Elvis Presley With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – If I Can Dream (Album Review)

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Elvis Presley With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – If I Can Dream (Album Review)

It never ceases to amaze me just how many different ways the music industry can repackage the music we know and love. While I was underwhelmed by the Carpenters With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra release, I was blown away by the Elvis Presley album. 

The song selection is superb, but I do question if Burning Love was the best song to get the Philharmonic treatment and open the album with. Of course, that is only one song, and the rest of the album is beyond reproach with a very tasteful orchestral inclusion to Presley’s timeless classics. 

Of course, this 2015 compilation wouldn’t be the only release to merge the classical with the rock and roll legend, but to be completely honest, I haven’t taken the time to listen to the followup, The Wonder Of You, as I fear it was released following the overwhelming success of If I Can Dream and history has taught me to be wary of additional instalments as they can, but rarely do, exceed the expectations of the original highly successful release. Of course, the Helene Fischer duet on The Wonder Of You is, to say the least, compelling as she has a divine voice. Never say never, dear reader, for one day you may just see a review of The Wonder Of You pop up on Subjective Sounds; just don’t hold your breath for a review of Christmas With Elvis And The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The release of If I Can Dream that I’m fortunate enough to own is the standard 14-track CD release. Sonically, it’s beautiful and that is of course, in part, due to the masterful arrangements and mixing that ensures Elvis has never sounded better. The mastering is beyond reproach and shows just how good CD can sound, thanks in part to Vic Anesini at Battery Studios in New York. Of course, as with all standard releases, there is also a Deluxe Edition that I’ve lusted over for some time, but I have to remind myself that I am thoroughly happy with the track selection that is featured on the standard CD release and while I may be missing out on Anything That’s Part Of You, What Now My Love, and Heartbreak Hotel, I much prefer the artwork on the standard release as it is less pompous than the Deluxe Edition. Although, and this may be confusing, the Apple Music/iTunes (Mastered for iTunes) edition uses the alternative artwork even though the additional tracks are not present. Nevertheless, I love the classic photographs that appear throughout the liner notes as they pay homage to the era; something that I feel all reissues should do henceforth as a true representation of the artist.

Also included in the liner notes is a lovely reflection by Priscilla Presley, giving us some insight into Elvis’ mindset following his recording sessions whereby he longed for a fuller sound, one that can really only be achieved with the assistance of an orchestra. I can’t argue with that opinion, for I too love the fullness of an orchestral body of work and when I listen to some of the legacy Elvis recordings, I would appreciate a fuller sound. Well, now we have it and it is fair to say that if you take the time to listen to, and appreciate, If I Can Dream, you’ll hear these classics as you’ve never heard them before and you’ll likely, as I have, fall in love with them all over again. 

Just a final note on the liner notes, I can’t begin to express just how appreciative I am to the team behind this release. They have gone above and beyond, nothing has been missed, and it is a pleasure to sit, flick between the pages, and enjoy as I sit back and listen to this masterpiece. I’d like to say this is common, but I have so many CD releases that seem as though they’ve just been thrown together on a whim, with no real thought or care put in place, especially in the modern era where streaming is now dominant. Subsequently, it is refreshing to see that some record labels and releases still go that extra step to ensure fans are rewarded with albums that can really be wonderful experiences that extend beyond the sonic pleasures of the release. 

Burning Love is a great song, but I’m a little conflicted about the decision to use it as the opener as the other songs included on this compilation release are a little less rock and roll. That isn’t to say that Burning Love doesn’t work with an orchestra approach, or that I dislike the song, nothing could be further from the truth. It simply means that out of all the songs selected, I feel this is the least appealing, but I can understand why it was chosen. Regardless of my subjective thoughts, fans will likely be in awe and will thoroughly enjoy this rendition. 

It’s Now Or Never is a lovely song and sets the tone and overall tempo for the rest of the album. 

Love Me Tender is one of the most beautiful songs ever written and recorded and while the original is beyond reproach, this melding of styles takes the song to a completely new level. One that will allow you to experience it as if it were the first time all over again. This song is the very reason why I love music as much as I do. 

Fever (feat. Michael Bublé) is a great song and while I was initially skeptical of Bublé’s inclusion, it works so well. However, if there is one element that doesn’t sit well with me, it is the vocal tracking. There is a difference between the Presley and Bublé vocal tracks, resulting in a little echo, most likely due to the tracks being recorded in two different studios, at two different time periods. You don’t notice it when listening to the songs with Presley on his own, but it is a minor irritation in this song. Not that it deters me from enjoying it, for I love it, but this slight variation is especially apparent when listening via headphones so music lovers who are sensitive to such small deviations may be best advised to listen to the album via loudspeakers. 

Bridge Over Troubled Water is an absolute classic and while I love the Simon & Garfunkel original, Presley’s rendition has always been incredible, one of the very best ever recorded, and this orchestral rendition takes the song to another level of listening pleasure. Truth-be-told, I’ve never heard a bad interpretation of this masterpiece, but I do have a soft spot for this version and I suggest you turn the volume up, sit back with a glass of wine, and enjoy. It’s absolutely spectacular!

And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind is a song where you can really hear Neil Diamond. Arguably, I feel the Neil Diamond original is the better version and as I think about it, I can’t help but wonder just how incredible Diamond’s entire catalogue would be with an orchestral mix. Nevertheless, this is a lovely rendition and a perfect addition to the album. 

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling is another absolute classic and while I enjoy Presley’s rendition, I feel the mix with the original recording and the orchestral backing is a little rough in places, especially in the backing vocal elements that I feel detract from the orchestral element as they are simply too prominent in the mix.

There’s Always Me is one of the songs on the album that I’m not overly familiar with. Yes, I adore Presley’s entire catalogue, but even the most devout fan will likely be unfamiliar with a few songs here and there. Nevertheless, There’s Always Me is a lovely addition to the album and doesn’t feel out-of-place.

Can’t Help Falling In Love is another Presley classic that requires no introduction or commentary. The original is a masterpiece and this orchestral version has merely enhanced the song. Stunning!

In The Ghetto is one of my all-time favourite Elvis songs. Without a doubt, the production team behind this release really chose well, considering just how many exceptional songs Presley recorded in his life. I can only imagine the discussions surrounding the selection process. It certainly wouldn’t have been easy and perhaps that is why additional releases have been forthcoming because the mixture of Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is a match made in heaven.

How Great Thou Art is a lovely hymn and on first listen doesn’t seem like a good song to select for this compilation, but I’m happy to say that I stand corrected for I couldn’t imagine this release without this song. 

Steamroller Blues is moody and brooding and absolutely perfect. 

An American Trilogy is a lovely song that is enhanced beautifully with the orchestral overtures. 

If I Can Dream is the perfect song to close the album on as it bookends the album nicely with the style of Burning Love as the opener, ensuring that I will listen to the album again and stay within Presley’s extensive catalogue of music. 

Overall, If I Can Dream is, truly, a dream come true for any Elvis fan. Elvis is in the room with you, as is the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and arguably has never sounded better. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I couldn’t imagine a better homage to such a sensational talent. We are truly fortunate to have Elvis’ music, but we are even more fortunate to have such a respectful modernisation of some of his greatest hits. 

If I Can Dream is available on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes)

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Meat Loaf – Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell (Album Review)

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Meat Loaf – Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell (Album Review)

Some albums become instant classics, not requiring the usual time + nostalgia equation. Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell was most certainly an instant classic as there isn’t a bad song to be heard on this 1993 release while paying homage to the original Bat Out Of Hell album from 1977.

While one may suggest it was mere nostalgia that contributed to the success of this release, we have to remember that Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose was less than a stellar release and ultimately failed to captivate music lovers as Bat II did. Yes, there are many reasons for this, such as Jim Steinman’s absence during the album’s creation, even though a number of his songs were used. Of course, the legal dispute between Steinman and Meat Loaf, regarding the phrase Bat Out Of Hell, certainly didn’t help and one has to wonder how much of Bat III was really about closing out the trilogy and how much was driven by the obvious capitalisation of the brand. While I’d like to suggest the latter is not a factor, if there is money to be made, sadly the powers that be will milk a franchise for all it’s worth until they destroy it. As such, Bat III just doesn’t have the soul of the original album, nor Bat II; even though the second instalment is an album that I consider to be the pinnacle of Meat Loaf’s career and one which is, in my subjective opinion, better than the original masterpiece.

Yes, I acknowledge my aforementioned declaration of love for Bat II is likely to ruffle some feathers, but one must remember that Bat II was my first exposure to Meat Loaf and the moment I saw the music video for I’ll Do Anything For Love, (But I Won’t Do That), with its epic motorcycle revving introduction and the lustful Dana Patrick, I was hooked.

