Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6 – Wiener Philharmoniker/Valery Gergiev (HFPA Blu-ray Review)

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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6 – Wiener Philharmoniker/Valery Gergiev (HFPA Blu-ray Review)

There is something quite special and iconic about that blue and red Decca logo. For me, it symbolises quality and the assurance that a recording is going to be of the highest standard and a valued addition to my collection. I’ve yet to have a Decca album that has disappointed, though I acknowledge my collection is modest at best.

The Three Tenors – In Concert (Rome 1990) was the first Decca recording that I owned. It is a monumental concert, not only for classical music lovers but for music lovers in general. It was a pivotal moment where I believe classical music interspersed with mainstream acceptance, thereby later resulting in the ability for artists, such as Andrea Bocelli, to breach the bounds of classical music and become modern-day pop icons. Arguably, Pavarotti achieved this acceptance prior to this landmark concert, but the concert signalled what was possible to the following generation.

While classical music astounds me, regarding the way it captivates my mind and soul, I don’t class myself as a classical connoisseur. I know very little about the history, interpretational styles, and musical talents of the orchestra and conductor. To be honest, I’d like to keep it that way as I feel knowing too much about the process can become detrimental to simply enjoying the art form. This is one reason why I no longer watch the making-of documentaries for films as the magic of the fantasy world is eroded.

I like to be taken on a journey. I like to leave the vessel of my body and allow my mind to travel beyond mere conscious thought. That is how I feel about classical music. It paints a picture, a story, with music. The story is my own, for only me to interpret. It is the purest form of subjectivity and as the vision in my mind lifts my soul to that special place, the troubles of the world cease to exist. It is as cathartic as meditation and better yet, my thoughts are welcome when I listen to classical music; whereas a squirrel is ever-present in the silent world of my mind when meditating.

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In this particular genre of music, I cease to care about what the composer could have been thinking as he wrote the piece. That is irrelevant to me as I search for my own subjective interpretation. Similarly, while I acknowledge that the conductor and orchestra will interpret their own meaning, their interests don’t factor into my evaluation of the performance either. I either like the interpretation, or I don’t. Interpretations that fail to reach my soul are simply not worthy of being included in my collection. No doubt, they will appeal to someone, but I can only reiterate the importance of enjoying classical music subjectively; the way all music, of all genres, should really be appreciated.

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that very few people know of my love for classical music. How could they when they see me wearing AC/DC t-shirts almost daily? To them, I’m a hard rock fan, but behind closed doors I can listen to Thunderstruck and follow it up immediately with I Adagio – Allegro non troppo. Yes, I’m a special kind of crazy, but good music is good music. I don’t discriminate and I implore you to try it. While I am listening to this HFPA release as I write this review, I was previously listening to Carl Cox’s All Roads Lead To The Dancefloor. Switching between these albums, and musical genres, felt perfectly natural to me. Similarly, my classical music collection is interspersed with all other genres. I don’t have to be in the mood for classical music, I just have to want to listen to this particular album and seek it out in the T section of my collection. As I have more than one Tchaikovsky album, the recordings are then catalogued in order of conductor. That is about as complex as I get when it comes to adding my classical collection to my library of music.

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As an early adopter of the High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) Blu-ray format, I found myself exploring more music than I had previously before. While I have always appreciated classical music, I didn’t acknowledge the diversity until this new lossless format appeared on my radar. Yes, HFPA Blu-ray is largely a failed technology, but the discs thankfully remain compatible with all Blu-ray players. However, it was this technology that created a rebirth of musical exploration for me and would ultimately become the instigator behind my acceptance of TIDAL Hi-Fi.

As a result, I can listen to just about every interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony, but I like this one and tend to also turn to it when I only have access to TIDAL Hi-Fi. Normally, these HFPA releases would include an MP3 download code, but all Decca releases omitted that option. It was initially disappointing, but I’m glad they did that in retrospect as it forced me to search for other options for portable listening. I even purchased a few of the albums on iTunes, before I had TIDAL Hi-Fi, as I enjoyed them that much. This wasn’t one of them, but Janine Jansen’s glorious Vivaldi: The Four Seasons was. The Mastered for iTunes edition is very enjoyable and while it is unfair to compare it to the associated HFPA release, I would happily listen to the iTunes edition in a portable setting, especially with the Oppo HA-2 attached to my iPhone.

One aspect that I also find intriguing about classic music is how familiar it is. I may not have an adept knowledge of specific compositions, orchestras, or conductors, but without a doubt, I can recognise the music when I hear it. I dare say Hooked On Classics and various film scores have had a significant influence in this regard.

While my collection of Tchaikovsky is limited, I also have the HFPA release: Tchaikovsky: Ballet Suites – Wiener Philharmoniker/Herbert Von Karajan. My one-word review for that album is: exceptional!

While I am still wet behind the ears with regards to my knowledge of classical music, Tchaikovsky, Valery Gergiev, and the Wiener Philharmoniker, I hope that my thoughts on this recording will resonate with you.

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I Adagio – Allegro non troppo is initially a subtly beautiful track. The DTS-HD Master Audio 24-bit/96kHz playback option, a trademark of the HFPA Blu-ray platform, creates that desired silent vibration that allows one to feel the music, rather than simply hear it. While the album is only presented as a 2.0 stereo track, I don’t feel as though I’m missing out by not having a 5.1 mix. That said, a 5.1 mix would have been desirable as the music whisks you away and the more encapsulated you can be by the sound, the better.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m no classical connoisseur, but I feel every nuance is perfectly presented. Every high, every low, and every mid tone note is relayed in what can only be described as a masterful performance.

Of particular note is how well defined the string elements are within the mix. There are some classical recordings that pierce my ears, rather than my soul, and this is certainly not one of them. As I sit here enjoying I Adagio – Allegro non troppo, I am one with the orchestra as my system doesn’t skip a beat, running at only 50% of full capacity. Any louder and I would need to set up lawn chairs and sell tickets to the neighbours.

What is relevant, however, is how well the 24-bit/96kHz transfer is at resolving high volume levels. I find, on the same system, that CD playback at this volume is unbearable, regardless of mastering. While CD/SACD is arguably the best format for classical recording, especially in comparison to formats such as tape or vinyl, the HFPA Blu-ray is the closest thing I have heard that could be classed as a true concert-like presentation.

II Allegro con grazia is a swooshing passage that makes me want to jump up and dance gallantly around the room. When this happens, I know that the music has truly impacted my soul.

This section of the 6th Symphony will be arguably the most recognised element of the performance as it has been included in numerous film scores over the years. It is a timeless piece and a pleasure to listen to.

III Alllegro molto vivace is also well presented, but I do consider it to be the most complicated section of the 6th Symphony, from a listener’s standpoint. The constant changes in musical direction prevent me from settling into a rhythm. However, towards the end, the percussion sections are extraordinary in both their depth and clarity. It is not only an incredible recording, but it is a sonic masterpiece.

IV Finale. Adagio Iamestoso – Andante settles down in a relaxed manner as it is time to reflect on the enormity of the performance thus far. It is the perfect ending to a performance that was Tchaikovsky’s final and ultimately is said to symbolise death and a possible foretelling of his own demise. Personally, I wouldn’t class the 6th Symphony as being devoid of life, if anything I feel as it is a celebration with the finale closing a chapter of life with its sombre tones.

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Overall, I feel blessed to have such a flawless recording on the HFPA format. While the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition of the album is presented beautifully, it just doesn’t feel quite as open and detailed as the HFPA presentation. The HFPA edition is presented in LPCM, DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD formats. As usual, I prefer the DTS-HD Master Audio track and can confirm that it will shake the foundations while remaining crystal clear and free of distortion.

To their credit, Decca Classics have reissued the 2004 recording beautifully. While I don’t have the CD to compare, the HFPA cover and booklet are reformatted to fit the Blu-ray case. I mention this as a positive point merely because a number of the run-of-the-mill Universal releases have cut corners in this regard as they merely reprint the CD booklet, on the larger canvas. The booklet, while brief, does contain a short history of Tchaikovsky, particularly regarding Symphony No. 6, for novices such as myself. While a much more detailed overview would have been appreciated, it is the music that I am truly interested in and there are countless books detailing Tchaikovsky that one can explore if one wishes to be better informed.

While not all classical music is as accessible as Tchaikovsky, this recording is perfect for someone who is interested in classical music but has yet to form an appreciation for it as a form of art. While my children love Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Tchaikovsky’s Ballet Suites, they are starting to thoroughly enjoy the 6th symphony alongside Lady Gaga and AC/DC.

The Wiener/Gergiev recording of Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony is truly worth owning and is one of my most prized possessions.

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6 – Wiener Philharmoniker/Valery Gergiev is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi while still being available on HFPA Blu-ray.

