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Elton John – Reg Strikes Back (Remastered) [Album Review]

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Elton John – Reg Strikes Back (Remastered) [Album Review]

Reg Strikes Back would arguably be the last mediocre Elton John album of the 80s, as the exceptional Sleeping With The Past was just around the corner. That said, there are a number of hits and essential back catalogue songs buried amongst John's cover-filled outfits to appeal to most fans. Yes, the colourful album cover is akin to a trip down memory lane and really deserves to be held on vinyl. Of course, if you’re after a vinyl release, you'll have to be satisfied with a secondhand copy as Reg Strikes Back has yet to be reissued on the format. It was, however, reissued on CD in 1998 and remastered at the same time. While most of John's remasters have been exceptional, it is the additional non-album songs that often deter me. With that said, let's take a listen and see not only how well the album fits into John's legacy, but if those additional tracks are a value-added proposition or mere filler.

Town Of Plenty is average at best. What was it with John's 80s albums that the lead song, more often than not, sounded like a demo and should have been omitted? I guess Town Of Plenty isn't that bad, but it isn't great either. Although, my daughter disagrees with my assessment as she loves the track.

A Word In Spanish is a beautiful song and Reg Strikes Back would have been significantly stronger if it was the album's opening track.

Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters (Part 2) is a story arc continuation from the song Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters that appeared on John's 1972 album, Honky Château. It's one of my favourite Elton John songs, but I do feel mellon collie towards this Part 2 offering as it is quite different in tonality to the first song. That said, if I listen to Part 2, as a song on its own, I find it compelling with a high level of energy that has one toe-tapping and head-bopping when seated and dancing around while standing. The composition is quite detailed with incredible instrument separation and a broad soundstage. Plus, the trumpet tracking really takes the song to another level. Perhaps John and Bernie Taupin could have renamed the song, as to not throw such a severe contrast in musicality between the original and this second coming. Nevertheless, Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters (Part 2) is an exceptional song.

I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That is the best song on Reg Strikes Back and is one of John’s greatest recordings. The mix with the steady beat and shifting piano tracking is addictive and John’s vocals complete the package beautifully.

Japanese Hands is very similar in tonality and style to another Elton John song. I’m thinking Razor Face, from Madman Across The Water, but I couldn’t be certain without going through his extensive back catalogue. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoy Japanese Hands, especially once it hits the half-way point and the soundstage broadens. The result is a song that is beautifully atmospheric and thoroughly relaxing.

Goodbye Marlon Brando shifts the tone of the album with an edgier rock element. It isn’t a bad song, but I'd call it a B-side as I honestly wouldn't miss the song if it was removed from Reg Strikes Back.

The Camera Never Lies has a campy 80s sound signature and sadly never recovers. It’s another forgettable tune that is pure filler in my opinion.

Heavy Traffic is a song you wouldn't want to listen to if you were stuck in heavy traffic, it would cause you to have homicidal thoughts. Seriously, what were John and Taupin thinking when they penned and recorded this disaster?

Poor Cow gets the album back on track. While it isn't the strongest song on Reg Strikes Back, it does have a compelling rhythm that I find is satisfyingly addictive.

Since God Invented Girls is the closing song for the original non-remastered album. It’s clearly a B-side, as much of the second half of Reg Strikes Back is, but its enjoyable enough for me to listen to the album again and stay within John's catalogue. However, in this case, we will continue listening to the remastered album’s bonus tracks.

Rope Around A Fool should have never been added to the remaster. It's just bad!

I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That (Shep Pettibone Mix) is fantastic. Yes, the original is unbeatable, but when remixes are this good, I find it difficult to choose which version I should be listening to as I thoroughly enjoy both.

I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That (Just Elton And His Piano Mix) shows just how exceptionally talented John is. I could listen to this version on repeat all day. I love it!

Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters (Pt. 2) [The Renaissance Mix] falls a little flat for me and as the last song on the remastered album, I'm not sure it compels me to listen to the album again or stay in John's catalogue. Sometimes additional tracks are great, other times they can deter one's interest. In fact, this remix encourages me to listen to Michael Jackson's Thriller as the mimicked tones of Billie Jean can be heard throughout, especially towards the end of the song.

Overall, Reg Strikes Back (Remastered) is a bit of a mixed bag. Yes, there is some exceptionally good music to be heard here, but it is the three or four lacklustre songs that really shifts one's interest.

Reg Strikes Back (Remastered) is available on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, Reg Strikes Back (Remastered) is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, and Spotify.

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

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Nina Simone – I Put A Spell On You (Album Review)

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Nina Simone – I Put A Spell On You (Album Review)

Nina Simone had one of the most distinctive voices in recorded music history. Her skill and control over her vocal delivery showed no bounds and no truer is that statement than when listening to her opus I Put A Spell On You. There is not a bad song to be heard and it really is a case of discussing which of the 12 songs is better than all the others.

Adding to this musical brilliance is the fact that I've been enjoying I Put A Spell On You at 24/96kHz on the High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) Blu-ray format. To call this pressing immaculate would be a gross understatement. I have listened to the counterpart on Apple Music and TIDAL Hi-Fi and while the recording is largely transparent on those services, they lack a level of smoothness and relaxation when compared directly against the HFPA release. Yes, I've also listened to the MQA edition and while nice, it’s still too harsh for my liking. The HFPA release has incredible detail, minus the harshness found via other formats, and sounds extraordinary via both my main stereo set-up and headphones. For those of you who are interested, for this HFPA release, I prefer to listen to the album in the PCM format, rather than my preferred DTS-HD Master Audio format. I simply find that the original recording doesn’t need the additional low end that the DTS-HD Master Audio mix provides.

