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Icehouse – In Concert (Live Album Review)

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Icehouse – In Concert (Live Album Review)

Have you ever purchased an album by an artist you love, yet disliked it upon the first play? Well, I have, and this release was one that I just couldn’t get into. It didn’t matter that I had both the vinyl and CD editions, as well as an autographed placard of the album cover. I just didn’t connect with the live performance as I had hoped I would. Subsequently, both releases remained unplayed in my collection since their release in 2015. That, of course, changed when my son asked if he could have the CD edition for his own collection.

As I thought more about my son’s request, I found myself at an interesting crossroads regarding my love of collecting the music that brings me joy. Not only have I acknowledged that I’ll never be able to own all the albums I desire in my own personal collection, but I also acknowledge that it is somewhat foolish to have multiple copies of the same album as I find little joy in trying to decide which edition of an album I should listen to. It is the old Vinyl vs CD argument and rather than enjoying the music I find myself focusing on the formats; a rather tedious and often soul-destroying process that yields no enjoyment. A great example of this predicament is Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms of which I have two copies; one vinyl, the other the 20th Anniversary SACD release featuring not only the standard CD edition but the HDCD, SACD stereo mix, and SACD 5.1 surround sound mix on a single disc. The vinyl edition is the incredible Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release. Yes, all this jargon will likely drive non-audiophiles to the hills, with those remaining wanting to declare me insane; quite frankly I couldn’t blame them. It is insane and given I can only listen to one album at a time, I think it is time to cull down my collection and select the edition that brings me the most pleasure. After all, there is no point in listening to one version of the album only to wonder how a song would sound on another format. 

Of course, the big winner in all of this is my son. He was always going to inherit an incredible music collection, but I can start giving him some of my duplicates, knowing that he will enjoy them. Also, selfishly on my part, I get to see the excitement in his eyes and truth-be-told that is the greatest gift of all. Although, I didn’t quite say that when he woke up the entire household singing along to Electric Blue from the In Concert album, I had given him the night before. Still, I had a grin from ear to ear because I’m sure I did exactly the same thing when I first heard Electric Blue so many years ago. 

As I no longer have the CD release, my son will have to write that review, this review will be based solely on the vinyl release that is nothing short of spectacular now that I am no longer comparing it to the digital counterpart. 

Spread across three records and six sides, the entire near two-hour performance is presented on the most beautiful black vinyl you’ve ever seen. The label itself is gorgeous and while some may think of it a simple, I appreciate how it connects back to the ultra-successful Man Of Colours era; a theme that remains consistent throughout the artwork.  

Photographs and typography are simply gorgeous and the message from Icehouse front man and founder, Iva Davies, is a welcome addition. His acknowledgement of the work bassist Steve Bull put into making this release a reality is one of those rare moments in the music industry where credit is given where credit is due. Similarly, Davies also informs us through the liner notes that while this live album is not from a singular show, it matches the setlists that were performed throughout late 2014 and the subsequent best versions of each song were selected with no overdubbing or re-recording. The result is exceptional and it’s utterly flawless as the songs flow so smoothly you’d swear they were recorded on a single night in the same concert hall. 

Perhaps the only element that is a little disappointing for the vinyl release is the rice paper record sleeves as they have a tendency to scuff records and deposit additional pop and click inducing fibres into the grooves. Thankfully, my Pro-ject anti-static record cleaning brush solves that problem as does replacing the sleeves with anti-static inner sleeves; admittedly an additional cost, but one that I thoroughly recommend to all vinyl music lovers.  

The noise floor of the records, however, is incredibly low. You’ll be hard pressed to hear any surface noise, even when pumping the volume to ear-bleeding concert levels. The records have also been cut with audible quality in mind as there is no chance of inner grove distortion as each record ends before the dreaded inner grooves can become an issue. Yes, you’ve got to get up and turn the record over more frequently, but it is worth it for the additional sonic benefits. Plus, who doesn’t like a 3LP set? You really feel like you own something with a package that large and it reminds me fondly of my six-sided Wings Over America; another truly exceptional concert that I have on both CD and vinyl and will have to decide which edition truly brings me joy, gifting the other to my son. 

Anyway, without further ado, let’s take a look at the songs that make up Icehouse’s In Concert

SIDE ONE

Walls was an interesting choice to open the live performance. I’m unsure if I agree with the helicopter introduction. Yes, it works well, but how does it apply itself to the music? Given many of Icehouse’s recent live performances have been in theatres, I’m struggling to see the relevance. Nevertheless, Walls is an excellent song that has always been a favourite of mine since first being released on Icehouse and this live performance maintains the energy of the original, ensuring the listener knows exactly what to expect from the entire live album.

Mr Big has a sensational rhythm, but that chorus-driven drum element is a little too shallow for my liking. It isn’t bad, it’s just different to the way the original studio release sounds and my preferred live performance of this song can be found on Live From The Ritz, available on the 25th Anniversary CD+DVD release of Man Of Colours.

Love In Motion is sensational and while the Chrissy Amphlett duet was off-the-charts good; sadly Amphlett is no longer with us, but her legacy with the Divinyls lives on as does her spirit, captured on the 1992 re-recording of Love In Motion for the compilation album Masterfile. While Masterfile is long out-of-print, you can find this exceptional version of Love In Motion on White Heat: 30 Hits.Yes, Love In Motion was written and recorded well before the Amphlett/Icehouse collaboration, but she really added something special to the song and while I don’t think there was a ever a live performance of the song with Amphlett, she is remembered fondly when listening to this live rendition.

