Viewing entries in
Music

Subjective Sounds Is Now On Instagram

Comment

Subjective Sounds Is Now On Instagram

In recent weeks I have been wondering how to best present the music I listen to daily. Individual daily posts seemed excessive, but at the same time my eclectic interests likely appeal to many readers. Hence, I have decided that Instagram would be the best way to share snapshots of the music I am currently listening to. 

It is important to note that this will not detract from my regular album reviews, but will simply be an add-on service to Subjective Sounds. Subsequently, you won’t see a ‘box’ of Instagram photographs appear on site. However, the Instagram feed will be automatically shared to the Subjective Sounds Facebook Page.

You can also like, and add comments to, any of the photographs by going directly to Instagram

Comment

Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

2 Comments

Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

I have been living under a rock. How come I never knew of Kate Bush? Seriously, I have only just heard my very first Kate Bush album and I’m blown away with the sonic masterpiece that is 50 Words For Snow.

I’m sure there are a plethora of exceptional artists that I have yet to personally discover. In-fact, it would be an impossible feat to experience the work of every artist, in one’s lifetime. There is just so much talent, yet so little time to enjoy the music. Therefore, it is a precious moment when a new artist is found and added to the existing music library.

Knowing absolutely nothing about Kate Bush presents an interesting way to appreciate and review her music, as I’m not coloured by any preconceived ideas of musicality. I came across 50 Words For Snow when simply browsing one of the online music retailers in Australia. It is akin to crate digging in the digital age and I was simply drawn to the cover.

image.jpg

One of the first things I noticed, when looking for the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi, was the length of the tracks. These are not short songs and that is sometimes cause for concern as artists often expand a good song, for no good reason. Excessive verse or chorus repetition; not to mention self-indulgent solos, does little to impress this reviewer. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here. Every song is balanced and none feel like they should be shortened. Each track, whilst independent of each other, merges perfectly in the album format.

I also don’t recall really hearing anything similar to the style of music Kate Bush has created with this album. Enya's work springs to mind, but Bush has such a unique sound that I don’t feel she would have many contemporaries. Perhaps I just need to look more into the art pop et al genres; certainly I’ll be looking deeper into Bush’s discography and will be able to form a more conclusive opinion in due course.

While I am blown away with the mastering that is presented via TIDAL Hi-Fi, I have also ordered the vinyl release. One thing to note is there is a US and a UK pressing of this album. Based on a number of unverifiable reviews, the US release is rather noisy in comparison to the UK pressing. Hence, I ordered the UK pressing and will have my fingers crossed for a nice silent release. This album really doesn’t need excessive vinyl noise distracting the sonic depth that is present in the music.

Based on a little research, I understand that the album, and associated songs, have been written, and recorded, with the backdrop of snow as the merging theme. While there is very little snow in Australia, I can’t confirm this correlation with the music but, I can say that the music can be appreciated in any weather condition. However, I must admit that the haunting sounds do cause a feeling of isolation and separation from the world that could be associated with snow; or even night time. Without a doubt 50 Words For Snow is a sonic masterwork that reaches far into the senses of oneself and takes you on an emotional journey.

As I continue to play this album repeatedly, each listen introduces new elements that I haven’t experienced before. This is an album you will want to listen to with the best speakers or headphone setup you own. In-fact, as good as my main stereo system is, headphone listening truly allows you to hear more of the music. One example of this can be heard on the track Wild Man. At the beginning of the song, wind is blowing and you can feel the wind in your ears when listening on headphones. It is incredibly dimensional and makes for a wonderful headphone experience.

Unlike many of my other reviews, I’m not going to dissect this album track by track. The reason for this is I believe this album should be experienced as an ‘album’, not as separate songs. This kind of approach to listening to music predates music in the digital form whereby vinyl, and cassette, predominately demanded that the listener listens to the album as a body of work, rather than the individual songs. Yes, history repeats itself and I am well aware that the single song predated the album format, but trust me when I say there isn’t a bad song on this album and you will not regret spending 65 minutes simply listening to this album. Take the time and enjoy the experience.