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Deep Purple – Made In Japan (Thoughts On The Many Editions)

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Deep Purple – Made In Japan (Thoughts On The Many Editions)

I have been interested in undertaking a review of Deep Purple’s Made In Japan (The Remastered Edition) CD from 1998 for quite a while. It is a live performance that captured Deep Purple at their peak and even if you’re not a fan of the band, this is one performance that you have to listen to. It set a standard for all rock and roll bands to follow and is as unique today, as the day it was recorded.

However, in 2014 a number of new editions were released that would go on to complicate my thoughts about the performance, album, and re-issues in general. While the performance had already been re-issued numerous times, this didn’t stop Universal remixing, remastering, and re-releasing the performance once again.

Rather than a linear performance, Made In Japan was initially comprised of the best takes from three different, concurrent, performances in Japan. Logically, this should be as complicated as it gets, but that isn’t the case as there are too many editions. Let me explain:

Single CD Edition

The single CD edition features the original 1972 mix, but it has been remastered during the 2013 mastering sessions.

If you want the album that was originally released in 1972, then this is the go-to release.

2CD Deluxe Edition

The Deluxe Edition features the 2013 Kevin Shirley remix, of the original 1972 album. It also includes all encores, from all three nights on the second disc.

The 2013 remaster/remix of this album uses the original 1972 analogue multitrack masters. While the original 1972 mix, found on the single CD edition, is remastered from the 1972 analogue stereo master.

Therefore, if you want a newly mixed edition of the performance, this one will service you well. It is true to the original but I am honestly torn as to the mix I prefer. The original 1972 mix is still solid, but Kevin Shirley’s 2013 mix somewhat modernises the performance without changing it. Although, I find Shirley’s edition to be a little boomy and muddy in the low end. This is most noticeable in the song Lazy.

It is also important to note that as both the single CD and double CD have been remastered, the overall dynamic range, compared to the 1998 remastered edition, is reduced. Remarkably, the ’98 remaster maintained the dynamic range of the original ’72 release. That said, none of the 2014 releases could be considered sonically poor performers.

If you’ve never heard this performance before, this 2CD edition will be a welcome edition to your collection. Although, I feel us old-timers might be best served sticking with the original 1972 mix that we know and love. Although, when it is all said and done, it really is subjective!

High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) Blu-Ray

Of course, if you want both the original 1972 mix and Kevin Shirley’s 2013 mix, you can pick up the HFPA Blu-ray Edition. However, no encores are included.

While HFPA Blu-ray is a favoured format here at Subjective Sounds, it is important to note that the dynamic range of this release is no better than the before-mentioned CD releases, hence the benefits of High Fidelity (24bit/96kHz) are trivial at best.

Given the capacity of the HFPA format, you would think that the entire three nights of recordings could be included on a single disc, along with all the encores, the 1972 mix, and Kevin Shirley’s 2013 mix. After all, The Rolling Stones Grrr… 50-song (>3 hour) epic is on a single HFPA disc and only consumes 20.02GB of the possible 50GB capacity. Yes, I acknowledge that this release is on a BD-25 disc and therefore limited to 25GB, but to my knowledge the HFPA specification does not exclude the BD-50 (50GB) option. Yes, the HFPA format didn’t last long, but as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I still don’t understand why the music industry simply didn’t move to hybrid SACD releases for every album. Those who don’t care about the ‘ultimate’ in audio reproduction can enjoy the discs in a standard CD player, while audiophiles can use their dedicated SACD players to get the most out of the disc and their system. It was a win-win format!

The music industry is full of missed opportunities and putting low dynamic range masters onto an audiophile format is almost a guarantee of failure.

4CD Edition

This edition features the complete performances from each night in a linear manner. You also get the encores, on a separate disc, a making-of DVD, and a Japanese 7” promo. Also included is a hardcover book and a download code for the MP3 and HD files.

Let’s just say it is a pretty impressive CD collection that gives you everything, except the original 1972 mix and the 2013 Kevin Shirley remix; although from what I understand each performance, in this collection, is from the Kevin Shirley 2013 remix/mastering sessions.

All of a sudden things got awfully complicated for this completist collector!

It is clear that each edition has been purposely designed to have something that is not available on another edition. Therefore, those wanting to purchase the complete recordings of this iconic performance will need to dig deep and hide the expenditure from their significant other.

That said, let’s take a look and see how the analogue formats fit into this equation.

Double Vinyl

According to the production notes, this edition was cut at Abbey Road Studios from the original 1972 stereo analogue master. It is, however, the 2013 remastering and hence the dynamic range would be on par with the digital releases.

That said, the track listing mimics that of the original 1972 mix, so purists looking for a new copy of the original compiled performance will be pleased with this version. However, this edition includes no encore performances and therefore it is the analogue equivalent of the 2014 single CD edition.

9LP Collection

This monolithic collection should have everything, shouldn’t it? Well, not exactly!

Just like the 4CD edition, the 9LP includes all three performances in their linear 2013 mix. However, the making of DVD, original 1972 mix, Kevin Shirley 2013 mix (of the original track-listing), encore performances, and Japanese 7” promo aren’t included. From what I understand, the DVD that is included in the 4CD edition is the same as the standalone DVD that was released at the same time. It is important to note that while the DVD has the same cover art as the album releases, it is a documentary and not a live recording of the performance. A quick view at some of the feedback on Amazon, for the standalone DVD, shows that it caused significant confusion amongst fans.

If you’re interested in watching the documentary, it is available for streaming on TIDAL. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t worth owing.

The 9LP collection also includes the hardcover book and album download code with both MP3 and HD download options. That said, there have been inconsistencies reported regarding the availability of HD files in some regions, therefore you should take that into consideration prior to purchasing.

It is also important to mention this 9LP collection features a number of significant typos such as Oaska instead of Osaka and Somoke instead of Smoke. Perhaps one could forgive the misspelling of Osaka, but how could they possibly release a Deep Purple album with the misspelling of Smoke On The Water?

It doesn’t exactly generate consumer confidence, does it?

Personally, I would stay clear of this release and hope Universal have the good sense to re-issue this set with relevant corrections. Although, I wouldn’t hold my breath as Universal’s atrocious pressing of Abba’s Live At Wembley Arena (pressed and released in 2014) was never rectified. Interestingly, both this album and Deep Purple’s Made In Japan were pressed at GZ vinyl and their reputation isn’t the greatest.

Now, most normal people are probably rolling their eyes by now and truthfully I can’t blame them. The problem is, there are just too many different editions. While I have wanted to purchase one of the 2014 releases, to go with my 1998 remastered edition, the variety has been too daunting to even consider and therefore I have not made a single purchase.

For the moment, the single and double CD editions are available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, hence I feel no need to pick those up. Plus, besides the 2013 remix on the double CD, they mimic the 1998 remastered edition exactly. It is important to note that the full linear concert performances, as found on the 4CD and 9 vinyl box set are not replicated on any digital music stores or streaming services. Subsequently, if you’re interested in the full performances, you will need to purchase the physical releases. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it offers fans a value-added proposition; it is just a shame that the options are so convoluted.

…and with that, I have decided that the best approach for me would be to ignore my completist mind and simply pick up the HFPA Blu-ray release as it contains the original tracking and mix of 1972 stereo master, as well as the 2013 mix. Yes, I remember my earlier comments regarding the reduced dynamic range, but every time I look at my HFPA Blu-ray collection, this album is one that is sorely missed.

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Crowded House – 2016 Re-Issue Thoughts

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Crowded House – 2016 Re-Issue Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Alan Parsons Project – The Turn of a Friendly Card

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The Alan Parsons Project – The Turn of a Friendly Card

It is such a long time ago that my memory is blurred on the fact, but I am pretty sure that The Turn of a Friendly Card (ToaFC) was the first music I owned.

My sister had a number of Alan Parsons Project albums on vinyl and I heard them in the house when I was a teenager. The sound must have captured my fancy because I soon owned ToaFC on cassette which I would play on my Sony Walkman. It is interesting to note that such an early discovery would really stand the test of time, as The Alan Parsons Project remains my second favourite act/artist of all time, after Jean Michel Jarre. I own a copy of every readily available album, including follow-up works by Parsons after the Project was dissolved.

ToaFC is the band’s fifth album, released in 1980, and like all preceding and indeed all following Project works is a concept album. In this case the concept is the temptations of gambling. Parsons and Eric Woolfson, the partnership that underpinned the Project, both lived in Monte Carlo within walking distance of the big casinos. Personally, as someone who often just doesn’t hear lyrics, I can forget that the theme is there most of the time and I don’t think that takes away from the listening experience.

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The opening track, May Be A Price To Pay, has the typical sound of a Project work, but the track is otherwise a relatively standard “vocals and instruments” performance. The Project’s sound has an electronic timbre but typically they had a full complement of traditional instruments. The electronic sound likely came from the electronic keyboard and electric guitars, but there are also acoustic guitars and pianos, clavinets and harpsichords at times.

"May Be A Price To Pay – Live at Rock of Ages Festival 2013"This recent live version of May Be A Price To Pay shows that the more mainstream tracks are more easily replicable outside of the studio and with new band members and vocalists.

