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Andrea Bocelli – Cinema (Deluxe Edition CD Review)

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Andrea Bocelli – Cinema (Deluxe Edition CD Review)

Every now and then an album comes along that is the pinnacle of perfection. Cinema is just that as it blew my mind the first time I listened to it. While I am well aware of Bocelli’s work, having been a fan since his Romanza album in 1994, I wasn’t prepared for the quality of his latest work Cinema. There is little doubt regarding Bocelli’s exceptional talent, but I feel that recent albums, such as Passione, didn’t showcase his true potential. That said, I appreciate films and their associated scores, hence it could very well be my own subjectivity that passes judgement against this recent work. Regardless, the song selection and tracking on Cinema is perfect. The songs not only bring out the best in Bocelli, but many of these interpretations surpass their original compositions.

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The Deluxe Edition CD is housed in a beautiful tri-fold digipak with full featured liner notes. The booklet is presented so well that I can honestly say it is one of the most detailed I have seen in recent years. It describes not only the inspiration and history of the songs, but all production elements are meticulously added. This level of detail is what audiophiles ask for but rarely get. It is wonderful to see this level of production, given the CD format has been faltering in sales recently.

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There is a vinyl edition of Cinema, but I won’t be adding it to my collection. The CD offers one of the best masterings in my collection. If you want a CD that is reference quality, for auditioning new hardware, just use this one. This is how digital music should sound and proves that CD is a truly capable medium that has, more often than not, never been utilised to its full potential. Subsequently, I see no justification for higher resolution editions of this album, especially considering the audiophile 96kHz/24bit edition from HDtracks features exactly the same dynamic range as that available on the CD. While I have yet to see dynamic range numbers for the vinyl release, I think we could confidently assume that it would have been created from the same Hi-res master used for both HDtracks and the CD, therefore resulting in no improved dynamic range. The only benefit may be the analogue sound that some listeners may prefer. Although, as much as I love vinyl, I prefer listening to classical music in a high-quality digital format as the organic surface noise of vinyl can be distracting in low volume passages.

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Maria (from “West Side Story”) is simply a gorgeous song that is perfectly suited for the tenor voice. While I’m not sure it is the best interpretation of the song, it is amongst the best and is thoroughly pleasing.

La Chanson De Lara (from “Doctor Zhivago”) is incredibly moving. It encourages the man with two left feet to dance with his significant other. It also reminds me of how exceptional the film Doctor Zhivago is. In fact, Doctor Zhivago is my second favourite film of all time, second only to Casablanca.

Moon River (from “Breakfast At Tiffany’s) is beautiful. When I think of this song, it is with Frank Sinatra in mind as I have always preferred his version. However, Bocelli has made this song his own while paying homage to the classical renditions by Sinatra and many others. It is sensational!

E Pit Ti Penso [duet with Ariana Grande] (from “Once Upon A Time In America”) is a song that I’m unfamiliar with, but I love it when Bocelli does duets as the intermingling vocals are always respectfully done and in cohesion. It is a beautiful song and worthy of inclusion on Cinema. I certainly look forward to hearing it many more times over the coming years.

Be My Love (from “The Toast Of New Orleans”) is another song I am unfamiliar with, yet it sounds somewhat familiar. Regardless, Bocelli delivers another stunning performance that works perfectly with his vocal register.

The Music Of The Night (from “Phantom Of The Opera”) is one of the most recognisable pieces of music in the world. Personally, I consider Michael Crawford’s interpretation to be the one to beat. No-one else has ever come close in my opinion. That said, I’m extremely impressed with Bocelli’s rendition and I have a feeling that even Michael Crawford would acknowledge this as nothing short of a stellar performance. If you haven’t already got your stereo turned up to ear-bleeding levels, you will definitely want to turn that volume knob to the right. Bocelli is absolutely amazing!

Brucia La Terra (from “The Godfather”) is one of my favourite film-based songs. I’ve been a fan of The Godfather series for decades and while the original song is superb, it is nothing like this. Bocelli has left me speechless and all I can say is: Wow!

Por Una Cabeza (from “Scent Of A Woman”) picks up the pace a little from the solemn notes of Brucia La Terra, but it doesn’t feel out of place. Personally, I feel it was a wise tracking choice as there is a similar vocal tonality throughout this song, despite the obvious shift in tempo.

No Llores Por Mi Argentina [duet with Nicole Scherzinger] (from “Evita”) reminds me vividly of the exceptional Elaine Paige version. However, I feel Bocelli and Scherzinger have done an exceptional job with this song. I can’t help but wonder if they also recorded the English version. That said, the utilisation of foreign tongue in music doesn’t concern me, especially when the performing artists are so incredibly talented and blessed with voices that instrumentalise emotion more succinctly than any instrument is capable of.

L’Amore E Una Cosa Meravigliosa (from “Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing”) is a beautiful song that I am not familiar with. That said, I truly appreciate a compilation-styled album such as this because it expands one’s musical appreciation into a series of songs that one may otherwise have never heard. It still amazes me how much beautiful music exists in the world and I can only imagine how much I have yet to experience.

Mi Mancherai (from “Il Postino: The Postman”) takes you on a musical journey that is simply exquisite.

Cheek To Cheek [duet with Veronica Berti] (from “Top Hat”) is an incredible song and while it has been played and interpreted numerous times, it never gets old. My personal favourite rendition, however, is the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recording from their 1956 album Ella And Louis. As good as the Bocelli/Berti version is, no one does it better than Fitzgerald and Armstrong in my opinion. That said, I would love to see Bocelli do more jazz-inspired songs as his vocal capabilities are perfectly suited to that style of music.

Sorridi Amore Vai (from “Life Is Beautiful”) is a beautiful song. As I listen, I remain amazed at the restraint that Bocelli has on his vocal performance. Many artists tend to reach too high and it sounds forced. As far as I can recall, I have never heard Bocelli extend his vocal beyond the requirements of a song. It is this professionalism that makes him one of the best vocalists in the world.

Historian De Amor (from “Love Story”) is a song I absolutely adore and I don’t recall ever hearing a bad rendition of it. Bocelli's interpretation carries on that trend and is an absolute pleasure to listen to.

Ol’ Man River (from “Show Boat”) is a song that I’m not overly familiar with and is probably the one song that I feel doesn’t fit well on the album. Bocelli’s vocals just don’t seem well suited to this song. That isn’t to say it is bad, but it doesn’t reach me on an emotional level.

Nelle Tue Mani [Now We Are Free] (from “Gladiator”) is one of the most stunning songs on the album and in any film that I can recall. It is moving and emotionally engaging. While I felt the film was lacklustre, this song is completely opposite as it empowers the listener and creates a sonic visualisation that is incredibly vivid. Bocelli’s performance is simply flawless. We, as music lovers, are truly blessed to have such sonic perfection in our lives. It literally brings me to tears.

Mere words can not explain just how moving this album is and how perfect the performance and production is from start to finish. While Bocelli is most certainly the star attraction and performs flawlessly, this album has an A-list of who’s who in the musical and studio production world. While this review would never end if I mentioned them all, all I can say is a sincere thank you to everyone involved in the making of Cinema.

Music simply doesn’t get any better than this and while Cinema is available on vinyl, the Deluxe Edition CD is all you will ever need to truly enjoy this masterpiece. Plus, if you play albums as I do, you will wear out the vinyl edition from the inability to put the record back on the shelf. It really is that good!