50 Words For Snow is available on Vinyl, CD, and TIDAL Hi-Fi

2 Comments

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

Comment

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

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

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

image.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment

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

1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

image.jpg

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

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

image.jpg

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

image.jpg

Let’s take a look at the songs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Comment

Agnetha Fältskog – My Colouring Book (CD Review)

Comment

Agnetha Fältskog – My Colouring Book (CD Review)

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

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

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

image.jpg

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

image.jpg

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

image.jpg

Let’s take a look at the songs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment

Abba – Waterloo (Numbered 40th Anniversary 7-inch 45rpm Vinyl Picture Disc Review)

Comment

Abba – Waterloo (Numbered 40th Anniversary 7-inch 45rpm Vinyl Picture Disc Review)

I love anniversary releases. Yes, I know I’m often being taken for a ride by record companies, but I just can’t avoid the new and shiny release from some of my favourite artists. All they have to do is slap a limited edition sticker on the cover and I’m there demanding they take my money. It is an illness, but at least I can acknowledge I have a problem. Just as they will never cease to repackage and reissue products that I already own, with new and never before seen photographs et al, I will never stop buying these anniversary editions for my record collection.

Abba acknowledged their 40th Anniversary with a plethora of releases that included Live At Wembley Arena, a reissuing of their vinyl collection and an incredible 7-inch singles vinyl box set comprising of 40 singles released during their illustrious career. Yes, as a life-long Abba fan, I purchased all the 40th Anniversary releases. I just couldn’t help myself, they are Abbatastic!

image.jpg

One of the releases, also released as part of Record Store Day 2014, was Abba’s Waterloo 7-inch 45rpm Vinyl Picture Disc. I have number 4018 of 7000. As you can tell by the photographs, it is simply gorgeous with the band featured on Side A and their logo and 40th Anniversary logo featured on Side B.

image.jpg

Side A features the Swedish version of Waterloo, with Side B containing the English version. I have always found these variations in language to be interesting. While I speak no other language than English, I still enjoy Abba’s music when recorded in foreign tongue. Although, because Abba’s music encourages one to sing-a-long, they become a little bit of a humorous tongue twister during karaoke nights.

image.jpg

What isn’t twisted is the sonic quality of this release. Vinyl picture discs are often ridiculed for the sonic inferiority and while my Iron Maiden Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son picture vinyl is hideous, all Universal Music picture discs in my collection, including this Abba release have been superb when it comes to sound quality. Yes, you still experience the whirring sound that is associated with picture disc vinyl, but it is certainly not intrusive to the music or the listening process. I honestly only notice it on the run in and out tracks. Let’s just say, I’m not one of the individuals that believes picture disc vinyl shouldn’t be played; unless it is etched of course. Hence, I accept the shortcomings and simply enjoy the record as a musicphile, rather than an audiophile.

The mastering on this single is also one of the best I have ever heard for the song Waterloo. Abba has a unique sound and some may argue with me, but I believe that the audiophile mind has to be switched off when listening to Abba. Their music is enjoyable, but it isn’t necessarily a sonic masterpiece. After all, it was aimed and marketed for radio playback, so just as the ‘loudness wars’ is creating a distinct sound, I believe Abba represents a similar style of sound that is very much lodged in the late 70s and early 80s. That isn’t to say it is bad, just that when referring to the quality of the mastering, the difference must be acknowledged.

Waterloo itself is a fun song, as most Abba tunes are; especially in their early career. Waterloo is a love song that uses the 1815 Battle of Waterloo as a metaphor for submitting to love, just as Napoleon submitted to defeat. The single itself came from Abba’s similarly titled second album Waterloo, and resulted in the band winning the highly coveted Eurovision Song Contest in 1974.

Depending on where you are in the world, this limited edition is likely only available on the second hand market. That said, thanks to the Internet Audiophile Reference Recordings and Utopia Records still have stock. You can of course listen to Waterloo (Swedish Version) and Waterloo (English Version) on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

Comment

George Michael – Symphonica (HFPA Blu-Ray Review)

Comment

George Michael – Symphonica (HFPA Blu-Ray Review)

There is little doubt regarding George Michael’s musical talent, but I have not always had such a high opinion of him. It wasn’t until I heard his 2014 live release Symphonica, that my opinion began to change.

Yes, I am one of those individuals that would roll their eyes every time their significant other wanted to listen to Wham!, but since purchasing Symphonica, I have also picked up The Best Of Wham!. I would be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed it. To be completely honest, I love it! While I still believe the ‘boy-band’ is a money grab for record labels who exploit musicians and their often young fan base, a lot of them do have excellent songs, including Wham! However, we’re not hear to talk about the origins of George Michael, but a relatively rare release of new material by an exceptional artist.

