bad performance. The correlation between the live and studio recording show a band that is well tuned to their unique sound and is confident with their abilities.

Floyd the Barber (Live) is full of energy and attitude, I love it!

Dive (Live) is a little rough around the edges, but the rhythm is there; as is Cobain's guttural lyrical style.

Love Buzz (Live) is, as mentioned earlier, Groovy! However, I must be honest and say I much prefer the studio recording of this song.

Spank Thru (Live) is another groove-filled track that didn’t make it to the studio album. It’s not bad, but I’m kind of glad that it wasn’t recorded and released on the core “Bleach” album.

Molly's Lips (Live) is a great cover song.

Sappy (Live) is an excellent live performance and worthy of inclusion.

Scoff (Live) is exceptional and reminds me just how good the studio recording is.

About A Girl (Live) is a sonically beautiful performance. Without a doubt, these live tracks are worth the extra investment.

Been A Son (Live) is a great live track. It has a wonderful rhythm and I feel it would have worked well as a studio recording for “Bleach”.

Blew (Live) brings us full circle in what can only be described as an incredible sonic journey.

The cover art is exceptional and I will be picking up the Deluxe Edition on vinyl when I get a chance. I will be sure to write a follow-up review detailing my thoughts on the vinyl pressing compared to that of the TIDAL Masters/MQA 24/96 kHz edition. Sonically, the TIDAL Masters/MQA edition was spot on with an excellent soundstage, dynamic range, and transparency to how I believe the original master recording would have sounded. Yes, I could happily live with the TIDAL Masters/MQA edition of "Bleach", but I would still like to have a complete physical collection of Nirvana's catalogue. 

The Deluxe Edition of "Bleach" is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered For iTunes). If you prefer streaming, it is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Crosby, Stills & Nash - CSN (Album Review)

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Crosby, Stills & Nash - CSN (Album Review)

Most people would already know if they are a CSN (Crosby, Stills & Nash) fan, but for those of you who are not aware of the 70s rock band, specialising in folk while dabbling in country, then the album CSN is the perfect introduction to a band that demands respect from music fans the world over.

From a sonic perspective, think America, Genesis, and Neil Young. Yes, Young would join CSN throughout their career and those performances would be under the moniker, CSNY (Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young). Other sonic similarities include, but are certainly not limited to the Eagles and Bread. It is my opinion that if you enjoy these artists, you will love CSN.

The album cover really appeals to me for some reason. Perhaps it is the happiness expressed by the band members and the feeling that they are ordinary guys like you and I. Whatever it is, I class this cover as one of the most iconic for the era and I dare say it is the best cover art from their career.

While they may appear, on face value, to be three ordinary guys, the incredible soundstage and overall sonic presentation is anything but ordinary. Sit back, relax, and join me as we experience the sonic wonderland that is CSN.

Shadow Captain really highlights the musical style of CSN. I absolutely adore the rhythm and depth of the soundstage. The drum beat is exceptional and full of energy. The continuous hi-hat element is recorded beautifully as the sound tapers off gently into the next note. While it adds a little treble to the mix, it doesn’t detract from an otherwise smooth sound.

See The Changes has an exceptional vocal harmony. The acoustic musicality is a basic composition but is performed remarkably well. Sometimes less really is more and I couldn't imagine this song with more complex sonic elements. See The Changes is nothing short of pure perfection.

Carried Away is beautiful!

Fair Game has a Caribbean feel. It’s a good song but it isn't a favourite of mine.

Anything At All is a lovely song that will captivate you from the very first note. 

Cathedral immediately reminds me of Genesis. I don't know about you, but I love it when a song reminds me of another artist. It is like my mind has a built-in discovery algorithm. Anyway, getting back to the song, I absolutely adore Cathedral! From the slow beginning to the increased tempo mid song, it is absolutely perfect and one of the best songs CSN ever recorded.

Dark Star is a really enjoyable song, yet I find that I don't connect with it on an emotional level.

Just A Song Before I Go is another song that has a perfect match of vocal harmony and instrumentation. It is a gorgeous song that has been recorded, mixed, and mastered impeccably well.

Run From Tears has a killer guitar riff that, along with Stephen Stills' lead vocal, really takes a B-side and turns it into an A-side.

Cold Rain has a delightful piano introduction as it builds to yet another gorgeous vocal harmony. Cold Rain is sonically beautiful and an absolute pleasure to listen to. Your ears will thank you for listening to this track.

In My Dreams is textbook Easy Listening.

I Give You Give Blind has an introduction that I'm not fond of, but once the song begins I tend to enjoy it. As the final track, it encourages me to listen to the album again and stay within the CSN and CSNY catalogues. That said, there is part of me that would have liked to have seen Just A Song Before I Go as the final track. Yes, I know it would have been corny, but I also think it would have been perfect.

Overall, CSN is one of the greatest albums ever recorded. Even the couple of songs that I don’t connect with are worthy when listening to the entire album as a single body of work.