An interesting feature of Project works is that there is no “lead vocalist” in the band. May Be a Price To Pay is sung by “Elmer Gantry” (Dave Terry of Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera), one of four lead vocalists on this album alone, with at least a dozen over their entire catalogue. The key protagonists, Parsons and Woolfson, preferred to choose the right vocalist for the track. While Woolfson did sing on many of their songs (including some of their most successful), Parsons only sang lead once, on their debut album Tales of Mystery and Imagination, and even that was through a vocoder. (After dissolution of the Project and with live touring, Parsons has taken on a much greater role with vocals.)

While May Be a Price To Pay is very much a “standard” song with a distinctive Project feel to it, Games People Play is overtly more of a Project sound. Sung by frequent lead Lenny Zakatek, the song may sound almost normal in places, but slips into very electronic breaks and in fact has a consistent 4-note keyboard phrase from start to finish, clearly marking it as a work of the Project. It was released as a single and made number 16 on the Billboard Top 40, making it their 4th most successful.

Next is one of two tracks on the album sung by Woolfson. Time was his first for the Project and also features Parsons on backing vocals. It was their second most successful single, making it to number 15 on the Billboard Top 40, and it only takes a few moments of listening to understand why. A very simple, slow ballad, it is sung with soft, almost dreamy vocals and yet at times they soar to neck-hair tingling heights. It is one of my favourite Parsons tracks of all. It has been said of Woolfson (and ratified by himself) that he was not the most technically adept singer, but this track must surely be one he was proud of.

Alan Parsons Project – Time (Live 2014 Mainz). Because the band did no live performances until after Woolfson split from them in 1990, live performance videos authentic to the albums are very hard to come by. This Alan Parsons Live Project performance of Time from 2014 is a reasonable facsimile of the original.

Just when you were relaxed and chilled out by Time, along comes Lenny Zakatek again and, despite a soft start, I Don’t Wanna Go Home ramps up quickly to moderate pace with punchy vocals and equally punchy instrumentation, once again with that clear Project sound.

In the days of my cassette tape, this was the time to turn the tape over or, on more modern equipment, wait for the auto reverse to kick in.

This next track holds the honour of being the first one I absolutely fell in love with. For a time it was by far and away my favourite track, though it was not to last in that slot for long once I discovered Jarre’s works. (One day I will write about what Oxygene (Part II) does for me.)

The Gold Bug is an instrumental number that begins with Parsons whistling, rather well. He also contributes finger clicking to the percussion track. The basic makeup of this track is the unadulterated Project sound including electronic keyboards. It is lead for a time by an alto-saxophone that, like many great saxophone parts, soars to impressive heights. There are also a lot of backing vocals as instruments, to great effect. As I listen again while writing this, I can understand why this clicked with me so much in those early days. It is a stirring track.

The Gold Bug – Live at the World Liberty Concert 1995. This rendition of The Gold Bug was performed during the World Liberty Concert which commemorated 50 years since the liberation of Europe at the end of World War 2. Despite a technical difficulty that affected the saxophonist’s opening bar, this is a pretty good facsimile of the album track.

The remainder of side 2 is taken up with the five parts of the title work, The Turn of a Friendly Card, wherein we hear the chorus line “the game never ends when your whole world depends on the turn of a friendly card,” with the title phrase spun out into far more than just a sung lyric.

The Turn of a Friendly Card, Part 1 opens with a flute which then leads to the beautiful vocals of Chris Rainbow. It’s a pretty laid back track opening with piano backing and closing with acoustic guitar. It is the shortest on the album, at a mere 2:43, but sets the tone, especially with the final line, “as he enters inside the cathedral,” punctuated by a loud gong. The cathedral, I assume, being a reference to the casino.

Rainbow then brings us the most overtly themed song of the album. After an instrumental opening to the basic melody, we get the opening line. “Snake eyes. Seven, Eleven. Don’t let me down boys.” Snake Eyes fits much the same musical model as I Don’t Wanna Go Home but briefly adds some background soundscape of a casino to support its message.

The Ace of Swords adds a harpsichord to the instrumentation before taking on a strong beat with another Project-identifiable instrumental. Once again, this track does not reinforce the album theme for me excepting, of course, the title, but is nevertheless an enjoyable listen and leads nicely into the lovely, balladic Nothing Left to Lose.

In this track, Woolfson reprises the same vocal style as Time making this another beautiful track, though this time backed with additional, layered vocals. I recently purchased my third copy of ToaFC – another CD – in order to get the Digital Remaster version of the album. This version contains bonus tracks including a raw version of the over-dubbed vocals for this track by Chris Rainbow. It really is magical to listen to without the strong presence of instruments.

The sadder tone of the song neatly fits the theme and begins to close the story with “nothing left to lose” and including the final line that just leaves off one word. “‘Cause you’ve got nothing left.”

Finally, Chris Rainbow returns for The Turn of a Friendly Card, Part 2 which is very much a continuation to Part 1 but with far more emotion pumped into it and ending on a long instrumental. The level of “the game is over” I get from this track is typical of final tracks on Project albums. I’m no audio engineer, but I’m sure there’s something that goes into this work that marks it as a final track. Disappointingly, the song completes with a fade out.

I couldn’t tell you which is my favourite Project album of all, but ToaFC would surely be a contender. It holds a special place in my collection, having been one of my first. There is no track out of place, no track which I feel lets the album down, and I never tire of listening from end to end, while also enjoying the singles in their own right.

I think my favourite Project tracks are from the earlier Pyramid and the later Eye in the Sky, but neither of those albums achieve the overall coherence of ToaFC.

Allister Jenks is a freelance music reviewer and podcaster. You can listen to him on The Sitting Duck Podcast and find him on Twitter at @zkarj

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John Lennon – Imagine (HFPA Blu-Ray Review)

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John Lennon – Imagine (HFPA Blu-Ray Review)

Imagine is one of those must-own albums whereby a collection cannot be complete without it. It is, in my opinion, a representation of Lennon’s greatest work. While I acknowledge this isn’t a greatest hits release, and therefore only presents an era of his work, I’ve yet to come across another album by Lennon that offers such polish and perfect song placement. I honestly wish I could say the same about Double Fantasy, but the switching between Lennon and Ono is maddening. I personally never feel connected to that album and I believe it would have been more appropriate to have Lennon on side A, with Ono on side B. That said, I can understand the concept and artistry of the album, I just choose to listen to it differently and therefore I don’t foresee ever owning Double Fantasy on vinyl.

Imagine, however, is an album that I’m sure many people own on multiple formats and while I currently only have the High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray (HFPA) release, I would love to own the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) edition from 2000. The MFSL edition is quite rare and those who own it would certainly not be looking to get rid of it; unless I was prepared to pay a small fortune. For the moment, I will have to be content with my HFPA Blu-ray release that scores an average dynamic range of 12, compared to the MFSL edition which is a 13 out of 20. Dynamic range scores, especially this close, are nothing to be too concerned over, but I have consistently found MFSL releases to be superior when compared to the original record industry release.

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Thankfully, despite the less than stellar success and support for the HFPA format, the HFPA edition is still available. While I highly recommend it, if you prefer buying digital music, the exact same mastering (Abbey Road Studios, 2010) is available on HDtracks. The HFPA release does come with an MP3 download code for the album and while I appreciate this added extra, it is somewhat pointless. Record labels need to remember who they are targeting their products to and while an MP3 is essential, the option for additional audiophile formats would have garnered more interest amongst buyers. That said, in a modern society where TIDAL Hi-Fi’s CD-quality stream surpasses the quality of an included MP3, this inclusion and subsequent exclusion of higher resolution downloads is somewhat moot. Yes, I acknowledge TIDAL Hi-Fi is not currently offering better than CD-quality, but I have to be completely honest and say that it is good enough. It is important to mention that the edition of Imagine, on TIDAL et al, is also from the same 2010 mastering sessions. Therefore, perceivable differences in audio quality can be attributed to the unique artefacts of the varied compression formats.

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The HFPA Blu-ray release presents the album, with no video content, in LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation), DTS HD Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD formats. Subjectively, I like the additional low-end that is present with the DTS HD Master Audio format, so that is my go to option, with Linear PCM (LPCM) being the default. While there is no video content on the disc, listeners are able to enjoy the iconic photograph with Lennon at the piano. I generally choose to listen to my HFPA collection in headless mode, whereby the video aspect is completely disabled. That said, it is nice to occasionally sit back and watch the tracks highlight as the album progresses.