Crazy has one of my all-time favourite guitar hooks. So good! The live performance is perfect as it is reminiscent of the original studio recording, while being unique in its own right.    

SIDE TWO

Hey, Little Girl is a song that I have a love/hate relationship with. That’s a subjective viewpoint and not indicative of the song itself, but sometimes I feel this song is simply too campy and other times I thoroughly enjoy it. The live performance is excellent, minus the spoken word elements before the start of the song. However, if you really like this song, you’ll definitely want to track down a copy of the Hey Little Girl (’97 Remixes) as the remixes are seriously good on that long out-of-print maxi single. It also has one of the most unique CD designs I’ve ever seen as the CD is partially clear. 

Electric Blue is iconic; such an 80s song! It’s one of my favourites and you may remember earlier that my son woke up the household singing Electric Blue as it is also one of his favourites. Electric Blue makes you want to sing and while my son still gets some of the lyrics wrong, he’s giving it his all, not worried about how he sounds and how much taunting his sister dishes out to him. It would be a proud moment for this music-loving father if he did something music related when he grows up. If not as a career, certainly as a hobby. I’m thinking about an Icehouse cover band, what do you think, dear reader? 

Baby, You’re So Strange is a fun song and I love the live rendition on In Concert as it really takes the song to another level of moody and brooding musicality. 

SIDE THREE

Heartbreak Kid is lovely. Davies decision to talk about the history of the song, prior to commencing the performance, is invaluable as it’s fascinating to hear about the origins of the tune and see just how smoothly Davies transitions from a Bob Dylan impersonator to Iva Davies. Exceptional!

Dusty Pages has always been a favourite song of mine. It’s the best song off Sidewalk with the exception of Don’t Believe Anymore. This acoustic-based rendition is absolutely lovely and complements the original perfectly.  

Street Café had a great music video when first released in 1982. No, it wasn’t quite as epic as Great Southern Land, but this live interpretation is. It’s magnificent and a pleasure to listen to, as are all the acoustic-based songs on side three of the vinyl collection. 

Man Of Colours is Davies’ song, so I was quite surprised to find that Michael Paynter was the lead vocalist on Man Of Colours. His performance is absolutely stunning, but I still miss Davies performing this masterpiece. Sure, Davies is there in a backing vocal capacity, also allowing him to play the Oboe while Paynter vocalises the song, but it isn’t quite the same. That, of course, shouldn’t take anything away from Paynter as he is incredible, and I look forward to following his career in the years to come. He really did pay homage to the original while making it his own. 

SIDE FOUR

Miss Divine is one of the best songs off Code Blue and I have always thoroughly enjoyed it. However, I’m torn over this live performance as I feel it’s a little disjointed in the vocal department and that acoustic guitar strum is too forward in the mix. Of course, loving the original as much as I do, I could simply prefer the studio recording which I believe is impeccable. Subsequently, this live performance just doesn’t do it for me. 

Don’t Believe Anymore would have to be my all-time favourite Icehouse song. Okay, perhaps I have a few that that could be said about, but the saxophone element in both this live performance and the original studio release is nothing short of spectacular as it captivates me beyond belief. 

Great Southern Land is the quintessential Icehouse song and requires no hyperbole. 

SIDE FIVE

Can’t Help Myself has an addictive beat, but it’s one Icehouse song that I neither love nor hate. It merely exists. It isn’t a bad live recording, but it isn’t great either. 

Nothing Too Serious is one of Icehouse’s best and is certainly a highlight from Man Of Colours. It’s a great live performance but the tuning on those cymbals sound a little off as they’re very shrill. I’d love to say it is only on the vinyl edition, but I’ve heard it both on the TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music streams.

We Can Get Together is another fantastic song from Icehouse and I’m consistently amazed as to just how good the debut, by Flowers at the time, really was. This live performance is incredible and has all the energy that one would expect from the song. Incredibly, while it may be over three decades old, We Can Get Together remains timeless.

SIDE SIX / FIRST ENCORE

Icehouse, of course, became the band’s name following the shift from Flowers to Icehouse in 1981. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I’ve never heard a better version of Icehouse than that which appears on In Concert. Exceptional!

Cross The Border is another of my all-time favourites. It has a sensational rhythm and is the best song from Measure For MeasureThis live performance isn’t bad either. It doesn’t stray far from the original composition, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when the song was perfect to begin with. 

/ SECOND ENCORE

Sister closes the live album nicely with the energy that has always existed in this song. It, without a doubt, encourages me to listen to the album again and stay within Icehouse’s extensive catalogue of music. 

In Concert is an exceptional live album with a selection of songs that cover the greatest eras of the band. However, it’s a little disappointing that nothing from Big Wheel or The Berlin Tapes was included. Satellite would have worked well before or after Nothing Too Serious. Heroes, the David Bowie song that Davies performs immaculately well, would have been perfectly suited to appear after Man Of Colours. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, these songs were excluded and while they are missed, it doesn’t detract from the astonishing performance and album that is In Concert. 

In Concert is available on VinylCD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, In Concert is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music.

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Eagles – Desperado (Album Review)

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Eagles – Desperado (Album Review)

A year after their astonishingly good Self-Titled debut, the Eagles returned with Desperado; an album arguably leaning more towards a country-styling, than their debut, as they focused on the old west in American culture. Considering Desperado as a concept album, one can't help but see a correlation between Desperado and Elton John's similarly themed 1970 released Tumbleweed Connection. Perhaps the Eagles copied that concept, but if that was ever an element, it has never been discussed to my knowledge. Either way, as a fan of the old west, when the theme is done well, as it is in this case, it can be extraordinarily rewarding for the listener.

As a life-long fan of the Eagles, Desperado was always going to be a must-own release for my collection and the copy I am fortunate enough to own is the 2014 vinyl reissue. Sonically, it is a beautiful reproduction that is dynamically pleasing with an incredible soundstage that is as wide as it is deep. I love it when the speakers disappear, and I become immersed in the musicPart of the immersion can also be attributed to the album artwork that is striking in its presentation and this particular reissue has a textual cover, reportedly the same as the original 1973 vinyl release. At least it isn’t a fingerprint magnet like those albums released by Music On Vinyl (MOV); they look stunning and are very well pressed, but over time the fingerprints weaken the artwork. While the red text, on the near-black background looks a little washed out and therefore more difficult to read, it is a major improvement over the Self-Titled debut whereby the text was basically unreadable. 

While the re-issue was marketed as replicating the original artwork, the album label is different to the original releases I’ve seen whereby they had the plain white background, this edition has the clouds background. It isn’t really an issue, but I do appreciate authenticity. It would have been incredible for the record label to match the texture of the record sleeve but I'm not even sure if that can be technically achieved, as the labels are applied during the heat/moulding stage, but it is nevertheless cool to think about. 

The record itself comes in a lovely static free inner sleeve, black in colour with a clear centre. While the music itself is paramount, both sides of the album are mastered and pressed perfectly. This is certainly a re-issue that I would recommend to any fan of the Eagles.  

SIDE ONE

Doolin-Dalton is incredibly compelling. That harmonica just reaches into my soul every time I listen to this masterpiece. It’s also important to note that it is less harsh on the vinyl version when compared directly to any of the digital counterparts.

Twenty-One is too ‘country’ for my liking. The banjo is an acquired taste and while I don't dislike it, I feel it is played too fast for this song and subsequently it’s as though I’m listening to two different songs when Twenty-One starts playing.

Out Of Control is a solid rock song that I feel would have sounded better on On The Border, just as James Dean does. If you didn't know, James Dean was recorded for Desperado but held back at the time as it didn’t match the album perfectly.

Tequila Sunrise, as I've said before, is a beautifully relaxing song that gets better the more often I hear it. I don't know as I could ever tire of this song as it uses every part of the soundstage to ensure you're enveloped in sound. Amazing!

Desperado, having not been released as a single, has become a fan favourite and is one of the Eagle's very best recordings. Vocally it is a little rough around the edges, but that gives the song character and I couldn't imagine it with any more spit and polish.

SIDE TWO

Certain Kind Of Fool is fantastic. The perfect guitar strum. The perfect tempo. The perfect vocal delivery. Certain Kind Of Fool is a hidden gem that casual fans would likely miss but is undoubtedly one of the best songs on the album.

Doolin’ Dalton (Instrumental) is a distraction and while it flows well into Outlaw Man, Desperado would have been fine without this deviation. Interestingly, this instrumental track has never been listed on the back of the record sleeve. It is written on the record label, however. Other than a typo that has remained consistent throughout the years, I can’t help but wonder why this may be the case.

Outlaw Man is a killer song with a spectacular soundstage and while positioned on the B-side of the album, it’s an A-side in my opinion. I love it! On a side note, this song would have been perfectly suited to Fleetwood MacRumours era.

Saturday Night is a lovely ballad. Perfect harmonics and just an all-around great song. As good as some of the tracks on Side One are, it is really the second side that makes Desperado a must-own album. Astonishingly good!

Bitter Creek is one of my all-time favourite Eagles songs. You may not have heard it before as it is unlikely to be played live and doesn’t appear on any of the Eagles’ career perspective releases, but there is something very special here. The simplicity of that guitar strum and intermingling vocal, interspersed with the harmonies, is nothing short of amazing.

Doolin-Dalton (Reprise) is enjoyable but I would have been extremely happy if Bitter Creek was the final song on the album. I’ve never been much of a fan of the reprise, as I would generally prefer to hear the original track again, however, I do enjoy the electric guitar tracking instead of the harmonica as it creates a unique experience that works remarkably well.

Similarly, Desperado (Reprise) builds upon the original song without disrupting the magic that made the original so special. It’s a perfect way to close the album, ensuring I’ll listen again and stay within the Eagles’ catalogue.

Desperado is an album of hidden gems, combined with a few hits and a couple of misses. However, it all comes together in a coherent album that is thoroughly enjoyable and worthy of the Eagles.

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

If you prefer streaming, Desperado is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music.

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Eagles – Self-Titled (Album Review)

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Eagles – Self-Titled (Album Review)

Some of the most interesting albums are debuts as they can either make or break an artist. Regardless of the outcome, it’s always interesting to see how the artist evolves over time, especially from a retrospective viewpoint. That said, I don’t believe I’d be wrong in suggesting that the Eagles had already found their sound on this Self-Titled debut and went about refining their talent on each subsequent album.

Album covers in the 70s were probably as unique as they have ever been, with artists and record labels seeing what would work and what wouldn’t on the large vinyl canvas. The Eagles’ debut is no exception as the cover would not only encompass the bands country meets rock musical style perfectly but would fold out to a larger poster that one could hang or admire while listening to the album. Over the years, the Eagles’ Self-Titled release has been reissued numerously and the edition I’m fortunate enough to own is the 2015 vinyl re-issue with the original album artwork. Yes, it looks impressive, but as the record doesn’t sit in a dedicated enclosure, one has to be careful not to pick the record up, out of its outer sleeve, and watch as the record slips from one’s hand across the room. Okay, so perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but if you’re new to vinyl, these unique designs can be a challenge when dealing with the larger format. 

The inner sleeve is plain and somewhat lacklustre if I’m to be honest. The red text on the natural background is incredibly difficult to read and subsequently wasn't really well thought out in my opinion. The label itself is plain but elegant. Yes, even though I use the Audio Technica AT-618 LP Stabilizer, I love looking at the record labels. I even lust over compact discs and in a bygone era, it wasn’t uncommon for me to appreciate the designs of the compact cassette. I'm not sure why it’s such a fascination, but I find it a thoroughly enjoyable part of the record collecting process.

Of course, as impressive as the record looks, it would be for nought if the audio quality wasn't up to par. Well, I think we can all agree as to just how sonically stunning the Eagles are, and this debut is no exception. The record is as black as the ace of spades, perfectly flat, and has no noticeable inner groove distortion or surface noise. While purists may lament that a significant majority of reissues are being sourced from high-resolution digital files, rather than the original master tapes, the pressing of this 2015 reissue is flawless with a full analogue sound that simply has to be heard to be believed. I have compared both the TIDAL Masters (MQA) and Apple Music (Mastered for iTunes) editions against the record and you won’t see me part with this vinyl record anytime soon. Yes, it is that good and for fans of the band, I highly recommend this particular reissue.

SIDE ONE

Take It Easy, as I've mentioned before, is perfect for a country drive. When I hear this Eagles standard, I can only imagine the excitement of fans when they put the record on for the first time in 1972. It must have blown their minds for it still astonishes me to this day as to how developed the musicality of the Eagles is on this debut. In many respects, it's good that Jackson Browne was unable to finish the song and required Glenn Frey’s involvement. I simply couldn’t imagine the Eagles debut without Take It Easy. Jackson Browne did, however, record a rendition for his 1973 album, For Everyman, and while it’s a lovely interpretation, that doesn’t stray far from the Eagles’ original, Browne’s interpretation failed to set the world on fire as the Eagles’ version did.

Witchy Woman is a killer track that really showcases just how well the vocal harmonies of the Eagles members flow together. Witchy Women is, in many respects, the perfect classic rock song that encompasses many musical eras and styles. Seriously, I could be here all day just listing them, but let’s just enjoy listening to this absolutely amazing tune, shall we?

Chug All Night is a slow starter but develops into a solid song that is thoroughly enjoyable. While it may not be a fan favourite, the album wouldn’t be the same without the frantic beat and low volume harmonies that are off-the-chart. A great rock song!

Most Of Us Are Sad is sensational! The drum and bass track blow my mind, as does the guitar strumming and vocal harmonies. Music doesn't get much better than this.

Nightingale was almost not included on the album as producer Glyn Johns felt it was substandard. One could hardly argue with him as it is filler, a B-side at best, but the record label, in this case, won and it’s of course included. In reality, it isn’t fundamentally a bad song, it just isn't to the same calibre as the other songs on the album. 

SIDE TWO

Train Leaves Here This Morning is a lovely country-focused tune that has a beautiful soundstage and depth that envelops you in sound.

Take The Devil is one of the best songs on the album, and in the Eagles catalogue, that very few know about as it doesn't make an appearance in live performances or on career perspective releases. The rhythm is seriously addictive, and the musicality of the entire recording is uncompromising. 

Earlybird has a fun little entrance, but it can be equally infuriating if you're not in the mood for those chirpy bird sounds throughout. Nevertheless, while it may be a B-side, it's a solid song that fits well with the style of the album.

Peaceful Easy Feeling is a lovely song, but as I've said before, the guitar twang mid-song is a little too high pitched for my liking and I subsequently find it distracting. A shame considering it is an otherwise exceptional song with yet another beautiful vocal presentation. 

Tryin' is a solid song to close the album with. Nothing to write home about, but a perfect B-side if there ever was one. Tryin' certainly makes me want to listen to the album again and stay within the Eagles’ extensive catalogue.

The debut Self-Titled Eagles album is astonishingly good from start to finish and shows a band with a sound signature that would take others years to develop. It really is one of their greatest albums and even if you're a casual fan, you'll find something to love on this Self-Titled debut.

Eagles – Self-Titled is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, Eagles – Self-Titled is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music.

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Alice Cooper – Pretties For You (Album Review)

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Alice Cooper – Pretties For You (Album Review)

I doubt anyone would proclaim the Alice Cooper band’s debut release, Pretties For You, as their favourite album, yet it is strangely compelling. The psychedelic styling mixed with a high level of experimentation results in Pretties For You being located somewhere sonically between a garage band jam session and a demo recording. Yes, by conventional standards and that of the later Alice Cooper band records, Pretties For You is just bad, but as an album on its own, it showcases the era and origins of a band that would go on to have a successful career until, of course, Alice Cooper went solo and created an even larger monster, similar to Rob Zombie's move away from White Zombie. While Cooper was no doubt the pioneer, Zombie’s path a couple of decades later was not all that different to his idol’s as the early White Zombie recordings are also very raw and experimental.

Raw is perhaps the best way to describe Pretties For You and the vinyl re-issue I have is so badly mastered and pressed that it sounds like a beaten-up second-hand edition from 1969. That isn't necessarily a bad thing and the TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music streams aren't much better, they just lack the noisy vinyl pressing, one that is also pressed off centre and has audible drift in the first song where one channel of audio is heard in a ghostly manner for the first few rotations of the record. There is even a broken groove on Swing Low, Sweet Cheerio, causing the album to play like a broken record, akin to a repetitive run-out groove. Nevertheless, I have contemplated replacing the 2009 Warner Bros. pressing with the newer 2017 re-issue, but as strange as it may sound, I kind of like the problems this pressing has as it has a character of its own. When the inoperative run-out groove presents itself, the softest of taps on my Pro-jet Debut Carbon’s plinth gets the needle tracking into the correct groove. Yes, it is a ritual, that's one reason why I love vinyl. Needless to say, it’s an imperfect format. Each and every play of an album will yield a different result, not unlike attending a concert where the performance, for any multitude of reasons, cannot be the same as the night before. No doubt some of you by now are questioning my sanity and wondering why I don’t simply get rid of this album considering it isn’t a favourite. Well, I can’t argue with that thought process, but as a life-long Alice Cooper fan, I find that I do enjoy the album, when in the mood, but I also acknowledge its flaws. Yet, I have been known to play the album on repeat for hours on end as it grows on you. 

SIDE ONE

Titanic Overture is a garbled mess but is an interesting start to the album that really goes nowhere until the piano element comes into the mix. That's a shame as I’ve always wondered what would have been if the piano track didn’t fade out. Seems like we’ll never know unless there are unheard recordings floating around that I'm unaware of.

10 Minutes Before The Worm is just weird. Still, it’s interesting but you wouldn't play it outside of the album format. It also is the first time we hear Cooper's vocal and as you may notice he has remained true to that styling throughout the years.

Swing Low, Sweet Cheerio is a great tune with a divine introduction. However, that high pitch vocal, in places, really takes a solid song and turns it into an experience that isn't quite as memorable as one would have hoped for. Nevertheless, it is one of the best songs on the album and one that I would love to see Cooper rerecord. Interestingly, and as a side note, when listening via Apple Music, the high pitch of Cooper's vocal, that I mentioned earlier, is much more reserved and subsequently less ear piercing. It’s interesting because digital music is normally fatiguing, in that regard, not vinyl. It just goes to show that lossy music alternatives do have their place in a music-first audiophile setup. Plus, for those who don’t appreciate the risk of possibly receiving a broken record pressing, the digital counterpart, of course, plays seamlessly.

Today Mueller is similar to Ten Minutes Before The Worm. Weird, yet strangely compelling. I like it!

Living is a solid rock tune from the era and a valued addition to the album.

Fields Of Regret is a song I thoroughly enjoy. However, I’d love to see Cooper rerecord Fields Of Regret with Bob Ezrin, in the production, chair as there is a solid song hidden here, begging to be brought out into the open.  

SIDE TWO

No Longer Umpire is short but enjoyable.

Levity Ball (Live At The Cheetah) is a great song but it's even more sonically compromised, than the rest of the album, as it's a live recording. Yes, dear reader, this is another song I would love to see Cooper rerecord.

B.B. On Mars is pure filler but works well within the album format.

Reflected is brilliant! Yes, the Alice Cooper band would rewrite and rerecord Reflected and release it as Elected on Billion Dollar Babies. However, I must say as much as I enjoy Elected, I prefer Reflected. Yes, there is a fanbase ready to Lynch me for that comment, but Reflected is, in my opinion, the one song that makes Pretties For You worth owning. Seriously, give it a listen.

Apple Bush is a quirky, but enjoyable, song.

Earwigs To Eternity is rather left of the centre but remains compelling and fits the experimental style of the album perfectly.

Changing Arranging is the final song on the album and is good enough to encourage me to listen to the album again and stay within the Alice Cooper catalogue.

Overall, Pretties For You is a solid debut by a band that had yet to find their sound and synergy. But, is it worth owning? For Alice Cooper fans I would say yes, but it isn't a landmark album and therefore will likely only appeal to the most dedicated fans and collectors. Hence, this is one album that you should consider streaming prior to outlaying the cash to buy Pretties For You on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), or iTunes.

You can stream Pretties For You on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music.

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Billy Joel – An Innocent Man (Album Review)

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Billy Joel – An Innocent Man (Album Review)

Billy Joel has an exceptional back catalogue that would be the envy of many musicians. While Storm Front will always be my personal favourite, An Innocent Man, not unlike Joel's sensational Greatest Hits, Vols. 1 & 2, is about as close to perfection as you can get. Yes, dear reader, An Innocent Man plays like a greatest hits release and should be in all serious music collections.

While it has never made it to my physical collection, I have promised myself the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) double LP release that has been mastered from the original master tapes using MOFI’s patented GAIN 2™ technology. While all the acronyms look impressive, I have a number of these releases and they are simply astonishing and make CD-quality streaming services, like TIDAL Hi-Fi, sound lifeless and flat by comparison. Speaking of TIDAL Hi-Fi, this review is based on listening to and enjoying that edition. I’ve also taken the time to appreciate An Innocent Man on Apple Music and have found the two streaming services are comparable to each other as they are derived from the same master. However, the Apple Music stream, for An Innocent Man, is about five percent louder. The additional loudness could be due to any number of production reasons, but louder volumes do give the faux perception of better quality. Now, I'm not suggesting this is the case, but it would be naive to ignore the possibility. Of course, if the volume is extended too far, the sound will degrade as a result of increased distortion; a key problem in the loudness wars. Correct management of volume, particularly in the recording, mixing, and mastering stages, is a fine line that has sadly been crossed far too often. That all said, both streams sound exceptional, but when an album is of this calibre, it will sound good regardless of lossy or lossless compression algorithms.

Without doubt, An Innocent Man, is one of the greatest albums from the 80s, but the launch window would result in a disappointing result for Joel as Michael Jackson's Thriller won the Grammy for Album Of The Year over An Innocent Man. While Jackson's Thriller is a landmark album, one I thoroughly enjoy, I'd argue that Joel’s An Innocent Man is a better album and has also stood the test of time much better than Thriller which, in my subjective opinion, is starting to sound a little dated. Perhaps An Innocent Man avoided the dreaded dating of its sound as Joel based the writing of the album on his beloved, and arguably timeless, 50s and 60s music styles. The continuous lighthearted Be-bop, Soul, and R&B styling is addictive and remarkably well suited to Joel.

Easy Money has a sensational beat – thank you Liberty DeVito! It’s a fun little song to start the album with, but the chorus isn't compelling as I find it a little distracting with it’s downbeat shift. Nevertheless, Easy Money is a great song that sets the listener up for the music they’re about to hear on the album.

An Innocent Man slows the pace of the album a little, but the transition never sounds out-of-place. When listening to An Innocent Man, you really begin to comprehend what a sensational vocalist Joel is. Joel has incredible control of his vocal and takes it right to the edge, ensuring the presentation is nothing short of a pleasure to listen to. I could listen to this song indefinitely, it is that good.

The Longest Time is, as Uptown Girl is, one of the most enjoyable songs to sing along to. Seriously, tell me you can sit and listen without singing along to this classic. Even if only in your mind, it’s addictive. I love it!

This Night really opens up throughout the chorus. Yes, the whole song is fantastic, but as a Ludwig van Beethoven fan, I really appreciate how Joel merged his vision with that of Beethoven’s. The result is a sonic interpretation that is absolutely timeless. A masterpiece!

Tell Her About It has a fantastic upbeat tempo that will have you toe-tapping and head-bopping from the very first note.

Uptown Girl is my song. It, along with Starship's We Built This City, is responsible for my love of music. Absolutely brilliant!

Careless Talk shifts the style of the album and can sound a little out-of-place following the upbeat sound of Tell Her About It and Uptown Girl. However, as a song on its own, it’s a solid recording, but if there were a B-side on An Innocent Man, it would be Careless Talk.

Christie Lee is a sensational rock tune with an exceptional saxophone element. I love it! You’ll most certainly want to turn the volume up on this song.

Leave A Tender Moment Alone is a stunningly beautiful ballad.

Keeping The Faith is a song I’ve always enjoyed, but it’s a strange song to conclude the album with as it’s somewhat different to the songs that came before it. It sounds too modern for the album’s style, but as a song on its own, it's extraordinary!

Overall, An Innocent Man is an astonishingly good album and one of Joel's best, if not his best. If you want to listen to a flawless album, that is also timeless, then this is the album for you. Pure perfection!

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

If you prefer streaming, An Innocent Man is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, and Spotify.

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Big Scary – Animal (Album Review)

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Big Scary – Animal (Album Review)

What an album cover! I don't know about you, but it drew me in as much as Jane's Addiction's Ritual De Lo Habitual did when released in 1989. In many respects, the cover art is an essential element as an album is often seen before it is heard. In that regard, Animal certainly creates a shock to the nervous system, engraining the imagery in one's subconscious. While the artwork may be a little confronting, it’s representative of only a single aspect of Big Scary; a dynamic Melbourne-based musical duo.

While I know very little about Big Scary, other than adoring Animal, their digital liner notes explain the artistic intent far more thoroughly than I could ever attempt to. However, if I were to summarise their intent, the concept that we can transcend our animal instincts and rise above the animal within is brilliant. Subsequently, Animal takes us on a sonic journey that is philosophically evolutionary.

Animal was also produced with vinyl in mind as each side of the double LP is perceived as its own self-contained entity, to be enjoyed independently or as part of a larger masterpiece. While this review will be based on the Apple Music stream, I'm keenly interested in getting my hands on the vinyl release as this aspect is a value-added proposition for the music lover and collector within. As I think further about this somewhat unique approach, I’m reminded of my beloved Sigur Rós – () album and how they approached the vinyl release in a similar manner. It’s wonderful to see independent artists thinking differently, not only about their musicality but how their music will be delivered to listeners. While part of the artistic intent was to allow the listener to play the album in a non-traditional chronological order, for simplicity, this review will focus on Animal with the same chronological tracking as seen on the following Apple Music stream.

Oxygen opens the album with a very raw drum beat that harks to the core animal status within us all. The electronic rhythm, while sonically dry, is extremely compelling. It's a great start to the album and I was hooked from the very first note.

Organism gets the body moving. The soundstage is diverse and layered, resulting in a song that is larger than the sum of its parts. Every aspect of Organism is perfect and it amazes me that music this good is made by an independent artist. I say that because Organism, and the entire album, sounds better than many big label/artist releases.

Double Darkness continues the somewhat sombre tones, but I love it! That vocal placement and delivery is sublime, reminding me of many Paul McCartney recordings.

Savior Add Vice seamlessly transitions from Double Darkness. Even the shift, a third of the way through, is done masterfully. Although, I don't like the vocal direction as much on this song as I feel the vocal is lost in the mix. That may, of course, have been the intent, and if so then the vocal becomes merely another sonic element in the soundstage.

Lone Bird is a killer song with an absolutely perfect rhythm and composition. This is what good music should sound like!

The Endless Story sees the album becoming increasingly upbeat and I don't know about you, but that rhythm sounds awfully familiar. Regardless, it’s a solid song that is thoroughly enjoyable. The vocal echo, normally a distractive element, works really well here, although the distortion in places is a little more in-your-face than I’d prefer.

Flutism suits the album but isn't really a track I connect with. I can't honestly say why it doesn't resonate with me as it isn't inherently bad, but all I know is it’s a little too left of the center for me.

Up And Up And Up is addictively brilliant!

Breathe Underwater slows the album down considerably. While it may feel a little disjointed to those of us streaming Animal, Breathe Underwater is the first song of the Resting element of the album. The other elements include, for the first four songs, Hunting, the next four, Lurking, and the final two Waking. Nevertheless, Breathe Underwater is a beautifully mellow song.

The Opposite Of Us continues the Resting phase of the album and for some reason, when I listen to this song, I ponder of what a U2/Bono and Alanis Morissette mashup would be like. Yes, dear reader, my mind is subjectively unique and even I have no idea where these correlations come from. Anyway, The Opposite Of Us is a beautiful song and is a perfect fit for the album.

Heaven On Earth is atmospherically stunning. I can only imagine how exceptional it would sound on vinyl, for the Apple Music stream is already magical.

Over Matter has a little too much volume and channel variation that I find to be rather distracting. Even the vocal delivery pace isn’t in harmony with the songs that came before it, resulting in a bit of a garbled mess.

Lamina is a great song to close the album with. The moody tones are reminiscent of the opening tracks and it is so good that I feel compelled to listen to Animal again and delve deeper into the modest back catalogue of Big Scary.

Overall, Animal is a compellingly addictive album that I thoroughly enjoy and will have to pick up on vinyl.

Animal is available on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes.

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

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Jimmy Barnes – Out In The Blue (Album Review)

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Jimmy Barnes – Out In The Blue (Album Review)

You should never judge a book by its cover, or an album for that matter. Yes, Jimmy Barnes's Out In The Blue has a cringe-worthy cover, but the musicianship within is worth looking past this stark reminder that the world’s rock stars are human just like you and I. Yes, I acknowledge and respect that Out In The Blue was written and recorded following Barnes’s open heart surgery and that the rock in his life has been his wife Jane; both aspects that the cover art represents. It just isn’t a compelling cover and given Barnes’s stature in the Australian music industry, it’s surprising this cover made it to the final release.

If you’re not familiar with Jimmy Barnes, he is near royalty in Australia. Be it his years as Cold Chisel’s frontman, or his extensive solo career, Barnes has carved out a legacy that many can only dream about. It also doesn’t hurt to have a vocal that is gritty yet soulfully smooth.

While I’ve been a fan of Barnsey, as he's affectionately known Down Under, since his Two Fires and Soul Deep eras. However, I must be completely honest by saying that much of his later catalogue failed to register on my radar. There was no particular reason but I do acknowledge that as the world became increasingly interconnected, my focus on the Australian music industry became less prominent. Of course, that was all to change when I read his stunning double biography, Working Class Boy and Working Class Man. Seriously, even if you’ve never listened to any of his music, Barnes is a master storyteller. The books really are page turners and I’m not ashamed to say I have a signed copy of Working Class Man as well as a digital copy. Excessive, perhaps, but my argument is that when I wanted to read it, we were moving at the time and my books were boxed and I couldn’t remember which box the book was in. Okay, that is a lame justification, but when I say that I have no regrets owning both copies, that is an indication of just how enjoyable his writing and life story is.

When reading music biographies, I find myself listening to the artist in question in the background. I love this process as I find it brings me closer to the artist, not in some weird perverted manner, but in understanding them and how elements of their life impacted their music. In all honesty, they broke the mould when they made this man but Barnes remains relevant to this day as he is willing to continue to break the preconceived notions of what it is to be a rock star. Therefore, dear reader, I ask you to fracture any misconceptions you may have about Barnes and the Australian music industry as you join me in discovering and enjoying Out In The Blue.

I Can't Tell You Why is classic Jimmy Barnes. It's a great start to the album.

Out In The Blue flows on beautifully from I Can't Tell You Why and is a lovely song to share the album's name. There is a country twang to this song that really works well for the multifaceted Barnes, perhaps in part influenced by respected country music producer Nash Chambers. Chambers sits in the production chair for this entire album and besides his own creative endeavours, he’s also the older brother of Australian country music legend Kasey Chambers, who coincidentally duets with Barnes on When Two Hearts Collide. Without a doubt, Chambers brings his own sound signature to the record and combined with Barnes’s talent and that of the supporting band, this song and the entire album is nothing short of exceptional.

You From Me has an interesting panning of the stereo image. It’s distracting if you prefer listening to music via headphones but it sounds perfect via speakers. That said, if the distortion and panning were dialled back a little, You From Me would be that much better.

