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Nirvana - "Bleach" (Deluxe Edition Vinyl Review)

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Nirvana - "Bleach" (Deluxe Edition Vinyl Review)

In June, I reviewed the Deluxe Edition of “Bleach” and indicated that while I appreciated the TIDAL Masters/MQA version, I was still interested in owning the vinyl pressing. Well, the wait is over, thanks to Matau Records, as the vinyl has arrived at Subjective Sounds HQ and it is time to put it on the platter and share my thoughts. Please note, as I have already reviewed the album, this review will only consist of my opinions regarding the vinyl release, not the music and album as a piece of work. 

Housed in a thick cardboard gatefold, reminiscent of the numerous Original Recordings Group (ORG) pressings I have in my collection, the overall packaging and artwork are beyond reproach. This is certainly not your standard CD upscaled vinyl release that is becoming more and more prevalent. However, this shouldn’t be confused with the Nirvana ORG pressings as this release was pressed at RTI (another world-renowned pressing plant). The album was remastered by the late George Marino at Sterling Sound in 2009, from the original master tapes, and Jack Endino, the album’s producer, oversaw the project. 

The records themselves are pressed on 180gram vinyl and are free of blemishes and warping. From a merely observational standpoint, they are perfect! 

An MP3 download code is also included for the album. Interestingly, when I redeemed the code, I not only received the MP3 edition, but I was also able to download the CD-quality 16/44.1 kHz ALAC and FLAC files, along with a 40-page digital booklet in the universal PDF format. I’m so impressed by this inclusion, thank you S>U>B P<O<P

The included 16-page printed booklet offers some exceptional photographs from the era that are enjoyable to peruse while toe-tapping to the beat (this aging rocker is starting to get headaches with excessive headbanging these days). While the booklet also includes production details, it is a shame that a short essay, perhaps penned by Nirvana co-founder Chris Novoselic, was not included. That said, they did include the original recording contract with S>U>B P<O<P; that’s just cool! 

Upon dropping the needle, the first thing I noticed was a reduction in the reverberation that could be heard in Novoselic's bass lines; especially on the song Blew. When listening to the TIDAL Masters/MQA 24/96 kHz edition, this aspect is rather prominent and you can visualise Noveselic’s strumming style. While it is still present on the vinyl edition, it is just a little more concealed. Of course, there could be various reasons why this could be the case. While I consider my Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, with the Ortofon OM20 needle, to be a good example of audiophile quality and an affordable price point, I also must acknowledge that my analogue setup may simply not be as revealing as the TIDAL Masters/MQA format allows by comparison. 

That said, I’m conflicted as my Dire Straits Brothers In Arms Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) vinyl edition is superior to any other recording in my collection; nothing compares. All the high-res albums in the world can’t outperform that vinyl record, in my system, from a sonic standpoint. I even have the 20th Anniversary SACD version that contains the HDCD, Stereo DSD, and 5.1 DSD Surround Sound mix. Trust me, the difference is immense and I feel my Oppo BDP-103 is on par with my turntable with regards to matching quality. Interestingly, MFSL did release a SACD alongside the vinyl pressing of Brothers In Arms. As it is from the same mastering session, I should probably get myself a copy so that I can accurately compare the capabilities of my analogue and digital setups. Obviously, differences would remain, but as I much prefer the MFSL mastering, that aspect alone is of greater importance than the differences between analogue and digital. 

I also find that when comparing the two “Bleach” editions, the TIDAL Masters/MQA edition has more emphasis in the mid and low end. Whereas, there is definitely more treble to be heard in the vinyl edition. That increased treble isn’t bad and doesn’t take away from the album at all, especially considering the expanded dynamic range it offers, but it does make me wonder what MQA trickery is going on as TIDAL indicates the Masters/MQA edition is also from the 2009 remastering sessions. However, one of the key points of contention is that TIDAL also lists the date of release as being 2013. 

Through the use of deduction, thanks in part to the Dynamic Range Database, the HDTracks.com 2013 24/96 kHz edition has an average dynamic range of 7 out of 20, whereas the vinyl edition averages a 13 out of 20. Sure, dynamic range isn’t everything, but if the TIDAL Masters/MQA edition is the same as the HDTracks release, then that explains the boost in the mid and low end, along with the increased treble region on the vinyl pressing. Unfortunately, like all streaming services, the production notes are not of paramount importance and therefore while I’ve no doubt the TIDAL Masters/MQA edition is sourced from a master (the little blue light confirms it), is it the master undertaken in 2009 by George Marino, or a later and louder (compressed) master? 

So, I guess the real question is which version do I like best. 

I do enjoy a boost to the mids and low end, but not to the detriment of dynamic range and overall soundstage presentation. While I praised the sonic presentation of the TIDAL Master/MQA release in July, and stand by that assessment, after listening extensively to the vinyl release, I find myself captivated by the greater dynamic range of the vinyl pressing. I guess what I am trying to say is that while MQA touts authentication of the studio master, we don’t exactly know which mastering the studio or artist is going to use. Subsequently, the search for the best mastering will continue and while MQA is a great asset for streaming music, there needs to be more than a little blue light to confirm the end user is receiving the very best, studio master, copy of the album. 