For those of you who are interested in streaming, the Deluxe Edition is unavailable. However, both the Standard 13-track and 19-track Special Edition of Cinema are currently available on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

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Crowded House – 2016 Re-Issue Thoughts

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Crowded House – 2016 Re-Issue Thoughts

Regular readers of Subjective Sounds would be aware of my inclination towards collecting a physical library of music. Adding TIDAL Hi-Fi to the mix offers a perfect solution for both the audiophile and music lover within as I acknowledged a couple of years ago that it would be financially and physically impossible to own all the albums I truly adored. As my music interests continue to evolve, so has my reliance on TIDAL. Now that TIDAL has implemented Masters (MQA), that proposition is even more compelling. I can sample music, up to studio-master quality, prior to making a physical purchase. The result is that my TIDAL Hi-Fi subscription has saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars by eliminating the blind-buy process. While I will always collect some form of physical media, the physical product has to provide additional value that exceeds TIDAL’s sonic benefits. This is where artwork, packaging, and additional media elements become paramount as there is no use buying a standard edition CD, or basic vinyl pressing, when I can stream the same music at an astonishing level of quality.

This conundrum is one that I have faced with the recent re-issues of the Crowded House catalogue. As a fan of the band, since their Temple Of Low Men album, I was in seventh heaven while floating on cloud number nine when I heard these beloved albums were being reissued on vinyl. Despite these initial heavenly viewpoints, I have my reservations with both the vinyl and CD re-issues.

Universal Music has been doing an excellent job of re-issuing vinyl in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that all releases have been perfect. While I can not attest to the sonic quality of these new Crowded House pressings, I can say that I was disappointed with the packaging. They simply appeared like any other budget, run-of-the-mill, release that has been rushed to market to capitalise on the vinyl revival. Given the packaging quality of the CD reissue, I don’t feel that it is unreasonable to suggest that Universal could have done more for the vinyl reissues.

Given the entire catalogue was reissued, there really is no reason as to why a vinyl box set, with a hard-covered book, could not have been released for this reissue project; subsequently offering fans significant value.

Part of the problem is these vinyl releases are priced at AU$37.99. They simply aren’t worth that asking price, especially when you consider the expanded CD reissues are priced at $29.99. Yes, I acknowledge the vinyl reissues are said to have been cut from the analogue masters, at Abbey Road Studios, but that alone is no guarantee of sonic perfection. Although, it is an aspect that can’t be ignored.

The only additional value presented by the vinyl reissue, versus my existing CD collection and the CD reissues, is the increased size of the artwork. While I would prefer to own the Crowded House catalogue on vinyl, there just isn’t enough value in these re-issues to justify the cost.

We also need to remember that these reissues are remastered (a marketing term that simply means we unnaturally turned up the volume). While digital masters, pressed to vinyl, can sound amazing, the vinyl mastering and pressing process can’t eliminate the brick-walling that has occurred through the mastering of an album.

While I have yet to see the dynamic range scores for the vinyl reissues, the CD reissue of Temple Of Low Men has a dynamic range of 9, compared to 14 out of 20 on my original 1988 CD release. That is a considerable difference and shouldn’t be overlooked, especially considering I love the sonic reproduction of the original release. Interestingly, the original release is still available for streaming on TIDAL, along with the 2016 remastering. Using TIDAL I was able to quickly switch between the versions of Better Be Home Soon. While my subjective testing is far from an ABX-style test, there is significantly more volume in the remaster and the smoothness between musical elements is harsher when compared to the original. As a result, I’m confident in saying that I prefer the original 1988 mastering as it is more subtitle and subjectively represents how Crowded House should sound.

It is disappointing when the re-issuing, and expansion, of a great album can’t merely be done with the original mastering left intact. Even when I look at their debut self-titled album, the original 1986 vinyl release is an impressive 13 out of 20, while the 2016 remastered CD has reduced that to a mere 7 out of 20. That is simply unconscionable!

I, along with many other audiophiles, will often lament the effects that compressed lossy formats such as MP3, AAC, and Ogg Vorbis have had on the music we love. However, the truth is the loudness wars and subsequent reduced dynamic range has had a more significant impact on musicality than the artefacts present in the before-mentioned lossy file formats.

I’m more than happy at this juncture to go on record and say that a well-mastered album can sound incredible when compressed into a lossy transport format.

The same can’t be said for a brick-walled master.

Seriously, if I have to turn my amplifier down by 10-20%, to listen to and attempt to enjoy a remastered release, they’re doing it wrong!

As a result, it looks as though I have talked myself out of buying any of the Crowded House re-issues. While it is a shame, I refuse to spend my hard-earned dollar on a product that is substandard.

Yes, the packing for the CD-reissue is glorious, but it seems superfluous when the associated sound quality is dynamically compromised; even with the additional second CD of demos, out-takes, and live performances. Similarly, while the vinyl reissues may sonically be derived from a superior master, the packaging is lacklustre and while I believe the additional tracks are available with the included MP3 download code, it just doesn’t feel complete and worthy of the cost.

If you’ve picked up any of the Crowded House vinyl re-issues, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below. Are they worth the purchase? Am I being overly harsh? Your subjective thoughts are welcome!

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The Very Best Of The Eagles (CD Review)

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The Very Best Of The Eagles (CD Review)

The first time I recall hearing any Eagles music was in 2002 when I was at a Sony retail store and the sales clerk auditioned a mini Hi-Fi system using The Very Best Of The Eagles CD. It was on that day that I first heard Hotel California and I would forevermore be a fan of the Eagles.

No, I didn’t buy that mini Hi-Fi system but I have continued to use Hotel California as part of my audition playlist when demoing new audio hardware.

This past weekend, on a family drive, I decided that instead of relying on my cellular connection and iPhone, I would take a CD with me. The Very Best Of The Eagles seemed a perfect choice and is interestingly absent from Tidal et al anyway. Yes, there are other compilations by the Eagles that I could have selected, but I am quite familiar and fond of this album. That said, while my home usage of music streaming services is continually growing, I’m becoming tired of trials and tribulations of streaming music in the car.

I should note that it isn’t the fault of the streaming services, but the associated playback hardware that infuriates me. Firstly, when I connect my iPhone 5s, via USB, the Apple Music app launches and starts streaming the last played song or music video. In my case, it plays Ed Sheeran’s The A Team (Live) performance from the iTunes Festival in 2012. It’s a great performance, but I want control over what will be played and when. Also of concern is the cellular data use, still a premium service in Australia, that streaming this video consumes each time I’m away from Wi-Fi. I have tried numerous times to fix this problem within the settings for both the iPhone and MyLink software that runs on the car stereo, but to no avail. Unfortunately, neither technology offers a solution to this problem and it is a known issue that Apple Inc. has simply not addressed. Perhaps some people enjoy the fluidity this feature provides, but it drives me insane. All I need is a switch to disable this behaviour and I will be happy.

I have also tried to utilise Bluetooth in the car, but it too is convoluted. Bluetooth is a flawed technology when it comes to audio, yet I am surprised at how many audio manufacturers continue to adopt it. I acknowledge it as a universal standard, and the only real option for connecting devices when not connected to a Wi-Fi network, but the technology needs to be re-engineered. While some work is being done in that area, existing Bluetooth integration remains problematic. The most infuriating limitation I have come across is when trying to listen to music from TIDAL Hi-Fi via Bluetooth to the car stereo. The Bluetooth decoder is simply incapable of correctly recompiling the music and what you get is a song with a serious stutter. Yes, I am aware that TIDAL Hi-Fi tracks exceed the Bluetooth 4.0 protocol and the iPhone still does not support any form of aptX, but the iPhone is capable of down sampling music so that it can be transferred over Bluetooth. I should note that this playback method works flawlessly with my Bose Soundlink Mini and aptX is not available in the car anyway. Therefore, it is somewhat verifiable that the car stereo is the cause of the problem. Of course, the service department re-flashed the firmware, but the problem still exists. Thankfully, our 2016 manufactured car still supports the 3.5mm audio input jack and CD playback.

That got me to thinking, perhaps I should start expanding my CD collection of compilation albums. While I have all the Eagles albums on vinyl, there are times when I just want to listen to a broad range of their most popular works. Sometimes it is refreshing to put the CD into the player and not worry about multipurpose digital devices and connection woes. I find that it brings me closer to the music and while I’m not sure how I will proceed, I think that there is a time and a place for streaming and physical music alike. Perhaps the car is the latter.