For this review, I listened to the TIDAL Master/MQA edition at 24/96 kHz. It is important to note that this was only the first software unfold, carried out by Audirvana Plus 3, as I’ve yet to invest in an MQA compatible DAC. Unfortunately, Oppo has yet to announce their intentions regarding support for MQA. If you have a DAC that is MQA compatible, you will be able to listen to CSN at the full 24/192 kHz resolution. That said, the 24/96 has a full-bodied sound with perfect mastering. Yes, I am aware that Steve Hoffman worked his mastering magic on CSN in 2013, however, I have not heard that edition and subsequently can not comment on the sonic qualities of that release. The MQA edition lists mastering, remastering, and digital mastering as being undertaken by Joe Gastwirt. Regardless, I can honestly say that if I were only able to listen to the MQA edition, I would consider it an absolute privilege to enjoy such a high-quality production. When compared to the 16/44.1 kHz CD-quality edition on TIDAL Hi-Fi, there is a noticeable difference and I find the CD-quality edition to be rather fatiguing as the dynamics and overall soundstage is simply not as smooth as that presented by MQA, despite being the work of the same mastering engineer. I know many of you have yet to test MQA, but I have consistently been blown away by the quality since TIDAL began streaming it in January 2017. More information about TIDAL Masters/MQA can be found here.

CSN is available on CD, 24 Karat Gold CD from Audio Fidelity, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes). If you prefer streaming, it is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Midnight Oil – Breathe (Album Review)

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Midnight Oil – Breathe (Album Review)

Compared to Earth And Sun And Moon, Breathe is a transitional album that sees Midnight Oil return to their signature sound. While Breathe is still no Blue Sky Mining or Diesel And Dust, there are some exceptional songs to be heard on the album. That is, of course, if you can get past the grotesque album artwork. Yes, it is relevant to the album, but it is one cover that I don’t feel compelled to own on vinyl.

Underwater is an exceptional track. The distorted musical introduction merged with a crystal clear vocal is very enjoyable. As the elements of the song build, the rhythm really takes form and you will find yourself toe tapping and head bopping throughout.

Surf's Up Tonight isn’t a bad song. I remember first hearing it on 20,000 Watt R.S.L. and it surprised me as I never felt it was worthy of a greatest hits album. Yes, it has a great groove and is one of the best songs on Breathe, but I also feel the chorus lyric, 'surf's up tonight', is too repetitive.

Common Ground is a gorgeous composition. I absolutely love this song! That said, I feel the mix of the track is slightly off, particularly in the chorus as the instrumentation is too busy, thereby resulting in mental confusion and increased treble. Most likely this shallow soundstage could be corrected in a remastering, but given how bad many remasters are, it could simply make things worse.

Time To Heal is a perfect Midnight Oil song as every element shows just how skilled they were as musicians and songwriters.

Sins Of Omission has a decent groove, but I'm not a fan of the introduction and the continuous hi-hat beat is a little grating on the senses. Sins Of Omission is most definitely a B-side, but I have heard worse from Midnight Oil.

One Too Many Times is a great song, but I don't feel it is a great song for Midnight Oil. It is too folky for their style of music. Yes, experimenting with musical styles is a good thing when it works. However, in this instance, I don't feel it does.

Star Of Hope is AWESOME! The Neil Young inspired sound is perfectly suited to Midnight Oil. See, I really don't mind sonic experimentation when it works.

In The Rain is a short track that proves sometimes less is more. I adore this track for that very reason.

Bring On The Change is a disjointed mess and that hi-hat beat once again distracts the listener.

Home is a duet and I think it is a first for Midnight Oil. For those of you wondering who the vocalist is, it is the great Emmylou Harris. She is such an incredible vocalist and merged with Garrett's vocal style, it is a sonic match made in heaven. Home is exceptional and the more I listen to it, the more I appreciate it.

E-Beat is a B-side.

Barest Degree has a nice rhythm and vocal presentation, but it is most certainly another B-side.

Gravelrash gets the cymbal sound right for the first time on the album as it is not jarring and simmers into the next note perfectly. As an instrumental track, I like it. However, Midnight Oil is as much about Peter Garrett as it is his musical counterparts. Hence, it is the perfect song to close the album on, but it is also missing that identifying frontman. If I had heard this song, absent from the album, I don't believe I would connect this instrumental track with Midnight Oil.

Breathe, overall, is an exceptional album and sees Midnight Oil come one step closer to their renowned sonic signature following their quizzical Earth And Sun And Moon album. Despite a couple of B-sides, the album experience is solid. I tend to be someone who listens to albums, rather than songs. I have considered writing song reviews, especially for those that have been heavily covered, but the simple fact is that I don't enjoy music one song at a time. Long live the album experience!

For this review, I listened to the 1996 mastering on TIDAL Hi-Fi. The mastering itself is adequate, but I feel it is a disjointed effort as some tracks are more refined than others. Of course, it is important to note that these variances could quite as easily be the result of varied recording styles or mixing decisions. My criticism in this respect shouldn't be considered negative, as the album is very good, but I believe it could have been significantly better.

Breathe is available on CD, the TIDAL Store, and iTunes. If you prefer streaming, Breathe is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Iron Maiden – Somewhere Back In Time – The Best Of: 1980-1989 (Album Review)

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Iron Maiden – Somewhere Back In Time – The Best Of: 1980-1989 (Album Review)

Compilations are often thrown together with little thought and consideration. Most of the time they consist only of songs that have been hugely successful as singles. While this Best Of does include many of the songs we know and love, Maiden decided to do something a little different with this release. The inclusion of live tracks throughout the album, really sets this release apart from other compilations and encourages the dedicated fan to pick up an album they otherwise may have left in the record store. It really is a value-added proposition for the consumer and I praise the band and the record label for attempting to do something different.

Some of you may be concerned with the flow of the album and how the mix of studio and live performances blend together. Well, I can set your mind at ease by letting you know the mastering is exceptional and all music, live and studio recorded, is perfectly matched. Yes, I acknowledge many live performances are tweaked in the studio, but I’m not even going to entertain that thought as the entire album experience is a worthy piece of musical art.

Speaking of art, the cover art alone offers enough justification to purchase this compilation on vinyl. That is one badass cover!

Over the years I have always appreciated a compilation album; they are great for car journeys and gifts. This Maiden release is so compelling that I may even pick up a copy on CD for my son. I keep buying him compilation albums by all the greatest musicians, across all genres, as I feel it gives him a broad knowledge and appreciation of music. Yes, I could always set up a TIDAL Family Plan, but as much as I adore TIDAL, it is impersonal compared to a CD that can be gifted, held, and grabbed on the way to the car. Not to mention he gets to experience the all-important liner notes.  

Intro (Churchill's Speech) is simply a spoken introduction to the live performance of Aces High.

Aces High (Live) is an exceptional performance. Yes, as I mentioned earlier, I’m aware that many live recordings are not as 'live' as many would hope. However, I simply don't care as the essence of the performance is present. While I'm not saying that Maiden used studio trickery to achieve this sound, I also can't ignore the possibility as it is sonically perfect.

2 Minutes To Midnight is a killer track. I love it!

Every time I listen to The Trooper I immediately recall and want to watch, Metal Evolution – The Series. If you haven't checked it out, it is a must see! Seriously, I give you permission to stop reading and give it a look. Back to the song and The Trooper is Iron Maiden 101. You will, if you haven't already, be turning this up to 11. The Trooper has to be one of the best Maiden recordings ever with a guitar riff that is perfect in every sense of the word. However, I tend to feel that way about most of their work. They are great, aren’t they?

Wasted Years has some incredible musicality. However, I tend to get listening fatigue by the end of the song. That isn’t to say it is a bad song, just that I lack a connection with it. Perhaps it is due to listening to it countless times over the years, or perhaps it has been due to hearing a lacklustre master. Thankfully the mastering on this release is fantastic and the song has never sounded better in my opinion. It is full and spacious with all drum elements, even the cymbals, sounding just as they should. You can hear the shimmer of the high hats as they dissolve throughout the soundstage. It no longer sounds like it was recorded using pots, pans, and tin cans. The mastering is another justification for picking up the vinyl release, provided it isn't a picture disc release. While some audiophiles may still proclaim it to not be perfect, it is perfect for Maiden.

Children Of The Damned is about as mellow as Maiden gets, but what an incredible song. I absolutely love it!

The Number Of The Beast is a fantastic song, but I'm not sure which master they used as the cymbal crashes are horrid. They sound like someone has been hitting really thin sheets of aluminium. It's a shame because this one element impacts my appreciation of the song.

Run To The Hills is a favourite of mine. As I listen to this album, I am struck by the sonic journey Iron Maiden continually takes us on. They are one of the best, if not the best, in my opinion!

Phantom Of The Opera (Live) is an exceptional song and this live performance is a perfect rendition of the song. While I'm not a fan of going to live concerts, as I have had bad sonic experiences, Maiden is one that I wish I had seen when they last toured Australia. That said, I still haven’t got over the horrid sound of AC/DC’s last concert in Sydney. The music was out-of-sync and the mix wasn't the greatest, to begin with. That experience really tarnished my appreciation of the band and I swore to never let another live performance have that impact on me. Hence, I missed out on Maiden only a few months later.

The Evil That Men Do has some excellent guitar work, although that could be said about every Maiden recording. They really are the definition of a riff-based band. While The Evil That Men Do isn’t my favourite Maiden song, it is a worthy inclusion and feels well suited to the lineup of selected songs. For me, however, I believe my indifferent towards the song stems from it being too similar, in style, to The Trooper.

Wrathchild (Live) is another hard hitting live performance. The lead guitar work is exquisite!

Can I Play With Madness has some excellent elements, but I feel the repetition of ‘Can I Play With Madness’, with regards to the vocal chorus, is a little too much to tolerate upon repeat plays.

Powerslave is a killer song with an addictively smooth rhythm.

Hallowed Be Thy Name is one of my all-time favourite Maiden tunes. It really doesn't get much better than this. Pure perfection!