The Deluxe Edition of "Bleach" is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered For iTunes). If you prefer streaming, it is also available on TIDAL Hi-FiSpotify and Apple Music.

The catalogue number for the vinyl edition used in this review is: SP 834.

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Nirvana - MTV Unplugged In New York (Album Review)

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Nirvana - MTV Unplugged In New York (Album Review)

Experimenting with sound is arguably a key motive for most musicians, but who would have ever thought Nirvana would sound superior when unplugged?

I'm serious, and I know many fans will be offended but, Nirvana was far better suited to soft/folk rock than they ever were alternative rock. I'm not trying to suggest they weren't an exceptional rock band as I truly love all their recordings, but there is something magical about their MTV Unplugged In New York performance. Perhaps this realisation came about as I was writing a review of In Utero and a headache began to form. I needed something that was a little less skull crashing. As much as I love headbanging, the poor ageing peanut, up top, rattles around a little more than it used to. Hence, an unplugged performance, ballad, or concert with a Symphony Orchestra (think Metallica’s S&M) is the perfect compromise. That said, there is no compromise here as Nirvana's musicality is off-the-charts and the entire recording represents some of the most beautiful music ever recorded.

The only dislike I have for this album is the conversation pieces between songs. It isn't excessive, nor is it irrelevant, but the volume level is so low that the context isn't easily discernible when listening via speakers. This is less of a problem when using headphones, but the vocal speech is still too low and I feel it should have been edited from the album format.

About A Girl is a killer song when performed acoustically. It reminds me of The Beatles from an instrumental and vocal composition standpoint. However, more importantly, Cobain's vocal delivery leaves me speechless. What an incredible talent!

Come As You Are is a mellow wonderland and while I adore the original studio recording, this live performance takes the song to another level.

Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam was an interesting cover song to select as, by this stage, Nirvana had their own extensive catalogue of music to select from. That said, it suits the performance and is a valued addition to their repertoire. It is also significantly better than The Vaselines’ edition.

The Man Who Sold The World is glorious!

Pennyroyal Tea really showcases Cobain's control over his vocal as he takes it right to the edge. Overall, the composition is basic, but it is an exceptional live performance. The audience was, indeed, very fortunate to witness this event.

Dumb has all the groove and rhythm of the original, yet the musicality of this performance takes the song to heavenly heights. I absolutely love the inclusion of the double bass as it is perfectly played and really fits well with the overall tone of the song.

Polly is a fantastic song and is perfectly suited to the unplugged nature of the recording. Songs such as this remind me just how fortunate we are to have Nirvana's music.

On A Plain is awesome! I could say more, but I'm too busy enjoying the song.

Something In The Way is one of the most beautiful Nirvana songs ever recorded. While nothing could ever beat the original studio recording, this alternate live recording is excellent and brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.

Plateau is musical perfection! I absolutely love the instrumentation and Cobain's vocal reminds me of Neil Young. I love it!

Oh Me is the first song that doesn't grab me. There is nothing wrong with it per se, I just feel it doesn't fit with the overall performance.

Lake Of Fire is a killer song and is one of the best songs Nirvana ever recorded.

All Apologies is an excellent groove-filled song. However, I prefer the studio recording as I feel this live version lacks soul when compared to the original.

Where Did You Sleep Last Night is a fantastic song to conclude the album on. It certainly encourages me to listen again and stay within Nirvana's catalogue.

Nirvana's MTV Unplugged In New York isn't just an exceptional live album, it is the quintessential Nirvana album.

For this review, I listened to the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition of the album and found the mastering to be the definition of perfection. It is so good that I need not concern myself with tracking down a physical release of the album. That said, this is one record that would be a welcome addition to my vinyl collection.

Nirvana's MTV Unplugged In New York is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes. If you prefer streaming, you can listen to the album on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Midnight Oil - Redneck Wonderland (Album Review)

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Midnight Oil - Redneck Wonderland (Album Review)

While it may not have been commercially successful, Redneck Wonderland is captivating and can be seen as an artistic success. The more I listen to Redneck Wonderland, the more I come to appreciate the merging of the new and old Midnight Oil musical styles. Warne Livesey, producer of Diesel And Dust and Blue Sky Mining, makes a welcome return, ensuring a result that will appeal to longtime Midnight Oil fans and newcomers alike.

I also have to say, before we dig into the musicality of the album, the cover of Redneck Wonderland is stunning. It is rough, raw, and clear in relation to relevance and meaning. This album cover, alone, is enough justification to buy the Midnight Oil vinyl box set; especially considering Redneck Wonderland was never released on vinyl.

Redneck Wonderland sounds as though it was conceived in a rhythm-based distorted heaven. The musicality is immediately recognisable as Midnight Oil have gone back to their roots. It is an exceptional song and should be included on every compilation and live set list.

Concrete continues the stripped-down raw rock sound that arguably hadn't been heard since Blue Sky Mining almost a decade earlier. It is a killer rock song and, as with Redneck Wonderland, the instrumental rhythm will have you moving unconsciously. It’s wonderful to see Midnight Oil return to form, following the lacklustre Earth And Sun And Moon and their previous album Breathe.