Of important note is that The Very Best Of The Eagles can also apply to the 1994 release, that saw a different cover and tracking order. The edition featured in this review, however, is the 2001 remaster. I have owned the 1994 release in the past, but you may recall from my other reviews, I was smitten with the digitization of my collection and subsequently sold much of my CD collection for the promise of 1,000 songs in your pocket. Such a silly move, but at least I can learn from my foolishness. My hope is that you, dear reader, will see the error of my ways and avoid your own mistakes for the promise of convenience. Yes, convenient access to music is a wonderful thing, but it is often littered with conditions that are outside of the consumer’s control. One example of this is the fact that this CD I am reviewing is not available on any streaming music network, nor it is available for purchase on iTunes. However, it is readily available on CD and therefore it’s unavailability is not an issue of the compilation being out of print and discontinued. Most likely the omission from digital stores and streaming services is due to ever-changing license agreements between artists, music labels, and associated digital delivery services. There is simply no way to guarantee that an album will be available on TIDAL et al at some point in the future. TIDAL Hi-Fi may well be the CD store in your house, but it should be considered as an ancillary service to a well-curated collection. 

Of course, in classic remaster form, the dynamic range of the 2001 remastered release dropped to an average of 10, versus 15 on the 1994 release. While it doesn’t sound bad, it is not as atmospheric as the vinyl equivalent. Interestingly, there is also a HDCD release of this album, but it was only sold in China and dynamic range information isn’t available. As is often the case, mastering information is not available in the liner notes, thereby limiting any further comparisons between the sources used and the mastering engineer of choice for the compilation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the mastering engineer, for some of these ‘remastered’ releases, is not a faceless computer program that automatically amplifies the music as consumers are clearly incapable of turning the volume up. That said, I find that the mastering is uniform across the entire compilation and I certainly appreciate that aspect of this release.

The artwork of the compilation is sufficient, but the stark orange CD takes a little getting used to. The original 1994 release had a much more appealing desert landscape. When Warner reissued the album with newer liner notes, they also included an orange bar that connects to the CD aesthetically but serves no purpose otherwise. As is the case with many compilation releases, the liner notes are barebones at best. While you’ll find basic song credits, and the original album a song was released on, individual vocal duties are overlooked. While fans of the band will likely know the lead vocalist, for each song without a problem, a compilation album is by its very nature targeting a casual or new listener and this information is imperative when a band shares lead vocal duties amongst all members. Interestingly, Don Henley’s I Can’t Stand Still and Inside Job are advertised within the liner notes, alongside the regular Eagles catalogue. Most likely this promotion is due to Henley’s contract with Warner Music at the time. However, I find it in bad taste that his solo efforts be promoted merely because of recording contracts. That said, I do acknowledge Henley as a founding member of the Eagles and a key element to the identity of the band. Truth be told, I dislike the legal hoopla that is associated with recording contracts.

One Of These Nights is a fantastic song to start the compilation with as it sets the scene for the accompanying tracks to follow and highlights the musicality and intertwining vocals that the Eagles are renowned for. I adore the guitar solo midway through the song as it isn’t overreaching, but serves its purpose while blending perfectly with the backing acoustics.

Take It Easy is a perfect song for a country drive. While I wouldn’t class the Eagles as a country band, this song certainly highlights several country music elements and can easily be accepted in both the rock and country music scene. Take It Easy beckons listener involvement and you will feel compelled to sing-a-long. As with One Of These Nights, the guitar solo is off the charts and a welcome relief from the lyrics. 

Hotel California is the epitome of the perfect song. While I don’t have a top 10 list of my favourite songs, this would certainly be on that list if it existed. However, I find that listening to this song in this compilation is a bit of a letdown. It isn’t as sonically spacious as my vinyl edition of Hotel California. Most likely this is due to the vinyl edition having a dynamic range of 15, versus 9 out of 20 for this compilation CD. Mastering does matter and while the song is still enjoyable, it is nowhere near as consuming as the vinyl release. As I’ve stated several times before, this has nothing to do with the argument of CD vs Vinyl as CD is more than capable of reproducing a 15 on the dynamic range scale. If Warner used the same master, there would be no perceivable difference between the formats.

New Kid In Town isn’t one of my favourite Eagles songs. I’m just not sold on the tempo and don’t feel that it is a song that I can sing along to, even in my own mind. I have always felt that the song is missing something, yet I can’t put my finger on it. Eventually one must accept that it is okay to not like every song by a favourite artist. A song needs to resonate with one’s soul and this track simply doesn’t.

Heartache Tonight has an addictive but simple beat that will have you toe tapping, head bopping, or hand slapping as you drive down the open road. You will find yourself joining in on the solo, completely out of key, in your karaoke attempt to be the lead vocalist for a moment in time. It is an exceptional song!

Tequila Sunrise is a beautiful song that is relaxing and a perfect follow-up to the more upbeat Heartache Tonight. 

Desperado reminds me of Billy Joel’s music with the piano elements. I love how this song progressively builds and becomes a sonic wonderland that highlights the incredible vocals of Don Henley. It is exceptional and one of their best songs.

Best Of My Love has a gorgeous acoustic guitar strum throughout. As I listen to this song, I’m struck by the realization of just how exceptionally talented the Eagles were. While modern music is different, and shouldn’t be compared to the classics, I can’t help but wonder when we will see another group of individuals that can revolutionise music as significantly as the Eagles has.

Lyin’ Eyes is another country/rock-infused song whereby the tempo is relaxing, yet energetic. I love it!

Take It To The Limit is a song where I feel the mix is unbalanced. I find Randy Meisner’s vocal to be too distant in the mix and it bothers me everything I listen to the song. I want to enjoy this song though and I would love to hear a remixing of the song that brings Meisner’s vocal further forward in the soundstage.

I Can’t Tell You Why has a moody brooding feeling that I love. While Meisner’s vocals may be distant in Take It To The Limit, Timothy B. Schmit’s vocals, and the corresponding backing vocals, are perfectly placed in this song. Interestingly, Schmit replaced Meisner in the Eagles line-up and subjectively I feel he was a stronger vocalist and brought a new dynamic to The Eagles.

Peaceful Easy Feeling makes me want to learn the acoustic guitar. It is a lovely song but that guitar twang, mid-song, is just a little too high pitched for my liking. This is especially the case when listening on headphones.

James Dean is not one of my favourite tracks. The instrumental introduction is excellent, but I cringe as soon as the vocals hit. It isn’t the meaning behind the song, but the delivery of the vocals that I dislike. In comparison to the rest of the compilation, this song just feels out of place and I find that I simply want to hit the next track button.

Doolin-Dalton has a lovely harmonica-based introduction. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I love the harmonica sound. Overall, Doolin-Dalton is a lovely song and a welcome mellow sound in comparison to James Dean.

Witchy Woman is very musical and I love the atmospheric approach to the song. The tempo changes throughout and while the song cannot be pigeonholed, it is never dull and predictable; although having listened to it extensively, I know all the small shifts. Boy bands often get a raw deal, especially the modern-day ones, but the Eagles had the perfect interweaving harmony vocal that can only be achieved in a band. Yes, you could post-produce this effect with modern recording technologies, but the advantage was the Eagles could perform this song live.

The Long Run is a song that I neither like nor dislike. It merely exists and while I don’t look to skip the song, I don’t actively seek it out either.

Life In The Fast Lane is a perfect song to conclude the compilation. I always like a final track that will encourage me to listen to the album again. Life In The Fast Lane certainly ticks that box and showcases a number of core musical elements that are present in the unique soundstage created by the Eagles.

Overall, there is very little that one can say about the Eagles that hasn’t already been said. They are simply one of the greatest rock bands in the history of the world and while Glenn Frey is no longer with us, therefore putting the Eagles permanently into retirement, their music will live on in our hearts and souls for generations to come.

While this compilation was released prior to Hell Freezes Over and Long Road Out Of Eden, it misses out on the possible inclusion of newer songs such as the enjoyable Love Will Keep Us Alive and No More Cloudy Days. That said, The Very Best Of The Eagles is without a doubt their very best work and would be a welcome addition to any music collection.

The Very Best Of The Eagles is still available on CD from Amazon.

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Carpenters – Close To You (CD Review)

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Carpenters – Close To You (CD Review)

For years, I have been captivated by the Carpenters and the incredible vocal capabilities of Karen Carpenter. To say the world of music is a lesser place for her no longer being with us is an incredible understatement. For me, she was the quintessential female vocalist. Her vocal range was incredibly smooth and immediately identifiable. I find with modern music, that many of the vocalists blur into one another and lack a defined sound. Yes, imitation is a form of flattery, but there can only be one Karen Carpenter and this should also apply to all present and future musicians; for nothing is more enjoyable as a music lover than randomly listening to a song and instantly identifying the artist. Seriously, try it with modern music, of any genre, and you will find that many of the run-of-the-mill songs and albums don’t have a unique sound.

What is unique is the Carpenter’s second album Close To You. It is an exceptionally refined recording that could easily be mistaken for a greatest hits collection. That said, I don’t believe the Carpenters ever released a bad album, although I am critical of some of their style experimentations, on various albums.

The version I have of Close To You is the ‘digitally remastered’ release from 1990 and to be honest, it isn’t a bad mastering. Perhaps that is because it was mastered before the ‘loudness wars’. Certainly, there have been no additional re-mastering attempts and I have to be completely honest by saying that this is a good thing. While I have never heard an analogue version of this album, I feel that much of the sound that is associated with analogue sound has made it through the transfer. That said, it is still a little too sterile for my liking, but it is not obnoxiously so.

Regarding the analogue reproduction of the Carpenters, I have the vinyl re-issue of The Singles 1969-1973 that contains (They Long To Be) Close To You, amongst others. Yes, we all love that song, even though it has been overplayed, but I have to be completed honest when I say that this vinyl re-issue offers a superior sonic quality than this ‘digitally remastered’ edition. It is smoother and fuller. Yes, all the buzzwords that vinyl lovers throw around, but for good reason. Vinyl simply fills in the gaps. It is also a very different mastering approach and while I acknowledge that it may in-fact be the technological limitations of vinyl that colourises the sound, I like it!

Unfortunately, on both of these albums, mastering details are largely non-existent and unverifiable. Therefore, I don’t know the original source that was used for either release or the mastering engineer involved. Although, Bernie Grundman and Richard Carpenter have been referenced in relation to the CD remastering from 1990. Despite this, one must remember that each mastering engineer will master an album for their own particular tastes. Hence, why it is essential to have some of this information, especially with regards to vinyl re-issues, as too many are reportedly using questionable CD-quality masters to print the new vinyl re-issues. In a world where vinyl and streaming music delivery platforms are consistently increasing in popularity, skimping on vinyl production is only going to have a negative effect on the music industry as a whole. I implore anyone in the creation of music to take the mastering process very seriously, to ensure that the ultimate physical format is the perfect complementary product for the modern day streaming technologies.

My opinion is that the vinyl re-issue of The Singles 1969-1973 is most likely pressed from the 96kHz/24bit release that can be found on HDtracks as Universal Music, under their Back to Black label, are not always going back to the original tapes, but using the high-resolution digital master that was hopefully captured from a first generation master and mastered correctly.

While the CD is adequate, the quality of the CD booklet is pathetic. Seriously, if you’re going to go to the trouble of remastering the music, why not include additional photographs and liner notes from the era? Even updated notes that look back at the album, the production, and the remastering process would be appreciated. The CD design is so uninspiring that I would say you’re better off streaming the album as the physical product doesn’t offer any additional value; especially if you’re a TIDAL Hi-Fi subscriber.

Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the songs that make this album a must own/listen for any fan of the Carpenters:

We’ve Only Just Begun is a simply gorgeous song to start the album with. It is the epitome of the Carpenters in my opinion. An intertwining mix of piano, vocals, and a gentle beat that is hypnotic, ensures this song is repeatedly played. The only element that I don’t like in this song is the drum beat. It sounds rather hollow, as if the drum skin wasn’t tensed correctly in the studio. That said, it may just be the sound signature as it appears on other tracks as well. Interestingly, the before mentioned vinyl release doesn’t suffer from this issue, hence why mastering information is important.

Love Is Surrender is a track that I enjoy, but I find the pacing to be out-of-sync with my expectancies of a Carpenters song. However, I love the merging of the song into Maybe It’s You.

Maybe It’s You again highlights the incredible talent of Karen Carpenter. The backing instrumental elements are perfectly suited to the song and it takes you on a beautiful sonic journey. This is one song I would love to hear on vinyl, or high-resolution digital formats, as I swear there is more to the song than the CD is able to expose.

Reason To Believe is the perfect follow up tune to Maybe It’s You. It increases the pace of the album, thereby ensuring Help is a welcome addition to the tracking of the album. While I love The Beatles original version of Help, the Carpenters edition is nothing short of superb. Yes, the world of music is large enough for these two incredible renditions.

Nothing can be said about (They Long To Be) Close To You that hasn’t already been said. It is one of the world’s greatest songs ever recorded. While the Carpenters weren’t the first to record this song, it is their song. Nobody does it better!

Baby It’s You is a harmonic wonderland. Seriously, close your eyes and turn the volume up. Incredible!

I’ll Never Fall In Love Again is another absolute classic by the Carpenters.

Crescent Moon has a moody feel to it and while I enjoy the song, I feel it is disjointed in relation to the artistry that is found throughout the album. It is certainly not a b-side, but I feel that it belongs on another album.

Mr. Guder is wonderfully atmospheric and is highly enjoyable from a vocal delivery perspective. It is certainly uplifting in direct contrast to Crescent Moon. This is one song to just turn up, so you will be completely immersed in the music.  

I Kept On Loving You commences without a break from the previous song and it certainly works with the flow of the album. While Richard Carpenter is the vocalist for this song, his vocals are not nearly as tonally appealing when directly compared to the lyrical style Karen presented on the album, but nevertheless the song is very enjoyable.

Another Song is an enjoyable song, but it feels like a b-side and could have been left off the album.

Overall, Close To You is an exceptional release that any fan of the Carpenters should own, despite the limited appeal of the CD-packaging. That said, hopefully a vinyl re-issue is on the horizon, but as nothing seems to has been done with their catalogue for years, that seems unlikely.

The Carpenters Close To You is available for purchase on CD, iTunes, and the TIDAL Store.

Close To You is also available for streaming on TIDAL Hi-Fi

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Robin Gibb – 50 St. Catherine’s Drive (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

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Robin Gibb – 50 St. Catherine’s Drive (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

Posthumous album releases can either add an exceptional balance to the catalogue of an artist, or they can be disastrous by trying to capitalise on the fame of an artist. Thankfully, 50 St Catherine’s Drive brings a beautiful balance to one of the most talented musicians to have walked the earth.

I have been a fan of the Bee Gees since I was a child, but only recently have I started to look deeper into the individual catalogues of the Gibb brothers. To be honest, I don’t know why I hadn’t explored their music in more depth, as their talents are certainly not restricted to the Bee Gees brand. This is perhaps where streaming services, such as TIDAL Hi-Fi, are essential to music lovers as they allow one to sample an album, prior to purchase. Yes, I will be buying this album on CD, despite having the exact same quality available on TIDAL Hi-Fi. One key reason that confirmed this process, in my mind, was when we moved home a couple of months ago. It took three weeks until a service technician was able to come out to the home and transfer our Internet connection. During that time, I simply wasn’t able to use TIDAL Hi-Fi and had to turn to my own collection of music for entertainment. Plus, I personally feel more connected to the music if I can hold a CD case while enjoying the album. You will note that I have said CD. That is because this album was sadly not released on vinyl. In-fact, the entire Bee Gees catalogue needs to be reissued on vinyl, but that’s a story for another day.

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50 St. Catherine’s Drive is said to be the last album of unreleased recordings by Robin Gibb. I couldn’t be happier with how his legacy has been presented and I have had the album on heavy rotation, having listened to it completely at least a dozen times. Upon each listen I appreciate the album further as I marvel at the unique vocal delivery that only Robin Gibb was able to bring to music. Honestly, this is an album that you can easily play all day without getting fatigued. I even thoroughly enjoyed it on my morning walk. When music can remove the monotony of walking from my consciousness, I know something special is occurring.

So let's take a look at the songs that make this album special:

Days Of Wine And Roses opens with a beautiful intermingling of piano and vocals. You instantly know what to expect from the rest of the album. It feels fresh, while also being reminiscent of Robin's work in the Bee Gees.

Instant Love is an instant love for this fan. I adore this song. The musical arrangement is exceptional. There is an electronic sound in the background that is subtile, by really appeals to me. As I’m not a musician, I couldn’t tell you what this sampled sound is called, but if anyone can elaborate, I would love to hear from you.

Alan Freeman Days was written in tribute for Australian DJ Alan Freeman. It is a lovely song, but I feel a little too upbeat for a tribute song. That said, it was obviously recorded with artistic license so, one must respect the approach that Robin took with this song. He also adds a single lyric in memory of his late brother Maurice Gibb. It is a lovely addition and well worth a listen.

Wherever You Go is rhythmically perfect. It is a toe tapper and Robin’s vocal delivery is perfect on this song. Without a doubt, this is one of my favourite songs from the album.

I Am The World (New Version) is a re-recording of the Bee Gees version that first appeared as a B-Side on their 1966 release Spicks And Specks. From my point of view, this re-recording is superior to the original. That isn’t to say I dislike the original, but the increased professionalism, maturity, and vocal development over the years ensured the song is significantly more polished than the original release. It was also the first single released from 50 St. Catherine’s Drive.

Mother Of Love is such a peaceful song. Magnificent vocal delivery and pace again proves what an exceptional vocalist Robin was.

Anniversary has a simple but appealing acoustic guitar introduction. I may love the distorted sound of an electric guitar, but a well played acoustic is equally as good; albeit different. However, while the song is lovely and Robin's vocals are spot on, there is just something that isn’t quite grabbing my attention with this song. I could quite easily proceed to the next track when this one comes on.

Sorry is a song that has a modern pop styling to it. It isn’t bad, but reminds me of another really popular song that I just can’t put my finger on at the moment. If I ever figure it out, I will add an appendix. 

Cherish has a fantastic beat and flow. Sometimes that is all you need.

I absolutely love the vocal delivery on Don’t Cry Alone. Seriously, just take a listen to this track. It is moving and emotional and is nothing short of beautiful.

Avalanche is a nice song, but it does feel like filler and lacks a little bit of polish in my opinion.

One Way Love unfortunately falls into the same category as Avalanche. The beginning of the song had promise, but again something is missing.

Broken Wings has an interesting entrance whereby it is very atmospheric as it builds to the initial verse. It then merges into a dance/disco style song. Not bad at all, just unexpected.

Sanctuary brings back that wonderful acoustic guitar. Robin’s vocals really work well in conjunction with the acoustic sound. The overall beat and pace of this track is pleasing, although the sibilance in Robin’s vocals becomes apparent and it is a little distracting. If you don’t know what sibilance is, keep it that way. After researching it and knowing what to listen for, so many good recordings have become a disappointment for me because I now notice it.  

Solid is a solid song. Yes, I know I went there, but it is genuinely good. Not exceptional, but not quite a B-side filler track either.

All We Have Is Now is toe tapping and head bopping heaven. Although, Robin’s vocal delivery sounds as though it is in a lower register than he normally sings. It is different, but very enjoyable.

Sydney (Demo) marks the last song that Robin ever recorded. While the album only features a demo of the song, I feel this is the perfect way to close out the album.

Given Sydney (Demo) is Robin’s last recording, I hope his estate also considers this to be the last album of previously unreleased material to be released. While we all want more from our favourite artists, the last thing we need is a collection of songs that Robin likely would not have been happy to have released. That said, it's highly likely that he would be very pleased with the release and mastering of this album. As a fan, I know I am.

If you’re a Bee Gees fan, then this album is a must own. Frankly, I believe every music lover will find something to appreciate about this album. It is exceptional. While a couple of the tracks are a little less than perfect, this has little to no impact on the album as a whole.

50 St. Catherine’s Drive is available on CD and TIDAL Hi-Fi.

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Sixx:A.M. – Prayers For The Damned Vol. 1 (CD Review)

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Sixx:A.M. – Prayers For The Damned Vol. 1 (CD Review)

For years I have been watching Sixx:A.M. evolve from a side project to a fully blown iconic rock and roll band. Nikki Sixx: DJ Ashba and James Michael are the creative trio behind the band and they have just released their new album Prayers For The Damned Vol. 1. With decades of experience between the trio, Sixx:A.M. have recorded a series of songs that will entertain rock and roll music lovers for generations to come.

While it was sad to see Sixx et al retire Mötley Crüe, and DJ Ashba resign from his position as lead guitarist for Guns N’ Roses, I’m glad both they did because the focus these incredible musicians have given to this album has made it arguably the best rock and roll album of 2016; that is until Vol. 2 is released later this year. While I am looking forward to Vol. 2, Vol. 1 has exceeded all my expectations.

The double album format is nothing new in the world of rock and roll, but it can be challenging for fans as I still don’t know which Use Your Illusion album I prefer. In fact, just between me and you, I think that double album release could have been compiled into a single album as there is quite a bit of filler. Whereas, Prayers For The Damned has no filler tracks on Vol. 1. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t know how Sixx:A.M. is going to top the recordings on Vol. 1

I first became aware of the Sixx:A.M. upon the release of The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack. Seriously, who releases a soundtrack for a book? Pure brilliance! However, it wasn’t until the release of This Is Gonna Hurt that I truly saw what was possible from the band.

When I purchased This Is Gonna Hurt, it was the iTunes LP edition that included a gorgeous interface and additional content that would rival any blockbuster film release. At the time it was one of the very first iTunes LP releases that I purchased and I remember thinking that this is how music should be presented in the digital realm. Unfortunately, due to either a lack of support by the music industry, or Apple, that format never really took off. To be honest, Apple never really did anything with the format and playback is still limited to iTunes on a Mac or PC. Unfortunately, these types of cool ‘digital’ release features are restricted by the technology of the day and ongoing support of the particular format. Anyone remember ‘Enhanced CD’? Anyway, Prayers For The Damned Vol. 1 doesn’t concern itself with gimmick additions as it is all about the music.

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When I ordered Prayers Of The Damned Vol. 1, it was for the signature edition CD. Unfortunately, Australian retailer JB Hi-Fi didn’t send me the signed release, despite getting my order completed before they sold out, and within time applicable time. JB Hi-Fi has not even replied to my emails about the error. Such a shame that retailers disappoint consumers. If it weren’t for the promised signatures, I would have purchased the album on vinyl, but I’ll end up doing that anyway. Yes, the album is good enough to own in both formats and stream regularly on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

The mastering of Prayers For The Damned Vol. 1 is perfect for the style of music with only minimal cut-off being noticed on the cymbals. Plus, the overall production, vocal delivery, and musicality of the band is off the charts and that minor issue therefore becomes somewhat irrelevant in my mind.

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For this release I was hoping for a digipak design, rather than a jewel case. My case cracked in the mail, thanks again JB Hi-Fi (for pathetic packaging), but that additional tactile element would have added to the ‘album’ experience for me. Gorgeous photography and layout are included throughout the liner notes, but I was a little disappointed that the lyrics were not included. Now, regular readers will know that I class vocals as just another instrument as I don’t necessarily follow the meaning of a song. However, Sixx:A.M. is a rock and roll band with a social consciousness and therefore their lyrics are relevant to life and the empowerment of the listener. Hence, on this occasion, it was important to me.

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Let’s take a look at the songs:

Rise is inspirational and sets the tone for the entire album with high reaching vocals and fat guitar and bass riffs that merge perfectly with some of the best drumming I have heard on any recent rock and roll album. Dustin Steinke deserves his drumming credit, and permanent role in Sixx:A.M., as his performance is flawless across the entire album.  

You Have Come To The Right Place continues the before mentioned style with a groove element that prevents you from sitting still. In fact, I’ve been using this album on my daily walks over the last few days and it gives you inspiration to keep pushing through as you strut along with the beat.

I’m Sick mellows things out a little, but not for long as it picks up frantically when the chorus kicks in. This is a song that I had to listen to a few times, in order to fully appreciate it. Now it is one of my favourite songs on the album.

Prayers For The Damned is what I call symphonic rock and roll. Think rock ballad + symphonic orchestra tuning + rock and roll. It is exceptional! DJ Ashba makes that guitar sing. Axl was insane for never releasing a new Guns ‘N Roses album with Ashba as the lead guitarist. Yes, Slash is a rock god, but Ashba is easily his equal and this album proves that.

Better Man has an acoustic feel to it. If you have listened to 7, you will know just how beautiful this band can sound unplugged. James Michael is an incredible vocalist and I think what I truly appreciate about his vocal delivery is the clarity he brings to the music. Unlike many rock vocalists, he doesn’t slur/blur his lyrics. Perhaps this is the reason why I would have liked to have the lyrics included in this release.

Can’t Stop is presented with the verse in a spoken word lyrical style. It works perfectly with the accompanying music and overall style of the band. The song is moody and full of attitude with Nikki’s bass tracks complementing the entire song while Ashba tortures his guitar.

When We Were Gods has a beautiful verse, but I’m not blown away by the chorus. I’m torn, I’ve listened to this song no less than twenty times, in the album format, and I still have mixed feelings about it.

Belly Of The Beast is a song that reminds me of Shout At The Devil. That isn’t to say that Sixx:A.M. has reimagined Mötley Crüe, but what I am saying is this song is going to be a fan favourite live; just as Shout At The Devil was. Basically, I love this song and enjoy singing along while strumming the old air guitar. If you only listen to one song from this album, make it this one. Michael’s vocal range on this track is incredible.

Everything Went To Hell is head banger material. Fast, then melodic, then fast again. Does anything else have to be said?

The Last Time (My Heart Will Hit The Ground) is just a cool title with some magical guitar work that makes for a very enjoyable rock and roll song.

Rise Of The Melancholy Empire closes out the album perfectly. As you listen to this song, you naturally become compelled to play the album again.

The bottom line is that is you’re a rock and roll fan, you need to own this album. Sixx:A.M. have proven that rock and roll is not dead. Those who say it is should kiss their old bands goodbye and reinvent themselves as Sixx and Ashba have.

James Michael is not only a legendary producer, that has worked with a number of successful artists such as Meat Loaf, but he is an exceptional vocalist in his own right and a perfect fit for the band.

Now, we just have to wait for Vol. 2. I still don’t know how they are going to top Vol. 1 as I truly feel it is the best rock and roll album, thus far, of 2016.

Prayers For The Damned Vol. 1 is available on Vinyl, CD, and TIDAL Hi-Fi.

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Agnetha Fältskog – My Colouring Book (CD Review)

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Agnetha Fältskog – My Colouring Book (CD Review)

My Colouring Book is Agnetha’s homage to the music that subjectively held a very special place in her heart. While the album lacks any original content, Agnetha takes a series of classics and makes them her own.

Agnetha is one of the greatest female vocalists of our time. While this album was almost two decades in the making, with A following nine years later in 2013, Agnetha’s recordings are certainly worth with the wait for any fan. Her solo work is not merely an attempt to rekindle the style and success she had with Abba, but that is also a good thing as I dare say that her vocal capabilities were often wasted in Abba. Personally, I place Agnetha in the same category of vocal performer as Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Adele, and Karen Carpenter. Capable, restrained, and soothing comes to mind when I consider all these exceptional performers. Agnetha brings those same qualities to My Colouring Book.

Sonically, this is one of the most beautiful albums in my collection. It has been mastered perfectly within the limitations of the compact disc format. Mastering Engineer Christopher Stannow, from Cosmos Mastering, should be congratulated on a job well done, especially during a period of time where loudness took priority over an energetic dynamic range.

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The edition of the album that I own is the WEA European release – cat no: 5050467-3122-2-7. Besides the incredible sonic performance of this release, the liner notes are presented on high-quality non-glossy paper stock that has a texture akin to artistic paper. This linking of the tactile experience to the album name is just a small, but very important, aspect of album experience. No matter how good streaming becomes, it will always deliver less of the artist’s vision than the physical product.

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The overall design is beautifully presented in a series of pastels with all song lyrics presented throughout. As you know, I’m not a big advocate of lyrical meaning, but I do appreciate that this information is included. Similarly, there is a lovely short letter, penned by Agnetha, that details the concept behind the album. I truly wish more artists would include a section like this, rather than a thank you to everyone they’ve ever known.

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Let’s take a look at the songs:

My Colouring Book is a beautifully atmospheric song with exceptional acoustic elements that intertwine with Agnetha’s vocals and amplifies her presence. It is a perfect song to commence the album with as it sets the tone for the songs that are to come. My Colouring Book has been recorded by a number of well known artists including Barbra Streisand, Andy Williams, Dusty Springfield, and Aretha Franklin to name a few. Agnetha’s version is certainly on par with these before mentioned artists.  

When You Walk In The Room begins with some lovely classical elements before proceeding into a pop rendition of the song that is Abba-esque, due to the music styling and vocal presentation. This song was originally written and recorded by Jackie DeShannon and additionally covered by The Searchers, Bruce Springsteen, and Status Quo amongst others.

If I Thought You'd Ever Change Your Mind was originally recorded by Cillia Black, but Agnetha takes this song to a whole new level while remaining true to the original. This song also served as the first single from My Colouring Book. A music video with Agnetha performing the song, in a studio setting, was also produced for the single release.

Sealed With A Kiss, first recorded by The Four Voices has been covered numerous times, but I will always associate this song with Jason Donovan. That’s because it is the version I remember from my own childhood. That doesn’t mean it is a good association. Agnetha easily outperforms Donovan’s rendition, and that performed by The Four Voices, as it was a perfect song to match her vocal delivery style.

Love Me With All Of Your Heart is simply a beautiful song. Agnetha has once again selected a song and made it her own. What an exceptional talent!

Fly Me To The Moon is Frank’s song. Nobody does it better. Sinatra simply nailed it and while there have been exceptional renditions of this song from some of the world’s greatest jazz vocalists, I will always associate this song with Sinatra. That isn’t to say that Agnetha’s rendition is subpar, anything but. She performs the song beautifully and has the smoothness in vocal range to truly do the song justice. She has also recorded it at a slower pace, thereby creating a little more of a relaxed atmosphere when compared to Sinatra’s upbeat version.

Past, Present And Future is simply gorgeous. I love the spoken word lyrical delivery that intertwines with piano and string instruments.

A Fool Am I is a song that I play LOUD. The symphonic instrumentation and Agnetha’s vocals are exceptional. When you listen to it, close your eyes and the song will transport you to the stage where you can live vicariously. In that moment you are not you, yet you are not truly Agnetha. You are but a figment of your imagination as you sing at the top of your lungs before a loving audience. Yes, I am a dreamer, but that is why I love music. It gives so much, yet expects so little in return.

I Can’t Reach Your Heart is a lovely song that works well with the flow of the album. 