The HFPA format releases are sourced from the master tapes and this is one release where the tape qualities have been maintained throughout the digitisation process. While a little tape noise and analogue playback artefacts may deter digital purists, I love it as it takes me into the studio. If I close my eyes and focus only on the music, I'm experiencing my own personal concert with Simone and it is an experience that is astonishingly satisfying. That all said, the core performance does translate to the other formats, but the HFPA edition takes the recording to another level, especially if you have stereo equipment capable of taking advantage of high-resolution audio. For those that don't, or aren't interested in going to these lengths, may I suggest the Apple Music edition that is Mastered for iTunes. As I have listened to the album on many of the available formats, that is the one closest to the HFPA sound signature in my opinion.

I Put A Spell On You is as much a Nina Simone song as it is a Screamin' Jay Hawkins’ classic. However, while Hawkins may have recorded the original, I doubt there would be many who would proclaim his rendition as being superior to Simone's. I also love the Creedence Clearwater Revival interpretation as it takes cues from both Hawkins and Simone and if you want to take the song up a notch, on the metal-infused dial, you could always listen to Marilyn Manson's rendition, as featured on Smells Like Children. Regardless of how you wish to appreciate this song, a plethora of musicians have covered the song well, but I always return to Simone's rendition as being the definitive recording of the song. She made it her own and I doubt anyone will ever be able to top it.

Tomorrow Is My Turn is a lovely song. You really get a sense of the vocal control Simone has, especially on the fast, yet clear and soft, lyrical aspects of the song. By the way, is it just me or does this song sound as though it was taken straight out of a 007 James Bond flick?

Ne Me Quitte Pas is spectacular!

Marriage Is For Old Folks is witty and incredibly entertaining to listen to. Seriously, if you don't have a smile on your face when listening to this song, you're taking life too seriously. It’s a fantastic tune and perfectly suited to Simone, especially the doo, doo, dooo, de-doo lyrics.

July Tree is a lovely song that while not a classic, is a beautiful addition to the album.

Gimme Some picks up the pace with an addictive rhythm that will have you head-bopping and toe-tapping from the very first note. Plus, that Little Richard inspired vocal growl, that Simone includes, is incredible.

Feeling Good is astonishingly good! Again, Simone's rendition is arguably the greatest to have ever been recorded, but as I've mentioned before, George Michael did perform it beautifully.

One September Day is a thoroughly relaxing track that again shows the control Simone had over her vocal delivery. Remember, this was recorded in 1965, long before Auto-Tuning vocals was a thing. Yes, dear reader, this is what a truly talented vocalist sounds like.

Blues On Purpose is a fun little song with a solid mix of blues and jazz that will appeal to just about any music lover. While Blues On Purpose is an instrumental track, Simone plays the piano sufficiently, as she did throughout the entire album.

Beautiful Land is an interesting song that I find to be rather compelling, yet I'm unsure if I actually like the song or not. It isn't bad, it's just a little left of the centre.

You've Got To Learn is a beautiful tune.

Take Care Of Business is a superb song to close the album on and ensures I’ll stay within Simone's back catalogue while longing to play I Put A Spell On You again.

I Put A Spell On You is pure perfection from start to finish. If there were a criticism to be made, it would be that the album is too short, with a runtime of approximately 34 minutes. However, that weakness is also its greatest strength for the filler tracks that are known and loathed are nowhere to be seen. It plays like a well-curated greatest hits compilation would.

Nina Simone was one of the greats, and will always be one of them, for the musical skill she possessed is a rare occurrence that even the greatest modern day vocalists can only aspire to. There is little doubt she has put a spell on me, I hope you are equally spellbound by I Put A Spell On You.

I Put A Spell On You is available on Vinyl, High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) Blu-ray, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, I Put A Spell On You is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi (MQA or CD-quality), Apple Music, and Spotify.

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Aaron Neville – Warm Your Heart (Album Review)

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Aaron Neville – Warm Your Heart (Album Review)

At this time of year, my significant other starts to ask me what I'd like for the silly season. While my imagination runs wild, we’ve had a few unexpected expenses in the second half of 2018 and rather than aiming high, I thought it would be great to pick up a couple of SACDs that I’ve been longing for. As I was browsing the available titles at Birdland Records, I came upon an artist I love, but one that I haven't got extensive experience with. The first time Aaron Neville appeared on my radar was following the release of the exceptional Bodyguard soundtrack. Neville’s collaboration with Kenny G, on Even If My Heart Would Break, is nothing short of spectacular. Since then, I've always listened out for Neville's uniquely soulful vocals, but other than enjoying his career perspective releases, I haven't taken the time to listen to his albums in full. That all changed when I saw a hybrid SACD edition of his 1991 release, Warm Your Heart. I just knew I had to check it out, but as the SACD edition is rather expensive, I turned to TIDAL Hi-Fi and was blown away.

Sonically, Warm Your Heart is one of the greatest recorded, mixed, and mastered albums I have ever heard. The original CD pressing is said to have an astonishing dynamic range peaking at 17 out of 20, with an average of 15. While numbers don't always provide an accurate representation of quality, I can say that the soundstage is massive with all elements clearly positioned throughout. Plus, I actually want to turn the volume up, rather than down, as there is no brickwalling of the sound to be heard. The simple fact is, this is digital done right. Even the Apple Music counterpart, played via Apple's AirPods, maintains the sonic brilliance. I also find that I want to just sit and listen, for hours on end. It’s spectacular!

By comparison, yesterday I listened to the Tony Bennett and Diana Krall album, Love Is Here To Stay. I had high hopes, especially as Krall's productions are always beyond reproach, but the album fell flat from both a dynamic and excitement standpoint. It sounded concealed and I found myself distracted throughout. Yes, there were a couple of nice tracks, but it was the lacklustre production values that deterred my interest. Love Is Here To Stay is said to have an average dynamic range of 9 out of a possible 20, with a peak of 11. Again, numbers don't tell the entire story, but they are good for comparison and when you have Bennett and Krall together, you expect something spectacular. I still have to listen to the MQA edition of Love Is Here To Stay to see if the master is any better than the CD, but I’m not going to hold my breath as I feel the overall sound signature and style was decided during the recording and mixing process.