Of course, I’d go on to own Meat Loaf’s entire catalogue. Yes, even those albums that I’m sure Meat Loaf would regret having recorded and released. I am a collector, after all. Nevertheless, when I wanted my Meat Loaf fix, throughout the 90s, I’d turn to Bat II as it is a killer album from start to finish without a single B-Side to be found. Yes, Wasted Youth and Back Into Hell are minor distractions, but they ultimately suit the album’s styling adequately enough that they don’t feel too out-of-place.

Speaking of things being out-of-place, I even tried to woo a girl with this album as the teenage mind believed that music could be a great icebreaker. Well, it kind of was but truth is often stranger than fiction and this particular girl asked if she could borrow the CD after hearing me casually discuss it with another friend at the time. I said sure and took the CD from the portable CD player, placed it back into its case, and handed it across.

The golden brown locks and those hazel eyes captivated me and like many testosterone-driven teenage boys, I was sure this was going to be my foot in the door.

A couple of days later, I got the shock of my life, as she returned the CD to me and merely said thank you. Of course, being a massive music nerd, I couldn’t leave it at that, I had to enter the interrogation mode and find out what she thought of it. I quickly found out she didn’t even listen to it. Her father was a huge Meat Loaf fan and didn’t yet have the album. Of course, I was assured that he liked the album.

Yes, dear reader, I was rejected and my heart was broken and life as I knew it would never be the same again. Okay, maybe that is a little overdramatic, but it is truly amazing how rejection, for any reason, can impact the psyche of the teenage mind.

Of course, a quarter of a century later, I no longer feel rejected by it. In fact, I find it hilarious that I could have even pondered such a notion, although not much as changed as I’m fast approaching 40, getting ready for my midlife crisis, only imagining the ludicrous stories I will be able to tell you upon reflection in the years to come. That, however, is another lifetime away and until then, let’s take a look at the songs that make up Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell.

I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) has an exceptional opening that is simply unmistakable. While some may lament the extensive radio play that this song has received, I still find that it’s fresh and the intro, if nothing else, is one of the greatest in the history of rock and roll. Nevertheless, I put I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) in the same category as Paradise By The Dashboard Light; it is pure perfection and should be part of everyone’s power ballad playlist.

While, obviously, this is primarily a Meat Loaf review, credit must be given to Lorraine Crosby for the incredible vocal prowess she delivered on this track. Meat Loaf is good, but with Crosby, he and I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) is great!

I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) also won a Grammy Award for the Best Rock Vocal Performance, Solo in 1994 at the 36th Annual Grammy Awards, beating out Peter Gabriel’s Steam, Sting’s Demolition Man, Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower, and perhaps most surprisingly Lenny Kravitz’s Are You Gonna Go My Way.

If you’d like to cross into an alternate reality, the symphonic metal band Xandria recorded an exceptional cover of I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).

While I haven’t viewed the music video for a couple of decades, it’s still rather compelling. Although, I don’t find it as captivating and mystical as I did in my teenage years. Isn’t it interesting how as we age, our viewpoints change? In its heyday, I recall watching the music video back to back for hours at a time; that poor VHS tape. Of course, if I’m to be completely honest, I was most probably more captivated by the beauty of Dana Patrick than any other aspect of the music video. Nevertheless, it’s still worth checking out and hasn’t really aged despite drastic changes in filmmaking during the last couple of decades. Perhaps we could put that down to the vision of Michael Bay who directed all Meat Loaf’s music videos during this era. Of course, the music video, and associated radio mix is truncated as the original song is a 12-minute epic. It’s a shame as the shift is noticeable in the music video, especially if you’re familiar with the original album release.

Life Is A Lemon And I Want My Money Back is my all-time favourite Meat Loaf song. It is rock and roll 101 and the poetic delivery, mixed with the sarcastic and ironic has always appealed to my slightly left-of-the-centre mindset. I love it!

Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through is a great tune, but it has aged significantly and no longer feels as fresh as it once did. Nevertheless, it is one of my favourite songs on the album but may not appeal to modern fans of Meat Loaf.

Of course, you may be familiar with the Jim Steinman original, released on his 1981 release, Bad For Good and sung by Rory Dodd. Dodd is no Meat Loaf, from a vocal perspective, but I thoroughly enjoy this original and in this case, I consider it to be a published demo. There’s a music video for this original and it’s so bad that it’s good! Dodd doesn’t appear in the music video as Steinman delivers lead vocals via lip syncing that is surprisingly convincing.

The Meat Loaf music video isn’t bad, but it isn’t the greatest either. Of course, at the time, I thought it was wonderful. Hey, come on, it featured Angelina Jolie; what else was I to do as my teenage mind took control of my likes and dislikes. I know you’ve been there too, dear reader, there’s no use denying it.

It Just Won’t Quit shifts the flow of the album and while musically It Just Won’t Quit is glorious, I find the flow of the album is adversely affected by this song. Of course, once the song gets going, things start to pick up and therefore it has me wondering if we really needed the slow, near-acoustic, introduction or if the song could have started more promptly. Although, I do thoroughly enjoy the closing element that bookends the song in the same manner as the introduction, so you can’t necessarily have one without the other. Perhaps you could, but it wouldn’t be the same and there is certainly a balance that works with this edition.

It Just Won’t Quit is another cover for Meat Loaf as it was originally recorded and released by Pandora’s Box on their 1989 release, Original Sin. The Pandora’s Box original isn’t bad, but I do prefer Meat Loaf’s cover.

Out Of The Frying Pan (And Into The Fire) has a killer guitar track. Yes, dear reader, get your air guitar ready, you’re going to need it. In fact, the entire song is fantastic and one of the best on the album and in Meat Loaf’s catalogue.

Jim Steinman originally released Out of the Frying Pan (And into the Fire) on Bad For Good. Steinman’s version isn’t appealing, but one can certainly see the origins of what the song would become.

Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are is a beautiful song from start to finish. While I enjoy Meat Loaf’s louder, more rock-driven songs, the guy has an incredible vocal prowess that works brilliantly with Steinman’s near-symphonic songwriting style.

…and yes, every time I look at the bottom of the rear view mirrors on my car, and notice the safety message, I’m reminded that I should put this album on and rock out to Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are.

The music video is, as the song is, a rollercoaster ride of emotions that is true to the song and visually appealing. Yes, dear reader, once again as I was a teenager when this album and the subsequent video clip was released, the scene depicting an older woman teaching the younger man about the mystery and the muscle of love was likely at the forefront of my experience with this song. In fact, in my own life, I would gravitate to a beautiful woman some nine years older than myself. Well, will you look at that, life really does imitate art!

Wasted Youth is one track that I have a love/hate relationship with. I’m not sure I would call it a song. Although, if viewed in similar styling to Lou Reed’s work, then perhaps it could be classed as a song. That said, it isn’t a bad parable and flows well into Everything Louder Than Everything Else, but one must question if it adds any intrinsic value to the album.

Everything Louder Than Everything Else is a solid riff-driven rock and roll song that was never going to set the world on fire but is thoroughly enjoyable when it comes on. Of course, it could just be a welcome inclusion following Steinman’s spoken word Wasted Youth. Okay, maybe I’m being a little too harsh on Wasted Youth, it really isn’t that bad, but it does break the flow of the album.

Good Girls Go To Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere) is jazzy rock and roll. I love it! Seriously, what’s not to like? Turn the volume up and enjoy!

As with It Just Won’t Quit, Good Girls Go To Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere) is another Pandora’s Box cover. The original is solid, reminding me of many Bonnie Tyler songs. Yes, Meat Loaf’s version is the one to beat, but Pandora’s Box really recorded an exceptional original. Released as a single, the Pandora’s Box version also had a music video made which is rather good but seriously dated to the time. Seriously, check it out and you’ll see what I mean.

Back Into Hell is an interesting instrumental track that works well on its own, but does it really work well in the album format? Over the last couple of decades I’ve become familiar with it, so removing it now would not be an option. However, as with Wasted Youth, one can’t deny that it shifts the flow of the album.

Lost Boys And Golden Girls is pure Meat Loaf. His vocal tracking on Lost Boys And Golden Girls is superb and the song is a perfect classical-styled rock song, ensuring I remain in Meat Loaf’s catalogue and listen to the album again. In fact, as I think about it further, I would say Lost Boys And Golden Girls is the one song that links Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell to the original Bat Out Of Hell.

Lost Boys And Golden Girls was also originally recorded and released on Steinman’s Bad For Good. As much as I love Meat Loaf’s rendition, Steinman performs it masterfully.

Overall, Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell is one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time. Yes, I know that praise is often given to the original Bat Out Of Hell, but the collaboration between Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman on this second instalment is beyond reproach. Rock and roll, truly, doesn’t get much better than this!

This review was based on listening to the Apple Music stream and the CD release. Sonically, both are sensational and you won’t be disappointed with the mastering on this release; a stark contrast to the original Bat Out Of Hell. However, sadly, the CD copy I own has very faded artwork that makes me wonder how it got past quality control checks. It’s tragic considering just how beautiful Michael Whelan’s artwork is.

I’m also fortunate enough to have a double cassette release of Bat II that was issued when Meat Loaf toured Australia. Unfortunately, I haven’t got a cassette deck anymore, so it sits staring at me in hope that the cassette revival will reach critical mass and I will come back to a format that I adore and grew up with. If money were no object, I’d likely buy a good Hi-Fi cassette deck on the secondhand market; cause I’ve gotta have the best hardware possible to play the four cassette tapes remaining in my collection. Nevertheless, will you just look at that cover. I thought the original cover was spectacular, but I love the darker, hell-inspired cover art of the limited edition release.

The cassette, of course, includes the entire album on Cassette 1, while the second cassette includes live editions of Bat Out Of Hell, You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth, and Everything Louder Than Everything Else; repeated on both sides. Liner notes, however, are not included, which is a shame, but not entirely unexpected given the change in format and limited nature of the release. I seem to recall there was also an outer cardboard slipcase when I first got the album, but if that were the case, the slipcase is long gone and likely would have got battered up from the various moves I’ve done throughout my life.

Speaking of the varied formats, I really need to pick up a copy of the 25th Anniversary vinyl re-issue. Let’s just hope it isn’t as flawed as my release of Bat Out Of Hell was.

Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell is available to own on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes.

Click here to read other Meat Loaf reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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Glenn Frey – After Hours (Album Review)

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Glenn Frey – After Hours (Album Review)

Friday night comes, following a busy week, and all you feel like doing is pouring yourself a drink, sitting back, and relaxing with music; well, at least that is what appeals to me. I started out listening to Frank Sinatra’s extraordinary Come Fly With Me, twice, and as I was perusing my record collection, I noticed Glenn Frey’s After Hours. Acknowledging that I hadn’t played it for quite some time and that it is similarly relaxing to Sinatra’s 1958 opus, I took the record out of the sleeve, placed it on the platter, gave the needle a clean and got the carbon fibre brush in order to remove any dust artefacts that may have been present. It is a labour of love. Then it was time. Time to drop the needle, sit back, and enjoy. 

Yes, purists will argue that Frey is nowhere near as soulful and smooth as Sinatra, but the way I look at it is that they are different, not only from a vocal dexterity point-of-view but also from the perspective that After Hours is a stereo production whereas my copy of Come Fly With Me is the mono release. The difference between mono and stereo was ultimately the greatest shift to endure but that soon past within moments as For Sentimental Reasons rang out and opened After Hours. 

As I grew up with stereo sound, the concept of mono has sometimes seemed counterproductive but there is just something about the mono sound that is strangely compelling. It is similar to the difference between digitally delivered music and vinyl. Neither is necessarily better or worse, they are just different and some people vehemently support one format over another. For me, it just has to sound right and the two aforementioned albums certainly do. What I do find, however, is that mono recordings tend to fill the room far better. You still get an incredibly evolved soundstage but there are no audible holes in the soundstage to speak of. Whereas, a couple of times, when listening to After Hours I notice that when Frey isn’t on vocals, the soundstage sounds as though something is missing where he should be. Well, you don’t get that with mono, or certainly not in my experience. That said, it could simply have been an issue with the chosen mix for After Hours; as it only happened a couple of times, it’s not detrimental to the enjoyment of the album and overall After Hours has been recorded, mixed, and mastered beautifully.

The vinyl release is quite exquisite. Housed in a gatefold sleeve, the cover art is perhaps a little pedestrian, but it certainly invokes the nighttime street view associated with countless jazz clubs. Therefore, this minimal approach is perfectly suited for the style of music but is unlikely to be memorable or displayed. It’s no Surrender; an incredible jazz album from Victor Cajiao and Joe Cristina that really needs a vinyl release to showcase the gorgeous artwork. Regardless, when you open the gatefold, you’re met with liner notes and a series of absolutely magnificent photos, presented in sepia, to once again connect the artwork to the style and era of the music contained within. 

The record label is beautifully simple and again works with the style Frey was aiming for, on what would sadly be his last album. The record is flat and quiet, with only a small amount of noise noticeable between tracks. It really is a nice vinyl mastering and pressing job. 

While not a disappointment for me, as I will explain later, some may lament the inclusion of only 11 of the 14 available tracks on the vinyl release. Yes, this is another case of the Deluxe Edition blues for those that wish for the vinyl counterpart to have the same tracking as the digital release. Let’s be honest, this is a further attempt to make fans, like you and I, purchase multiple copies. It works, but not on this occasion. Plus, with streaming services now being so varied and readily available, those specific tracks that are on a Deluxe Edition can be streamed if and when it suits me. 

Another reason for not including so many tracks on a vinyl release is that it is a doubled edged sword. On one hand, you want everything, preferably not on multiple records, but the sonic quality suffers the closer grooves are placed together and the dreaded inner-groove distortion is a real problem when a recorded has been mastered and pressed with a focus on filling all available space. It may work perfectly well on the compact disc, but vinyl needs a little more tolerance and while upgrading your needle does help with inner-groove distortion, many people will not go to those extents so it is nice to see that After Hours is mastered in such a way that inner-grove distortion isn’t present; certainly not at an audible level. 

While the three additional songs will be reviewed on their own merit towards the end of this review, I find they’re not compelling enough to buy the Deluxe Edition CD as out of the three, only one is truly worthy of inclusion and even then it doesn’t offer the listener additional value. Of course, that is my subjective opinion and you may feel the additional tracks are excellent. If that is the case, then I would strongly suggest you look at picking up the CD release. 

Another reason why I’m not compelled to pick up the Deluxe Edition to go with my vinyl release is that the tracking is different as these omitted songs are placed throughout the album, thereby changing the flow of the album that I know and love. If those additional songs were included at the end of the Deluxe Edition, as done with Barry Gibb’s In The Now I would have been more inclined to pick up the CD as well. I’m sure you know what it’s like, dear reader, for your beloved album has been remastered and it suddenly has an outtake, demo, or god-forbid an interview at the end of the CD. It is infuriating and while I like additional content, I wish the record labels would add it to an additional disc and leave the master tracking of the album alone. 

Nevertheless, as streaming allows me access to these tracks, I’ll simply add them to my virtual library to enjoy when and if the mood strikes me. On the topic of streaming, I have listened to the album on both Apple Music (Mastered for iTunes) and TIDAL Masters (MQA) and unfortunately, neither stream holds a candle to the vinyl release. That isn’t to say that neither is good, because they are both superb, but I find them very clinical in their presentation and for this style of music I honestly feel the vinyl record is a much better delivery method. Hence, if you can, and if you’re interested, may I suggest you track down a copy of After Hours on vinyl; it really is that good!

SIDE ONE

For Sentimental Reasons is a lovely song and the perfect opener for After Hours. The musicality is spot on as is Frey’s vocal. The light backing vocal element, not often heard on modern recordings, is mixed in perfectly. The end result is a rendition of a classic that is stunning and prepares the listener for the songs that are about to come throughout the rest of the album.

My Buddy is campy, has always been campy, but I love it! That drumming is off-the-charts good and Frey once again is front and centre, as if his spirit is in the room with you, as you enjoy the smoothness of My Buddy.

Route 66 picks up the tempo a little, but Route 66 is one of the greatest classics to have ever been composed and this interpretation is no exception. It isn’t fundamentally different and doesn’t necessarily take the song to a new level of enjoyment, but it doesn’t detract from the origins of the song and pays homage to the history of the most common renditions. 

The Shadow Of Your Smile is a lovely song that would be perfect as the background of any dinner or post-dinner rendezvous. Actually, this entire album could be used in that romantic context. That said, the music-lover within doesn’t want this song to be merely heard as background music, therefore for me and my significant other it may not be the best album to have playing as I would constantly be commenting on just how good it is. Yes, dear reader, I do do that; much to the frustration of my better half. Thankfully, she understands my love of music and while she doesn’t necessarily share it, she lets me harp on about it ad nauseam; yep, she’s a keeper!