Sometimes When I’m Dreaming was originally recorded by the great Art Garfunkel. Agnetha’s vocal reach on this song is second-to-none. When I hear her sing, like she does on this song, I know her talent was wasted with Abba.

The End Of The World is a fantastic song, but I associate it strongly with The Carpenters. While Agnetha performs the song gallantly, I just don’t feel she delivered an exceptional performance.

Remember Me is lovely, until the beginning of the chorus. I find Agnetha’s vocals come across rather shrill and are not as polished as that found on the rest of the album. It is a minor disappointment in an otherwise exceptional album.

What Now My Love is a fantastic song to close the album on. I love the drum beat used throughout this rendition and the overall musical accompaniment gives the song a unique soft rock edge. It has been covered extensively but Agentha’s rendition is certainly on par, albeit different, with Shirley Bassey’s exceptional recording.

This album is a must have for any collection. If you’re a fan of Abba, you’ll love it. If you’re a fan of easy listening or jazz music you will thoroughly enjoy it. In-fact, the only people that may not like it are those who dislike Abba, the song selection, or those who are very genre specific.

Without a doubt, My Colouring Book is one of my most prized possessions. I only wish it was released on vinyl, but as I mentioned earlier the sonic quality of this CD is extraordinary and the packaging proves that the humble CD can be produced to the highest of standards.

My Colouring Book is available on CD and TIDAL Hi-Fi

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Daily Spin: The Albums I Listened To Today

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Daily Spin: The Albums I Listened To Today

I listen to a wide range of music everyday and what better way to share that with you than a quick daily post highlighting the albums I have listened to, along with a standout track.

Please feel free to add a list of what you have been listening to today in the comments section.  

Alice Cooper – The Last Temptation (CD)

One of Cooper’s greatest albums in my opinion. Lost In America is superb, but sometimes I wish it was Lost In Australia. Bottom line: it is a fun song and an album that must be heard.

Available on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto (HFPA Blu-Ray)

I have a sweet spot for Jazz. This somewhat self-titled Getz/Gilberto album is amongst my most treasured and a favourite track is the smooth O Grande Amor.

Stevie Wonder – Songs In The Key Of Life (HFPA Blu-Ray)

What can be said about Stevie Wonder and Songs In The Key Of Life that hasn’t already been said. Nothing! It is a must listen for all music fans, especially the song Saturn.

Available on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators – World On Fire (Vinyl)

This third semi-solo release by Slash is exceptional. The band, both touring and studio, have a great chemistry that culminates in The Unholy.

Available on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

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30 Seconds To Mars – Self Titled (CD) Review

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30 Seconds To Mars – Self Titled (CD) Review

I first became aware of 30 Seconds to Mars when I watched their performance of The Kill, from their second album A Beautiful Lie, at the 2007 MTV Australia Video Music Awards. I was captivated by the song and I dare say The Kill would make my top 100 alternative rock and roll songs of all time. Certainly the performance was exceptional and while I never had an emo phase to my personality, lead singer Jared Leto certainly portrayed the alternative emo rock persona well. I’d even go as far as saying that I had a man crush for Leto following this appearance. He is certainly an exceptional musician and actor.  

A couple of years ago, a local record store was shutting down. While it is always disappointing to see record stores close, it is a great opportunity to grab some incredible deals. One of the albums I purchased that day was the self-titled debut 30 Seconds To Mars. Having become familiar with Leto, and his band, a $5 investment was deemed to be worthwhile risk.

My only real disappointment with the album is the mastering. I think by now you have a fairly good idea of where I stand on mastering and brick walling. If not, simply go through the previous reviews and you will see a plethora of information relating to this problem. While a recent upgrade to the Oppo BDP-103 has significantly refined the quality of sound I am now getting from my CD collection, hardware can only do so much when the music is compressed to hell and back.

What disappoints me the most is this debut album was produced by one of the world’s greatest record producers, Bob Ezrin. It isn’t over produced but for the man that produced Aerosmith’s Get Your Wings, Alice Cooper’s epic 70s sound especially Billion Dollar Babies, Welcome To My Nightmare, and Lace And Whiskey, I simply expected brick walling would not be in his vocabulary. Ezrin has also worked with other incredible artists such as Kiss, Pink Floyd, and Deep Purple. The guy is nothing short of a legend.

Now, I will acknowledge that Ezrin shared production credits on the 30 Seconds To Mars debut with the band and Brian Virtue who would go on to produce the band’s follow-up, A Beautiful Lie, with Josh Abraham. That said, the recording and associated mastering is so brick walled that I simply can’t understand how Ezrin allowed it go out in the condition he did. When looking at the dynamic range scores, the debut album scores a pitiful 06 out of 20. Seriously, how much further can you go before an album is simply loud noise?

It is a really a shame because 30 Seconds To Mars are exceptional on this debut and Leto’s vocals are so multi-textured that he should be heard in full dynamic range. This is another album that is screaming out for a full dynamic range (FDR) re-issue. Death Metal band, Bolt Thrower, has re-issued their catalogue in FDR and the sonic difference is astounding. Forget the hi-res argument, of the one that says vinyl is better than CD. Even forget that TIDAL Hi-Fi is superior to Apple Music and Spotify. All the music industry needs to agree on is that they are going to master an album well in the first place and master it perfectly for the format. Do both of those things and you will have one kick ass album, regardless of distribution method.

Now that I have got that off my chest, let’s talk about the packaging and the all important music.

The cover is just weird. What does the teenage boy represent? There is quite a lot of symbolism presented throughout the artwork but you never actually see a picture of the band, other than one with their backs turned as they walk down a long hallway. Personally, I would have picked that for the cover of the album, or simply the Phoenix-styled logo that graces the CD. The typography on this release is exceptional and that can be attributed to it being, at the time, a CD-only release. The design team certainly worked within the specifications of the CD format. However, if you’re looking for lyrics you will be disappointed as they are not included with this release. That said, this isn’t the kind of album that you will likely sing-a-long to, unless you’re driven to jump in at the chorus line.

Capricorn [A Brand New Name] launches the album with an uplifting sonic zoom that I absolutely love. It certainly sets the scene and you get the impression of a record that is going to be epic. While I enjoy the song, it is ruined by the lack of dynamic range. You can hear minute elements that deserve sonic separation, but sadly they are nothing more than a glimmer of what could have been.

Edge Of The Earth has a fantastic pace to it. It isn’t too fast, nor too slow, but absolutely perfect. It has the heavy grunge metal feel, as well as an intermingling ballad style, but despite this diversity it just works. The vocal delivery in this song is also exceptional.

Fallen begins with some beautiful fat guitar riffs. Who doesn’t like that? The build up to the chorus in superb and overall it is an incredibly beautiful song. Jared Leto truly shows his vocal chops during this track.

Oblivion starts off with a very familiar sound. I’ve never been able to place it, but it sounds like a song I’ve heard before. It isn’t that it’s a common sound, as it is quite distinctive. That said, I thoroughly enjoy the song. The pace set throughout the interconnectivity of the chorus and verse is perfectly managed.

Buddha For Mary has robotic vocals at the beginning of the song and while it may work with the overall theme of the band and the album, I just don’t like it. In-fact, I would say that this is one of the poorer songs on the album. It is run-of-the-mill alternative rock and roll at best.

Echelon would be so incredible with a more complete dynamic range. The introduction and vocal delivery is amazing, but the depth just isn’t there. Such a good song though!

Welcome To The Universe is an interesting track. It begins beautifully, but is then taken in a different direction and I find the lyrical component to be lacking. It isn’t a bad song, but it is missing something that I simply can’t put my finger on.

The Mission is one of my favourite songs from the album. It is alternative music at its best as it has elements of punk, rock and roll, and ballad driven hair metal throughout. I love it!

End Of The Beginning is unfortunately a mishmash of low dynamics throughout much of the song. It just isn’t good.