Regardless, you'd be hard pressed to find a better album, from any artist, as Warm Your Heart is nothing short of pure perfection. Of course, your feelings may differ to mine, so let’s examine the songs individually shall we?

Louisiana 1927 is a lovely song and a perfect introduction to the body of work that is Warm Your Heart.

Everybody Plays The Fool has a fantastic mix of soul and funk. When I listen to this song, I'm reminded of Barry Gibb as Neville can get awfully close to Gibb’s falsetto vocal style. I also think of Bob Marley when this song comes on. I adore this song and the correlations with other artists that arise in my mind as I’m listening.

It Feels Like Rain is simply gorgeous. Just listen and you’ll hear incredible musical detail. Every element is transparent and nothing is concealed. This is how music should sound!

Somewhere Somebody has a killer groove that is so perfectly recorded, you can turn off any equaliser settings you may be using and enjoy the song as it was intended to be heard.

Don't Go Please Stay is a beautiful song with a gorgeous classical overlay in both the vocal and instrumental backing.

With You In Mind is astonishingly good.

That's The Way She Loves is one of the greatest songs ever written and recorded, by any artist. It is THAT good!

Angola Bound, despite a 30-second relaxed intro, is a little jolting after That's The Way She Loves. It doesn't take away from the groove and enjoyment of listening to Angola Bound, but if I were doing the album tracking, I’d likely have placed Angola Bound in a different position, perhaps following Everybody Plays The Fool.

Close Your Eyes is a beautiful duet with Linda Ronstadt. Ronstadt was also the producer of the entire album; she did a fantastic job!

La Vie Dansante is a lovely tune, with an exceptional backing vocal track. This combination is beyond reproach as the vocal styles are perfectly complementary, thereby creating a sonic masterpiece.

Warm Your Heart is a solid track, but perhaps not one to write home about. It suits the album well, however.

I Bid You Goodnight is a beautiful vocal-focused ballad.

Ave Maria needs no introduction. It's an absolute classic and Neville pays respect to the song while making it his own. It's one of my all-time favourite songs and I absolutely adore this interpretation.

House On A Hill is a toe-tapping, head-bopping, song that is slightly jolting following the relaxed nature of Ave Maria, but it is so good that I don't mind the shifting style. That said, this is another song that may have benefited from a re-tracking of the album. As the final song on the album, however, it compels me to listen to the album again and stay within Neville's catalogue.

Warm Your Heart is superb from start to finish and should be in every music lovers collection, mine included.

Warm Your Heart is available on Vinyl, SACD, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, Warm Your Heart is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, and Spotify.

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Elton John – Breaking Hearts (Album Review)

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Elton John – Breaking Hearts (Album Review)

The 80s, in many respects, wasn't Elton John's finest decade, but amongst some of the pedestrian B-sides, there is a plentiful amount of stellar songs from his 80s catalogue that you simply have to listen to; some of which can be found on Breaking Hearts.

Breaking Hearts maintained John's classic era band lineup, just as Too Low For Zero did. Without a doubt, there is a level of musicality that feels familiar, harking back to John's 70s era, validating just how important a band can be to the sound of an artist. Yes, John has always been a solo act, with a backing band, but Elton John really could have been an all-inclusive band name, in a similar manner as Alice Cooper presented himself in the early 70s. While it’s understandable that these leading men wanted to branch out and achieve a level of creative freedom, not normally associated with a band lineup, both artists are renowned for their early albums that have stood the test of time and are now considered classics. One should then question if the band dynamic is such a bad thing. Although, don't suggest that to Rob Zombie as he still laments his period as the lead man for White Zombie. Call me sentimental but I like original lineups. It’s subsequently a shame that Breaking Hearts would be the final Elton John album to include the original band lineup. Yes, nothing lasts forever, but while it did, their collaborative efforts produced some of the greatest songs ever recorded.

Restless isn’t a bad song to start the album with. The groove is there, and that electric guitar draws you in, but it isn’t spectacular, sounding as though it was recorded against a click track. It simply sounds as though the band was going through the motions with this song, rather than jamming and improvising. A solid tune, but a missed opportunity.

Slow Down Georgie (She’s Poison) sounds like manufactured pop music. It isn’t necessarily bad, but it hardly shows off the songwriting talent of John and Bernie Taupin, not to mention the original band that collectively brought us so many masterpieces.

Who Wears These Shoes? is a little more fun than the preceding tracks, with a beat and lyrical hook that will see you toe-tapping, head-bopping, and singing along.

Breaking Hearts (Ain't What It Used To Be) is a beautiful ballad.

Li’l ‘Frigerator gives the listener a jolt, especially following such a relaxing ballad. Plus, that entry is just weird – likely trying to separate itself from Breaking Hearts (Ain't What It Used To Be). Regardless, once Li'l 'Frigerator gets going, it's a fun and thoroughly enjoyable song.

Passengers is brilliant. I have always loved it, ever since hearing it for the first time on John’s The Very Best Of compilation. It's quirky in places but is so much fun from the very first note. I do consider it one of John's greatest recordings.

In Neon is a lovely song and one which bemuses me as I ponder how a song this good is not more prominent in John's catalogue.

Burning Buildings blows my mind. It is that good! An absolutely sensational song that has gone largely unacknowledged over the years. I know John already has so many hits, he is an absolute legend, but Burning Buildings is just as good, if not better than many of the fan favourites.

Did He Shoot Her? is a thoroughly enjoyable pop/rock tune. It was never going to win any awards, but Breaking Hearts wouldn't be the same without it.