Perhaps it would be better to refer to this release as newish material given the live Symphonica performances, recorded between 2011-12, are a collection of well known covers with a half dozen original songs thrown into the mix. Quite amazingly, these covers mix perfectly with Michael’s own works and, Symphonica is fluid masterpiece without bad track to be found. So good, in-fact, that I would say this album is my favorite release of 2014. If there is a negative to be found, it would be the sibilance in Michael’s vocals. That said, Michael’s vocal talents have always had a fair amount  of sibilance, so I look upon it as artistic license.

image.jpg

The version of Symphonica I own is the High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray (HFPA) release. It is important to note that this Blu-ray release is audio only, with no video. It does however show the cover artwork, song list, and audio format selection on the display when the disc is spinning. An example of this is shown below:

image.jpg

Personally, I don’t mind that there is no video content as the audiophile in me cares more about the mastering and audio quality than any live video of the performance. In-fact, despite being a fan of music videos and live performances through the 90s, I find that in the past decade and a half, I have become less interested in these aspects of the music industry. Perhaps it is that the single is no longer being sold with an accompanying music video. I guess I prefer to listen, rather than watch. That said, each option offers a unique experience that is subjective to the individual.

As usual, I digress, the sonic performance is incredible and playing the album in DTS-HD Master Audio 24-bit/96kHz is as close to having a private audience with George Michael as I’m ever going to get. I prefer playing all my HFPA albums in DTS, but you will need to ensure your Blu-ray player can either decode, or bitstream the data along to an amplifier that can then decode the DTS audio stream. Thankfully, my Oppo BDP-103 and Bose Lifestyle 235 Series II systems are up to the task. PCM is also available and is adequate, but I much prefer the low end boost that is a trademark of the DTS sound. Dolby True HD is there too, but I’ve yet to be impressed by that encoding format, so I just don’t use it. If you’re a Dolby TrueHD fan, let me know what you think the benefits are against DTS and PCM along with what I should be listening for.

The packaging adequately presents the album, but I find the print quality of the cover is substandard, especially when compared to the included booklet. It is just dull and lifeless by comparison and most probably produced at the end of a print run, or on a setup that was calibrated differently.

image.jpg

The booklet showcases a number of photographs from the live performances, but other than album credits, lyrical liner notes are not included. Given the majority of songs on the album are covers, this is understandable as gaining permissions for reproduction would have been a chore in itself. Not to mention, I don’t recall any live albums including lyrics. Do you know of any?

image.jpg

The disc itself is presented in black on black, reminiscent of AC/DC’s Back In Black album and Metallica’s self-titled ‘black album’ Metallica. I like the subtleness of this styling, but I’m not sure it suits this album. Included in the HFPA release is a download code for the MP3. Yes, I don’t know why they bother adding this either. Okay, it is a value added offer, but where is my FLAC version of the album? Some HFPA releases give this option, but it is certainly not included on the majority of releases. This is one reason why I still love the SACD Hybrid format. It is a standard Redbook CD, when played on any CD player, and a high resolution disc when played on a compatible SACD player. Honestly, I'm amazed that the SACD format never replaced CD as it offers the best of both worlds.

That all said, let's take a look at the songs shall we?

Through is a George Michael original (from Patience) and it is a beautifully peaceful song to start the album with. The guitar strumming introduction, intermingled with vocals, sets the scene as Michael progresses in vocal range towards the the chorus. In this song, as in all, the orchestral backing is subtile and adds to the song. It reminds me of how much I adore Metallica’s S&M album as again, the orchestra takes their music in a different direction whereby one could easily say that that is how their music should have sounded all along. In a similar way, I don’t know as I want to listen to a new George Michael album without a backing orchestra. It is a perfect fit.

My Baby Just Cares For Me is upbeat and jazzy. It is a song that would do any jazz club in New Orleans proud. The horn section in this song is perfectly balanced and I appreciate this as sometimes the brashness of that instrument can overpower a song.

A Different Corner slows things down with gorgeous vocals and acoustic guitar and bass strumming. It is a simple and uncomplicated rhythm, but one that highlights Michael’s vocal capabilities. This is another George Michael original datIng back to the mid-80s and the final Wham! release, Music From The Edge Of Heaven.

Praying For Time was originally the lead single on Michael’s second solo album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1. It is an incredibly moving song and one that I would say rivals any socially motivated song in music history.

Let Her Down Easy is a song I absolutely love. It was originally written and recorded by Terence Trent D’Arby on his album Symphony Or Damn. The song is just so soothing, especially as it is presented in a lullaby style. George Michael performs it beautifully.

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face is an absolute classic and one of the best renditions of the song I have ever heard.

Feeling Good has to be one of the best songs to ever include wind instruments. It is epic! George Michael performs this tune beautifully and certainly has the vocal range to pull it off. That said, I still love Nina Simone’s version on I Put A Spell On You.