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The disc design sees Lennon looking up at the clouds. While many would say that digital formats are not as collectable as the vinyl equivalent, it is good to see the music industry not skimping on disc design. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the film industry with their generic blue, grey, or black Blu-ray coloured discs. Let’s just hope that the music industry maintains certain qualities and expectations. That said, I am concerned given Paul McCartney’s Flowers In The Dirt Deluxe Edition will feature a digital download, upon release in March 2017, instead of a physical disc for a considerable portion of the b-side tracks. Digital music is wonderful for convenience, but I’d even have to question if high-res digital downloads can truly replace a physical collection. Perhaps it would have been a different story if technologies, such as iTunes LP, had become more mainstream. The music industry and Apple clearly lost interest in the format and while it isn’t touted as a reason for the vinyl resurgence, it can’t be denied either.

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While I acknowledge my digression, it is for good reason as I feel too many releases are rushed to market in order to generate sales, without offering appropriate value. Thankfully, Imagine is one of the better designed HFPA’s releases.

It is encouraging to see production credits for the 2010 remastering project, but they have not included any technical information relating to the original sources used. While the majority of fans won’t care about this information, those purchasing audiophile formats certainly do.

Overall, the HFPA album is superbly crafted and I absolutely love the white bar, on the left hand side, of this re-issue series. This similar design element has been used on many of The Beatles and Paul McCartney re-issues as well. It is simple, yet classy, while not being detrimental to the original artwork. The included booklet does include photographs from the era, lyrics, and a short background story related to the album. It also still contains the much talked about parody photograph in which Lennon is holding a pig by the ears, mimicking McCartney’s RAM cover. Of course, this wasn’t the only stab Lennon had towards McCartney on Imagine, as How Do You Sleep? was inspired by the bitterness between, arguably, the world’s greatest songwriting duo. Of course, there is no need to feel sorry for McCartney as he gave as good as he got with the song Too Many People. While some may disapprove of artists airing their differences in this manner, I’m glad both musicians took this path as I feel these songs have added significantly to their catalogues.

Perhaps the only aspect that will leave fans question the validity of this release is the absence of Lennon’s quad mix, along with a 5.1 remix of the album. To my knowledge, the last time Imagine was released with the quadraphonic mix was in 1974. Other than the obscurity of the quadraphonic format, I see no reason as to why the quad mix was not included as modern technologies can handle the 4.0 surround sound protocol. Even DVD-Audio and SACD can easily reproduce quadraphonic masterings. While I don’t have any answers for you, regarding these omissions, I would much prefer to have an exceptional 2.0 mix, rather than a plethora of different mixes. That said, I’d love to hear the quadraphonic edition of the album.

Imagine is iconic and is easily one of the most recognisable songs in the world. Despite the popularity of the song, I don’t feel it has ever reached a state of dislike by listeners. Some of you may disagree, but I truly feel Imagine is timeless.

Crippled Inside is pure twang and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it works extremely well with Lennon’s style. While it isn’t amongst my favourite songs, I don’t dislike it either. I find that it is perfectly suited in the album format, but I personally wouldn’t seek it out on its own.

Jealous Guy offers a switch of pace that is closer in musicality to Imagine than Crippled Inside. I personally enjoy this song as it continues to build musically as the song progresses. There is reverb throughout that I would generally dislike, but I thoroughly enjoy it on this track.

It’s So Hard offers blues/jazz/country/pop and rock influences in a single song. I love it!

I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die is a song I find to be somewhat repetitive and is the only song on their entire album that doesn’t resonate with me. It just doesn’t develop beyond the introduction in both musicality and lyrical expression. I enjoy the groove, but I find it to be about 3 minutes too long. Truth be told, it could have been an excellent radio-length song.

Gimme Some Truth is an intriguing song that is raw, yet highly evolved. The almost spoken word lyrical delivery, with a harmonising background instrumental is exceptional. While my brain doesn’t want to match the beat of the music, I find that my mind connects with Lennon’s vocal delivery. The truth is, I really don’t know why I enjoy this song, but I do.

I absolutely adore Oh My Love.

How Do You Sleep? is Lennon’s opus to McCartney. Despite the controversy, the song is one of the best in Lennon’s catalogue, with one of the greatest guitar recordings available on any record of the era. Perhaps my only dislike is the drum beat. It sounds too perfect, as if it were played on a drum machine, or to a click track. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, but I feel the drum track is somewhat lifeless as a result. While it does amplify the performance of Lennon’s vocal and associated musical elements, I would have liked to see a livelier drum beat. That said, I couldn’t imagine listening to the song with another drumming style.

How? is simply gorgeous from the first note.

Oh Yoko! is an excellent song to finish the album on. It is fun, upbeat, and the ultimate homage to Lennon’s muse. I love Phil Spector’s harmony backing vocal as it gives the song a unique dimension. Oh Yoko! is so well suited to close Imagine that I always feel compelled to play the album again, or stay within Lennon’s catalogue.

Imagine is arguably Lennon’s greatest work. While you could point to a number of exceptional songs, such as Woman, Happy Xmas (War Is Over), and Working Class Hero, that were not part of the Imagine era, as a body of work Imagine is perfect. While I own a copy of Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon, I don’t recommend it as I have always been disappointed by the mastering of the compilation. That said, it is a wonderful collection of his best works, but I would still personally recommend starting with Imagine and then expanding to his other works if you have yet to be drawn in by the legend that is John Lennon.

From a sonic perspective, the HFPA release is my idea of perfection. However, as I mentioned earlier, the mastering of Imagine is uniform across all post-2010 releases and therefore I can attest that TIDAL Hi-Fi is equally enjoyable, as is Spotify Premium, when compared to the HFPA release. The true difference is now down to how resolving your audio playback equipment is and the compression formats used. While this consistency may not appear to be significant to the non-audiophile, it is encouraging to see the music industry, at times, adopting consistency with regards to mastering. Despite this, I have no doubt that fans of the album will compare the 2010 mastering session to various past masters, including the often touted superior quad release. While I can’t directly compare the HFPA release, to an earlier mastering of the album, I can say that I am extremely happy to have this edition in my collection.

The HFPA Blu-ray edition is still available and Imagine can also be purchased on Vinyl, CD, iTunes, in lossless 16/44 FLAC at the TIDAL Store, and in audiophile 24/96 from HDtracks.

You can also stream the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music.

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Take Us To Vegas – Alive (Spotify Premium Review)

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Take Us To Vegas – Alive (Spotify Premium Review)

I don’t know about Vegas, what about Wacken?

Yes, the Australian-based Take Us To Vegas, with only a single record to their name, is already capable of playing the Wacken Open Air festival. While I haven’t seen them live, their album Alive is a mix between rhythmic rock, hard rock, and metal, therefore making them a perfect addition to the festival line-up.

The Metal scene should be paying serious attention to Take Us To Vegas as they have a sound that is mainstream and radio friendly, while simultaneously having the core guttural determination that is a trademark of the greatest metal bands throughout the world. Think Avenged Sevenfold meets All That Remains with a little Escape The Fate and you’ll get an idea of their sound signature.

While Take Us To Vegas is building on numerous influences, they have produced an album with a unique style and it would be fair to say that I haven’t been this impressed with a debut metal band since Gloomball’s The Distance was released in 2013.

Alive is well recorded and mastered with remarkably clear vocals and a bassline that is well defined, but not bloated. This results in a non-brickwalled release that offers a very pleasing sound that is never fatiguing. While it is disappointing that the album is not available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, the Spotify Premium (320 kbit/s) stream is certainly up to the task and sounds incredible via my Oppo HA-2 DAC. However, there is a little vocal sibilance in a couple of the tracks that can become distracting, once you know what to listen for. Based on when it occurs, I would say that it is simply a case of natural sibilance in Ryan Goodall’s vocal. He certainly wouldn’t be the first vocalist to exhibit this behaviour and, to be honest, it is minor and only noticeable on the pronunciation of ‘s’ words and sounds.

While I am happy to subscribe to multiple streaming music services, many consumers aren’t and it is with that knowledge that I implore any artist to ensure their music is available on every platform possible. I can confirm that Take Us To Vegas do have an artist page on TIDAL as their 2012 single, Apparently It’s Frowned Upon, is available. However, it is not available in CD-quality and therefore no better than the 320 kbps Spotify Premium stream. In-fact, I would have to say that the Spotify Premium stream, of this particular song, is superior to the non-TIDAL Hi-Fi stream in sonic depth, bass response, and overall energy. The difference is likely the result of the varied lossy codecs used by each service. Spotify uses the arguably superior Ogg Vorbis while TIDAL uses the AAC codec for their lossy streams. That said, while I can’t compare the TIDAL Hi-Fi lossless stream, I have always found TIDAL Hi-Fi to offer a superior sound quality, for their lossless FLAC streaming, versus the Ogg Vorbis codec used by Spotify Premium.

Regardless, Alive is an incredible recording. It is mastered respectfully and all I can say is a massive thank you to STL Studios for not brickwalling the recording of this epic album. You guys ROCK!

We The Tyrants is an incredibly hard hitting song that sets the tone for the entire album. There are symphonic-styled elements throughout song that I adore and it reminds me of Metallica’s excellent S&M concert.

Following the symphonic-styled closure of We The Tyrants, your mind will be Torn Apart as the song has an incredible rhythm with a killer guitar intro that is somewhat reminiscent of Zakk Wylde’s guitar licks. From a compositional standpoint, Torn Apart is quite complex yet every element fits together perfectly.

Victims (feat. Mike Champa) has a skull thumping beat that reminds me of Slipknot’s All Hope Is Gone era. This is the song that enabled me to declare that Take Us To Vegas is ready for Wacken. I’d love to see this song performed live!

I love the intro and backing instrumental solo elements of Alive. There are some excellent elements throughout the song, but I feel it needs a little more polish and it has too much sibilance for my liking. There are sections where it sounds as though you are being whispered to while simultaneously having the lyrics sung to you. It is simply distracting as a result.

I love the sonic introduction to Holding Fear. The shift between the verse and chorus, in vocal delivery, is sonic perfection. Overall, Holding Fear is incredibly dynamic, with a massive soundstage, and a pleasure for the mind to interpret.

We The Haunted doesn’t really do anything for me. It is a little too campy for my liking. That said, it would make a perfect addition to any coming-of-age film soundtrack. While I generally love explicit tracks, certainly over their ‘clean’ counterparts, the inclusion of profanity can make or break a song. Unfortunately, the inclusion of profanity in this song simply feels out of place and forced; especially considering it is the only explicit track on the album.

Embers has a great rhythm throughout, but the real star of this song is the chorus. It may come across to some as ‘radio friendly’, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The Architect has another symphonic-styled sound that I feel works perfectly with the metal music genre. It is one of my favourite songs on the album and I love the growling vocal interludes as it keeps the song engaging from start to finish. You must also listen to that epic guitar solo towards the end of the song. Warning: you will need your air guitar!

Ventures has a seriously good rhythm and gorgeous bass guitar tracks that, while complementary, stand out in the mix. It is one of the slower songs on the album, but it is a welcome relief from the otherwise skull thumping album. In-fact, I love these almost ballad-style recordings, by metal bands, as it shows diversity and skill. However, you won’t want to get too relaxed as Ventures seamlessly transforms into the skull cracking Empty Pages.

Empty Pages is EPIC!

A World In Waiting is an enjoyable song, but I feel it positioned badly on the album. While I wouldn’t want to change the transition from Ventures to Empty Pages, I do feel it would have been much more suited to follow Ventures.

Fatebreaker is a fantastic song that will encourage you to play the album again.

There is little doubt in my mind that Take Us To Vegas will become extraordinarily successful. However, the band’s name does concern me as it isn’t as hard hitting as their music and is difficult to remember. Although, I do have confidence in their logo as one doesn’t tend to read it, but admire it. In a similar manner, the cover of Alive is a gorgeous piece of artwork. Unfortunately, the album is not available on vinyl; I would buy the vinyl just to have the artwork. Yes, dear reader, in this case you can judge an album buy its cover.

Alive is a perfect addition to any rock and roll/metal collection. While I can strongly recommend the Spotify Premium stream, get behind Take Us To Vegas and buy the CD.

Alive is also available for streaming on Apple Music and for purchase on iTunes.

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AC/DC – Ballbreaker (Vinyl Review)

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AC/DC – Ballbreaker (Vinyl Review)

AC/DC first appeared on my radar when the band released The Razors Edge in 1990. At the time, a friend of mine was a walking encyclopedia on everything AC/DC. I hadn’t yet listened to any AC/DC music, but he quickly convinced me that they were the band! It is a proud parenting moment to acknowledge that this admiration and influence has now been bestowed on my son and he tells all who will listen about the greatest rock and roll band in the world: Acca Dacca.

While it would be close to a decade before I owned a copy of The Razors Edge, I did pick up the second single, Hail Caesar, from their 1995 release Ballbreaker. The Hail Caesar CD single also featured Ballbreaker’s B-side Whiskey On The Rocks and a live performance of Whole Lotta Rosie from their European tour in 1991. Both songs were excellent additions to the single, but Whole Lotta Rosie is one of those songs that has never appealed to me. This version of Whole Lotta Rosie was labelled as a previously unreleased recording, hence not part of the 1992 Live album. Thus, collectors would be advised to grab a copy of the single to secure this recording. Despite my dislike for the song, the spectacle of the song being performed live is a sight to see as Rosie becomes the world’s largest inflatable love doll and the crowd loses their collective mind.

However, it is fair to say that the AC/DC fan base didn’t lose their collective minds when Ballbreaker was released. While nothing could topple the success of Back In Black and The Razors Edge, Ballbreaker had modest sales success and is often viewed in the same category as Flick Of The Switch and Fly On The Wall; valued and essential interim albums, but not their most adored. Subjectively, I have found that I am drawn to the less successful albums in their catalogue. While I adore The Razor’s Edge, I’ve never been blown away by Back In Black. Perhaps now is the perfect moment to acknowledge that AC/DC has a quasi-religious following and I’m sure many of you will stringently disagree with my opinions as you all have your own subjective viewpoints. However, when it comes to AC/DC, I don’t think there is a wrong approach to being a fan. Some fans thoroughly enjoy the Bon Scott era, while others prefer Johnson’s gruff, yet smooth, tone. While Axl Rose hasn’t recorded any new material with the band, it is fair to say that his inclusion was an impressive feat that silenced all but the most stringent Rose haters and AC/DC loyalists.

While I picked up the CD single of Hail Caesar, I went on to purchase the Ballbreaker album on cassette. At the time my Sony Cassette Walkman (WM-FX507) never left my sight and it was essential that I had a portable format. While I could have easily created a mixtape, I much preferred to collect the retail releases of cassette albums as the liner notes were often redesigned and unique when compared to the LP or CD equivalent. Thankfully, the Ballbreaker cassette was not a disappointment as the comic-based graphic design throughout the foldout liner notes was simply gorgeous. This is one aspect that I truly miss in the modern era. While the vinyl revival has brought album artwork back to the forefront of the music listening experience, the unique presentation of the cassette is sorely missed. Yes, some record labels were lazy and decided to place the traditional square artwork on the cassette sleeve, with a coloured background and list of key songs from the album. I recall seeing Michael Jackson’s Thriller done in this format and I simply couldn’t believe that an album of that stature would be so overlooked. I will be forever thankful that AC/DC, and the production team behind Ballbreaker, ensured that the artwork maintained its relevance, regardless of format, as it allowed me to connect with the music in a tactile manner. Now, if we can only get liner notes on all streaming services and digital stores I would be happy. Yes, I am aware that the Mastered For iTunes edition of Ballbreaker contains iTunes LP, but iTunes LP is still restricted to playback on a Mac or PC. It certainly doesn’t build confidence regarding the long-term validity of the iTunes LP format, especially when iTunes Extras (a similar feature for films) is available on all iOS devices and the Apple TV. Imagine for a moment if iTunes LP was included for all albums on Apple Music. Add the monstrous 12.9 inch iPad Pro and you would finally have a viable alternative to a physical music library. Yeah, I can see that happening as quickly as Apple flipping the switch to compete in the Hi-Fi space against TIDAL. Seriously, what value is Jimmy Iovine adding to Apple Music?

On the 2014 vinyl re-issue of Ballbreaker, certain elements of the cassette liner notes are reproduced, but much of the artwork that I would stare at for hours on end, is missing, despite the larger format. Why did I ever sell that cassette? I must have been mentally imbalanced at the time. Regardless, I do enjoy the reissued fan notes that were included with a series of live photographs and graphic illustrations from the original release. Subjectively, I also think the Ballbreaker cover is one of the best in the band’s history. Although, Stiff Upper Lip would likely be my favourite. While the rear cover is bland, it serves a purpose and does not including anything that doesn’t need to be there. Personally, I appreciate the song listing as many albums don’t list the tracking so clearly. Yes, I know it is all about design and artist interpretation, but I also want to know what song I’m listening to. Without it, it is akin to a book or film without a synopsis.

While I have never owned the original vinyl releases of AC/DC’s catalogue, the remastered reissues, mastered at Sterling Sound by George Marino and Ryan Smith are a true gift to AC/DC fans as they sound exactly as one believes they should. While the average dynamic range score is only 10 out of 20, it doesn’t affect the soundstage of this release. The pressing is silent and is one of the better rock and roll re-issues with deep bass lines, clear vocals, and a guitar track so pure that you would swear Angus and Malcolm were in the room with you.  

Side One

Hard As A Rock is, without a doubt, one of the best tracks to start any rock and roll album on. It sets the tone immediately with AC/DC’s renowned sound signature and innuendo filled lyrics. The rhythmic blues-infused rock and roll sound is addictive and while many naysayers will complain that AC/DC plagiarises their own work, at least you know what you’re going to get. Perhaps that is a key reason why there was so much opposition to Axl Rose joining the line-up as no one likes change.

I love the slowness of Cover You In Oil and I feel it is the precursor to Still Upper Lip; one of their best albums in my opinion.  