Sad Songs (Say So Much) is, as l’ve said before, a groovy song that isn't sad at all. It’s also a fantastic way to close Breaking Hearts and encourages me to listen to the album again and stay within John's catalogue.

Overall, Breaking Hearts is a solid release and one of John's best albums from the 80s. While the album was remastered in 2003, the version on Apple Music isn't specific, therefore making me wonder if it isn't simply the original CD mastering. I say that because sonically it’s a little flat while sounding somewhat concealed. Interestingly, however, the iTunes edition of Breaking Hearts is listed as remastered. It’s intriguing and I would love to know if they are different versions. Regardless, it isn't overly detrimental to the enjoyment of the album, but when you've heard the hits so many times, you know how they should sound.

Unfortunately, Breaking Hearts is not available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, so I'm unable to compare and offer any further opinions on the exact mastering used. What I can say with certainty, however, is that Breaking Hearts is not Mastered for iTunes, therefore making it more likely that the Apple Music edition may be sourced from the original CD mastering. Despite this, it’s still thoroughly enjoyable to listen to for this music-first audiophile.

Breaking Hearts is available on CD and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, Breaking Hearts is available on Apple Music and Spotify.

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

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Mariah Carey – #1 To Infinity (Compilation Review – North American Edition)

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Mariah Carey – #1 To Infinity (Compilation Review – North American Edition)

Throughout the 90s, Mariah Carey’s music was regularly played in my home as I was captivated by Music Box and Daydream, along with Carey’s earlier recordings that I would hear on the radio. I was also a frequent listener of Carey's first Christmas album, Merry Christmas, during the holiday season of course. Yes, longtime readers would undoubtedly remember my dislike of Christmas music, as I seem to reference it every chance I get, yet there was a period in time when this music was important to me. It no longer is, but I don't have any regrets listening to it at the time. Nevertheless, following Daydream, I found myself no longer connecting with Carey's music. Yes, she became increasingly a Diva, but she also shifted styles upon each new album; in my opinion, less successfully than Madonna has done over the years. Mind-blowing ballads such as Hero and Endless Love have become increasingly absent in Carey’s later releases and it's a shame from my perspective as she had the capacity to go head to head with the likes of Barbara Streisand and Celine Dion, but she chose a different creative path. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before she returns to her roots as her vocal range is absolutely incredible and classic ballads will always outlive the current pop trends.

Diva or not, Carey has an incredible back catalogue and as soon as #1 To Infinity was released on vinyl, I had to have it. It's important to note that there are different versions of this compilation; a North American release (the one which this review is based upon), an International version, and a Japanese edition. However, the vinyl edition has only ever featured the North American tracking and subsequently, if you want to enjoy the other editions, from other regions, you’ll have to import a CD as streaming services localise the album to your particular region.

The vinyl release is simply stunning, not only to listen to but to enjoy as a physical counterpart to the music. Presented in a heavy duty gatefold, you get the feeling that much care and thought was put into this production. As you open the gatefold, there is a short message to the fans, from Mariah, which is a nice touch. Carey also pens the inner sleeves, describing a little background of each song prior to the reprinting of the lyrics and production information. It’s wonderful to see this attention to detail as so many career perspective releases are thrown together as nothing more than a sales opportunity by the record label and often without the input of the artist.

Turning our attention to the record cover, I’m not a fan of it. I much prefer the photograph on the rear of the vinyl release as it encapsulates Carey’s innocent era as well as her more provocative era. That said, one can’t argue that the cover is striking and stands out from other records, therefore ensuring it isn’t missed on the shelves of your local record store.

Each record comes in a printed inner-sleeve and while the photographs detail much of Carey’s career, I find it interesting that the selected photographs somewhat conclude with Carey’s Butterfly era, rather than proceeding through to the compilation’s release in 2015. Nevertheless, the selected photographs are fantastic and are a joy to look at while listening to the record.

Vision of Love is the perfect song to commence the compilation on. While I was never fortunate enough to own Carey's self-titled debut album, it was impossible to go for any length of time without hearing Carey's soaring vocals on the radio. It's the kind of song, as many of Carey's classics are, that create the dreaded earworm. Of course, in this case, it’s a song that I'm happy to allow my subconscious to play over and over again as if it were a broken record.

Love Takes Time is a beautiful song and I truly hope Carey will return to her roots, in the future, where her vocal is crystal-clear and front and center. We already have more than enough manufactured and overproduced music. I want these power ballads. Exceptional!

Someday (MTV Unplugged) is a great performance. I would, however, have preferred them to edit the track down to the drumstick count in as the spoken word introduction is cheesy. Carey would probably hate this, but the backing vocalists make this live performance. It’s also a great mix and I don't know about you, but I’ve yet to come across a substandard MTV Unplugged performance, by any artist. While I do question the inclusion of a live track on a greatest hits compilation, Carey explains in the liner notes that she wasn’t completely satisfied with the overproduced version of the studio recording, whereas she found this version more appealing. After comparing both, she’s got a point. The original is substandard when compared to the MTV Unplugged performance. It’s actually difficult to listen to after the live version.

I Don’t Wanna Cry is another exceptional song from Carey's debut album. So well recorded, mixed, and mastered. It’s an incredibly musical song that encourages one to sit back, close their eyes, and turn up the volume.

Emotions has a great beat that compels you to move your body. It’s a little campy, but an absolute classic.

I'll Be There (Feat. Trey Lorenz) is an incredible cover, but I find Carey sings it too similar to the Jackson 5 original, rather than making it her own. Perhaps it was due to the last minute plan to record it for the MTV Unplugged performance that caused Carey to approach the song in this manner. Of course, the similar nature of her version could have been as a direct result of her admiration for the Jackson 5. Regardless, she nails it!

Dreamlover is a great pop song and god only knows how many times I played this song in the 90s, as Music Box was spun repeatedly. It isn't Carey's greatest song, that title goes to Hero, but it’s not far behind and will arguably be present on every Carey career perspective album that will see the light of day.

Hero is the definitive Mariah Carey song. While it has been played ad nauseam, it’s still her greatest recording and I don’t believe she'll ever top it.

Fantasy (Bad Boy Fantasy Feat. O.D.B) is an interesting choice as I've always enjoyed the original studio release, but I must say this remix is compelling and has grown on me the more I have played it. That said, I'm not sure I agree with remixes appearing on compilations. Neil Sedaka's The Very Best Of was somewhat ruined when some of his greatest songs appeared in a medley format. Thankfully I like this version of Fantasy as much as the original album version.

One Sweet Day (Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men) is a beautiful song. Both Carey and Boyz II Men were at their creative peaks when this song was recorded and it shows.

Always Be My Baby has a sensational intro, and while I enjoy the song, I find the verses to be pedestrian. Thankfully the chorus kicks this song into high gear. That said, I'm not sure if this song is compilation worthy. It's good, but is it great?

Honey isn't a bad song, but it’s overproduced and while it isn't dated, give it another couple of decades and the sonic signature will have aged quite badly.

My All is a beautiful ballad and is truly worthy of inclusion on this career perspective compilation. Carey really needs to focus on this style of song, in my opinion. In this category, she has very few peers.

Heartbreaker (Feat. Jay-Z) is fantastic. I don't know about you, but it gets me head-bopping and toe-tapping as I turn the volume up and sing along. Jay-Z really is the spit and polish on this song. His contribution isn't as prominent as I'd like, but it's arguably perfect.

Thank God I Found You (Feat. Joe & 98 Degrees) is a lovely ballad, although I find the tempo to be a little too slow, not dissimilar to the audible slow down on a cassette walkman just as the batteries were beginning to fail.

We Belong Together is a solid pop tune, but I wonder, again, if this song is worthy of a career perspective album.

Don't Forget About Us is in a similar category to We Belong Together. It's good, but perhaps not great.

Touch My Body is one of Carey's newer songs that I truly enjoy. A great song with a great beat.

Infinity is, of course, the only new song to appear on this career perspective release. It isn’t bad and fits in well with the other tracks on the compilation. That said, I feel it’s overproduced and Carey's vocal tracking could have been stronger as her vocal range isn't well represented on this song.

Like many greatest hit albums, length is an issue and I find after the 79-minute duration has elapsed, I'm ready to listen to something else. That said, while listening to #1 To Infinity, I thoroughly enjoy it and don’t for a moment regret picking it up on vinyl.

The song choice for the North American edition is well-considered, but I do miss Without You and that incredible duet with Luther Vandross; Endless Love. Both are included on the International release of the album. At least we didn't get the campy All I Want For Christmas Is You, although it is included on the Japanese edition if you’re a fan of that song.

Sonically, the vinyl pressing is full bodied with a warmth that will appeal to analogue aficionados. If you’re interested in picking up the vinyl release, a download code is also included and the mastering, while not confirmed, sounds identical to the vinyl release, minor the unique analogue sound of course. Overall, the pressing is very quiet, with almost no surface noise, ensuring headphone listening is enjoyable. It’s truly worth owning for fans of Mariah Carey’s music.

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Elton John – Jump Up! (Album Review)

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Elton John – Jump Up! (Album Review)

I’m an album guy. Playlists are a cool modern take on the good old mixtape, but despite being once known as the Mixtape Master, I much prefer to experience music in the album format as it generally showcases a particular era and style that correlates and often complements the artist. That said, sometimes albums have mismatched tracks and that is certainly the case with Elton John’s 1982 release, Jump Up!

Much of Jump Up! is excellent, well except for the intro track, but more on that shortly. The album artwork is also permanently lodged in the 80s, but I think in some ways that is an appealing aspect. Yes, dear readers, as I age the nostalgic element is becoming more pronounced. Jump Up! likely won't appeal to the fans that are mainly interested in the hits, even though this release features the fan favourite Blue Eyes. Jump Up! May lack focus, but don’t let that deter you for there is enough intriguing music to be found on this release to please all Elton John fans. 

This review is based on listening to the 2003 remastered editions on both TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music. To be completely frank, there is almost no difference to be heard and if anything I find the FLAC version via TIDAL Hi-Fi to be a little more clinical, therefore less relaxful. It isn’t always about resolution and file size. There is little doubt that, for this album, I prefer the Apple Music stream.

Dear John why did you record this song? Seriously, it's horrid! An absolutely terrible start to the album. I honestly can’t think of a worse song, from any album, as the lead track. Although, I’m sure there are plenty. Dear John, please never write and record another song like this one.

Spiteful Child flows on nicely from Dear John and is a much better song. That said, John’s vocal delivery in the chorus can become a little tiresome and I find myself being drawn into the musical accompaniment. It’s layered, diverse, and has a solid soundstage. What's not to like? Oh, that’s right, John's harmony as he delivers the chorus.

Ball & Chain is awesome! It would have been perfect for Tumbleweed Connection, but it works really well here. Ball & Chain has a great groove and fans of The Who may be interested to know the acoustic guitar on this song is strummed by none other than Pete Townsend.

Legal Boys is beautiful! The musicality is beyond reproach as is John's vocal delivery. How is this song not more prominent in his catalogue?

I Am Your Robot is unique; I like it! It’s 80s toe-tapping and head-bopping gold and I'm actually surprised that no one in the hip-hop world has sampled I Am Your Robot. There is greatness hidden here and with the right artist, I Am Your Robot could morph into something amazing. Just so long as they don’t transition into Blue Eyes. It has always amazed me that Blue Eyes was never the lead track on Side B. While CD and associated streaming has largely ignored the sides of a record, Jump Up! was released when Vinyl and Cassettes were the dominant formats and Blue Eyes simply doesn’t flow well after I Am Your Robot.