John And Elvis Are Dead is a homage to fallen artists that have changed and influenced so many creative individuals. It is a good song that was first featured on Michael’s album Patience, but I’m not sure how I feel about the song in general. As part of an album experience, it works, but as a song on its own, I’m not so sure.

Any fan of Sting and The Police will love Michael’s version of Roxanne. Michael plays it with a jazz styling and given that I have mixed opinions of The Police, I find that this version is exceptional and changes the relationship I have with the song.

One More Try was originally released on Michael’s highly successful debut solo album Faith. Needless to say, it is a George Michael classic and one that any fan will thoroughly enjoy.

Going To A Town is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. Prior to hearing it on this release, I had never heard the song before. To say that I was completely blown away is an understatement. The original was written and recorded by Rufus Wainwright for his album Release The Stars.

Cowboys And Angels is another George Michael original from Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1. It is a nice jazz inspired tune, but it is the worst song on the album for Michael’s vocal sibilance.

Idol is an Elton John and Bernie Taupin collaboration from John’s 1976 album Blue Moves. It is a beautiful song that sadly hasn’t received the acknowledgement I believe it deserves. It is always wonderful to see artists cover a lesser known song and make it their own. I feel George Michael has achieved just that.

Brother Can You Spare A Dime is an American Classic and one that George Michael has recorded and previously released on Songs From The Last Century. Despite being written during the Great Depression, the song is timeless and certainly has not aged.

You Have Been Loved was originally featured on Michael’s album Older. It features some magical jazz drumming and is just a lovely ballad.

Wild Is The Wind has been recorded by some of the great performers of the world, including Johnny Mathis, Nina Sìmone, and David Bowie. It really doesn’t matter which version you listen to as the song is simply gorgeous. That said, Michael’s rendition is beyond reproach.

You’ve Changed is the final track and closes the album on a perfect jazz feel that will make you want to listen to the entire album again.

Honestly, George Michael is an amazing jazz vocalist. That certainly isn’t an opinion I ever thought I would have made, especially knowing his dance/pop recording history. It just proves that if one is truly talented, they can adapt and evolve.

Symphonica is about as good as it gets. It is recorded and mastered with superb precision and the selection of songs is perfect for any mood, or time of day. It is an album that you simply must own, or at the very least listen to.

Symphonica is available on Vinyl, HFPA (Blu-Ray), CD, and TIDAL Hi-Fi.

Comment

Daily Spin: The Albums I Listened To Today

Comment

Daily Spin: The Albums I Listened To Today

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

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

Alice Cooper – The Last Temptation (CD)

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

Available on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto (HFPA Blu-Ray)

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

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

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

Available on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

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

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

Available on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

Comment

The Transformers: The Movie – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (RSD15 – 30th Anniversary Edition Vinyl)

Comment

The Transformers: The Movie – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (RSD15 – 30th Anniversary Edition Vinyl)

Last month I reviewed the Music on Vinyl (MOV) release of the 1985 Transformers Movie soundtrack and mentioned at the time that I was attempting to get hold of the 30th Anniversary, Record Store Day 2015 (RSD15), edition. Well, it has arrived and I couldn’t be happier.

The tracking of both albums are identical, but the mastering is slightly different as the MOV release is superior in fidelity when compared against this Sony/Legacy release. They were simply mastered by two different individuals and subsequently they were mastered for personal tastes. I should note that the MOV edition, that I prefer, was mastered by industry legend Bernie Grundman. That isn’t to say that the Maria Triana mastering at Battery Studios is a bad. In-fact, if I had not heard the MOV mastering, I would have have given this RSD15 release an excellent review based on sonic performance. The basic truth is when it comes to mastering, the individual mastering engineer is extremely important. If you look through the albums you like most, and even those you don’t, you will often see the same mastering engineers appear. I know I have come across this variant. 

From an artwork perspective, this edition is simply exquisite. This is certainly a record sleeve that you will need the floor or a table to view it on as it is a quad-panel release. My son was captivated as he kept opening and closing it to see the artwork because one mode presented the ‘good’ Autobots, while the other highlighted the evil ‘Decepticons’. It is simply an amazing design and layout and the etched vinyl really takes it to another level. It made for another wonderful father/son moment that will never be forgotten. This is why I choose vinyl, or any physical format in general, as it connects people in a way that can never be replicated by sharing a playlist.

I ordered my copy from Goldmine Records and I believe Ben has a few more copies of this release, so you may be in luck with securing a copy. 

Don’t forget, you can also read my detailed review of the album and songs by clicking here

Comment

30 Seconds To Mars – Self Titled (CD) Review

Comment

30 Seconds To Mars – Self Titled (CD) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment