ZZ Top – Eliminator (Album Review)

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ZZ Top – Eliminator (Album Review)

With a signature sound like no other, ZZ Top is the very definition of blues rock and roll. They are a no-frills trio that are, in my opinion, only topped by AC/DC. Although, let’s be honest, as cool as Angus' schoolboy uniform is, those signature beards remain unchallenged.

Eliminator is eighth studio album by ZZ Top and is arguably as polished as the band has ever been. While I love their entire catalogue, Eliminator plays like a greatest hits compilation and there isn't a B-side to be found. Seriously, if you don't have a copy of Eliminator in your collection, you're missing out on one of the greatest rock and roll albums in recorded music history. 

Of course, it wasn't only the music that made this band a household name. The now iconic music videos certainly played a part. Yes, they're corny and cliche, especially with their fluffy guitars, but it encapsulates the 80s and the MTV era. 

If the beards didn’t catch your attention, then Eliminator would. Yes, Eliminator not only characteristically graced the album cover but would also appear in their music videos during this era. I don’t know about you, but Eliminator is simply stunning. 

The vinyl artwork is truly amazing and simply looks fantastic on display or in the hand. However, I have always been perplexed by the coloured box within the artwork itself. Initially, I had thought it was an indicator guide for other formats that was simply left in the final artwork, but that isn't the case as the reformatting, of even the cassette version, crops tighter into the artwork. It is an absolute mystery. If you have any thoughts regarding this interesting design decision, I'd love to hear from you.

Overall, the 30th Anniversary vinyl release (circa 2013) is a collector's dream come true. Yes, it is rather barebones, but the print and pressing quality is exquisite. Priced in the budget range at sub $30 ($AUD), the sonic performance of this record trumps many of my more expensive 'audiophile' pressings, thereby proving that one does not need to go broke in the collecting of new vinyl for one's passion. That said, this is the exception rather than the rule and the similarly priced 2016 re-issue is reported to have a serious pressing fault as Legs prematurely ends. Logic would dictate that the same master should have been used, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. If it was, one must then question the obvious lack of quality control. Regardless, the 2013 pressing I have is flawless. Beautifully quiet, although not a major issue for rock music, and sonically pure. I’ve never heard the album sound better. It is honestly a 10 out of 10. I’ve also compared it to the CD-quality TIDAL Hi-Fi edition, from the 2008 remastering session, and I find that by comparison, it lacks the overall warmth and depth of the vinyl counterpart. It is, however, a solid edition should you prefer to stream the album. Unfortunately, I don't know which specific master was used for the 30th Anniversary release as that information is not available. However, a little research and subsequent deduction indicate this release was most likely pressed from a different master as the 2008 Deluxe Edition CD reportedly reduced the dynamic range from a 12 to a 6 out of 20. Yes, I acknowledge the dynamic range differences between the formats, but this difference is simply too large to ignore. Most likely this is why I prefer the vinyl release as every drum and bass beat resonates within your soul as the lead guitar and vocals tantalise your senses. Yes, it really is that good!

The 30th Anniversary vinyl release is printed in a high-gloss that looks incredibly impressive but quickly becomes a fingerprint magnet. Inside, you get a singular printed sleeve with Eliminator on one side while the other side remains black. Yes, it is a basic design but appeals to purists as it remains faithful to the original 1983 release. I like it when record labels don't make changes for the sake of making a change.

SIDE XI

Gimme All Your Lovin has such an incredible rhythm. It is the perfect song to start the album with and really sets the tone for the entire record.

Got Me Under Pressure continues the toe-tapping head-bopping rhythm. Sensational!

Sharp Dressed Man is a song that defies explanation. Just turn the volume knob to 11.

I Need You Tonight slows the rhythm, but increases the blues. It's absolutely gorgeous and that guitar is, as with most ZZ Top recordings, pushing the distortion right to the limit while remaining hauntingly clear.

I Got The Six is a perfect rock and roll song. It's nothing to write home about, but it is the meat and potatoes of the album.

SIDE X2 

Legs is iconic! Interesting fact: every time I hear the first few chords, I'm reminded of the Mythbusters television series theme song. I’m honestly surprised there wasn't a lawsuit around this unless they obtained permission of course. Either way, after watching an episode it makes me want to listen to Eliminator.

Thug is a solid tune but it isn't one of my favourites. That said, I do appreciate the bass emphasis on this track.

TV Dinners is one of my all-time favourite ZZ Top songs. Seriously, to take something as mundane as a TV dinner and turn it into an incredibly rhythmic blues rock and roll tune, that takes exceptional skill. It is soloing heaven and features some of the best musicality heard on the album. I also adore those mid-song pauses as they're executed perfectly.

Dirty Dog is a great tune with a tone that is borrowed from Legs. While plagiarism is bad in and of itself, self-plagiarism in music ensures an identifiable sound. 

If I Could Only Flag Her Down brings us back to blues rock and roll. While it’s enjoyable, I feel the vocal tracking is particularly lacking and lost in the mix, especially in comparison to the rest of the album. It sounds like Lemmy Kilmister sang instead of Gibbons. Hey, I love Motorhead too, but this is a ZZ Top album.

Bad Girl, as the final track, is compelling enough for me to play the entire album again. The rhythm is addictive, as is the rawness of the pseudo-live performance. However, the final spoken words, at the end of the track, seem pointless. I really don't like it when artists do that. I know it’s artistic expression, but you'd think I was a little weird if I closed every review with a random word or two.

Regardless, Eliminator is not only one of the best albums ever recorded by ZZ Top, it is one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all-time.

Eliminator is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, you can also enjoy Eliminator on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Elton John - Empty Sky (Album Review)

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Elton John - Empty Sky (Album Review)

Debut albums are interesting. They can produce one hit wonders, launch long-lasting careers, or be largely forgotten. The later is, of course, what has happened to Elton John's debut Empty Sky. Yes, John would go on to be incredibly successful, but I dare say most people would be unaware of this debut and would likely point to the self-titled Elton John album as his debut. Regardless, if you are reading this then it is not too late to check out Empty Sky and can hear the true origins of one of the greatest musicians in history.