Blue Eyes is likely the most popular song from Jump Up! Okay, it’s probably the only song off the album that most listeners would have heard. Regardless, as I reflect on what I’ve said previously about Blue Eyes, I stand by my statement that I’m glad John didn't sing consistently in this lower register, that is reminiscent of many a piano bar singer. Nevertheless, Blue Eyes a great song and one can understand why it has become a fan favourite.

Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny) is a beautiful Taupin / John collaborative song that was written as a tribute to John Lennon. It’s one of John's greatest recordings and one that I've no doubt you'll appreciate when you listen to it. I could, seriously, listen to Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny) on repeat for hours, it is that good!

Princess follows Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny) seamlessly and is an absolute classic. Yes, it is a little campy, but it’s a lovely song that works extremely well and this time John nailed his vocal range in the chorus.

Where Have All The Good Times Gone is a great tune. A B-side, yes, but great nonetheless.

All Quiet On The Western Front is sensational despite the commercial failure of the song as a single. Musically it’s gorgeous and the anti-war message will always be relevant. As I listen, I feel compelled to turn the volume up as the sonic elements, especially that drum track, blows my mind. This is one song I'd love to hear in surround sound and I feel in some ways it is out of place on Jump Up! It would have been perfect for inclusion on Madman Across The Water. Regardless, All Quiet On The Western Front compels me to stay within John’s catalogue.

Overall, Jump Up!, while not commercially one of John’s greatest albums, is thoroughly enjoyable. I would have dumped Dear John and re-tracked the album so that Blue Eyes was better presented, but I guess that’s what playlists are for.

Jump Up! is available on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, Jump Up! is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Spotify.

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

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Paul McCartney – Egypt Station (Album Review)

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Paul McCartney – Egypt Station (Album Review)

At this stage in his career, Paul McCartney owes the fans nothing. He’s a living legend and while every solo album hasn't been a home run, Egypt Station certainly is. I’d go as far as saying it’s the best album of 2018 and it is certainly one of McCartney's greatest releases, if not the greatest. I say this having listened to the album so many times that I’ve lost count. Seriously, I'm playing it daily and that generally doesn't happen unless it has that inexplicable special element.

Making it even more special is that exquisite cover art. Yes, dear reader, even in the age of streaming, killer artwork is essential. Without a doubt, the cover art alone demands a purchase on vinyl, especially the concertina sleeve edition. Sadly, a purchase will have to wait as I’m in the process of moving house and my beloved vinyl collection is already packed and ready to go. Being a lifelong renter, this isn’t my first move but my record collection is always the one thing that I ensure is packed before anything else. It has to be protected at all costs. I even move it myself, not trusting removalists to handle with care. Yes, I’m overprotective of my music collection, but if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ll likely understand why it is so important to me. I do hope, your music collection, be it physical or digital is equally important. I’d be lost without music and I owe my sanity to artists like McCartney.

Despite not being able to listen to this masterpiece on vinyl, I have been enjoying it via the 24/96kHz MQA edition and 16/44.1kHz FLAC edition, both streamed from TIDAL Hi-Fi. The MQA edition has a slightly greater soundstage and depth than the CD-quality FLAC counterpart, but both sound absolutely exquisite. Similarly, streaming the Mastered for iTunes edition from Apple Music presents the album in slightly less fidelity than the aforementioned editions, but the magic is still there and the album sounds fantastic via my main stereo setup as well as via AirPods. Let’s just say that when an album is recorded, mixed, and mastered this well, there is very little difference between versions. Although, I really, really, can’t wait to hear just how good Egypt Station sounds on vinyl.

Opening Station is an ambient sonic introduction that sets up the concept album perfectly. Admittedly, it’s a little left of the centre, but it works and flows beautifully into I Don't Know.

I Don't Know is simply stunning. The musical elements are crystal clear with a slow rhythm that is nothing short of hypnotic. There is so much depth to be explored by the aural senses and the soundstage is well-defined and broad. Exceptional!

Come On To Me shifts the pace a little with a song that is rock focused. It's a great tune, with a pleasing composition that has an eclectic feel. Although, I feel this song, in particular, has been mastered a little too hot. A reduction of a few decibels would have been perfect in my opinion. That said, I’ve no doubt Come On To Me will be a stadium-filling song.

Happy With You shifts the album again to a more acoustic-based style. Truth-be-told, the style shift isn't that noticeable, when listening non-critically, as all songs flow nicely into each other. Happy With You is thoroughly enjoyable and really highlights McCartney's vocal capabilities that are simply astonishing for a man of his years.

Who Cares is an awesome rock and roll song with a fantastic message. I wish I had a song like this during my teenage years. Nevertheless, my sensitive soul has it now. Who Cares has a killer rhythm and in places reminds me of Crowded House‘s sonic signature. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but I do enjoy the mystery behind subjective music correlations. 

Fuh You is the only song on the album that doesn’t grab my attention. It’s campy and is over-produced with a mix that makes the drums sound flat. A style, perhaps, but not one that compels me. Thankfully, Fuh You only goes for 3 min 23 seconds! Okay, perhaps I'm over exaggerating. It isn't that bad, but it isn't great either. Although, the musical interlude about two-thirds of the way through the song is thoroughly enjoyable.

Confidante is another acoustic-based song that is simply beautiful.

People Want Peace is short but meaningful. People Want Peace had the potential to be campy, but it isn't. It's an interesting composition that has classic McCartney cues throughout. As I listen, I can’t help but feel that People Want Peace would have been a killer song for The Beatles.

Hand In Hand is absolutely stunning! One of McCartney's greatest songs.

Dominoes is a complex composition, yet my mind knows just how to connect with the song, ensuring involuntary movements as one dances or head-bops and toe-taps throughout the entire song. As I listen to Dominoes, I can't help but hear Julian Lennon's vocal style that’s prominent on his album Photograph Smile. Isn’t it interesting how one song can remind you of another artist?

Back In Brazil is my daughter's favourite song off the album. She enjoys singing and dancing to the song. While I enjoy the track, I don't have the same connection with it as my daughter does, but I'm glad to see that McCartney’s music will appeal to all ages, for various subjective reasons. That said, she wasn’t a McCartney fan before hearing Egypt Station, so here’s hoping this will be the beginning of a lifelong admiration for everything McCartney. My son is already there as he loves The Beatles, but his musical tastes closely follow mine whereas my daughter is far more subjective with her likes and dislikes.

Do It Now is absolutely gorgeous. This is music at its very best. It blows me away every time, it is that good!

Caesar Rock has a really interesting introduction. It’s different, but it works really well. I guess that could be said about the entire song.

Despite Repeated Warnings is one of the longest tracks on the album, at close to 7 minutes, yet it never becomes tiresome as the song is so layered and diverse. Sensational!

Station II seems somewhat superfluous, especially at this late stage in the album, however, it sets up Hunt You Down / Naked / C- Link perfectly.

Hunt You Down / Naked / C-Link is hands down the best song on the album and one of the greatest songs McCartney has ever recorded. The cello tracking is amazing, ensuring the rhythm has the perfect backbeat to build itself on. Every time I listen to this last song, I feel compelled to listen to the album again. It’s a vicious cycle, but one that I’m glad to go through.

Egypt Station reminds me of the era when I used to collect cassettes and I would listen to them until they wore out. Listening to Egypt Station gives me that same level of satisfaction and perhaps it is a good thing that I don’t yet have the vinyl release for I would have worn that out too.

If my former self, the Mixtape Master, were in business today, he'd share this album with all his friends. It subsequently gives me great pleasure to share it with you and I truly hope you find as much pleasure with Egypt Station as I have. It’s an absolute masterpiece!

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

If you prefer streaming, Egypt Station is also available on TIDAL (MQA or CD-Quality FLAC) and Spotify.

Click here to read other Paul McCartney reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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Ed Sheeran – + (Album Review)

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Ed Sheeran – + (Album Review)

Nothing excites me more than an exceptional debut album. The debut has the capacity to make or break an artist and if done well, as in the case of Ed Sheeran's +, it becomes not only a benchmark for Sheeran's future works but a template for his contemporaries to aspire to.

The A Team was the first single from + and it’s simply superb. That guitar strum provides all the melody that is needed to back Sheeran's gorgeous vocal. The A Team, as well as the entire album, is well recorded, mixed, and mastered. Sensational!

Drunk is a great song, but what I enjoy most is hearing the rawness of Sheeran's vocal presentation. It sounds as if he’s singing directly into your ear, especially during the chorus. It's a special moment when the recording techniques and associated equipment get out of the way and allow the artist to connect directly with the listener. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it blows my mind and demands my attention, ensuring this song will be regularly placed on repeat.

U.N.I. is beautiful!

Grade 8 has a great beat, but the song is a little campy in places. Not bad, but nothing to write home about either.

Wake Me Up is an incredible composition. Simple, yet diverse. I love it!

Small Bump has a sensational rhythm. The entire song is off-the-charts and is one of the best songs on +.

This is yet another magnificent song.

The City is a B-side. Adequate, but less compelling than all previous songs. However, when listening in the album format, The City works well and the album wouldn't be the same without it.

Lego House is no B-side and one can understand why it was chosen as a single. That chorus is pure gold!

You Need Me, I Don't Need You has a great hook. Sheeran certainly has the chops to deliver fast-paced lyrics. Let’s hope he doesn't suffer from getting tongue twisted as Billy Joel has a handful of times when performing We Didn't Start The Fire.

Kiss Me is remarkably good. Such a smooth, yet layered vocal. No wonder Sheeran has had so much success. It is impossible not to be drawn into his music.

Give Me Love is a solid track to conclude the album with, but I tend to dislike hidden tracks as The Parting Class technically closes the album following 20 seconds of silence. I don't know about you, but I’d much prefer the hidden track to be listed and presented as a song on its own. I understand the appeal of hidden tracks, but as a fan of the album format, I find the extended silence between the final listed song and the hidden track to be infuriating. That said, The Parting Class is a nice addition to the album and it could be argued that it is an ideal closing to +. I’d likely agree with that sentiment if it were not for the aforementioned moments of silence and the inability to select and play The Parting Class unimpeded.

Overall, however, + is one of the greatest debut albums ever released. If you have an interest in Folk or Indie Pop music, you need to have this album in your collection. I can’t tell you the number of times I have picked up the vinyl release, only to put it back. I’ve honestly lost count. Regardless, next time I come across it, it will be an immediate purchase. It is simply that good!

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

If you prefer streaming, + is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Spotify.

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Elton John – 21 At 33 (Album Review)

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Elton John – 21 At 33 (Album Review)

We all know the classics, but it constantly amazes me how much exceptional music Elton John has recorded throughout his career, yet much of it has gone unnoticed, having never been played live or included on John’s various career perspective releases. 21 At 33 should be a classic, but most listeners would have only heard Little Jeannie. While Little Jeanie is exceptional in its own right, one shouldn't ignore 21 At 33 for there are numerous hidden gems to be heard on this release.

Unlike John's previous Disco-based release, Victim Of Love, 21 At 33 sees John return to his pop-rock roots. Although, if you listen closely, there are a couple of songs whereby the Disco-era rubbed off, resulting in a thoroughly enjoyable musical hybrid.

Chasing The Crown starts the album off with plenty of energy, but I don't feel Chasing The Crown is the ideal lead track. Personally, I would have made it the first song on Side B, if we were to consider 21 At 33 as a vinyl release.