Cemetery In My Mind slows the pace of the album, but that isn't a bad thing as it is an exceptional song. The musical introduction, that is featured throughout, creates a worthy bridge that ensures the song is thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end.

Comfortable Place On The Couch has a promising start, but the musicality behind Garrett's vocal is distracting, rather than being complementary. That said, once the electric guitar and chorus come into play, the song kicks into high gear. It isn't a bad song, but it is only half a song in my opinion as the verse is akin to a demo recording.

Safety Chain Blues has a killer bass and piano introduction. This musicality continues throughout and while I feel Garrett’s vocal delivery is concealed in the soundstage, Safety Chain Blues should be considered a B-side with the promise of an A-side should a different mix be permitted. I understand Midnight Oil were aiming for a particular style, I just don't feel it was well executed. Interestingly, the song sounds superior on headphones. The vocals become more present and are less distant in the mix. That is somewhat understandable as headphones bring the music closer to the ear. It is an interesting dichotomy, but I also feel that a well recorded, mixed, and mastered song should not exhibit these variances.

Return To Sender is a groovy pop-rock song, but it does sound out-of-place with the style of the album thus far. It isn't inherently flawed, it just isn't deserving of its place on Redneck Wonderland.

Blot returns us to the raw alternative rock and roll sound Midnight Oil is renowned for. However, Blot is a mismatched mess as the mind is unable to connect with the varying backbeat. It sounds as though Blot is the culmination of three songs that really don't belong together. It is a shame because I do love that guitar riff.

The Great Gibber Plain is a B-side, but I still find it enjoyable.

Seeing Is Believing is a song that will blow you away as it is not only one of the best tracks on the album, but one of the best songs Midnight Oil has ever written and recorded.

White Skin Black Heart is exceptional! While I have always felt it was a little too shrill, I wouldn't want it changed at all.

What Goes On is an energetic song. I love it! I can't wait to hear it on vinyl as I feel it would amplify all elements and I’ll be interested to hear how the distortion transfers, particular from the drums.

Drop In The Ocean is a lovely ballad to close the album on. While it is sonically worlds apart from What Goes On, I feel compelled to listen to the album again and stay within Midnight Oil's catalogue.

Redneck Wonderland really should have been the follow-up to Blue Sky Mining, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Regardless, we have it now and that’s all that matters. It still amazes me that Redneck Wonderland was not more commercially successful, but it just goes to show how fickle us fans can be. That said, you can’t really blame fans for not having faith in a new album, following Midnight Oil’s mediocre mid-90s releases. That said, if you did miss out on hearing this album in the past, I implore you to give it a listen as it really is an excellent release.

For this review, I listened to the TIDAL Hi-Fi 16/44.1 kHz edition and found the mastering to be perfect for Midnight Oil’s musicality. However, it was mastered a little too hot but I didn't find that to be detrimental to the overall listening experience.

Redneck Wonderland is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes. If you prefer streaming, it is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Nirvana - "Bleach" (Deluxe Edition Album Review)

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Nirvana - "Bleach" (Deluxe Edition Album Review)

Nirvana first appeared on my radar with Smells Like Teen Spirit from the incredibly successful Nevermind album. Nevermind is exceptional but while I continued to follow Nirvana in the Grohl era, I somehow missed their debut album "Bleach".

Interestingly, "Bleach" reportedly only cost $600 to make. Remember, this was in a period before prosumer tools were available to the masses at an affordable price. As I listen to "Bleach”, it is difficult to fathom this limited budget when compared directly to the quality of the album. Part of my reasoning for undertaking this review is I noticed a vinyl reissue was available and as I have never heard the album in its entirety, I wanted to give it a go and see if it would be a worthy addition to my Nirvana collection. While this review is based on the Deluxe Edition, the vinyl re-issues are available in both standard and deluxe editions.

Blew has a killer bass intro. I absolutely love the bass guitar and it is featured prominently throughout the entire song. Blew is an exceptional song that highlights the musical skill and sonic adventure Nirvana was capable of taking us on.

Floyd The Barber has an intense beat and rhythm that is extremely addictive. You'll excuse me if I don’t write more, my body is subconsciously convulsing to the beat. Exceptional!

About A Girl is a mellower song, but one I absolutely adore. I have surprisingly heard About A Girl numerous times and it is easily one of Nirvana's greatest recordings.

School has a killer guitar riff and beat. While I thoroughly enjoy this song, I find the lyrics to be a little mundane. However, the musicality is off the charts.

Love Buzz is GROOVY! Novoselic's bass work is pure perfection.

Paper Cuts is a B-side, but worthy of inclusion. However, I feel it is a little mismatched with the rest of the album as it sounds as though it was still in the demo phase at the time of recording.

Negative Creep is an all-time favourite of mine. I can't remember when I first heard it but I was always impressed with the hard hitting soundstage. Numerous songs of this nature can be musically crowded and end up sounding horrible, that is absolutely not the case here as there is plenty of air between the instrumental and vocal elements.

Scoff has an incredible drum and bass beat foundation. It doesn't get much better than this!

Swap Meet is another song that sounds like a demo. It isn't bad, just not fully realised in my opinion. That said, I really dig the rhythm.

Mr. Moustache has an incredible rhythm, but I dislike the lyrical delivery as it sounds disjointed to the musicality of the song.

Sifting has an impressively deep and dynamic drum beat. It is raw and is one song off "Bleach" that I feel is most transparent to the actual sound captured in the studio. It is an excellent song and while it is on the B-side of the album, it is anything but.

Big Cheese has a killer intro and overall composition.

Downer is the final track before the live recordings enter the mix. As the final studio recording, it is a B-side but, it ensures I remain interested in listening to the core album again, as well as continuing onto the live recordings captured at the Pine Street Theatre in 1990.

Intro (Live) should have been left off the album as the high-pitched distortion really takes you away from the musicality of the album.

School (Live) isn’t a bad performance. The correlation between the live and studio recording show a band that is well tuned to their unique sound and is confident with their abilities.

Floyd the Barber (Live) is full of energy and attitude, I love it!

Dive (Live) is a little rough around the edges, but the rhythm is there; as is Cobain's guttural lyrical style.

Love Buzz (Live) is, as mentioned earlier, Groovy! However, I must be honest and say I much prefer the studio recording of this song.

Spank Thru (Live) is another groove-filled track that didn’t make it to the studio album. It’s not bad, but I’m kind of glad that it wasn’t recorded and released on the core “Bleach” album.

Molly's Lips (Live) is a great cover song.

Sappy (Live) is an excellent live performance and worthy of inclusion.

Scoff (Live) is exceptional and reminds me just how good the studio recording is.

About A Girl (Live) is a sonically beautiful performance. Without a doubt, these live tracks are worth the extra investment.

Been A Son (Live) is a great live track. It has a wonderful rhythm and I feel it would have worked well as a studio recording for “Bleach”.

Blew (Live) brings us full circle in what can only be described as an incredible sonic journey.

The cover art is exceptional and I will be picking up the Deluxe Edition on vinyl when I get a chance. I will be sure to write a follow-up review detailing my thoughts on the vinyl pressing compared to that of the TIDAL Masters/MQA 24/96 kHz edition. Sonically, the TIDAL Masters/MQA edition was spot on with an excellent soundstage, dynamic range, and transparency to how I believe the original master recording would have sounded. Yes, I could happily live with the TIDAL Masters/MQA edition of "Bleach", but I would still like to have a complete physical collection of Nirvana's catalogue. 

The Deluxe Edition of "Bleach" is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered For iTunes). If you prefer streaming, it is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Midnight Oil - Earth And Sun And Moon (Album Review)

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Midnight Oil - Earth And Sun And Moon (Album Review)

Following their career defining albums, Earth And Sun And Moon had a lot to live up to. At this stage of their career, Midnight Oil not only had the punk rock pub fan from their early days, but they also had the newer and commercially valuable mainstream rock audience. Earth And Sun And Moon interestingly presents a shift in style for the band and it is fair to say that both fan bases would have approached this album with scepticism. While the themes remained controversial, the musicality would shift towards the pop rock genre and, subsequently, the album sounds different to everything that came before it.

This type of shift is far from exclusive to Midnight Oil. Another iconic Australian band, Icehouse, followed their incredibly successful Man Of Colours album with the industrial and unconventional album Big Wheel. While Big Wheel is an exceptional album, it was no Man Of Colours. Perhaps there is a stage in every musical career when a pinnacle has been reached and subsequent albums, while good on their own, don't necessarily add to the artist’s body of work.

Despite the sonic shift, the cover art of Earth And Sun And Moon is extraordinary. It is inspired by indigenous artwork and, I don't know about you but, I find this form of art to be very pleasing as there is always a story to be told and a lesson to be learnt. Let's just hope the artwork isn’t the only highlight of Earth And Sun And Moon.

Feeding Frenzy has an interesting and very familiar tempo. Think Deep Purple meets Midnight Oil. The shifts in rhythm seem out-of-place, but you quickly come to appreciate the genius behind this composition. While Feeding Frenzy is not your standard Midnight Oil track, it does offer some enjoyment, especially if you listen to it numerous times.

My Country is certainly not their strongest song. It is a B-side at best. That said, as with Feeding Frenzy, I find that I appreciate it more, the more I listen to it.

Renaissance Man lacks the energy Midnight Oil is known for. There are certain elements that work, but it is not a true Midnight Oil song. It's too campy for my liking.  

Earth And Sun And Moon is an overproduced mess. As with Renaissance Man, it is another example of Midnight Oil going for a campy sound. While Earth And Sun And Moon is a cool album name, the song should have been left in the studio.

Truganini is textbook Midnight Oil. It's about time! However, it provides such a shift in musicality that one can only imagine, with bemusement, why the previous songs even exist and where they fit into the Midnight Oil legacy.

Bushfire isn't bad in places, but it fails to impress overall.

Drums Of Heaven is a song that leaves me speechless. Not because it is good, but because of how bad it is. Drums Of Heaven ironically lacks a killer drum beat. Seriously, other than an excellent distorted guitar element, there is nothing to praise here. Normally, I hate being so negative in reviews, but I have to call a spade a spade.

Outbreak Of Love is sonically incredible. I love it! Yes, it is soft rock, but it is done well.

In The Valley isn't a bad soft rock song, but it still doesn't sound like the Midnight Oil we know and love.

Tell Me The Truth has a killer groove that will get you moving. I absolutely love it!

Now Or Neverland has a fantastic bass beat. I love the lead and rhythm guitar, but the bass guitar is one of the most underappreciated instruments in history. While it's present in every song, it is rarely highlighted. I certainly would like to hear more bass in all recordings. No, I'm not talking about doof doof bass, I'm referring to actually hearing the strums and reverberation of the real instrument. It resonates with my soul and I love the instrument.

Sadly, Earth And Sun And Moon is not the follow-up to Blue Sky Mining that many fans would have been expecting. There is certainly an EP worth of quality material here, but it honestly surprises me that the record label didn’t block the release of the album. I also feel it was shortsighted of Midnight Oil to choose Nick Launay over Diesel And Dust and Blue Sky Mining collaborative producer Warne Livesey. Thankfully, Midnight Oil would record Redneck Wonderland and Capricornia with Livesey and while my review of those albums will be published in the coming days, let's just say they sound like Midnight Oil.

For this review, I listened to the 1993 mastering on TIDAL Hi-Fi. Despite not connecting with the album, I can say that it wasn't due to poor mastering. Some things were done really well on this album, but it is the mediocre elements and shift in musicality that resulted in a less than pleasing experience.

Earth And Sun And Moon is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store, and iTunes. For those who prefer streaming, it is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Midnight Oil - Blue Sky Mining (Album Review)

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Midnight Oil - Blue Sky Mining (Album Review)

Following a masterpiece is no easy task. Subsequent albums will always be evaluated in direct comparison; in this case, can Blue Sky Mining match the performance captured on Diesel And Dust?

Truthfully, I find it difficult to compare both albums against each other as both are exceptional in their own right. However, Blue Sky Mining was awarded the Best Album of 1990 by the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA). Regardless, both albums cover a prolific era in Midnight Oil’s history and would arguably be the two albums that most listeners are familiar with. Interestingly, Blue Sky Mining would also be the album that would introduce me to one of Australia's greatest rock bands. While I never owned the album, I did borrow the cassette from a friend and I may, or may not, have made a copy of it on a good old TDK D90 cassette tape. 

Blue Sky Mine is an exceptional song that is perfectly balanced, but it easily could have been over produced. Thankfully, synthetic instrumentation was kept to a minimum, ensuring the song doesn't become dated. Throughout the song, there are small elemental aspects that I simply adore. It is a sonic wonderland!

Stars Of Warburton is a solid rhythmic rock song, but it takes a while to get going. However, as soon as the chorus enters the song, the vocal harmony solidifies Stars Of Warburton as an exceptionally memorable track.

Bedlam Bridge has a somewhat chaotic introduction, but I do appreciate the spoken lyrics. Garrett's vocals are incredibly clear, unlike his earlier punk-based days. In one way, I also hear a little Billy Idol in this lyrical delivery, especially Billy’s later career vocal style. As with Stars of Warburton, the vocal harmony takes this song from a B-side to a master track. That said, I dislike the street sounds that close the song, they are distracting and take you away from the relaxed tone of Bedlam Bridge. Yes, I acknowledge the segue between Bedlam Bridge and Forgotten Years, but I feel the outro is just too long. However, the three-second introduction to Forgotten Years is, in my opinion, the perfect duration.

Forgotten Years is an excellent song that I have always enjoyed. 

Mountains Of Burma is one of the greatest songs Midnight Oil ever recorded. I absolutely love it!

King Of The Mountain has one of the most enjoyable rhythms in rock and roll history. Yes, it is meat and potatoes blues rock but, it is rock and roll done night. An exceptional track!

River Runs Red has a somewhat Crowded House feel, but that is not a bad thing. Sonically, River Runs Red is gorgeous. The entire composition is incredible. You will want to turn this song up to 11. The vocal harmony, as heard throughout Blue Sky Mining, is perfect and makes this one song that should appear on every compilation and live set. Not only is it one of the best songs on the album, but it is one of the best of their career.

Shakers And Movers is a solid song, but I would class it as a B-side. However, a B-side for Midnight Oil, at this point in their career, would be akin to an A-side for any other band.

One Country is an exceptional acoustic-based song. The rhythm is enveloping and while it is a ballad-styled tune, it is the very definition of what could be known as Easy Listening Rock And Roll. It is simply a gorgeous song!

Antarctica has an interesting composition with interweaving vocals throughout. I have to say that I don't enjoy this song because of this vocal effect. It causes the song to feel over produced and I feel it is sonically out-of-tune with the entire album. While it doesn't prevent me from listening to the album again, One County should have concluded Blue Sky Mining.

Blue Sky Mining may not be Diesel And Dust, but it is still one of the best albums Midnight Oil has ever released. As I listen to Blue Sky Mining, the increased production level is evident but, thankfully it doesn’t feel overproduced. However, fans of their earlier works may be less than impressed with the new direction and polish Midnight Oil have applied to their recordings; you simply can’t please everyone!

I have always been captivated by the cover art of Blue Sky Mining. There is little doubt in my mind that this is one key element pushing me towards purchasing the vinyl re-issue box set. Until then, I will have to be content with listening to the 2011 remaster on TIDAL Hi-Fi. Don't feel sorry for me though, the 2011 remaster is exceptional. There is a little more loudness than I would like, but there is no brickwall compression to be heard as the entire remaster is smooth and dynamic. 

Blue Sky Mining is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store, and iTunes. For those who prefer streaming, it is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Midnight Oil - Diesel And Dust (Album Review)

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Midnight Oil - Diesel And Dust (Album Review)

Ian McFarlane's Encyclopedia of Australian Rock And Pop references Diesel And Dust as groundbreaking and one of the greatest Australian albums of all time. I dare anyone to challenge that claim as Diesel And Dust is the quintessential album Midnight Oil should be remembered for.

John O'Donnell, Toby Creswell, and Craig Mathieson also thought so highly of Diesel And Dust that it was awarded the No.1 Australian album in their book, The 100 Best Australian Albums. O'Donnell, Creswell, and Mathieson go on to say: in the process of reinventing themselves, Midnight Oil has crafted an album of brilliant, passionate, and intelligent songs that carry a message.

Truthfully, any additional commentary I add in this review would be seemingly superfluous. That said, join me on my own subjective journey of Diesel And Dust.

Beds Are Burning is incredible! I have always adored this song and find that when I want to listen to Midnight Oil, this is the song that comes to mind. The lyrical delivery is clear, unlike some of their earlier albums, and that beat and musicality are simply unmatched. It is as good as Australian rock and roll gets.

Put Down That Weapon is anthemic. It’s sonically gorgeous!

Dreamworld is a song I've always had mixed feelings about. I simply find it to be another Midnight Oil song that is on the shrill end of the spectrum. Although, it is a bloody good song. It is just disappointing that, in contrast to the previous tracks, I find it too jarring.

Arctic World slows the album down considerably, but sonically I love the musicality and it is a song that showcases Peter Garrett's vocal capabilities. While it isn't my favourite song on the album, it is perfectly suited to the themes and style of Diesel And Dust.

Warakurna flows beautifully from Arctic world with rhythmic perfection. It is one of my all-time favourite Midnight Oil songs.

The Dead Heart is another exceptional song that I have always enjoyed. Seriously, Diesel And Dust plays like a greatest hits album. It really is that good! Part of the appeal is the catchy, sing-a-long style of the songs. While some may point, rightly so, to the message portrayed in these songs, long time readers would note that lyrical meaning is often lost on me. While that isn't the case with Midnight Oil, I strongly believe their music can be appreciated without specific background knowledge or political loyalties. This is music for everybody; similar in that regard to the recordings of Yothu Yindi.

Whoah is sonically beautiful. Close your eyes, relax, and enjoy.

Bullroarer picks up the pace with a hard hitting rock song that mergers their punk roots with their new rock style. You will want to turn this song up to 11. I love it! The chorus is amongst the best ever written and recorded.

Don't touch that volume knob as Sell My Soul is one killer song.

Sometimes is a song that I find to be tedious, that is until the chorus kicks in for the first time. After that, the song blows me away.

Gunbarrel Highway interestingly wasn't included on vinyl and cassette releases of the album. It was only sporadically included on CD as some regions had it while others were excluded. This process was and still is, rather common. It sends us music collectors slowly insane as we try to get hold of the various editions. Thankfully, it is far easier now, than it was in 1987, thanks to the Internet, streaming services, and the continuous stream of re-issues. I raise this point because one must ask if Gunbarrel Highway is the best song to conclude Diesel And Dust on. Subjectively, I believe it is, it encourages me to listen to the album again.

I truly don't believe there is a word in the English language that can fully describe the brilliance of Diesel And Dust. Therefore, all I will say in conclusion is that you must listen to this album.

For this review, I listened to the 2007 remaster on TIDAL Hi-Fi. Sonically, that remaster is a pleasure to listen to. Despite Red Sails In The Sunset being a remastering nightmare, Diesel And Dust has not only been recorded beautifully, but it has been remastered, in this instance, with kid gloves.

Diesel And Dust is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store and iTunes. For those who prefer streaming, it is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Midnight Oil - Place Without A Postcard (Album Review)

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Midnight Oil - Place Without A Postcard (Album Review)

Thus far, in my cycle of reviews to determine if I will pick up the soon-to-be-released Midnight Oil vinyl box set, I have determined that it would be a worthwhile addition to my collection. That said, Place Without A Postcard leaves me with mixed feelings as the band experimented with their tried and tested formula by introducing more pop elements into their songs.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with power pop, the shift in musical direction simply lacks the energy heard on their self-titled debut Midnight Oil and sophomore album Head Injuries.

Don't Wanna Be The One is a song that I have a love/hate relationship with. Yes, dear reader, I am once again questioning how a Midnight Oil song becomes a fan favourite. Okay, so there’s a good backbeat and there is nothing wrong with Garrett's vocal delivery, but I find the song to be too shrill in places. I also don’t connect with the song on an emotional level. I hear it, but I don't listen to it! I can assure you I have tried. I have listened to the original 1981, 1997 (as heard on 20,000 Watt R.S.L.), and 2008 masters and despite their different tonalities, none talk to me.