The Furor has a killer guitar intro that builds into an epic song. However, I feel Brian’s lyrical delivery is strained and his magic is subsequently missing on this song. It could also be the mix, but it just doesn’t sound right to me.

I absolutely adore the groovy feeling that Boogie Man presents.  

The Honey Roll offers the perfect mix of rock and roll and blues. Every element, from the rhythm section to the lead guitar and vocals is textbook perfect. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Burnin’ Alive simply doesn’t resonate with me in its current position on the album. While I won’t stop the record prematurely, I do feel that I have momentarily lost my groove and connection with the band. I recall that even when I had the cassette, I was always keen for this song to end so that I could flip the tape and listen to Hail Caesar.

Side Two

Hail Caesar is the reason I am a fan of AC/DC. It subsequently holds a very special place in my soul. It is also one of their hardest hitting songs on the album and one that could make a stadium audience sing in unison. Angus’s guitar solo is off the charts and Brian’s vocals are also perfect insofar as I can understand the words he’s singing, outside of the chorus. While he doesn’t slur his words, I have found that his vocal clarity can get lost in the music and his natural growl.

Love Bomb reminds me of the 80s hair metal scene. The song is great, but the association is a little disconcerting.

Caught With Your Pants Down is classic AC/DC.  

Whiskey On The Rocks is a favourite of mine, most likely due to the excessive number of times it was played on the Hail Caesar single. Isn’t it amazing how songs can grow on you if you listen to them enough? That said, listening to a song too often can make you hate a perfectly good song as well. Think Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme From “Titanic”) and Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing. In retrospect, perhaps that is why I have formed a dislike towards Whole Lotta Rosie, yet in a cruel dichotomy I can listen to Thunderstruck nonstop.  

Ballbreaker closes the album out with a song that had ‘stadium concert’ written all over it. As all closing tracks should, it encourages me to listen to the album again, or at least stay within the AC/DC catalogue. This is one song that you will want to turn up to 11.

While Rick Rubin can likely be attributed to the raw sound found throughout Ballbreaker, it is fantastic to have an AC/DC album that truly highlights the building blocks of rock and roll music; the blues. While AC/DC explored this sound further, without Rubin, on the Stiff Upper Lip album, it is a style that I subjectively appreciate and one that highlights the musicality and influences of one of the greatest rock and roll bands the world has ever seen.

My only disappointment with Ballbreaker is the song Big Gun (also Rubin produced) wasn’t included on the album. It is one of my all-time favourite AC/DC songs, and while I acknowledge that it was written and recorded for the Last Action Hero soundtrack, it would have made a perfect addition to Ballbreaker. Big Gun is another stadium-inspired song that deserves to be turned up to 11.

While Ballbreaker may not be the first album fans go to when they think of AC/DC, it is an exceptional addition to their catalogue.

Ballbreaker is currently available for purchase on Vinyl, CD, iTunes, and in FLAC from the TIDAL Store.

The album is also available for streaming on TIDAL Hi-FiApple Music, and Spotify.

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The Very Best Of The Eagles (CD Review)

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The Very Best Of The Eagles (CD Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Rolling Stones – Aftermath (UK Version/Remastered) [TIDAL Hi-Fi Review]

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The Rolling Stones – Aftermath (UK Version/Remastered) [TIDAL Hi-Fi Review]

It would be accurate to say that I once disliked The Rolling Stones. I had at one stage thought that Mick Jagger couldn’t carry a tune and that his hip-gyrating during (I Can’t Go No) Satisfaction was crass. Oh, those were dark days and only goes to prove that one should never judge a book by its cover, or in this case a music video or live performance. It would have been sometime in the 90s when I saw the offending performance and sadly that subjective opinion lingered until the release of Grrr…, on the Blu-ray High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) format, in 2012.

Speaking of the Blu-ray Pure Audio format, it is fair to say that many non-audiophiles have a tendency to criticise the types of music audiophiles choose to listen to. They often believe that we only listen the purest of recordings, whether we like the music or not. Well, I can’t deny that when the Blu-ray Pure Audio format emerged, I became smitten and ended up expanding my library of music extensively. I remember picking up the Genesis album Selling England By The Pound because it was on the format. I didn’t have much experience with the Genesis catalogue and I disliked it immediately as it was different to the much of the music I normally listened to. However, after listening to it a few times I came to not only respect it as a piece of art but as valued addition to my collection.

Yes, I do acknowledge my own fickle behaviour. However, if I were not this way inclined, my music interests would be extremely limited and this blog would be rather monotonous. You see, throughout my teenage years, I listened to roughly the same artists and albums. While radio was there, for making a mixtape, I never really used it for exploration.

During this naive time, Guns N’ Roses were always better than Nirvana, and the Metallica self-titled 'Black' album was always superior to their earlier thrash metal recordings. However, Guns N’ Roses were only subjectively better because I had all their albums; I did not own any Nirvana albums at the time. Similarly, I owned Metallica’s self-titled 'Black' album, but not Master Of Puppets. What occurs to me is that our music appreciation is often limited to immediate family and social influences, along with the music we own. 

I’m sure that at least one of you reading this review is wondering why this was a limitation, given the flexibility of music streaming services. You must remember that in the 90s, music streaming was nowhere to be seen so the only exposure you had to music was those individuals around you, what you heard on the radio or saw on television, and the music you owned. It was rather limiting and while I was initially opposed to music streaming services, I must say that the integration of TIDAL Hi-Fi, into the audiophile world, has cemented my appreciation for the all you can eat buffet. Without a doubt, I now listen to more music than ever before. While I do still have preferred artists, albums, and songs for various occasions, I find it liberating to be fickle about music I once judged so harshly and perhaps inaccurately.

If it were not for the Blu-ray Pure Audio format, the vinyl revival, and TIDAL High Fidelity Music Streaming, my music interests would have remained closely linked to those when I was a child and adolescent.

As a child, Abba and The Beatles were introduced to me before I understood what music was, as was Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl. Similarly, my first cassettes were Icehouse’s Man Of Colours and Michael Jackson’s Bad. These albums were not chosen by me; they were gifted to me for my seventh birthday. I’ve always wondered how my life and love of music would have been different if I was given a David Bowie album instead. I mention Bowie as I recall a friend, at school, was obsessed with Bowie; most likely because his parents were fans. These influences aren’t negative though, as they subjectively make us who we are as individuals. That said, I’m extremely pleased that my children listen to more than just Abba and The Beatles. While all the artists listed are exceptional, and should be included in any music collection, I don’t want my children’s experience and knowledge of music to be limited to the subjective sounds that gave me my identity. I want them to explore and to understand that there is more music in the world than any individual can ever experience. Music is truly a great wonder of humanity and I’d like to thank each and every musician ever, regardless of proficiency or popularity, for giving us a form of art that speaks all languages. You guys rock! 

Anyway, getting back to the audiophile humour, it is true that on occasions we will listen to a recording because it is on an audiophile format, or because it is a ‘must listen to’ album. For the most part, music streaming has eliminated this argument. Perhaps not entirely though as one would argue that TIDAL et al don’t often accommodate for different masters of the same album. Regardless of how you come to appreciate music, exploration is without a doubt a key to happiness for music lovers; for I am elated to have the majority of the world’s music, in CD-quality, at the touch of a button.

I also don’t like being limited by a set of genres. I’ve known people that are only into metal, classical, or jazz. Frankly, I love all genres and I feel sad for those individuals who doesn’t explore music beyond their comfort zone. There truly is a world of amazing music to experience. You won’t like everything, but you may surprise yourself.

Well, will you look at that, I’m digressing again. By now, long-time readers would understand that it simply wouldn’t be a Subjective Sounds review if I didn’t go off on some tangent to try and explain why it is that I now adore The Rolling Stones.

Yes, dear reader, The Rolling Stones are now essential to my music collection. So much so that I even have a set of Rolling Stones imitation-vinyl drink coasters.

I also have many of their albums on vinyl and of course the infamous Grrr… album with over three hours of music, on a single Blu-ray (HFPA) disc. At the time of purchase, I reasoned that if I didn’t like it I could simply sell it and allow someone else to have the pleasure of listening to the compilation. Well, that didn’t happen. The song selection is superb and as I continued to listen, I got a sense of the band maturing and becoming something special. I’d love to say that you could simply stream the Grrr… album, but it is no longer appearing on any of the popular digital platforms. While that will obviously deter some people, I encourage everyone to listen to the Grrr… album, even if the only option, at the time of writing, is to purchase the physical product. It showcases the evolution of the band through five decades and it also allowed me to come to peace with (I Can’t Go No) Satisfaction. While the preconceived images remained in my mind for the first couple of listens, it began to dissolve like a bad dream.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that even if you think that you dislike an artist, album, or style of music, perhaps it is worth re-visiting it on different terms.

Now that I have that out of the way, let’s get back to discussing what we are here for, the review of The Rolling Stones Aftermath (UK Version/Remastered) album.