Besides Skyline Pigeon, most people, even casual fans, would not have heard the songs off this album as they seldom appear on John’s live performances or career perspective compilations. It is truly a shame as there is plenty to appreciate here. The album is beautifully recorded and mastered, even though the edition used for this review was the 1995 remaster. We must remember, however, that remaster wasn’t always such a dirty word. It did, initially at least, have noble intentions.

The album artwork is gorgeous and screams of the need to own a copy on vinyl. While it was reissued in September 2017, it is important to note the bonus tracks are not included on the vinyl release. I'm normally a stickler for original track listings, but in this case I feel the bonus tracks add depth to the album and most likely the only reason they were previously omitted was due to vinyl runtime restraints. Fingers crossed there is a download code that will include the bonus tracks, but wouldn’t it be cool if they packaged the original vinyl with a 7 or 10-inch record including those three tracks. Now, that would be a value-added proposition for fans like you and me.

Empty Sky has a great rhythm that sets the tone for the entire album. The instrumental introduction is fantastic and allows the mind to become enveloped in the tempo before John's iconic vocal is introduced. You will be toe tapping and head bopping throughout.

Val-Hala has a very regal sound to it. It is lovely, but there is a little distortion in the recording that I find distracting. I'm not sure if this was intentional, or a result of the recording and mastering techniques of the era. I had considered that it could have been an artefact of the remastering process, but if one is to believe the blurb, this remastered edition used the Sadie Digital System and Prism Super Noise Shaper that is said to only enhanced the recording. Subsequently, my only thought is that it is present on the original, especially as it is also the only song on the album that exhibits the effect. Perhaps it was done with artistic intention.

Western Ford Gateway has an absolutely sensational electric guitar riff! The vocal presentation is reminiscent of John Lennon's Imagine (album) recording style. Of course, Lennon’s album was released well over a decade later, but I find it intriguing to look back on music with present-day thoughts and wonder where the influence originated. When I hear this song I often wonder if Elton John influenced John Lennon, or if Elton took influence from Lennon's recordings with The Beatles. Even if there was no real-world correlation, it is interesting to ponder such blasphemous theories.

Hymn 2000 is an enjoyable song, but I find the flute and other musical elements detract from John's vocal delivery. It simply feels a little too busy, especially when listening on loudspeakers. Headphones, interestingly enough, limit this effect.

Lady What's Tomorrow is a nice song, but it is nothing to write home about. A classic B-side!

Sails has a rhythm rivalling Empty Sky. I love it! When I listen to this song, and so many songs from the album, I can't believe these classics have mostly been omitted from the various live performances and compilations. Granted, when you are as successful as Elton John has been, all songs can't always be revisited, but it would be wonderful to see a little more variety at times.

The Scaffold has a gorgeous tonality and rhythm. It is one of my favourite songs on the album and has an addictive chorus that compels you to sing-a-long. Absolutely Brilliant!

Skyline Pigeon is arguably the most well-known track from John's debut album and was included the exceptional compilation Diamonds (Deluxe CD and streaming editions only). The Piano Version included on Diamonds is the re-recording that was done during the Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player sessions. It certainly has more polish than the original and John's vocals are significantly more prominent, but I do love the rawness of this original recording and if you haven't heard it, I implore you to give it a go. It is more acoustic, by comparison, but thoroughly worthwhile.

Gulliver/It's Hay Chewed (Reprise Version) is an interesting song that closes out the original release. It isn't bad, but the intermingling of songs is somewhat distracting and I feel Skyline Pigeon would have been the perfect song to conclude the album with. That said, the first few minutes of Gulliver/It's Hay Chewed is excellent.

Lady Samantha is a solid bonus track with exceptional musicality. It is a shame it didn't make the core album.

All Across The Havens is most certainly a B-side. Perfectly adequate but I can understand why this song didn't make the initial cut. It has a great rhythm to it, however.

It's Me That You Need has an incredibly gorgeous vocal track. I also love the musical elements and it is yet another track that shows just how successful Elton John was to become.

Just Like Strange Rain isn't bad, but it isn't great either. While I’m glad it’s on the remastered CD/ digital release, it isn't overly compelling and fails to generate the interest I believe is required to listen to the album again. That said, l know how good the rest of the album is and therefore I'm going back for another listen.

Overall, Empty Sky is one Elton John album that you simply must own or have within your streaming music library. It is timeless and will likely always remain that way. 

This review is based on the 1995 remastered CD on TIDAL Hi-Fi. While I remain interested in the vinyl reissue, I find the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi is sonically perfect. That said, the collector in me is already wanting to reach out to Piers (mataurecords.com.au) and ask him to order me a copy.

Elton John's Empty Sky is available to own on Vinyl and CD, or digitally from the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC) or iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, you can check the album out on Spotify or Apple Music.

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Foo Fighters - Wasting Light (Album Review)

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Foo Fighters - Wasting Light (Album Review)

A few years ago, many of the department stores in Australia were either drastically reducing their music department, or removing them completely as sales of compact discs were in continuous decline. While it was a sad state of affairs, collectors were relishing the discount prices and over the years I have certainly bagged a bargain. One, in particular, was the Foo Fighters Wasting Light CD, including a piece of the original master tape. At the time, I was still heavily invested in the MP3 era and collecting music again, in any physical format, wasn't at the top of my priority list. However, a chance to own a piece of the master tape was an extremely enticing and unique opportunity. Plus, for AU$5, I couldn’t leave it on the shelf.

While my segment of the tape may only contain silence, or perhaps a single note, it is mine and a treasured possession in my collection. I’ve often wondered if all the fans got together and joined their pieces together, would we be able to reconstruct the original master tape? Yes, it’s a romantic notion, but a cool idea nevertheless.

If you’re unfamiliar with Wasting Light, you may be wondering why a 2011 release would be recorded directly to tape. Truth is tape-based systems are still being used around the world, although they are now the exception rather than the rule. While I could give you a complete rundown on why the Foo Fighters took this approach, I suggest you check out Tom Doyle’s excellent article: Foo Fighters: Recording Wasting Light as it answers all the questions you may have about their intentions.

While the Foo Fighters have a signature sound, the analogue production certainly created a unique sound signature. It is warm and full of emotive rhythm while maintaining a genuinely raw sound. Although the CD is rather heavily compressed, from a sonic perspective, the result is an addictive sound that I feel still offers a true representation of just how good analogue recordings can sound on CD. The only issue arising from the compressed dynamic range is Hawkins’ drums sound a little off in some areas, especially in relation to cymbal representation. They simply fail to shimmer as much as I would like.

The packaging is impressive, but that shouldn't be surprising as the Foo Fighters often go the extra mile for fans who wish to own the physical product. Did you collect all eight vinyl covers of Sonic Highways?

The CD, liner notes, and coveted piece of master tape are presented in a gatefold pack, reminiscent of the vinyl release. I know some people don't like this style of CD packaging, but I love it! Japanese Mini-LP’s anyone?

While there isn’t a bad Foo Fighters album, I would have to say Wasting Light is my overall favourite, followed by their Greatest Hits. Yes, I know the greatest hits release isn't an album per se, but it does encapsulate some of their greatest songs into a single album.

Bridge Burning sets the tone for the entire album and does not let up until the final note is played. You get a real sense of energy from the song and Grohl's vocals are incredible in both depth and presentation. Bridge Burning is incredibly addictive and you will feel compelled to move. I strongly suggest not sitting down to listen to this song, or the entire album, as it demands interactivity (get those air guitars, microphones, and drums ready). 

I find the introduction of Rope to be tedious. That is until the chorus enters the mix. Part of the problem is that I feel there are two songs, fighting to be heard, at the beginning of the song. However, it does all fall into place and becomes one of the best songs on the album. The guitar solo is particularly compelling, as is the intermingling drum beat. Massively complex, and I love it!

Dear Rosemary is one of the grooviest songs on Wasting Light. The deep, soulful, yet gritty vocals of Bob Mould (Hüsker Dü & Sugar) is a welcome addition to an exceptional song. It is one of my all-time favourite Foo Fighters songs.

White Limo is guitar riff heaven with a killer bass and drum beat. It is grunge 101, but that isn't a bad thing!

Arlandria shifts the album to a more rhythmic groove, yet this shift feels perfectly natural and I absolutely love this song. It is sonic perfection, with a perfect mix! Alan Moulder, you're a legend for this mix alone.

These Days is simply gorgeous!

Back & Forth is a killer rock tune. The blues-infused rock sound is extremely appealing and while the guitar solo is nothing to write home about, it suits the recording perfectly.

A Matter Of Time is a great tune, but Hawkin's cymbals are particularly affected by the dynamic range compression. I can't help but wonder if the vinyl mastering would fix this issue as it has a reported dynamic range response of 11 out of 20, whereas the CD pressing is a 5. Nevertheless, I still really enjoy the song and I love how it flows seamlessly into the incredible Miss The Misery.

Miss The Misery is one of the best songs on the album and one of the greatest ever recorded by the Foo Fighters. Although, just between you and me, I could say that about the majority of the Foo Fighters recordings. They are simply sensational in every meaning of the word.

I Should Have Known is an incredibly beautiful and emotional song. Grohl's Lennon-inspired vocal style, think Imagine era, is one of the greatest vocal recordings I have ever heard. I put it in the same category as Cobain's vocal on Something In The Way

If any band is struggling to find the perfect song to close an album with, that will encourage the fans to play the album again, then they should most certainly take note of Walk. It encompasses the very best of Wasting Light and the Foo Fighters.

Walk is my desert island song, but Wasting Light is also coming along as it is one of the greatest rock albums in not only the Foo Fighters’ career but in recorded music history.

The catalog number for the CD used in this review is: 88697-84493-2.

Despite the dynamic range compression, the CD sounds exquisite. Therefore, I recommend you track down a copy; if for no other reason than owning a piece of the master tape (only available with the CD release, Vinyl releases unfortunately missed out).

As much as I love the CD, I really should get a copy on vinyl as the album artwork would be stunning. Speaking of artwork, is it just me or did Metallica somewhat copy the concept for Hardwired…To Self-Destruct. Different, I know, but I can't help but see the similarities.

Wasting Light is available on CD, Vinyl, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC) and iTunes. If you prefer streaming, you can also listen to Wasting Light on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music.

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Deep Purple - 30: Very Best Of (Compilation Review)

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Deep Purple - 30: Very Best Of (Compilation Review)

30: Very Best Of Deep Purple was my first foray into the musical world of Deep Purple. While I can’t remember the compelling reason for picking up the compilation, I dare say it may have been due to hearing Child In Time in the film Twister. Mediocre scene, superb song!

As many of you would be aware, music can be a great conversation starter and this album has certainly had that desired effect as many individuals, some whom I assumed would never listen to Deep Purple, professed their love for these timeless classics.

I have always used music in the workplace and this album was no exception. Music has the power to break down the employer/employee relationship and while it never garners considerable benefits, it does help dilute tension. Seriously, when the CEO starts strumming the air guitar, you have connected with the human behind the façade. While all workplaces aren’t always accommodating, or for various factors can’t permit the playback of music, I truly believe music introduces a more relaxed atmosphere that encourages productivity.

Hush (1998 Remastered Version) was an excellent choice to commence the compilation on. From the howl to the rhythmic instrumental introduction, to the vocal dexterity; the entire song is simply awesome!

Black Night (1995 Remastered Version) has a killer guitar riff and beat that will have you moving uncontrollably. Seriously, that guitar work is exquisite and pushes the distortion right to edge, but never results in a sub-standard sonic presentation.

Speed King (Dutch Single - Piano Version) is a Killer song and the piano elements certainly add depth to the song. This song is one of the reasons why Deep Purple is one of the greatest rock bands in music history.

Child In Time (Single Edit) is a sonic masterpiece. Yes, Smoke On The Water is coming up, but Child In Time smokes any other song in Deep Purple's catalogue.

Strange Kind Of Woman has a great groove with an addictive vocal. Sometimes, that is all a good song needs.

Fireball is perhaps the only Deep Purple song, on this compilation, that I don't have much love for. I've simply never been able to connect with the song.

Demon's Eye has a great groove and is musicality pleasing. I really appreciate the slower pace of this song and the tempo works well for the style of music we recognise as Deep Purple‘s signature sound.

Smoke On The Water (1997 Remastered Version) really needs no discussion as that guitar riff says it all. Exceptional!

Highway Star (1997 Remix) is the complete package and while the soundstage is somewhat concealed, it rocks?

When A Blind Man Cries (1997 Remix) is an absolutely amazing composition. Music doesn't get much better than this.

Never Before is a solid rock song, but nothing to write home about.

Woman From Tokyo (Single Edit) is another example of musical perfection. While not an overly complex composition, it ticks all the right boxes.

Burn (2004 Remastered Version) is a great song, but the chaotic intermingling of vocal and instrumental aspects, especially in the verse, can become fatiguing.

Stormbringer (2009 Remastered Version) has a killer groove. I love it!

You Keep On Moving is strangely the final track on the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition of the compilation as the 1998 CD featured three additional tracts, including Perfect Strangers, Vavoom: Ted The Mechanic, and Any Fule Kno That. It is a complete mystery as to why these songs are omitted, especially considering I don’t feel You Keep On Moving is a solid enough song to close the compilation with. The aforementioned songs are truly missed and I wish I had never sold the CD during my idiotic MP3 rules era.

It is interesting, however, that these songs are available on iTunes, should you purchase the entire compilation. On Apple Music, however, the songs are greyed out. Yet, they are included on Spotify (thanks to their compile from any album feature). Basically, it is a bloody mess! The only saving grace for me is that iTunes Match streams all the songs as they were, on the original CD, when I ripped it into iTunes as a series of MP3 files.

Hence, just for you dear readers, I will review these three additional songs. 

Perfect Strangers is one of the greatest rock and roll songs to have ever been recorded. Turn the volume to 11 and enjoy as the musicality is off the charts!

Ted The Mechanic (sic) has a unique style that won’t appeal to everyone and I tend to have a love/hate relationship with it. Depending on the mastering, the song can sound rather shrill, but following the introduction the soundstage expands, becoming a more complete Deep Purple song that I really dig. Regardless, it was always a welcome addition to this collection. 

Any Fule Know That is superb. What an incredible beat! As the former final song on the compilation, it always encouraged me to listen to the album again and stay within the Deep Purple catalogue. Truth be told, I’d often put this song on repeat as it is simply that good!

What is disappointing is how this compilation has been handled over the years. Originally released in 1998, there is no reason why streaming services should have a version that includes remasters from 2004 and 2009.

Is nothing sacred anymore?

Trust me when I say that the original CD was mastered beautifully. I don't know about you, but this constant meddling really irritates me.

Memo to all record labels and musicians: If the original is substandard, don't release it. If you do release it, leave it alone. We don't want your remasters.

This, of course, isn't the first time I have been irritated by different editions and masterings of Deep Purple records. See Deep Purple - Made In Japan (Thoughts On The Many Editions).

Despite the questionable antics, surrounding the various masterings, this compilation is still one of the greatest in the history of recorded music. The cover artwork is exceptional and I'll never forget the starkness of that space purple CD.

From a sonic perspective, you can certainly hear variances between the tracks. While the remastered songs don’t help the situation, it is also plausible that this is simply a result of songs being recorded at different studios and at different stages in Deep Purple’s career. That said, at no time does this distract from the enjoyment of the compilation. It really is the very best of Deep Purple!

Deep Purple - 30: Very Best Of is available on CD and iTunes. There is also an extended Special Collectors Edition available on iTunes, albeit with a completely different tracking.

If you prefer streaming, the compilation is also available on Spotify (Standard Edition/Special Collectors Edition) and Apple Music (Standard Edition/Special Collectors Edition).

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Sound City (Documentary Film Review)

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Sound City (Documentary Film Review)

You may know him as the drummer from Nirvana, or the founder and lead singer of the Foo Fighters, but what you may not know is Dave Grohl is equally comfortable behind the lens in the director’s chair. In his debut directorial role, Grohl delivers the endearing documentary film, Sound City.

We are often used to the film star wanting to be a rock star, but seldom does it go the other way. Yes, Rob Zombie has had success in recent years with his Horror flicks, but this isn't your average crossover as Grohl plays to his strengths, producing and directing one of the most intriguing music-themed documentaries in recent times. It also doesn’t hurt to have a Rolodex that includes John Fogerty, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Rick Rubin, Rick Springfield, Corey Taylor, Neil Young, and Paul McCartney.

The documentary itself is told beautifully, by the people who worked at the once great Sound City Studios and the musicians who recorded there. Paul Crowder (also editor of Ron Howard's The Beatles: Eight Days A Week) expertly compiles this intermingling tale that talks about the rise and fall of a highly sort after recording studio as the industry made the transition from tape-based recording methods to digital-based recording systems.

It is difficult to not get carried away with the emotion shown by Grohl and his peers. You will laugh, you will empathise, but you will never look for the remote as the narrative is captivating.

On cursory examination, Sound City is aimed squarely at music lovers, but while it examines the effect that technology has had on the music industry, specifically from a recording standpoint, it speaks to a much larger debate regarding the effect technology has on society and culture. It is this unique approach that will undoubtedly generate interest by music lovers and documentary film buffs alike.

The filming of the documentary is immaculate and for a directorial debut, Grohl will have no detractors.

If you believe a quality soundtrack is of considerable importance, you won’t be disappointed. This is certainly not a film that you will want to watch with only your television speakers. Yes, I believe a film’s sound is fifty percent of the experience and while the film contains samples of some of the most recognisable recordings in history, it also features new and engaging compositions that were also released as a soundtrack album.

Perhaps the only disappointment is the final thirty minutes of the film where the documentary shifts focus to the recording of the soundtrack. It almost feels as though this should have been bonus content, and I can’t help but wonder if it couldn’t have been dispersed more thoroughly throughout the documentary. That said, it is utterly fascinating to see musicians like Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, and Paul McCartney share the studio with the Foo Fighters in a jazz-like jam session.

Overall there isn't a dull moment to be seen here. Even if you’re not a music fan it is an intriguing and entertaining look at a side of the industry that is less star-studded and glamorous, but nevertheless essential. 

Sound City is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and for rental and purchase on iTunes.

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Nirvana - "Bleach" (Deluxe Edition Vinyl Review)

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Nirvana - "Bleach" (Deluxe Edition Vinyl Review)

In June, I reviewed the Deluxe Edition of “Bleach” and indicated that while I appreciated the TIDAL Masters/MQA version, I was still interested in owning the vinyl pressing. Well, the wait is over, thanks to Matau Records, as the vinyl has arrived at Subjective Sounds HQ and it is time to put it on the platter and share my thoughts. Please note, as I have already reviewed the album, this review will only consist of my opinions regarding the vinyl release, not the music and album as a piece of work. 

Housed in a thick cardboard gatefold, reminiscent of the numerous Original Recordings Group (ORG) pressings I have in my collection, the overall packaging and artwork are beyond reproach. This is certainly not your standard CD upscaled vinyl release that is becoming more and more prevalent. However, this shouldn’t be confused with the Nirvana ORG pressings as this release was pressed at RTI (another world-renowned pressing plant). The album was remastered by the late George Marino at Sterling Sound in 2009, from the original master tapes, and Jack Endino, the album’s producer, oversaw the project. 

The records themselves are pressed on 180gram vinyl and are free of blemishes and warping. From a merely observational standpoint, they are perfect! 

An MP3 download code is also included for the album. Interestingly, when I redeemed the code, I not only received the MP3 edition, but I was also able to download the CD-quality 16/44.1 kHz ALAC and FLAC files, along with a 40-page digital booklet in the universal PDF format. I’m so impressed by this inclusion, thank you S>U>B P<O<P

The included 16-page printed booklet offers some exceptional photographs from the era that are enjoyable to peruse while toe-tapping to the beat (this aging rocker is starting to get headaches with excessive headbanging these days). While the booklet also includes production details, it is a shame that a short essay, perhaps penned by Nirvana co-founder Chris Novoselic, was not included. That said, they did include the original recording contract with S>U>B P<O<P; that’s just cool! 

Upon dropping the needle, the first thing I noticed was a reduction in the reverberation that could be heard in Novoselic's bass lines; especially on the song Blew. When listening to the TIDAL Masters/MQA 24/96 kHz edition, this aspect is rather prominent and you can visualise Noveselic’s strumming style. While it is still present on the vinyl edition, it is just a little more concealed. Of course, there could be various reasons why this could be the case. While I consider my Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, with the Ortofon OM20 needle, to be a good example of audiophile quality and an affordable price point, I also must acknowledge that my analogue setup may simply not be as revealing as the TIDAL Masters/MQA format allows by comparison. 

That said, I’m conflicted as my Dire Straits Brothers In Arms Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) vinyl edition is superior to any other recording in my collection; nothing compares. All the high-res albums in the world can’t outperform that vinyl record, in my system, from a sonic standpoint. I even have the 20th Anniversary SACD version that contains the HDCD, Stereo DSD, and 5.1 DSD Surround Sound mix. Trust me, the difference is immense and I feel my Oppo BDP-103 is on par with my turntable with regards to matching quality. Interestingly, MFSL did release a SACD alongside the vinyl pressing of Brothers In Arms. As it is from the same mastering session, I should probably get myself a copy so that I can accurately compare the capabilities of my analogue and digital setups. Obviously, differences would remain, but as I much prefer the MFSL mastering, that aspect alone is of greater importance than the differences between analogue and digital. 

I also find that when comparing the two “Bleach” editions, the TIDAL Masters/MQA edition has more emphasis in the mid and low end. Whereas, there is definitely more treble to be heard in the vinyl edition. That increased treble isn’t bad and doesn’t take away from the album at all, especially considering the expanded dynamic range it offers, but it does make me wonder what MQA trickery is going on as TIDAL indicates the Masters/MQA edition is also from the 2009 remastering sessions. However, one of the key points of contention is that TIDAL also lists the date of release as being 2013. 

Through the use of deduction, thanks in part to the Dynamic Range Database, the HDTracks.com 2013 24/96 kHz edition has an average dynamic range of 7 out of 20, whereas the vinyl edition averages a 13 out of 20. Sure, dynamic range isn’t everything, but if the TIDAL Masters/MQA edition is the same as the HDTracks release, then that explains the boost in the mid and low end, along with the increased treble region on the vinyl pressing. Unfortunately, like all streaming services, the production notes are not of paramount importance and therefore while I’ve no doubt the TIDAL Masters/MQA edition is sourced from a master (the little blue light confirms it), is it the master undertaken in 2009 by George Marino, or a later and louder (compressed) master? 

So, I guess the real question is which version do I like best. 

I do enjoy a boost to the mids and low end, but not to the detriment of dynamic range and overall soundstage presentation. While I praised the sonic presentation of the TIDAL Master/MQA release in July, and stand by that assessment, after listening extensively to the vinyl release, I find myself captivated by the greater dynamic range of the vinyl pressing. I guess what I am trying to say is that while MQA touts authentication of the studio master, we don’t exactly know which mastering the studio or artist is going to use. Subsequently, the search for the best mastering will continue and while MQA is a great asset for streaming music, there needs to be more than a little blue light to confirm the end user is receiving the very best, studio master, copy of the album. 

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 TIDAL Hi-FiSpotify and Apple Music.

The catalogue number for the vinyl edition used in this review is: SP 834.

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Deep Purple - Shades Of Deep Purple (Album Review)

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Deep Purple - Shades Of Deep Purple (Album Review)

From the first seconds of And The Address, the iconic, signature, sound of Deep Purple is present, despite Shades Of Deep Purple being the band’s debut album. And The Address may have an annoying cowbell beat throughout, but looking past that one can see a band already at ease with their musical style. I, for one, become thoroughly engrossed with the groove of this song. What an introduction!

Hush is a howling good song and has always been a favourite of mine. I dare you to sit still while enjoying this classic. It is addictive and one of their greatest recordings.

One More Rainy Day doesn’t have one of the most compelling openings. Yes, the thunderstorm effect is a nice addition, but the most distracting element is the first verse. It really sounds out of place with the musicality, but all is not lost as the song develops nicely. It is a B-side, but worthy of inclusion on the album.

Prelude: Happiness/I'm So Glad really shows off the organ talents of Jon Lord. That man could perform an exceptional solo, on the organ, that would rival any guitar solo in music history. Absolutely incredible! Overall, the song is extremely pleasing and while lyrical elements may become a little repetitive, the song is never fatiguing. In many respects, it amazes me that Prelude: Happiness/I'm So Glad is not included on the numerous Deep Purple compilations and live performances. Surely it is popular amongst fans. Prelude: Happiness/I'm So Glad is severely underrated and I implore you to give it a chance. It is that good!

Mandrake Root fits adequately into the tracking of the album, but it is a B-side and offers nothing really compelling. That said, the lower register of the organ is a nice addition and overall, the musicality works. The major failing, in my opinion, is a weak vocal presentation.

Help is simply exceptional! This cover version is significantly better than the original Beatles recording in my opinion.

Love Help Me isn't the greatest song and feels somewhat detached from the other recordings. There are some truly enjoyable elements, but overall I feel the song sounds too shrill and incomplete.

Hey Joe is a great example of the progressive/psychedelic style of Deep Purple. It is a solid tune that encourages me to listen to the album again and stay within the Deep Purple catalogue.

For this review, I listened to the TIDAL Masters/MQA (24/96 kHz) Stereo Mix. To say it was exceptional would be an understatement. Due to their musical style and remastering with loudness in mind, many Deep Purple recordings have previously been overly shrill. That isn't the case here as MQA has given us a beautiful reproduction that is as close to the master recording as consumers are ever likely to get.

I also listened to the Mono Mix (also TIDAL Masters/MQA [24/96 kHz]) of the album but it didn't appeal to me. Perhaps I'm just used to stereo recordings, but the mono soundstage is just so shallow in comparison to the stereo mix. In a classic what came first, the chicken or the egg? No answer in the mono vs. stereo argument will be agreed upon unanimously. Hence, I will simply say they sound different and I prefer the stereo mix. Truthfully, I'm just glad that we have both mixes available, in MQA, as the listener can select their preferred edition.

Overall, there really isn't a bad thing to say about Shades Of Deep Purple. As far as debuts go, it is one of the better ones in rock and roll and you can clearly hear the origins of what the band would become in the years and decades following this 1968 release.

Shades Of Deep Purple is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (Stereo 16/44.1 kHz FLAC) and (Mono 16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Stereo) and (Mono) (both Mastered For iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, Shades Of Deep Purple is also available on Apple Music (Stereo) and (Mono).

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Rod Stewart – The Best Of Rod Stewart (Album Review)

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Rod Stewart – The Best Of Rod Stewart (Album Review)

Despite owning this compilation, I have never considered myself to be a major fan of Rod Stewart’s music and while I own Every Picture Tells A Story and Time, the desire to research and collect his entire catalog is simply not as strong as it is with the other artists that I collect. As good as his studio albums are, when I think of Rod Stewart, I think of the decades of incredible music, spread amongst no fewer than 30 albums. It is that kind of back catalog that compels one to appreciate the succinctness of compilation-based albums.

While I would love to embed the album from TIDAL et al, this compilation isn't available on any streaming service. It isn’t even available for purchase on iTunes. However, let’s not be discouraged as I have painstakingly constructed a playlist of the songs. TIDAL will, of course, be embedded below, but I have also made the playlist available for Spotify users.

Maggie May really needs no introduction, yet it is the perfect song to commence any Rod Stewart compilation with.

You Wear It Well instantly reminds me of numerous Neil Young recordings. That is, of course, until Stewart's raspy vocal kicks in. While I enjoy this song, I find that I get the most enjoyment from the instrumentation as I feel Stewart's vocal is somewhat lost in the soundstage. It results in a muddiness that is distracting.

Baby Jane is a catchy tune. I love it as it gets my body moving.

Da Ya Think I'm Sexy is one of the greatest Disco-era tunes ever recorded. It is addictive and there is little doubt that you will sing that addictive chorus to your significant other at some point in time. If you do, I just hope the following song, in your playlist, is not (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones.

I Was Only Joking is a lovely semi-acoustic ballad that really highlights Stewart's unique vocal style. The song is soothing and while directly opposite in tempo to Da Ya Think I'm Sexy, the transition doesn't feel out of place. Actually, I would say the tracking of this compilation is well thought out, which sadly is a rarity amongst career perspective compilations.

This Old Heart Of Mine is a solid song that I thoroughly enjoy, but it is nothing to write home about.

Sailing is pure perfection. It doesn't get any better than this!

I Don't Want To Talk About It is another Rod Stewart classic. What an incredible artist! This song is so delicate and could have been over-performed, but Stewart reaches deep while remaining restrained in a true showcase of professionalism.

You're In My Heart has a gorgeous acoustic introduction that gradually builds as the song plays. You may not sing-a-long to the verse, but the chorus compels you to do so. Not only is it catchy, but the use of backing singers, in the chorus, is ideal for the composition of the song. You're In My Heart is a classic song that will continue to stand the test of time; provided love prevails of course.

Young Turks is a faster-paced tune that reminds me of Dire Straits. While I should love it, I just feel there is something missing and the click track beat is a little monotonous. It isn't a bad song, but is it worthy of a Best Of compilation?

What Am I Gonna Do (I'm So In Love With You) is campy and whiny. I'm sorry to those of you that enjoy this song, but this is one song that I would skip over if given the chance. I feel it is overproduced with a lackluster performance.

The First Cut Is The Deepest is gorgeous!

The Killing Of Georgie (Part I And II) is sonic heaven and nothing short of a masterpiece. I love it!

Tonight's The Night has an incredible rhythm and I adore Stewart's vocal delivery on this track.

Every Beat Of My Heart is one of the best songs Stewart ever recorded. Every aspect of this song is perfect and Bob Ezrin certainly pushed Stewart to, and beyond, the limit with the production of this song. Sometimes a producer is as important as the artist and Ezrin rarely disappoints. His work with Alice Cooper, alone, is legendary. Ezrin is one of the greatest producers in the history of recorded music. If you see his name attached to an album, buy it!

Downtown Train is the first Rod Stewart song that I recall hearing. For that reason alone, it has a very special place in my heart. It is a perfect way to end this compilation and while Stewart continues to record new and engaging music, this 1989 release, in a similar way to Elton John's The Very Best Of, highlights the most well-known tracks from the pinnacle of Stewart's success.

I don't know about you, but I feel like listening to this album again. The collection, overall, is exceptional and is one of my prized possessions.

For this review, I listened to the Warner Bros. (7599-26034-2) CD. Overall the mastering was good but uneven in places. It is honestly difficult to find a compilation that doesn't suffer from this problem as songs are recorded in different studios, with different producers, and varied artistic abilities, depending on when the song was written and recorded. A perfect example of this, that springs to mind, would be if a Michael Jackson compilation featured both Ben and Man In The Mirror. Both are great songs in their own right, but from an artistic and musicality standpoint, they are worlds apart.

A fold-out CD booklet is included but it’s barebones, including only a single additional photograph. The only other detail included, in the liner notes, is a replication of the production information that is plastered on the rear cover. Yes, I have seen far worse album layouts, especially for compilations, but it is tedious to find that one song you really want to listen to. Seriously, who thought a rear album artwork layout, with production information, was a good idea? I’m certainly a proponent of including full production notes, but that is what liner notes are for.

The Best Of Rod Stewart is currently available on CD. Unfortunately, it remains absent from all streaming services and digital download stores.

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Alice Cooper – Constrictor (Album Review)

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Alice Cooper – Constrictor (Album Review)

Alice Cooper is a musical genius and one of my all-time favourite musicians. As such, I have spent the last couple of years tracking down some of his albums that are harder to come by, certainly in Australia; Constrictor being one of them.

While I would become a life-long Cooper fan following Trash, and the mainstream popularity of the album’s lead single Poison, my mother forbade me from having Alice Cooper in the house. At one stage, when I wanted the Trash album, she called it trash and asked why I would want that kind of trash. She thought it was a clever play on words, I thought it was ridiculous! Thankfully as the rebellious teenage years approached, I had a job and was able to start collecting some of the greatest rock and roll music in history. At no time did I consider these albums to be bad influences and quite frankly I was so captivated by the music that I spent every last cent buying records, rather than spending that same money on illicit substances like so many of my peers.

Subsequently, I encourage my children to have the same passion for music as I do. I also encourage them to never buy a 'clean' version of an album as it is not what the artist intended. I teach them about artistic license and encourage them to ask questions and talk about their experiences. That said, I don't let them listen to Steel Panther (yet), but I won't stop playing one of their records when they enter the room as I believe it encourages unhealthy taboos that can affect their lives. I've come to this conclusion based on years of psychological damage that an overprotective mother imposed on me. Thus far, it has worked wonderfully and my children understand and respect that some music is not yet appropriate for their maturity level. However, it is important to note that just because Katy Perry and Taylor Swift may both have a girl-next-door persona, it doesn’t mean that their songs are any less provocative than that of Alice Cooper and his peers. My children also know there is no such thing as trash music as it is all subjective and one's opinion does not need to meet with the approval of another.

With that in mind, join me as I give you my opinion of Alice Cooper's Constrictor. I'd love to read your own subjective opinions, so feel free to use the comments section below.

Teenage Frankenstein has some gorgeous guitar work. The overall rhythm is addictive as is the catchy lyrical delivery. Let the head-bopping, toe-tapping, and out-of-tune karaoke begin.

Give It Up is an excellent rock and roll song with a vocal presentation that I absolutely adore. The musicality is riff driven and every time I listen to Give It Up, I enter musical heaven.

Thrill My Gorilla keeps the album rocking with a rock/pop sound that is most definitely a byproduct of the 80s. I grew up through the 80s, so I love it! That era of music is very groove based and I’m so happy that Rob Zombie has taken this style, made it his own, and continues the groove-infused rock and roll sound.

Life And Death Of The Party is exceptional! It is one of Cooper's greatest songs, yet you will not see it on any of Cooper's compilations or live recordings (except for the 1989 live album Prince of Darkness). Such a shame, as it really is that good!

Simple Disobedience is awesome!

The World Needs Guts is riff and rhythm heaven. I find myself singing along to this song every time it plays. Yes, I also warm up my air guitar and dance around the house. The World Needs Guts is another exceptional Alice Cooper performance. However, the cymbals are a little concealed in the soundstage and I would prefer them to be more present in the mix.

Trick Bag is a good song, but it’s most certainly a B-side.

Crawlin' returns the album to the overall rhythmic feel heard prior to Trick Bag. It isn't the strongest song on the album, but I couldn't imagine Constrictor without it.

The Great American Success Story has a promising start, but turns the rock and roll down from 11 to 7 as it enters the chorus. It isn't a bad song, but the chorus irritates me. It is simply too campy!

He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask) [Theme from the Motion Picture, "Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives") is excellent and a perfect song to close the album with.

I could, and have, listened to Constrictor on repeat for hours on end. While there are a couple of B-sides, I feel Constructor is a very underrated Alice Cooper album and, as such, I hope you will give it a listen as I truly believe it is worth your time.

For this review, I listened to the MCA Records (MCAD-5761) CD. The mastering is a bit of a mixed bag. I like it as it has that warm and fuzzy analogue 80's tape sound, but CD normally has a more clinical tonality. It simply messes with your mind as the analogue and digital streams are being crossed. Personally, I don't mind either tonality, but it is something to note when listening to the album.