Brave Faces, by comparison, is a stronger song. It has an addictive rhythm and I just adore the instrumental backing to Garrett's vocals. Brave Faces should have been the album opener in my opinion.

Armistice Day is exceptional! It is arguably the best song on the album and one of the best in their catalogue. From the electric guitar introduction to the solid beat and Garrett's near A cappella vocal, it is nothing short of a perfect rock and roll song.

Someone Else To Blame, unfortunately, fails to maintain the high standard that can be heard on Armistice Day. It is filler! Nothing more, nothing less.

Basement Flat is a mixed bag as the vocal introduction and chorus are superb, along with the mid-song guitar solo. Yet, I find the verse to be rather irritating as I don't feel it helps the song progress either in literary terms or musically. That said, I do feel there is more good here than bad and subsequently Basement Flat is enjoyable to listen to.

Written In The Heart is a great song that, while pop/rock based, also pays homage to the punk origins of the band. As with many of their songs, the strength here is absolutely heard in the self-indulgent musicality.

I absolutely love the introduction of Burnie. Unfortunately, as the track progresses past the first minute, it becomes apparent that the song isn't as tight as it should be. It really sounds as though a demo tape was used to fill in the blanks of an otherwise exceptional performance.

Quinella Holiday isn't a bad song, but it isn't exceptional either.

Loves On Sale has a beautiful instrumental and vocal introduction but falls apart as the speed of the song and Garrett's vocals reach punk pace. While it isn't a bad song, it could have been so much better.

If Ned Kelly Was King should have never made it past the demo stage. It has some nice instrumental work, but no other aspect of the song appeals to me.

Lucky Country, as the final track on the album, does not encourage me to listen to the album again or stay within the Midnight Oil catalogue. I’d like to say something nice about it, but anything positive would be disingenuous. That said, perhaps we need substandard songs to ensure we fully appreciate the exceptional songs that Midnight Oil has given us over the years.

While Place Without A Postcard lacks the focus of their earlier albums. I'm not going to let a few B- sides prevent me from buying the re-issued vinyl collection when it is released. After all, the same scenario didn’t stop me buying Queen’s Studio Collection.

This review was based on listening to the 2008 remaster on TIDAL Hi-Fi. Interestingly, the original 1981 master is also available on TIDAL, but upon listening to it, I found it to be sonically concealed by comparison. That said, you may prefer it and therefore I suggest you listen to the edition that you subjectively prefer.

Place Without A Postcard is available for purchase on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store, and iTunes. For those who prefer streaming, it is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Foxygen – …And Star Power (Tidal Hi-Fi Review)

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Foxygen – …And Star Power (Tidal Hi-Fi Review)

Have you ever come across an album that you love to hate? Well, Foxygen’s …And Star Power is just that as I am continuously torn over my interest in the album. While I thoroughly enjoy many of the tracks on this album, there are some that just defy all logic. In many ways, I feel that this album is perfectly suited for digital delivery, in any digital format, as there are songs that I would simply prefer to bypass with the tap of a button. That said, I still find myself in a quandary as to whether or not I should purchase the vinyl edition. I honestly don’t think I have ever been so torn over the appreciation of an album.

Before we begin with the individual song overview, I want to acknowledge how much I appreciate the album artwork. I feel in many ways that this presentation deserves to be owned on vinyl. The frame as a window into another world is exceptional. Besides a vinyl release, Foxygen have also released the album on cassette. It is packaged in a double cassette case that reminds me of the copy of Elton John’s The Very Best Of Elton John I owned in the 90s. While that album is long out of print, it was reissued by Universal on vinyl a couple of years ago and I was able to secure a copy. If you only purchase one Elton John album, make it that one as it is exceptional and truly highlights his career. I would love to see cassettes to return, just as vinyl has, but I will be content to have a small collection by alternative artists that choose to use the format for artistic purposes.

Foxygen’s style is true indi-rock and very alternative. They have a truly unique sound and with all the listening I have done in my life, I don’t believe that any band has perplexed me as much as Foxygen. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the songs and see if I will indeed end up purchasing the vinyl edition.

Star Power Airlines has a highly distorted introduction that reminds me of any garage-style band from the late 60s and early 70s. It is a confusing song that is very short and I’m not sure if I like it, but it intrigues me enough to keep listening.

How Can You Really is a pop-infused 70s-style track with a uniquely modern style. The beat is addictive and it would be fair to say that I thoroughly enjoy this track. It is toe tapping and head bopping bliss.

Coulda Been My Love is an absolutely gorgeous song that has harmonious vocal elements overlayed against a core piano backing. The mix of these elements, and the pop-infusion, makes this song very appealing. When I listen to this song, I immediately think of Motown records in the 70s due to the styling applied. It is exceptional, although the ending spoken/radio-esk element is distracting and a little overkill.

Cosmic Vibrations is an exceptional song that is so simple, yet so multi-layered that you will find new elements within the song every time you listen. It has a Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds moody feel to it. I simply love this song!