It is important to note Aftermath is also available in a US edition and it is included in the mammoth 10-hour (186 song) In Mono collection. I will likely undertake a review of the US Edition in the future, as it has a varied tracking to the UK edition, but I’m not sure when I will find the time to listen to In Mono. That said, a comparison review between the stereo and mono versions could be interesting, especially as I am impartial when it comes to the discussion of stereo vs mono.

Released in 1966, Aftermath was the fourth album by The Rolling Stones and features one of my favourite songs by the band, Under My Thumb. However, it is Mother’s Little Helper that I feel steals the show as the theme behind the song was not only relevant in the 60s, but remains so in modern society. I love the sitar-ish styled elements that Keith Richards has stated was created by using a 12-string electric guitar with a slide. The experimentation Richards has done over the years is nothing short of extraordinary and I was blown away when I saw some of the recording techniques he was attempting the Netflix Documentary Keith Richards: Under The Influence.

Stupid Girl is an excellent song that, in my opinion, perfectly highlights the 60s era from a musical perspective. It is simple, yet evolved in its composition. I also find the tune to be highly addictive.

Lady Jane (Mono Version) is a simply gorgeous song. Jagger can certainly perform a ballad and while it isn’t necessarily a song that immediately identifies The Rolling Stones, I would love to see Jagger do a solo album of nothing but ballads.

Under My Thumb is a song that defines psychedelic pop. The musical solo is uniquely placed and is thoroughly enjoyable as it keeps the beat going.

Doncha Bother Me is very rough around the edges and sounds more like a demo than a completed recording. Yes, I know the album was recorded in the 60s, but it is reminiscent of their earlier works and lower production standards. That said, the sound reminds me of the intent that Keith Richards was going after with his 2015 album Crosseyed Heart. It is almost the anti-quality approach where music is expressed as a form of art, instead of aiming for perfection.  

Goin’ Home (Going Home on the In Mono collection) is an epically long song for an era when songs were not expected to exceed the approximate 3-minute length for radio playback. While the song is arguably repetitive, it continues to evolve as the song progresses and while it could have been an excellent 3-minute track, the 11-minute epic is reminiscent of a live jam session. There are some cases where excessively long tracks are superfluous, and only relate to the ego of the artist, but this isn’t one of them as every note played in this song is worthy of being included on the album.

Flight 505 is a song that I simply don’t like. Even the smoothness of Oppo’s HA-2 (ESS Sabre32 Reference ES9018K2M) DAC can’t help the harshness that is in this song. It is very fatiguing and the edition that is present on TIDAL Hi-Fi is from the 2002 remaster. The strange thing is, this is the only song on the album that exhibits such fatigue. It would be interesting to see if the SACD, undertaken during the same mastering sessions, exhibits this same effect. That said, the edition featured on the In Mono collection is significantly smoother and is much preferred.

High And Dry is boxed in from a sonic perspective. While there is left and right stereo separation, the soundstage is very narrow. That said, I do enjoy the song and if I wasn’t looking at it from the perspective of undertaking a review, I would likely dismiss the shallow sound stage and simply enjoy the music.

Out Of Time has one of the coolest song entries that I have ever heard. It is important to note that this version is only on the UK release as the song did not appear on the US release of Aftermath. While this is the original mix of the song, an alternative mix was also released on the Flowers album in 1967. Subjectively, I enjoy both renditions of the song and I find that I can listen to them interchangeably. Of course, there is also the excellent strings version of the song that appears on the compilation album Metamorphosis. However, as much as I enjoy the strings version, I don’t feel it is as solid as the earlier mixes, but I do appreciate the experimentation in style. The bottom line is that I can listen to this song for hours, regardless of the mix, it is that good (addictive).

It’s Not Easy is an enjoyable blues rock and roll song with a little distortion in the bass track, but it works for the song and isn’t disruptive.

I Am Waiting is a strange song from my perspective as I’m not sure which beat I’m supposed to be connecting with. Is it the guitar strum, the maracas in the background, or the vocal track? It gets even more complicated when the drum track kicks in. I feel all these elements are fighting to be heard. That said, there is something enjoyable about the song. Perhaps this is simply one of those songs that will forever be an enigma in my mind.

Take It Or Leave It has a slow melody that I enjoy, I just wish the song was recorded and mastered with a little more precision. I find many elements, such as the organ/keyboard track in the soundstage, are simply too distant and you must listen intently to hear them. While I like the stereo mix of Take It Or Leave It, I much prefer the monophonic mix as all elements, while still somewhat distant, are evenly placed in the soundstage. It is fair to say that this is more of a concern when listening on headphones, as loudspeakers are often more forgiving when it comes to the psychoacoustic effect found in mono to stereo conversions.

Think is a fantastic song. The rhythm is incredibly engaging.

What To Do (Mono Version) isn’t a bad song, it encourages me to listen to the album again, but it is definitely a B-side.

At the beginning of this review, I publically acknowledged my once flawed beliefs regarding The Rolling Stones. Yes, I acknowledge my fickleness, but as I continue to explore music, I find that I am increasingly captivated by that which I have previously rejected. It is an interesting juxtaposition, but one I gladly accept. While I haven’t tallied the number of times I have listened to Aftermath, during the review process, it has quickly become not only my favourite Rolling Stones album but one of my favourite albums that captures the zeitgeist of the British rock and roll music scene of the 1960s.

Aftermath (UK Version/Remastered) is currently available for purchase on Vinyl, CD, iTunes, and in FLAC from the TIDAL Store.

The album is also available for streaming on Apple Music and Spotify.

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Barry Gibb – In The Now (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

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Barry Gibb – In The Now (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

While many individuals who reach their seventh decade on this planet are tending their gardens, musicians such as Barry Gibb are proving that age is not a limiting factor in the creation of their art. While some commentators may be critical of musicians continuing past their prime, I welcome it with open arms. Yes, there are some exceptions and there will always be a selection of artists who should have stayed in retirement, but Barry Gibb is not amongst them.

In The Now is the second solo album by Barry Gibb. I had honestly thought he had released more albums, under his own name, but his last album and therefore his solo debut was released in 1984. That album was Now Voyager.

I can’t help but wonder if my confusion, relating to his solo releases, was due to the incredible Bee Gees compilation Mythology that highlights each Gibb brother in what is perceived to be their best and most notable works. With 81 songs, and a playing time exceeding 5 hours, it is one of the most representative compilations ever released.

Be that as it may, I had no idea that Gibb was writing and recording again. While record stores are still becoming a relic of the past, despite the vinyl revival, it was actually during a visit to my local store that I noticed the new CD was charting. Unfortunately, it wasn’t listed in TIDAL’s new release area, hence my surprise. While I may have an unhealthy addiction to TIDAL Hi-Fi, I’m disappointed by this omission. Yes, I know their browse areas are often skewed to specific genres and artists, that generally represent the interests of TIDAL’s celebrity owners, but for it to not be there is just bad form from TIDAL. TIDAL does, however, have the album listed in the new pop albums area. Still, I’d expect this album to be presented in the main new release area. Interestingly, I couldn’t find it listed in the new releases area of Apple Music either. In fairness to iTunes and Apple Music, both have always been tightly curated and the new release area tends to focus on only the last fortnight of releases; unless a marketing agreement has been reached as we’ve seen in the past with The Beatles and Taylor Swift for instance. Apple’s approach isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the plethora of releases, especially at this time of year, can be overwhelming. However, if you miss checking out the new releases for any given week, you will of course miss a number of exceptional albums that you could add to your collection. Thankfully, Spotify does have In The Now listed in their new release area. Thank you Spotify!  

So what does all of this mean and what is the moral of my story of discovery?

I’d say it means that the traditional bricks and mortar music store isn’t necessarily a bad place to peruse if you’re looking for new music, or music you’ve missed or overlooked. You never know what you will find and crate digging is truly at the heart of every music lover; even if you have only experienced music through iTunes or streaming services.

Speaking of crate digging, I didn’t see the vinyl edition in store despite a pressing being available. Interestingly, the vinyl release of In The Now is being advertised in Australia as a Limited Edition. However, I have been unable to find any additional information relating to why this release is limited, for it appears to be a carbon copy of the standard edition CD and the version available on all streaming services.

With that in mind, I’m beginning to feel that too many vinyl releases are wrongly being classed under the Limited Edition moniker. Seriously, all vinyl releases are limited in some way as labels and pressing plants only print a limited number of copies at a time. However, since the vinyl revival has been in full swing, yearly re-issued pressings are being released to cope with demand. Sure, some completists will want to own a copy of each pressing, however I’m not one of them as I simply want to own the highest quality pressing.

The question has to be asked: How limited is limited?

The Editor of SuperDeluxeEdition, Paul Sinclair, had the following to say in his newsletter dated 17 April 2016:

"RSD is about artificially created rarities"

Let's not kid ourselves, since time immemorial, 'special' items created in limited numbers have been about selling more product and generating more income for record labels.