93 Million Miles is thoroughly enjoyable but it is just too compressed. For most of the song you are struggling to hear a single note as they all merge in together. No wonder us ‘old guys’ say new music is horrid, despite this album not really being new. That said, it does prove how long we have been living in this ‘loudness’ phase. I’ve no doubt that artists such as 30 Seconds To Mars are extremely talented. I certainly enjoy their music, but they could be so much better if their sound wasn’t limited by demands to make it sound louder.

Year Zero isn’t a bad song to close the album on and with the repetitious chorus line ‘we’ll never fade away’ you certainly get the impression that the band was indicating they were here to stay.

Debut albums, in retrospect, are always difficult to review as there are understandably elements that need improving. Many of these aspects are subsequently improved in later albums and this is certainly true for 30 Seconds To Mars.

Unfortunately, the dynamic range issue doesn’t get much better on their later albums, unless you choose the vinyl options. The band is incredibly talented, but they just don’t stand out like they should. There is a feeling in music that only true dynamic range can present to the listener. You can’t hear it, but you can feel it. It is the feeling that makes you dance to the song in your mind, even when the song is no longer playing. Modern music just doesn’t have that. It is not multilayered and dynamic. It is flat and transparent.

I have likely harped on for too long about dynamic range but I do so because I feel it is incredibly relevant to the way we experience and enjoy music. While this is a fantastic debut album, I can’t stand to listen to the album at above 30% of my system’s capability, as it becomes harsh, ear piercing, and tiring to do so. That therefore reduces my interest in the album, the band, and the music they create. It just shouldn’t be this way.

I will be endeavouring to get a hold of the 10th anniversary vinyl edition that was released in 2012. While the original album was not intended and mastered for vinyl, vinyl does have rather strict limitations when it comes to mastering for the format. That doesn’t mean it will sound any better, especially considering it is a picture disc edition. It could even sound worse, but I’m inquisitive and I would like to know. Plus, it just looks cool spinning. Check it out:

If you have the vinyl version, please let me know your thoughts on the sonic quality.

If you’re a fan of alternative music, and rock and roll in general, then this album is worthwhile listening to. Similarly, if you’ve only heard the later albums by 30 Seconds To Mars then you should check this out to see where they came from. That said, I would recommend you listen to the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi prior to considering a purchase as the low dynamic range is honestly the Achilles’ heel of this release. You can of course still pickup the CD if you wish. 

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Aerosmith – Aerosmith (Record Store Day 2013 Vinyl) Review

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Aerosmith – Aerosmith (Record Store Day 2013 Vinyl) Review

Prior to Get Your Wings, Aerosmith released their self-titled debut that saw Steven Tyler approach the song line-up with a faux blues vocal style. This style is extremely subjective and while Tyler would return to his normal singing voice for the 1974 follow-up, Get Your Wings, I must say that I enjoyed his vocal style on the debut. In-fact, I have always liked Tyler’s vocals regardless of tonal shifts. Needless to say that this album remains a very unique element in Aerosmith’s history.

With hits such as Dream On, Mama Kin, and Make It, Aerosmith was destined for success, albeit moderate success for this debut album. That said, Dream On is arguably in everyone’s top 100 songs of all time list. Dream On is an Aerosmith staple like Janie’s Got A Gun, Love In An Elevator, and Livin’ On The Edge. It has been covered countless times and performed live by the band on almost every tour and live album. It is a power ballad to end all power ballads. Actually, it would also be one of the very first power ballads. When I look at rock and roll bands, I tend think of the power ballad as being an 80s phenomenon. That said, I’m reminded of Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, Skynyrd's Free Bird, and Love Hurts by Nazareth. All exceptional bands with ballads recorded and released well before the 80s. Okay, it has to be said, they just don’t make music like that anymore.

The first time I heard Dream On was in the mid-90s when Aerosmith re-released Sweet Emotion as a single in 1994. The single of course featured Sweet Emotion and Dream On, along with Draw The Line and Walk This Way. You really couldn’t ask for a better collection of tracks to showcase Aerosmith in the 70s.

I currently have two copies of the self-titled Aerosmith album. One is the 1993 remastered CD by mastering engineer Vic Anesini, while the other is the Record Store Day 2013 vinyl remaster by mastering engineer Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound. Without a doubt, I prefer the 2013 remaster. While the ’93 mastering isn’t bad, it just sounds a little too robotic (digital) for my liking. Yes, I’m sure you’re reading this and saying, but Mark this was digitally remastered. While that is true, there is no reason that the soul, present on the original tape, can not be replicated adequately on the CD. I’ve heard many CDs that simply sound amazing, regardless of digital processing, so it is not a factor of the format. I have also played the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition, which is also the ’93 remaster, and it is understandably identical in dynamics to the aforementioned CD. I guess, in this case as in so many others, it comes down to subjective opinion and mine is that Aerosmith’s debut album is best heard on vinyl, followed by CD/TIDAL Hi-Fi. Whatever you do, don’t touch the HD Tracks version as it has an average dynamic range of 09, whereas the vinyl is 12 and the CD/TIDAL Hi-Fi version is 11 out of 20.

I should also note my vinyl edition of Aerosmith is numbered. I have is number 1978 of 5000. Oh, if only it would have been number 1973, I would have been in Aerosmith heaven. Although, given the impressive quality of the pressing, I think I’m already there as there isn’t a bad song on the album. While the numbered pressings are increasingly hard to come by, standard editions have been re-issued with the same exceptional sound.

Aerosmith were always destined to Make It, and this song is raw to the bone with enough guitar twang to last a lifetime. It isn’t my favourite song on the album, but it is certainly an excellent introduction of things to come.

Somebody continues the twang that reminds me of a country song with a rock influence. Maybe rockabilly is a more appropriate genre for this track. Either way, it is an enjoyable song and the first time we hear the Aerosmith trademark cowbell. While Aerosmith doesn’t overuse the cow bell in this song, or in their other songs that feature it, it matches their music style perfectly. It is like when Steven Tyler uses the harmonica. Pure brilliance!

Dream On. It doesn’t get any better than this, yet it didn’t chart well upon the initial release. Despite that, it is perhaps one of the best rock ballads ever written and has been covered and sampled extensively. Speaking of interpretations, you have to check out the incredible performance Aerosmith (Tyler and Perry only) did with the Southern California Children’s Chorus that was performed as part of the Boston Marathon Bombing Tribute. It is an incredibly haunting semi-acoustic edition of the song. You can also listen to this edition of the song on TIDAL Hi-Fi, or watch the performance below.  

One Way Street introduces that trademark harmonica. Simply awesome! The song has a great foot tapping beat and Tyler’s faux vocals crack like an adolescent schoolboy. It certainly has some very special elements that make it enjoyable to listen to.

Mama Kin kicks the album up a notch with a killer guitar riff. It is blues rock and roll at its best. I’ve always enjoyed this song and have felt the urge to sing-a-long and play my famous air guitar. The temporary pauses throughout the song are perfectly placed and add to the overall pace of the song, without slowing it down.

Write Me is a solid rock and roll song. Nothing to write home about, but as with all the songs on this album, they complement each other perfectly.

Movin’ Out starts off with yet another Perry classic guitar riff that sets the tone for the song. It is one of my favourite tracks on the album with a chorus that belongs in rock and roll heaven. That said, you can tell the band is still finding their sound on this track. I’d love to have them re-record this song to see what they could do with it, given their lifetime of knowledge. It reminds me somewhat of a demo tape release, but an exceptional one!

Walkin’ The Dog is an awesome bluesy rock and roll tune. The introduction may confuse you a little with the use of the Wood Flute, but stick with the song as I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. The song ends the album like all good final tracks should, with me wanting to put the record on again.

Aerosmith’s debut album is a must own for any Aerosmith fan, but if you’re interested in blues inspired rock and roll, from the late 60s and early to mid-70s period, then you are going to love this album. 

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