Here’s To Life is one of the most beautiful songs on the album. It is the perfect way to close out Side One and absolutely encourages me to listen to Side Two. This is one song that I would have loved to have heard George Michael perform on his spectacular Symphonica release as I believe it would have suited his style and vocal capability. That said, Frey performs Here’s To Life absolutely flawlessly and I would say it is one of his greatest vocal recordings, even surpassing that of his younger years in the Eagles. That’s saying a lot considering how much I adore the Eagles and have always been blown away by Frey’s vocal prowess. Music really doesn’t get much better than this!

SIDE TWO

It’s Too Soon To Know is a beautifully smooth tune. 

Caroline, No is one of my favourite songs and Frey knocks it out-of-the-park. 

The Look Of Love is a brilliant song but nobody does it better than Diana Krall. This rendition is enjoyable, but when I hear it I just want to put on Krall’s edition

I’m Getting Old Before My Time has an incredible bass track. It’s really prominent and for lack of a better term is perfect! The song itself isn’t bad, but to be completely honest I’m not overly familiar with it, hence your opinion may be vastly different to my own. 

Same Girl is stunning! 

After Hours is a lovely song to conclude the album with, but I would have preferred Same Girl to be the closing track as I felt it relaxed the mind to such a state that it would have been the ultimate closer. Nevertheless, After Hours is no slouch in that department and it encourages me to flip the album and listen again. It’s also important to note that this is the only original composition from Frey on the album. Writing with Jack Tempchin, the result is incredible and doesn’t feel out-of-place with the other standards featured on this release. That’s no easy task, even if you are as skilled as these gentlemen. Standards are standards for a reason and After Hours is a modern-day offering. 

Additional Deluxe Edition Tracks:

The Good Life is a lovely song that offers a nice flow from My Buddy in the Deluxe Edition version and leads well into Route 66’s upbeat as it has a little faster tempo than My Buddy. However, as good as it is, I don’t find that I miss it on the vinyl release. It is very short and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the song’s over before it started.

Worried Mind has a country twang to it and while Frey and the supporting musicians perform it incredibly well, it doesn’t suit the rest of the songs on the album and therefore I am very happy that it is only on the Deluxe Edition of After Hours.

I Wanna Be Around is lovely and while it could have been included on the vinyl release, I honestly don’t feel After Hours needed this additional track as I don’t feel the 11-track release is lacking in substance.

There is little doubt that After Hours represents Glenn Frey at his very best. Yes, his Eagles work is beyond reproach, but After Hours is his greatest solo release and is an album that should be in everyone’s collection. It really is that good!

After Hours is available to own on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes). A Deluxe Edition is also available on CD and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes)

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Metallica – Ride The Lightning (Album Review)

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Metallica – Ride The Lightning (Album Review)

For as long as I can remember, Ride The Lightning has been one of my favourite Metallica albums and despite their long legacy that continues to amaze some and disappoint others, Ride The Lightning remains timeless and is just as compelling now as the first time I heard it when I purchased the CD in the 90s.

Yes, those of you older than I would likely have memories dating back to the album’s release in 1984, on vinyl, but alas at the age of 5, Metallica was yet to appear on my radar for no one in my family would have even heard of the band and even if they had, it is highly doubtful that they would have approved for my beloved Guns N’ Roses collection, that I accumulated in the 90s, was banned in my home and I was forced to sell all their albums. One day I’ll tell you that story, dear reader, but despite the passage of three decades, the pain is still with me, even though as an adult I have replaced the records. Nevertheless, later on, as the #MP3isawesome era took off, I stupidly ripped my copy of Ride The Lightning (the 1996 reissue on Vertigo/Mercury - Cat: 838 140-2) and sold it on eBay. I honestly can’t recall the sound quality of that CD, but I recall fondly of listening to it on repeat for hours; Ride The Lightning really is that good!

Fast forward a couple of decades and as I started to rebuild my physical library, I picked up a copy of Ride The Lightning on vinyl; it’s the Blackened Recordings release from 2014, remastered by George Marino at Sterling Sound. Despite the legacy of the band and Marino’s mastering work, I was sure that I would enjoy this release and in some ways I do, but the pressing just isn’t a strong performer. Yes, the thrash elements come through loud and clear and everything is where it should be in the mix but it is very concealed; almost as though a blanket is covering the speakers. It really lacks from both soundstage and depth perspectives as the sound emanates from the speakers, rather than the speakers disappearing as the studio layout is virtually and sonically presented in the room. Unfortunately, it doesn’t change when listening via headphones and I can say, without a doubt, that mono recordings have a greater sense of scope than this vinyl pressing does.

Interestingly, the 2016 remaster that is available as a Mastered for iTunes edition, on both iTunes and Apple Music, is exceptional. To say I am smitten by this stream would be an understatement. It sounds exactly how it should; ultimately delivering a captivating performance that the vinyl release simply can’t achieve. Yes, as with my other early Metallica records, I will need to look into replacing the 2014 editions with the post-2016 counterparts; a shame considering I paid good money for a lacklustre pressing and selling them will yield next to no return. Of course, I could just stick with the Apple Music stream as it doesn’t disappoint. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Metallica should be ashamed of the 2014 vinyl pressings on their own label, Blackened Recordings, as the sound quality just isn’t there and those cheap rice paper sleeves infuriate me as they do little to protect the record and add scuff marks to the surface.

Despite the lacklustre audio performance of the 2014 record, the artwork and liner notes are beautifully replicated, even if my edition got a little banged up in the shipping of the record, thanks to an overzealous postie who used my record for frisbee practice.

Side One

Fight Fire With Fire is a killer intro. That acoustic-styled introduction never gets old and as it builds to the crescendo, you know you’re in for a treat. This is thrash metal 101 and I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I love it.

Ride The Lightning flows beautifully from the explosion that closed Fight Fire With Fire. That guitar riff is absolutely amazing. Get your air guitars out, ladies and gentlemen, for you will need them. That mid-song shift is off-the-charts and while the vinyl record doesn’t present the drum tracking well, the Apple Music stream sure does and the depth is mesmerising. Metallica’s music doesn’t get much better than this and the final elements of the song are so good that there really are no words to adequately describe the experience for you really need to experience it for yourself.

For Whom The Bell Tolls is EPIC!

Fade To Black has an interesting country twang to it, that is before the electric guitar riff takes the song to a completely different level. Although, as long-time listeners of this album would note, the song returns to the semi-acoustic element throughout. It’s a masterful composition and Fade To Black is one song, on Ride The Lightning, that truly showcases the dexterity of not only Metallica’s musicality but Hetfield’s vocal capabilities. Fade To Black is the perfect song to close out Side One of the vinyl record as you’re left wanting more. 

Side Two

Trapped Under Ice launches Side Two in a similar manner as Fight Fire With Fire opened the album. While not as strong as the leading track, this is no filler B-Side but I do find the soundstage is a little concealed and the guitar elements aren’t as prominent as they should be thereby preventing the mind from attaching itself to a single groove and rocking out. This is relevant for the Apple Music stream as well. Yes, perhaps I should focus on the bass and drum elements, but there is a guitar riff that is screaming to take centre stage but isn’t strong enough to invoke the air guitar within the listener.

Escape is a song that some may class as a filler track, but when you’ve got such songs as Ride The Lightning, For Whom The Bell Tolls, and Fade To Black on the same record, one or two tracks have to take a backseat. Without those aforementioned tracks, however, this would be a AAA song and I thoroughly enjoy it. That escape siren towards the end of the song is a nice touch!

Creeping Death is fantastic and constantly evolving. Every element is perfect and it’s one of the best songs on the album.

The Call Of Ktulu is pure gold and is one of the greatest songs Metallica, or anyone, has ever recorded. I love it, but the best rendition I’ve ever heard is the live performance from their legendary S & M concert.

Overall, Ride The Lightning is one of the greatest thrash metal records ever released and hasn’t aged at all. There isn’t a B-Side to be heard and while I’d recommend you steer clear of the 2014 vinyl reissue, later reissues tend to be favoured by fans. That said, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a case of once bitten twice shy as I’m not breaking any speed records to obtain another edition of this album as the Apple Music stream is, honestly, extraordinary. I’d hate to have finally found a version I love, only to be disappointed if the vinyl release didn’t at least match the performance of the stream. Of course, I’ve been disappointed before with Metallica’s reissues, but I do have to say that all the album pressings following the eponymous Metallica album sound superb, it is only the early records, predominantly the thrash metal era reissues, that have been disappointing. Nevertheless, if you can find a good, non-2014, copy on vinyl, grab a drink, dim the lights, and ride the lightning for the experience of this album is profound.

Ride The Lightning is available on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes). Deluxe Box Set editions are also available.

Click here to read other Metallica reviews by Subjective Sounds.  

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Jon English - Wine Dark Sea (Album Review)

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Jon English - Wine Dark Sea (Album Review)

Jon English was an Australian music legend. However, as a child of the 80s and a teenager of the 90s, his astonishingly good repertoire of music eluded me as I was simply out of time to the era when he was one of the major stars on the Australian Music Scene. Yes, I'd see his appearances on television throughout the years, but it wasn't until his death in 2016 that I started to look at his legacy; the legacy of a rock legend if there ever was one.

Wine Dark Sea is one of the most compelling album titles, for a debut release, that I've ever come across. Similarly appealing is the album artwork that immediately draws you in; artwork that is most certainly perfectly suited to the large canvas of the then dominant vinyl format. In fact, the entire album is a perfect time capsule of early 70s rock. 

While Wine Dark Sea and much of English's catalogue has remained out-of-print for years, streaming services like Apple Music ensure that these hidden gems remain relevant; provided the rights holders continue to licence the music. The Apple Music stream sounds very good with a considerable analogue tonality that harks back to the era but also presents a somewhat concealed presentation. That isn’t a criticism as I find digital music has the tendency to be a little too detailed, resulting in an albeit cleaner presentation but one that is also rather clinical whereas the analogue nature of the sound heard here is more organic and less perfect thereby resulting in what I consider to be a far more enjoyable sound to listen to. Of course, if you like digital clarity, then you may not be impressed by the streaming edition of Wine Dark Sea. I have compared it to the TIDAL Hi-Fi stream, but despite TIDAL Hi-Fi being CD-quality, the edition they have been given by the rights holder is the lossy version, essentially the same as Apple Music, hence there is no difference in the streams. That said, it sounds great and if I remove my audiophile mindset, thereby applying John Darko’s Music-First Audiophile mantra, this is more than good enough. 

Summer Song is a solid pop-rock tune to start the album with. I'd love to hear Jimmy Barnes cover this song as it would be perfect for his vocal style. The musicality is solid and thoroughly enjoyable with a mix that allows all musical elements to be present in the soundstage ensuring a decently presented dynamic range; a pleasure especially considering so many modern recordings are overly compressed.

Sweet Lady Mary is a killer cover song, penned by Ronnie Lane, Rod Stewart, and Ronnie Wood of the Faces. As much as I enjoy the original, this rendition by English takes the song to another level and is, in my opinion, significantly better. Regardless, what I love about Sweet Lady Mary is how the origins of Rod Stewart's solo works can be heard here as well as the influence Ronnie Woods would later bring to The Rolling Stones. It really is an influential tune.

Wine Dark Sea is a beautiful Jon English, original, composition. I could listen to this song on repeat for days on end, it’s that good!

Horsehair And Plastic is another original composition but isn't great. It’s pure filler and sounds completely out-of-place after Wine Dark Sea.

Close Every Door is one of the greatest songs from the musical Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and this rendition from English is, without doubt, one of the very best ever recorded. English's gritty, yet smooth, vocal is perfectly suited to the song.

Monopoly is a fun song that while different in styling to Close Every Door, doesn't nearly give the sudden shock, and out-of-place feel, that occurred with Horsehair And Plastic. Great rhythm!

Handbags And Gladrags is magical. Close your eyes and allow the musicality and vocal prowess of English to take you on a journey. A sensational recording!

Prelude / Tomorrow is another beautiful composition that is perfectly suited to the acoustic style it is recorded in. Music doesn't get much better than this.

Brand New Day is an excellent song and a perfect addition to the album.

Share The End is a solid song to close the album with and while it compels me to listen to the album again and stay within English's back catalogue I find myself drawn to Carly Simon's original as I feel it is better than English's cover.

Overall, Wine Dark Sea is an exceptional album with really only one song that feels out-of-place. As unlikely as it is, I'd love to see this album reissued on vinyl for a new audience to explore and appreciate; with the original cover art of course. 

Seriously, this Rainbow Records repressing cover art is horrible. Who thought this was a good idea?

Seriously, this Rainbow Records repressing cover art is horrible. Who thought this was a good idea?

Wine Dark Sea is currently available to own on iTunes.

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Fleetwood Mac – Concert Review

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Fleetwood Mac – Concert Review

When I was in high school, Fleetwood Mac released their seminal album, “Rumors.” Every song was a gem, and everyone I knew owned a copy. Everyone. It won a Grammy in 1978 for album of the year. Over 40 years later, Fleetwood Mac is still performing many songs from that album, but with a slightly different group lineup. Recently they were appearing in my neck of the woods, so of course I had to be there!

Lindsey Buckingham was unceremoniously fired from the band in early 2018 and was replaced by Neil Finn, of Split Enz and Crowded House, and Mike Campbell, guitarist extraordinaire from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Mudcrutch. I was worried that even though Finn and Campbell are talented musicians, would they be able to replace what Buckingham brought to the group. By the end of the evening my answer was no, not totally.

Let’s start with the overall concert. For just over two hours, Fleetwood Mac gave fans everything they had, singing hit after hit to an adoring crowd. Singalongs were common throughout the evening. One of my favorites, “The Chain” started off the show and set the tone for the rest of the night: a mutual lovefest between artist and fans.

Neil Finn took over Buckingham's vocals, with mixed success. He was enthusiastic and animated, but his voice doesn’t have Buckingham’s strength. Finn’s best performance was a duet with Stevie Nicks, “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Finn’s hit with Crowded House. As for Mike Campbell, he gives Lindsey Buckingham a run for his money in the “shredding guitar” department. If you’ve seen Campbell perform with Tom Petty you know what I mean.

The highlight of the evening was Stevie Nicks singing “Landslide” while Neil Finn played acoustic guitar. Nicks dedicated the song to a young girl in the front row, telling her she can do anything she sets her mind to. Cell phone flashlights were prominent as the audience swayed and sang.

Another highlight for me was my all-time favorite Fleetwood Mac song, “Gypsy.” Stevie Nicks, dressed in black and with plenty of flowing scarves, twirled and spun as she did in the magical videos played on MTV and VH1. (Remember when those stations used to play music videos? Now they’re just sweet memories…)

Christine McVie sang lead on “Little Lies,” “Say You Love Me,” “Everywhere,” and “You Make Loving Fun.” While her piano skills are there her vocal skills are not. I saw Fleetwood Mac in 2017 and thought so then. McVie’s voice has no strength and wasn’t always on key.

The last song of the set was “Go Your Own Way.” It started out rough on the vocals, but they brought it home in the second half of the song.

The three-song encore began with a beautiful tribute to Tom Petty. Photos of Petty were shown on the video screen at the back of the stage while the band performed an emotional version of “Free Fallin.” It was sad and glorious at the same time. As a huge Tom Petty fan, those photos brought tears to my eyes.

Is it time for Fleetwood Mac to hang up their instruments and call it quits? That’s hard to say. I’ve seen the band three times, all with different iterations of members. The first time was without Christine McVie. This time there was no Lindsey Buckingham. My favorite Fleetwood Mac concert was the second one I saw, with all the members most of us know: Stevie Nicks on vocals, Christine McVie on vocals and keyboards, Lindsey Buckingham on vocals and guitar, John McVie on bass guitar, and Mick Fleetwood on drums. That’s the Fleetwood Mac of my youth, the Fleetwood Mac I sang along with, the Fleetwood Mac I remember. If you’ve never seen them in concert, I would say go, as they may not tour again. It will be worth it.

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Slash - Self-Titled (Album Review)

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Slash - Self-Titled (Album Review)

Slash really needs no introduction. Widely recognised as one of the greatest guitarists in rock and roll, Slash has played with a who’s who of the music industry and in 2009, it was only fitting that peers and idols collaborated with Slash on his first solo, non-band, outing entitled Slash. While the album is, of course, self-titled, I like to refer to it by its visual cover art moniker: R&FN’R.

The idea of Slash & Friends admittedly sounded campy from the outset as that style of album has been released ad nauseam, across various genres, and has a reputation that isn’t far removed from the cliche and utterly pointless Christmas album. However, Slash didn’t disappoint on this release, writing and co-writing the entire album of completely original recordings. Perhaps this is where other artists have come unstuck as they have a tendency to simply re-record their classics, with their friends, resulting in a less than stellar release.

Released in March, 2010, Slash would once again catapult the guitarist to international fame resulting in a World Tour with the incredibly talented Myles Kennedy on vocals – a match made in heaven and one that continues to exist to this very day when Kennedy isn’t busy with Alter Bridge and Slash isn’t touring with Guns N’ Roses. For this Self-Titled release, however, Kennedy would only perform two songs, Back From Cali and Starlight; both are exceptional and an indication of what was to come.

Ghost (feat. Ian Astbury) gets the album off to a rocking rhythmic start and is superb from start to finish. Astbury has an incredible vocal that is perfect for the tonality of Ghost. Such an incredible start to the album.

Crucify The Dead (feat. Ozzy Osbourne) flows seamlessly from Ghost and showcases Osbourne’s vocal prowess perfectly. I don’t know about you dear reader, but I like the slower, more methodical, Ozzy songs. Sure his fast and heavy stuff is good too, but the tempo of Crucify The Dead is absolutely perfect.

Beautiful Dangerous (feat. Fergie) is one of the greatest songs on the album and one of the most unexpected. Seriously, most of us know Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas and while her contribution to the Black Eyed Peas was extraordinary, she takes her skills as a vocalist to another level on this song. She really should be fronting a rock and roll band, if not undertaking her own solo hard rock album and associated tour. I’d buy tickets for that! The groove and guitar licks used here are sensational and I could literally listen to Beautiful Dangerous on repeat indefinitely. It is so good!

The music video is also quite entertaining with a well thought out story and connection with the song’s lyrical meaning. It is, however, let down when you see Slash taking a shot and then drinking a Monster Energy Drink. Talk about product placement! Truth-be-told, Monster probably paid for the music video, especially considering a Monster Energy Drink Edition, of this Self-Titled release, was released with the bonus track, Chains And Shackles (feat. Nick Oliveri).

Back From Cali (feat. Myles Kennedy) is the first of two masterful Myles Kennedy additions to this incredible Self-Titled album. Music doesn’t get much better than this!

The music video for Back To Cali is your classic interwoven scenes from a variety of live performances and random backstage and location shots. It works. It’s R&FN’R, but once you’ve seen it a couple of times, you’ll likely forget about it and simply enjoy the song.

Promise (feat. Chris Cornell) is sensational. I’ve adored Cornell’s vocals ever since I first heard Soundgarden’s Superunknown and Promise only intensifies my admiration.

By The Sword (feat. Andrew Stockdale) is a great tune. That semi-acoustic element is off-the-charts good! Plus, Stockdale’s vocal is so unique that I can’t help but be drawn in. It happened when I first heard Wolfmother’s Self-Titled debut and it continues here on this masterful performance.

Gotten (feat. Adam Levine) is a lovely tune and perfectly suited to the album. To be completely honest, I don’t know much about Levine, or his band Maroon 5, as they have remained off my radar over the years. Trust me, it isn’t intentional, there are just so many hours in the day and only so many albums I can listen to. Subsequently, some artists will naturally fall through the cracks. Given how good Levine is on this song, perhaps I should check out his other creative works. Nevertheless, Gotten is thoroughly enjoyable and if this is the only song of his I ever listen to, I can be satisfied.

Doctor Alibi (feat. Lemmy Kilmister) is hard and fast with an addictive rhythm that is perfect for Kilmister’s vocal prowess.

Watch This (feat. Dave Grohl and Duff McKagan) is the only instrumental track on the album and while Grohl and McKagan are legends that I admire, I feel this song is a little lacklustre and nothing more than filler. Given Grohl’s history as frontman for the Foo Fighters, one would have thought that a killer rock and roll tune with him on vocals and Duff on backing vocals would have been the perfect combination. Nevertheless, it wasn’t to be and while Watch This isn’t fundamentally bad, it feels like a missed opportunity to me.

I Hold On (feat. Kid Rock) is a solid song and as much as I enjoy anything that Kid Rock releases, I really feel that I Hold On could have been written and recorded with a harder rock element. Yes, it is in line with much of Rock’s catalogue, but for this particular collaboration, I would have been interested to see something heavier come out of the recording session. That isn’t to say that I dislike the song, or the performance, just that if I were sitting in the producer’s chair, I’d likely suggest trying a different style.

Nothing To Say (feat. M. Shadows) is perfectly suited to Shadows’ vocal style and is a much better collaboration than his inclusion on Device’s song Haze. It is reminiscent, to my ears, of Avenged Sevenfold’s Self-Titled 2007 release. Subsequently, I love this addition to the album.

Starlight (feat. Myles Kennedy) is incredible. It is one of the best songs on the album and you’d be hard pressed to find a song that Kennedy does any better than Starlight. You really need to turn the volume up on this one, you’ll thank me later. Superb!

Saint Is A Sinner Too (feat. Rocco DeLuca) is a lovely track with an acoustic approach that is not only perfectly suited to the album but fits masterfully into the tracking of the record.

We’re All Gonna Die (feat. Iggy Pop) is a song that only Iggy Pop could have sung. It’s the perfect way to close out the CD and Vinyl release of Slash’s eponymous album and one can’t help but agree with the sentiment expressed in We’re All Gonna Die; it’s priceless!

Bonus iTunes/Apple Music Track:

Paradise City (feat. Cypress Hill & Fergie) is a great mashup tune and it’s great to see it included on the streaming version of the album. It certainly pays homage to the original and while I adore the original edition on Appetite For Destruction, this is an incredible cover that will likely appeal to fans of this classic song.

Songs Not Included On Mainstream Releases:

As is often the case, different regions get an exclusive bonus song or edition of the album. The Japanese market got Sahara (feat. Koshi Inaba), a very different rock tune that upon reflection doesn’t match the rest of the music released on this eponymous release. It merely sounds disjointed as if the vocal element has been taken from another song and overlaid on an instrumental track. It isn’t inherently bad, but I am glad it didn’t make the final cut for the international release.

The now out-of-print Australian Deluxe edition includes an acoustic version of Back From Cali. As much as I love the integration of acoustic elements in the original studio recording, the acoustic version feels a tad lifeless by comparison and subsequently I’m glad a little more production was added to it. It is interesting to ponder, however, what my opinion would have been if the acoustic version was the only one ever released. Would I have loved it, loathed it, or been ambivalent towards it? We may never know, but the right version was selected for the international CD release.

Also on the Australian Deluxe edition is an acoustic version of Sweet Child Of Mine with Myles Kennedy on vocals and Izzy Stradlin on guitar, side-by-side with Slash once again. It is a beautiful rendition and I truly wish that I didn’t have to listen to it on YouTube, for it is unavailable physically, via digital downloads, or streaming services in Australia. Such a shame considering how good it is.

While we’re on the topic of Australian editions, those that pre-ordered the album on iTunes received the bonus track Chains And Shackles (feat. Nick Oliveri). It’s a killer rock and roll song and it’s ridiculous to think that it isn’t currently available for fans who didn’t pre-order.

Mother Maria (feat. Beth Hart), is an iTunes exclusive song that is not available to the Australian market. It’s your blues meets country meets rock song that is appealing if you enjoy Fleetwood Mac. I do, hence I like it, but it’s style is quite different from the entire album and wouldn’t have suited the international release.

I bet by now you’re thinking that I’ve covered all the bases. Well, there are several more editions that I won’t bore you with, other than to say the song, Baby Can’t Drive (feat. Alice Cooper, Nicole Scherzinger, Steven Adler, and Flea) is fantastic and should have never been excluded from the international standard release of the album.

Overall, Slash is the epitome of R&FN’R. While the CD generally sounds good, at lower volumes, due to a low dynamic range, it doesn’t scale well and subsequently can be disappointing. While I don’t have the vinyl release, a regret that has haunted me for years, I’d suggest looking for a copy as the dynamic range is certainly greater on the format and would likely result in a broader soundstage with greater separation throughout. Streamers, while getting the same mastering as the CD, will be happy to know that this eponymousrelease sounds excellent via Apple Music and Apple’s AirPods. It is quite frankly my preferred way to listen to this album as my main stereo setup is less forgiving when brickwalling is concerned. Either way, Slash is one album that just about every rock and roll fan will enjoy.

Slash (Self-Titled) is available to own on Vinyl, CD and iTunes.

Click here to read other Slash reviews by Subjective Sounds. 

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Elton John – Farewell Yellow Brick Road (Concert Review)

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Elton John – Farewell Yellow Brick Road (Concert Review)

I recently had the privilege of seeing Elton John in concert for the fourth time. This tour, called “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” is world-wide and goes through 2021. If you ever had any intentions of seeing Elton John live in concert, do it now, as he is retiring from live performances after this tour. A list of tour stops can be found here

I’ve been a huge Elton John fan since (ahem) 1973, with the release of the album “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player,” which gave the world the classic songs, “Daniel” and “Crocodile Rock.” Both songs were performed, as well as 22 more for a rocking and energetic evening of classic Elton John.

Opening the show was “Bennie and the Jets,” which set the tone for the entire evening: the fans went wild and were singing along from the first note. “Bennie” was followed by deep cut “All The Young Girls Love Alice,” exciting for me as it comes from one of my top ten albums of all time, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

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One thing I love about Elton John: he appreciates his audience. He thanked the fans throughout the show, noting that if it weren’t for them, he wouldn’t be there. He also explained the stories behind some of his songs. “Border Song” was covered by Aretha Franklin, which made Elton and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin feel like they would be taken seriously as musicians. “Believe” was important to his work with his AIDS foundation. He also spoke of his hitting rock bottom with drugs, alcohol, and overall bad attitude, and how saying three little words-“I need help”-made all the difference in his life. Again, he expressed appreciation for those people who helped and supported him during his difficult time, and for his fans that have bought his music, merchandise, and most importantly, came to his shows.

Behind Elton was a screen that played videos during some of the songs. I could have done without that, as most of them made no sense and didn’t add anything to the performance. That is, until he played “I’m Still Standing.” Those clips were fun to watch: Elton on the “Muppet Show,” “Simpsons,” and “South Park,” old MTV videos, footage of concerts from the 1970s.

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If you want to hear the hits, Elton has you covered. “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” “Candle In The Wind,” “Bitch Is Back,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” all showcased Elton’s piano skills. As for his vocal skills, he still has it. At almost 72 years old Elton still brings everything he has to his performance.

I remember wanting the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album sooooo bad! Back then the double album cost $6. It took weeks of saving my allowance to have the money to finally buy it. I played it on constant loop; there’s not a bad song on the album. To hear Elton perform “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” was such a thrill for me, as it’s one of my favorites on the album.

During the concert I uploaded some videos to Facebook. A junior high/high school friend of mine was a HUGE Elton John fan, as in, she was a fanatic! I knew those videos would give her a thrill, and her responses to them made it all worthwhile: “OMGGGGGGGG!!” “Are you kidding me?!? He sang that too?!?” “Thank you for posting these!!”

I go to a lot of concerts, and many of the artists or bands I see are in their 60s or 70s. I’ve been asked why I bother seeing someone “so old,” what’s the point when they’ve already reached the pinnacle of their success. The reason is simple: I grew up with those artists. Yes, they’re older, and sometimes they can't hit the high notes like they used to. But they still have it! They bring their talent, charisma, and artistry to their performances. If they didn’t, no one would be paying good money for tickets. I’m afraid that in a few short years my concert going will be limited, as so many of my favorites are retiring. I forget that we all are much older than I think we are!

In just under 3 hours, Elton John sang 24 songs, with the crowd wanting more. There are so many I would have loved to hear: “Empty Garden,” “High Flying Bird,” “Harmony,” “Teacher I Need You,” and “Blues For Baby and Me” for starters. I’m sure if you asked each person in attendance, what they would like to hear, Elton’s entire catalogue would have been covered. Obviously that’s not possible. But if you like Elton John’s hits, you will NOT be disappointed with this show. Check Elton’s website for a show near you, and get tickets as soon as they go on sale. I promise it will be worth your while.

Click here to read other Elton John reviews by Subjective Sounds. 

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Rob Zombie – Zombie Live (Album Review)

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Rob Zombie – Zombie Live (Album Review)

Rob Zombie is one of those unique enigmas of the music industry that one can’t help but gravitate towards. His legacy and influence is legendary and while he still classes Alice Cooper amongst his idols, Zombie is without a doubt a force to be reckoned with and has arguably matched the success and influence of his idol, if not superseded it. As a serious Cooper fan, I’m glad to see the torch has been passed to the younger shock rocker, but one does have to wonder who will come after Zombie for they broke the mould when they made this monster of rock.

Personally, I’ve been a fan of Zombie’s work since I first heard White Zombie’s More Human Than Human on an episode of the television series Millennium. From that moment on, I was hooked and if Zombie released it, I tried desperately to purchase it if the budget allowed for the expense. Yes, like all good record collections, there are a couple of significant holes in my Zombie-based library, but if I had everything, then there’d be nothing left to look forward to. Trust me, the unfulfilled feeling in this regard is real. I have every AC/DC album in my collection and I feel ambivalent towards it. I want more, yet there is nothing more to get. Rule 1 of music collecting is to always ensure you pass on a release that you know you’ll regret not picking up at a later date. That way, you’ll forevermore search for a copy, or hope for a reissue, and that keeps you going as you explore and expand your collection. Perhaps my greatest regret was not picking up a copy of White Zombie’s Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. Well, I wasn’t going to make that mistake again, as the aforementioned album is now impossible to get on the Australian market for a reasonable price, so I subsequently picked up the incredible It Came From N.Y.C vinyl boxset upon release. Yes, I know Zombie himself had nothing to do with that release and similarly the former White Zombie band members had nothing to do with Let Sleeping Corpses Lie but for this Zombie fan, it was always going to be a value-added proposition that includes a beautifully presented hardcover book with a detailed look at the band from inception to Zombie’s ultimate decision to go solo. Regardless, I’m sure I’ll eventually pick up a copy of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, but it is fun to pass on copies when they come up. It becomes a talking point and I absolutely love obtaining that hidden gem as much as I enjoy leaving it on the record store shelf for another fan to purchase and add to their own collection.

The same excitement also occurs when I decide if I should pick up the CD or Vinyl release. Generally, in Australia, CD prices are at an all-time low and are always more affordable than the vinyl counterpart. The only problem with that is that as much as I adore the CD format, the mastering is often hit and miss. Not in this case, however, as Zombie Live, while mastered a little on the hotter side, is full of dynamic range and provides a real sense of the concert experience one could expect from a Zombie performance. It is, quite frankly, one of the best recorded, mixed, and mastered live CD’s I’ve ever heard. Thank you Scott Humphrey!; a man as pivotal to Zombie’s success as Bob Ezrin is to Alice Cooper. Of course, Zombie Live would be the last album Humphrey would work on with Zombie and it’s such a shame because their collaboration was off-the-charts good. As usual, I digress, but Humphrey knew how to get the very best out of Zombie and while Zombie continues to amaze, his early-era solo releases still outperform his more recent output in my opinion.

So, we have established that the mastering is perfect on the CD release and quite frankly there isn’t a single element that I would change as it simply sounds right. However, in 2018, Zombie Live was reissued on vinyl, for the first time as the vinyl resurgence wasn’t even a blip on the radar at the time of release in 2007. We were still, inserting CDs into computers, ripping them to our iPods, and accessing bonus material via the connection between the CD and the associated artist website. We’ve certainly come a long way since then and purchasing the vinyl edition would at least remove that ungodly black box of text from the exquisite album artwork. My concern, however, is what if the pressing sucks? The CD sounds right, as I mentioned earlier, and vinyl certainly has it’s own unique sound signature that is neither better or worse than the digital edition, it’s just different. Now, I have plenty of Zombie’s albums on vinyl and his Spookshow International Live is a personal favourite, that while presented on a spectacular picture disc, sounds absolutely incredible; hence it shouldn’t really be an issue but vinyl pressings are as hit and miss as CD masterings. Logic says I should be happy with the CD release, and perhaps I am, but I will always wonder if I should have picked up the vinyl edition. Of course, if I did, I would gift the CD to my son as I no longer collect and hoard both a CD and vinyl copy. It’s excessive and I found that I wasn’t enjoying an album because I got into the bad habit of comparing the CD to the vinyl release upon each play – quite frankly a futile process! 

All that said, I am thoroughly happy with the CD release and while some vinyl releases come with extensive liner notes, many don’t and if there is one thing that I’ve always appreciated about Zombie’s CD releases, it is the attention to detail and providing the music lover with a full-featured booklet to go along with the purchase. Not bad considering Zombie openly acknowledges the end of the album and the fact that no one buys them anymore. Well, Rob, I still purchase them and I thank you for keeping the album format alive, even though it goes against your personal beliefs.

Of course, I know how easy it is to simply listen to music via streaming services, but you should seriously consider picking up, at least, the CD release of Zombie Live as it offers enough additional content to appease any Zombie fan. Okay, so much of the booklet is photographs from various live performances, but they are killer shots that you likely wouldn’t find elsewhere. Unfortunately, while this live recording is Mastered for iTunes, no digital booklet is included with the iTunes purchase. As disappointing as that is, we’re here for the music, so let’s take a look at the 18 thunderous songs that make up Zombie Live.

Sawdust In The Blood, from Educated Horses, offers the perfect backdrop to launch this live performance. A killer instrumental!

American Witch flows seamlessly from Sawdust In The Blood and remains my favourite song from the Educated Horses era. It’s a little heavier than some of Zombie’s other groove-based metal songs, but I love it! Interestingly, given this was the live album that came after Educated Horses, it is somewhat surprising that Foxy Foxy didn’t make an appearance. Nevertheless, American Witch is perfectly suited to the live lineup and the attitude of the performance.

Demon Speeding has a near-symphonic sound signature that reminds me of Metallica’s astonishingly good S&M recording with the San Francisco Symphony. Subsequently, I love it, but I have always loved this song and I may have, in my younger and wilder years, used this song as the soundtrack for a little street racing.

Living Dead Girl is a song I have mixed emotions about. I’m not a fan of the studio recording, nor did I like the music video, but I absolutely love this live rendition as it adds the attitude that I feel the original recording was missing.

More Human Than Human is one of the greatest songs ever written and recorded and this live version is nothing short of pure perfection. Zombie doesn’t get much better than this!

Dead Girl Superstar has never been a favourite of mine, and I consider it to be one of the weakest songs on The Sinister Urge, but I can’t deny just how well it works live. I actually enjoy it within this context.

House Of 1000 Corpses is a personal favourite. The film is already a cult classic and this song has such an addictive mellow groove that it’s hypnotic, drawing you into the crazy psychotic mind of Rob Zombie. What’s not to like?

Let It All Bleed Out is thrash metal meets groove metal with a touch of blues rock and roll. What can I say, it works! Although, I have to admit that it took me a number of listens to fully appreciate the song when I first heard it. Actually, Educated Horses, the album from which Let It All Bleed Out comes from, was so different to Zombie’s previous works that at first, I detested the album. Thankfully it grew on me and it is now one of my favourite Zombie releases. I guess that just goes to prove that one should never be too quick to judge as music can be an acquired taste that needs to develop over time.

Creature Of The Wheel is a killer White Zombie track and is performed flawlessly.

Demonoid Phenomenon is full of energy and attitude and is a sensational live rendition of the Hellbilly Deluxe classic.

Super-Charger Heaven is another song that is sensational live. Some songs just suit live performances; it certainly seems as though Zombie has more than his fair share of songs that fall into that category.

Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red Kroovy) is an absolute favourite of mine. That said, The Sinister Urge has always been, and likely always will be, my favourite Rob Zombie album as it was a revolutionary shift in his style that linked him to his White Zombie origins but also put him on a new path of exploration as an artist.

Black Sunshine flows seamlessly from Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red Kroovy), further validating my previous statement about being similar, but revolutionary. It’s a great song and is incredible when played live.

Superbeast is a killer rock and roll tune. I’ll never forget first hearing it while watching the film, End Of Days. If memory serves me well, the music video was also an added DVD special feature. It blew my mind then and still does to this day. This live version is yet another flawless performance on a live album that goes above and beyond all expectations.

The Devil’s Rejects has an incredible twang and is an awesome song that gets about as close to a ballad as Zombie is ever going to get. It’s also surprisingly well-suited for this live performance and doesn’t feel at all out-of-place.

Lords Of Salem isn’t bad, but it isn’t one of my favourite Zombie songs and I’m not entirely sure it is suited to a live performance, despite the obvious approval from the crowd. Hopefully, the cheering wasn’t added in post-production.

Thunder Kiss ‘65 has one of the most recognisable riffs in the history of rock and roll, but I have a love/hate relationship with the song. The rhythm is fantastic and the verses work well, with plenty of groove, but the chorus drives me absolutely mental. Thankfully John 5 gives a masterful solo at the end of the song. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I love John 5’s solo work as well. He’s a master musician if there ever was one and while he receives significant recognition, he is under-appreciated outside the Zombie camp.

Dragula is the perfect song to close the live performance on. It’s one of Zombie’s greatest and I never tire of turning the volume up when this song comes on. Without a doubt, it encourages me to listen to Zombie Live again and stay within Zombie’s extensive catalogue of music.

Overall, Zombie Live is a masterpiece and as polished as Zombie’s studio recordings are, this live recording maintains and amplifies his overall addictive groove and attitude, thereby taking some of Zombie’s greatest hits to another level. Honestly, it isn’t often that live performances can match or exceed their studio counterparts, but this one does.

Without a doubt, this is one album you must own. Call it a Greatest Hits, if you will, it is simply that good and is available to own on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

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Janine Jansen - Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Album Review)

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Janine Jansen - Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Album Review)

Janine Jansen is nothing short of a musical virtuoso. Yes, Vivaldi's music is stunning, but Jansen's interpretation is exquisite and while I have a few recordings of The Four Seasons, in my collection, none are quite as compelling as this stripped down version. While a complete orchestra may not have been employed to record this masterpiece, the chamber-sized ensemble beautifully enhances the piece and Jansen's incomparable performance. She certainly makes that near 300-year-old violin, a 1727 Stradivari Barrere, sing.

Of course, the recording, mix, and mastering are absolutely perfect; another instant Decca classic, no pun intended! The Blu-ray High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) release I’m fortunate to have is akin to an out-of-this-world experience for Jansen and the supporting musicians are present in the room with you as you sit back and relax. The transparency is beyond belief and while the Blu-ray Audio allows for Linear PCM (LPCM), DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD, all presented at 24bit/96kHz, I find that while my preference with these discs is generally DTS-HD Master Audio, the LPCM version is perfect as it provides a crisper representation of the recording. That isn’t to say the DTS-HD Master Audio edition is bad, just that this recording doesn't take advantage of, nor need, the lower end boost that DTS-HD Master Audio tracks generally add to a recording.

Perhaps the only interesting deviation of this reissue, from the original 2004 SACD release, is that the Blu-ray Audio edition is supplied in stereo only, whereas the SACD featured a multichannel mix. The question one must subsequently ask is if a surround sound mix is required to fully enjoy this recording? As I've never heard it, I can't adequately comment, but as I listen to the performance, there are movements where a surround mix may be more enveloping for the listener. That said, it ultimately depends on instrumental placement in the multichannel mix and when a stereo mix is this perfect, the soundstage opens up and ultimately becomes three dimensional, thereby captivating the listener. Subsequently, I have little to no interest in obtaining the multichannel mix, but I do wonder why Decca decided to omit it from this release. I could hypothesise various reasons, but it would just be unfounded conjecture.

What is not conjecture is just how good the iTunes/Apple Music edition is. With many of the Blu-ray Audio releases, Universal Music included an MP3 download code, much the same as they do for vinyl records. Perhaps, if record labels want CD sales to increase, they should include them via that format as well. Or, an even better option would be to, include a free month of TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, or Spotify et al. I don’t know about you, but the music labels need to make the physical product as compelling as they can, in order to ensure continued support. That said, classical music still remains dominant on physical media and likely will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Regardless, as Jansen's Four Seasons didn’t include a download card, and I was yet to utilise streaming services at the time of release in 2013, I purchased the album on iTunes as well so that I could have this exceptional recording with me, wherever I go. While there is no doubt that there is a difference between the lossy Mastered for iTunes release and the Blu-ray Audio, the performance shines through and one just can't be disappointed with the Mastered for iTunes release as it’s magical and makes Apple's AirPods come alive. It is amazing how far we’ve come and while there is a slight degradation in quality when compared to the Blu-ray Audio release, it’s minimal and only truly apparent when listening via loudspeakers as the soundstage is a little more shallow, lacking in depth, thereby resulting in me preferring the HFPA release when listening on my main stereo at home. That said, most people will adore the Mastered for iTunes edition and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is, after all, derived from the same high-resolution master as that used for the Blu-ray Audio. Truth-be-told, if I wasn't fortunate enough to own the HFPA edition, I would still be in awe of Jansen's Four Seasons as the iTunes/Apple Music equivalent is simply exceptional!

Normally at this stage of the review, I would take a look at the individual movements, but in this case, I would prefer to not colour your opinion with my own subjectivity for I consider the entire performance to be spectacular and while I doubt it’s possible, you may subjectively have a different viewpoint. Hence, listen for yourself. Allow the music to touch your soul. Close your eyes if that helps, but whatever you do, don’t listen to this album as background music, at least for the first play through. You’ll thank me later as this recording is most certainly an experience that will move you.

If you would like to own your own copy, Janine Jansen's Vivaldi: The Four Seasons is available on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes). Unfortunately, the Blu-ray Audio release is becoming increasingly difficult to track down and prices are subsequently climbing to a cost out of the reach of most music lovers, myself included. However, if you can find a copy at a price you can afford, you'll be blown away by not only the quality of sound but by the redesigned booklet that has been reformatted for the, taller-than-CD, Blu-ray liner notes. I mention this merely because many of the HFPA releases were rushed to market and in some cases, the CD booklet was simply printed within the larger canvas of the Blu-ray booklet. A little disappointing for this collector. Nevertheless, Jansen's Vivaldi: The Four Seasons is absolutely flawless, on any format, and would make a lovely addition to any music collection.

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