While Record Store Day (RSD) was the key focus of Paul’s thoughts, I feel that his opinion can be applied to all releases throughout the year. I don’t know about you but I know it is implausible for me to purchase all the releases that I’m interested in. Plus, I have picked up my fair share of Limited Edition releases, to only later have buyer’s remorse. It doesn’t happen often, but often enough that I have to remind myself that I am in control of how I spend my money.

In one way, this Limited Edition fiasco is another reason why I’m turning more and more to TIDAL Hi-Fi as my consumption platform of choice. Yes, you could argue that the streaming services are also being naughty by permitting exclusives on various platforms, but I could arguably subscribe to TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, and Spotify Premium and not spend the same per month as I would on the Limited Edition vinyl release of In The Now.

Let me give you an example: The Deluxe Edition CD of In The Now retails in Australia for AUD$19.99. The Limited Edition Vinyl release retails for AUD$64.99 at the same retailer. Now, I’m the first to admit that my mathematical talents are not the best, but if we add Tidal Hi-Fi (AUD$23.99), Apple Music (AUD$11.99), and Spotify Premium (AUD$11.99) we should be at AUD$47.97 for monthly subscriptions that include access to the majority of music available to the human race. Honestly, when I look at that, versus the price for one single record, I can understand why I’m not buying as many records as I was this time last year. Plus, the variation between the cost of the Deluxe Edition CD and the vinyl record is nothing short of ludicrous, especially when you consider that the Deluxe Edition includes three extra tracks, Grey Ghost, Daddy’s Little Girl, and Soldier’s Son, that aren’t available on the vinyl release or any of the online digital delivery systems.

The Deluxe Edition CD is readily available and at least it offers you something that you can’t get anywhere else. Ultimately, that should also be the aim of vinyl releases. Yes, the artwork is glorious by comparison and the sound quality is mostly superior, but unless there is something compelling, that makes the release unique, I wouldn’t class it as being limited. I also think that I can speak for everyone when I say that music lovers don’t want or need more limited edition coloured or splatter vinyl; especially when it doesn’t match the stylistic artwork of the album.

This has got me thinking about my Limited Edition release of Rob Zombie’s The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser. I purchased it via Pledge Music as Zombie was signing limited quantities of the new album. I subsequently received the signed-lenticular vinyl edition and while it isn’t my favourite Zombie album, as a long-time fan I simply had to have it. My only regret is that I didn’t order the CD at the same time, but that is a discussion for another time. While one could argue that this release was also artificially limited, I feel Zombie’s involvement in the promotion provided a value added proposition that was worthy of the increased price and Limited Edition status.

Now that we are all suitably distracted, it is about time I got back to the review in question.

While the Bee Gees were one of the most successful family units in the music industry, it pleases me to see that the Gibb family remain instrumental in providing the world with a plethora of music harmonies. In The Now was written with Barry and his sons Stephen and Ashley. Such family unity reminds me of AC/DC bringing in Stevie Young, nephew of Malcolm and Angus, when Malcolm had to retire. While it is sad that AC/DC will never again feature the founders together, and the Bee Gees will never be able to record a new album, In The Now brings hope that the legacy will live on. While In The Now is uniquely independent, I also find it eerily reminiscent of the Bee Gees. 

In The Now immediately shows that Gibb still has, arguably, the most identifiable vocal in the world. The composition is pop driven and predicable, but in a good way as it allows Gibb to be at the forefront of the music. It is a stellar song to commence the album on and proves that age does not limit the soul. I love it!

Grand Illusion is a little more edgy and has a rock beat that is addictive as it builds from the verse to the chorus. This song reminds me of a Bee Gees style composition with interweaving backing vocals. I absolutely love the beat and guitar riff in this song and while it may remind me of the Bee Gees, it is fresh and compelling. This song is an example of why I love music.

Star Crossed Lovers slows the album down a little with a ballad-styled tune that is a lovely easy-listening song. Although, I’m not convinced that this song was a good selection for Gibb as I much prefer his faster tempo songs. Of course, my subjective point of view doesn’t change that fact that it is a lovely song and many people will thoroughly enjoy it.

Blowin’ A Fuse picks up the pace with an erratic intro that continues throughout the entire song. Despite the unpredictable tempo, it will get you toe tapping and head bopping. Personally, I would have preferred to have had this song positioned before Star Crossed Lovers. Blowin’ A Fuse is more similar paced to Grand Illusion and given Side 1 of the vinyl release contains only three tracks, I feel this would have been more appropriate in that third track position. Additionally, the electric guitar solo, about two thirds of the way through the song, is excellent and a welcome surprise as the song pretends to end prematurely. I like music, like this, that makes you sit up and listen.   

Home Truth Song is a modern country-pop styled song that works extremely well with Gibb’s vocal style. It will remind you a little of Bruce Springsteen, although, I can’t imagine anyone else singing this song.

Meaning Of The Word is beautifully mellow. Gibb’s vocals are so delicate in this song. I love the tailing off of notes as his vocal almost breaks up, but remains on key. It is simply amazing to hear such a delicate vocal delivery that is performed as masterfully as any recorded with the Bee Gees. As music fans, we are truly fortunate to have songs and artists that can paint emotions with sound.

Cross To Bear is a lovely composition. I love the acoustic guitar elements, the choral delivery, and the overall twang of the song.

Shadows has a tonality that reminds me fondly of the tone used throughout much of Julian Lennon’s Photograph Smile album. This song has some beautiful instrumental elements and while releasing tracks in their instrumental form is largely superfluous, in the modern era of the digitally streamed single, I would love to hear just the instrumental version as the eclectic Spanish-influenced tone is simply gorgeous.

Amy In Colour is a song that I adore. The verse is so reserved in comparison to the increased beat and tempo that builds with the chorus. It is an interesting dichotomy and one that works exceptionally well.  

The Long Goodbye really highlights Gibb’s unique vocal style. When I hear him sing like this, yet listen to an interview he has done, I am continually amazed at how he can maintain such a varied singing voice to his own spoken voice.

Diamonds is such a dynamic song. The soundstage is so three dimension that closing your eyes will put you in the studio as the song is being recorded. The recording and mastering is absolutely perfect to my ears. In-fact, the entire mastering of the album is nothing short of perfection. Interestingly, HDTracks has the album in Audiophile 44.1kHz/24bit. I mention this because of the ongoing argument relating to the importance of high-fidelity music. I’m not sure if In The Now was recorded and mastered at 44.1kHz/24bit, but generally HDTracks gets the highest bit-rate version available. That said, it is important to acknowledge that higher bit-rates mean nothing if the mastering is not done well. As I listen to TIDAL Hi-Fi’s FLAC stream, running at 44.1kHz/16bit, I can honestly say that there is nothing that would make me long for the 24bit edition. My Oppo HA-2, with the ESS Sabre32 Reference ES9018K2M DAC, reproduces TIDAL’s edition so well that there is no need to look for more. Similarly, my Oppo BDP-103 with the Cirrus Logic CS4382A DAC, reproduces the album immaculately. I truly wish all modern albums could be mastered this well. That said, I have been surprised by some of the more recent releases and I pray that we are seeing the back end of the loudness wars.

End Of The Rainbow is a perfect song to conclude the album on. It encourages me to play the album on repeat, and I have certainly done that many times, but more importantly if this is the last song Gibb ever performs, then it is a fitting end to a glorious career that has impacted so many people. That said, I truly hope Gibb records a follow-up to In The Now as he is still an amazing performer. With his sons now by his side, I can only imagine the glorious wonders that are still to come from one of the most talented families in the music industry.

As long time readers would know, lyrics and subsequent song meanings are often lost on me. I review from the standpoint of an emotional perspective regarding how the music makes me feel and the memories it raises in my mind. Thankfully, Gibb has recorded a short video in which he discusses the song meanings much more concisely than any reviewer could hope to achieve.

While I have embedded the official VEVO YouTube video, for compatibility reasons, please remember that if you have a TIDAL subscription, you can also play this video via the following link: tidal.com/video/65653213.

You may recall earlier that I indicated the Deluxe Edition CD would be the best value for money when purchasing In The Now. However, End Of The Rainbow is such a fitting end, that I don’t know if I want to hear the additional tracks. I know that sounds fickle, but there have been many times when I have listened to Deluxe Editions, only to be disappointed because it changed my own subjective relationship with the album. That said, In The Now is truly worthy of owning on vinyl, but the CD is still the best dollar for dollar value. However, for the immediate future, I will be content with the standard edition that is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

Regardless of how you intend to listen to this album, you will be blown away by not only the production, but the musicality. It is reminiscent of the Bee Gees, and fans of the band will love it, but it is also uniquely a Barry Gibb album and should be listened to with reflection, but not comparison. 

In The Now is currently available for purchase on Vinyl, CD, iTunes, and in FLAC from the TIDAL Store.

The album is also available for streaming on Apple Music and Spotify.

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