Little Jeannie is a lovely ballad and would have been a better lead track for 21 At 33. Upon its release, it was a high-charting single in the United States. Although, it failed to set any records in the United Kingdom and subsequently has gone largely unplayed on John’s live setlist since the early 80s. At least it was included on his latest career perspective, Diamonds. Little Jeanie is certainly worthy of such recognition, but that could be said for so many of John’s songs.

Sartorial Eloquence was never going to be a song that fans could easily sing-a-long to, but I adore it! The chorus is superb and when I think of Elton John's style, this song certainly resonates. The vocal, piano, along with all backing elements are perfectly mixed, making for an even more captivating experience for the listener.

Two Rooms At The End Of The World is one of my all-time favourite Elton John songs. The rhythm is off-the-charts and it gets me toe-tapping and head-bopping every time. Sensational!

White Lady White Powder is a solid tune. Nothing to write home about, but if you’re an Eagles fan, as I am, you may be interested to know that Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and Timothy B. Schmit provided the backing vocals for this track. That said, the mix fails to amplify this fact and that's an incredible shame as John had three of the world's greatest vocalists backing him up, yet failed to capitalise on their collective musical talents. Perhaps more distressing is this was a Taupin/John collaboration. A missed opportunity? Definitely! Although, the album wouldn’t be the same without White Lady White Powder.

Dear God is another lovely ballad and reminds me somewhat of the sonic qualities John would later explore throughout the late 80s and 90s on songs such as Sacrifice.

Never Gonna Fall In Love Again is sensational from start to finish. It may be a B-side, but that doesn't mean it's substandard. It’s one of the best songs on the album.

Take Me Back is a country-pop song that John performs exceptionally well. It would have fit incredibly well on Tumbleweed Connection, but feels a little out-of-place on 21 At 33.

Give Me The Love is a perfect song to close the album with. The musical introduction is gorgeous and even though John sings with a slight southern (Elvis-inspired) style, it suits the song perfectly and encourages me to listen to the album again and stay within John’s catalogue.

Overall, 21 At 33 is an exceptional album that is severely underrated. Perhaps I just like backing the underdog, but John's catalogue is so full of exceptional music that it would be an impossible task to put a compilation together. Perhaps that is why so many of his career perspective releases feature the fan favourites and chart-topping hits. Regardless, you’d be well advised to further explore John’s back catalogue as the hits are only an introduction to an absolute legend with very few peers. 

While not Mastered for iTunes, the remastered edition on Apple Music is superb and 21 At 33 really comes alive, compelling me to keep an eye out for the CD or a possible vinyl reissue in the not too distant future.

21 At 33 is available on CD and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, 21 At 33 is also available on Spotify.

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

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The Script – #3 (Album Review)

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The Script – #3 (Album Review)

Released in 2012, #3 is the third album from the Irish band, The Script. Most surprisingly, however, is that this album has been in my TIDAL Hi-Fi collection for years, yet I've never purchased a copy. I say surprisingly because even though The Script's style of music has a tendency to be somewhat campy, I thoroughly enjoy it. Nevertheless, I guess when you have CD-quality streaming, it isn't always necessary to have the physical counterpart.

Before we take a look at the songs, please note this review is based on the standard release of the album and while I’ve heard the Deluxe Edition, and enjoy the additional tracks, I feel they are superfluous to the album and are only truly necessary for dedicated fans and completists.

Good Ol' Days is a killer pop-rock song. It’s a sensational start to the album with a mix that is absolutely perfect. Although, I do feel this song, and the entire album, is mastered a little hot. It isn't necessarily detrimental to the enjoyment of the recording, but as I've said many times before, I know where the volume knob is.

Six Degrees Of Separation was the second single from #3 and has a beautiful introduction and vocal presentation. While it’s certainly single-ready, the composition is somewhat predictable. Despite that, I enjoy the constant reinterpretations of AC/DC’s trademark style, therefore I can tolerate and appreciate the safe approach The Script took with this song.

Hall Of Fame is the star of the album and was the obvious lead single from #3. It is inspirational, easy to sing-a-long to, and will.i.am's inclusion is essential to the song's success as a composition, in my opinion, despite him having minimal production input. Hall Of Fame should be in everyone's Inspirational Playlist.

If You Could See Me Now is a fantastic mix of pop-rock and hip-hop styling. It’s a head bopper and toe topper that is thoroughly enjoyable.

Glowing takes a while to get going. However, after the first minute, Glowing comes into its own and is one of the best songs on the album with an exceptional rhythm. Although, the loudness of the mix squashes the musicality of the song. It's still a great song, of course, but it could have been even better with an expanded dynamic range.

Give The Love Around is a B-side. Not a bad one as it certainly fits the overall style of the album, but it isn't as strong as the previous songs. There is also a little sibilance in the chorus that is rather distracting, especially when listening via headphones.

Broken Arrow has an interesting, and compelling, interweaving vocal. The mix is great, I love it!

Kaleidoscope is a stadium-filling song that reminds me, in styling, of U2.

No Words is a beautiful song that I could listen to for hours. However, there is some distortion in the harmonic elements that I find distracting. As usual, this is amplified when listening via headphones, but it is something to be aware of, especially given how much of our modern music listening is being done with headphones. I can, however, confirm that the distortion is still present on speakers, but it is less distracting.

Millionaires is a great song, with plenty of energy, to conclude the album with, ensuring I'll listen to #3 again and stay within The Script's catalogue.

Overall, #3 is an incredible album and one that should be in everyone's collection. Yes, there are some things I would have done differently, in relation to the mixing, mastering, and overall production of the album, but they are minor quibbles that would likely make the album different, not better.

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

If you prefer streaming, #3 is also available on Apple Music.

A Deluxe Edition is also available on all aforementioned formats with the exception of the vinyl release which has the same tracking as the Standard Edition.

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