From an artwork perspective, I love the cover art. Even with CD-sized graphics, the snake still looks fake! It is frankly comical that way and certainly reminiscent of the Alice Cooper character. What I can't fathom, however, is the use of pink on the rear cover and spine of the CD. I guess all one needs to do is look back at glam rock and professional wrestling in the 80s to remember that pink was the in-colour for hardasses. How fashion and times changed! The liner notes are also printed on an equally questionable yellow, but at least the complete lyrics and production notes are present. It isn’t bothersome, but it just isn't a colour scheme that I have come to expect from Alice Cooper albums. Although, Pretties For You makes me think twice about that statement! Regardless, it is a prized possession in my CD collection and I love it as much for the musicality as I do for the interesting artwork style that beckons me to recall a bygone era of towel hats, short shorts, and long socks, held high with elastic, while wearing sandals. Yes, there are pictures of me from this era, but trust me when I say that nobody needs to see that fashion era again. Nostalgia be damned!

Constrictor is available on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes. If you prefer streaming, you can check out Alice Cooper's Constrictor on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Prince – Batman (Soundtrack Review)

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Prince – Batman (Soundtrack Review)

For as long as I can remember, I have had a love/hate relationship with Prince. Most of his music I appreciate, but not all of it connects with me on an emotional level. However, my opinions began to change as I explored his extensive catalogue. Following his passing, I also found I was listening to more of his work and many of the albums that didn’t appeal to me were fast becoming staples of my Prince collection. For instance, I’m happy to go on record and state that I never really liked Purple Rain. It wasn’t until I heard the 2015 Paisley Park remastered edition, delivered in MQA, that I fell in love with the album. I know how insane it sounds, but this remaster spoke to me and this edition of Purple Rain is now one of my most beloved albums. What this says to me is to keep listening. What you may have disliked years ago, you may love today. Plus, you have my permission to be fickle. I know I am!

I remember a high school friend who was an avid Prince fan and actively encouraged me to take a greater interest. At the time I was heavily invested in Michael Jackson's music and diversification wasn't of key importance. That same friend had a DCC (Digital Compact Cassette) player and the associated Prince albums: Purple Rain and Diamonds And Pearls. I was so jealous as I had desperately wanted a DCC portable cassette player, but that wasn’t to be and the format sadly didn’t last long either. Perhaps it was my envy that prevented me from fully connecting with Prince, although I have always loved Diamonds And Pearls. The other plausible reasoning could be that I once had the philosophy that in order to like Guns N’ Roses, you couldn’t like Nirvana. Similarly, you couldn’t be a fan of The Beatles and Elvis. Hence, if you were a Michael Jackson fan, you couldn’t be a fan of Prince as well. Honestly, what was my teenage mind telling me? While I have no exact answer for my naivety, I dare say growing up below the poverty line would have resulted in these thoughts becoming justifications so that I would not be disappointed in my inability to explore other interesting music. We are truly blessed to have access to so much music at an affordable price. While numerous people complain about the cost of streaming services, Spotify gives a reasonable, albeit sonically inferior, free service. That said, I frankly feel that streaming services don’t charge enough for the incredible catalogue of music we have access to. Most services charge about the same price as Netflix, yet with music you get access to nearly everything ever recorded. Netflix, by comparison, gives us a mere fraction of all of the recorded film and television. Interesting, huh?

While Prince may have been destined to sit on the sidelines of my music appreciation, for a number of decades, I did own Prince's Batman soundtrack on cassette. I don’t recall when, or how, I acquired the cassette, but I remember seeing the 1989 Batman film on my 10th birthday. Actually, I was unable to see it on the actual day as the cinema was completely booked out. Yes, that used to actually happen. You must remember, this was the era before the Internet and on-demand media. At the time it seemed to take years for these films to make it to home video as it had to be aired on television first. While I look back on this period and wonder how we tolerated life at such slow pace, I can't help but admit that I'm a little envious of the past we left behind as I find that I am less excited about films, television shows, books, and music in modern society because everything is available, somewhere, at the click of a button. I often find myself suffering information overload and am intrigued with individuals that go off the Internet grid, even for a short period of time. The Internet, my friends, is both a blessing and a curse.

As always, I digress, but when you think how recent the non-connected era was, in human society, it blows my mind that things have changed so significantly. What hasn't changed, however, is the exceptional album that is Prince's Batman soundtrack.

The Future has an incredible rhythm that is addictive and will get your body moving. The inclusion of spoken film elements link the album to the film, rather than simply being representative of a stand-alone Price album with film branding. The Future, as much of the entire soundtrack, is significantly synth driven. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it works perfectly for the film and recording era. Plus, to be completely honest, I don’t feel this album has aged at all.

Electric Chair is a killer rock song that shows just how diverse Prince was. It is, without a doubt, one of Prince's greatest recordings and his guitar riffing is nothing short of extraordinary!

The Arms Of Orion opens with a sonic signature that instantly reminds me of the haunting score from The Dark Crystal. However, after these first notes have elapsed, the song opens with a beautiful duet with Sheena Easton. The musicality is off-the-charts and I adore the instrumental ending.

Partyman is featured prominently in the film and was perfect for the associated scene. The song is excellent, but I can’t help wonder if I class it in the manner because it evokes the film’s scene in my mind. I guess it really doesn’t matter as I thoroughly enjoy the song. Sometimes it is best to not look too deeply into the reason behind interests.

Vicki Waiting has a great beat and while very enjoyable, is nothing to write home about.

Trust has a fast upbeat pop/rock feel to it that is rather unique. It is indicative of Prince and was also featured in a key film sequence. As I love both the film and the song, this is subjectively an excellent song that I could listen, and sing-a-long to, for hours on end.

Lemon Crush has a rhythm that will ensure your body moves impulsively. As with all the songs on the album, the musicality is excellent and Prince once again proved why he was one of the greatest guitarists and most talented musicians in the world. Exceptional!

Scandalous is one of the most gorgeous songs ever recorded. Prince nailed it!

Batdance is a fun remix-style song that integrates many film elements into the song. However, while the musical elements certainly confirm this to be a Prince song, I have always felt it feels out-of-place with the soundtrack and Prince's overall style. Despite this, I feel compelled to listen to the soundtrack again and stay within Prince's catalogue.

Overall, Prince's Batman soundtrack is one of the best recordings he ever made. If I had such a list, it would be amongst my top 10 soundtracks of all time.

Batman, the soundtrack, 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.

Danny Elfman also produced a sensational score for the 1989 Batman film. That album is available on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes. You can also stream it on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music.

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