Blue Hotel is a beautiful piano-based ballad that was penned by the exceptionally talented Neil Finn.

When Two Hearts Collide is a sensational duet with Kasey Chambers.

Red Light has a really familiar guitar intro that sounds rather similar to Glen Campbell's Southern Nights. Despite the similarities, I thoroughly enjoy listening to both artists and imitation is, after all, the greatest form of flattery. Regardless, Red Light is a killer song with a perfect amount of distortion.

Everything's Changing brings back the aforementioned stereo panning, but this time it’s a little more subtle. That said, I feel this song never really achieves greatness. There's a beautiful song hidden here, but it needs a remix, perhaps a re-imagining, to really realise its potential.

Better Off Alone is a great song that sounds as though it belongs in a different era. That isn't a bad thing as the 50s style is fantastic, but I feel it was a little pedestrian for Barnes, especially at that stage in his career.

Water Wash All Over Me is one of the greatest songs ever recorded, by anyone, and it reminds me why I love music. I could listen to this song on repeat indefinitely.

I'm Surprised is a great song.

Losing You isn't a bad song, but there's a little distortion in Barnes's vocal that sounds as though he was a little too close to the microphone. It’s a shame as it had the capacity to be a really solid B-side.

Forgiveness is a beautiful song to close the album on, ensuring I’ll listen to it again and stay within Barnes's catalogue.

Overall, Out In The Blue is an exceptional album that not only has some of Barnes's greatest recordings, but in a number of ways pays homage to the Cold Chisel years, his prior solo efforts, and his ability and willingness to shift styles, the culmination of which is a thoroughly compelling release that should be in everyone’s collection.

Out In The Blue is available on CD and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, Out In The Blue is available on Apple Music and Spotify.

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Angus & Julia Stone – Self-Titled (Album Review)

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Angus & Julia Stone – Self-Titled (Album Review)

To listen to Angus & Julia Stone is to experience nirvana. The Australian sibling duo is astonishingly good, pumping out songs in the keys of indie-pop and folk rock while maintaining an acoustic-based singer-songwriter style that will leave you in pure amazement.

Teaming up with superstar producer, Rick Rubin, I was initially concerned that this Self-Titled release might be compromised as Rubin is known for his involvement in the loudness wars, producing low dynamic range albums such as Metallica's Death Magnetic and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Californication. While one has to acknowledge that this Self-Titled release is right on the border, sonically this level of compression and distortion works incredibly well with the style of music and the Stone siblings’, often lower chord, vocal presentation. That said, the soundstage is rather expansive, allowing all sonic elements space, in the mix, to breathe.

As I’ve listened to the Self-Titled Angus & Julia Stone release on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music, I can say conclusively that there is no sonic difference between the two as the lossy Apple Music stream matches the lossless CD-quality streamed via TIDAL Hi-Fi. This is yet another example that validates that if the master is the same, there is little-to-no perceivable difference.

A Heartbreak sets the tone of the album and you'll clearly hear the distortion on this song just teetering into the red. It would have been nice to have the master reduced by a couple of decibels as the song is louder than the following tracks. Nevertheless, it's a great song to commence the album on.

My Word For It has a killer psychedelic sound signature that is simply addictive. Julia's smooth vocal is absolutely captivating on this song as she's right there in the room with you. A fantastic mix!

Grizzly Bear has an offbeat beginning, but once the musicality picks up, the rhythm will have you toe-tapping and head-bopping uncontrollably. An absolutely beautiful song!

Heart Beats Slow is a great song that I’d love to hear Stevie Nicks cover with Neil Finn.

Wherever You Are has a stunning acoustic introduction that builds progressively with a beat that will connect with your inner soul. While there are a number of vocal shifts throughout, that may deter some listeners, I feel it works extremely well given this song is largely stripped down from a production standpoint.

Get Home is lovely!

Death Defying Acts is moody and I love it! One of the best songs on the album and that is difficult to declare as the entire album is a masterpiece. If there were one criticism to be made, it would be the drum track is not as spacious as I would like in some sections. That said, it does work with the darker tone of the song.

Little Whiskey has a fantastically compelling beat, but it is very much a song that is on the alternative side of the siblings’ offerings. That may not appeal to all listeners, but I feel it flows perfectly with the surrounding tracks.

From The Stalls is a great song. May I suggest you sit in a relaxing chair, with your eyes closed, and allow the musicality to involuntarily take control of your muscles as you'll be toe-tapping and swaying in no time.

Other Things shouldn’t work musically, as it is a little left of the centre, yet it absolutely does.

Please You is such a mellow song. Beautiful!

Main Street is pure sonic gold and in many ways leaves me speechless. Therefore, I feel it is only right to suggest you experience it for yourself.

Crash And Burn, as Ian McFarlane rightly suggests in The Encyclopedia of Australian Rock And Pop, invokes a memory of the sonic signature often associated with Neil Young and Crazy Horse. That is, of course, a compliment. Crash And Burn is the perfect song to close the album on as it encourages me to listen to this Self-Titled release again and stay within Angus & Julia Stone's catalogue.

This Self-Titled album is a masterpiece. Nothing more really needs to be said other than it’s worth the hour to just sit and listen. I'm sure you won't regret it, I know I haven’t.

Angus & Julia Stone's Self-Titled album is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, Angus & Julia Stone's Self-Titled album is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music.

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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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