You & I is a song that makes me think of John and Julian Lennon and their vocal styles. It is a lovely song that I truly enjoy listening to.

Star Power I: Overture has a beat and style that makes me want to turn the volume up to 11 so that I can be completely encased in this experimental sonic wonderland.

Star Power II: Star Power Nite returns to the chaos that was first experienced on Star Power Airlines. It is very erratic and I find my mind is confused with regards to how to react to the music.

Star Power III: What Are We Good For is similarly confusing in its musicality. I simply don’t enjoy the entrance to this track and the chorus is just weird. Although, the song does get better throughout, but your body really doesn’t know how to respond to what it’s hearing. This is a indi/alternative style that I can respect, but I’ve never truly understood.

Star Power IV: Ooh Ooh has some lovely vocal harmonies that remove the stigma of the last two tracks. That said, the styling of this song is different, but I like it!

I Don’t Have Anything/The Gate is a song that I am simply unsure about. I like elements of the song, but there are also elements that I don’t appreciate. The musical elements in the second half of the song are really appealing, but the vocal distortion is a real distraction to my mind. That said, I truly think this is one of those songs that will grow on me.

Mattress Warehouse has an addictive beat that will get your body moving. It is unlike any song I have heard before and that is a testament to the uniqueness of Foxygen. It is also one of the reasons why I keep returning to this album, despite my love/hate relationship with it. In all honesty, this song is likely my favourite track on the album.

666 is quite an interesting track that could be classed as punk-pop in styling. It is a fun song that works well with the flow of the album.

Flowers is a song that I consider to be Beatles-esk. It just has that experimental sound and beat that is addictive and intriguing at the same time. I love it!

Wally’s Farm reminds me of a b-grade movie soundtrack. Believe it or not, that is a compliment!

Cannibal Holocaust is a song that I just can’t find the groove to. The vocals are very distant in the mix and while this is most likely intentional, I’m not sure it works. Interestingly, an enjoyable groove becomes apparent midway through the song, but by that stage I am a little shell shocked and expect it to return to the previous confused state at any moment.

Hot Summer is a song I really enjoy. The sonic elements just work.

Cold Winter/Freedom has an eerie intro. In-fact, the entire song really doesn’t go beyond the introduction. The music reminds me of a record being played backwards, in search of the hidden meaning. It is enjoyable in a weird way that I simply cannot explain in words. Then, as many of Foxgen’s songs do, the song changes pace and purpose midway through the track. It is certainly an interesting dichotomy.

Can’t Contextualize My Mind reminds me of early Rolling Stones stuff, pre-Sympathy For The Devil. I like it! Although, the ending is a high screeching nightmare.

Brooklyn Police Station is a song that I like, but I’m not really sure what the appeal of it is. Although, it could be said that sometimes not knowing can be a good thing and one need not always understand music to enjoy it. That is certainly the case with regards to this song.

The Game is somewhat in the same category of appreciation as the song Brooklyn Police Station.

Freedom II has a groovy beat but the lyrical overlay is distracting. As an instrumental track, I feel it would be epic. Although, I love the vocal delivery in the final moments of the song.

Talk begins with a beautiful guitar introduction before all hell breaks loose. Unfortunately, it is a song that I don’t enjoy as my senses have been jolted by the sharp change in musical direction. The entrance to the track was just enough to get into a groove and the abrupt change was just cruel to listener.

Everyone Needs Love is incredibly soothing after Talk. My mind wants to relax and enjoy, but I am scared that the musical direction will change again and therefore I’m not letting myself become as immersed in the song as I would like. That said, it is an enjoyable song with a good beat that for some reason makes me think of Bobby Womack.

Hang is a good song to end the album on. It isn’t too left of the centre and is sombre enough to bring the album to a non-abrupt end–well, that’s if you ignore the final ten seconds.

...And Star Power is an intriguing album from start to finish, but I find it to be extremely fatiguing. By the time I have reached the end of the 80-minute album, I’m mentally exhausted and I find that I don’t want to listen to any music for a while, or repeat the album. Sometimes this feeling can be attributed to the mastering, but in this case I feel the mastering is excellent. I feel it is the constant change in musicality that is the reason behind the fatigue. That said, if the album was half the length, I feel I would have a very different opinion. It is important to note that the album is somewhat divided into four unique sections, but unfortunately that separation did not make it to the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition and TIDAL merely represents the album as a 24-track epic.

I also can’t help but wonder how the high-pitched elements would be presented on vinyl as I find digital music can often amplify the highs in music to ear piecing levels. As vinyl mastering is rather stringent, I would assume it could rein in some of these wild elements.

Overall, I find Foxygen’s …And Star Power to be an album, with a series of songs, that I thoroughly enjoy. Is it worth adding this album to my vinyl collection? I believe so. In-fact, the vinyl release could be beneficial with regards to the fatigue aspect as I can play the album one side at a time. I also feel that the album could be played in any order, similar to how I appreciate Sigur Rós album ().

…And Star Power is available for purchase on Vinyl, cassette, and CD. It is also available for purchase digitally via iTunes and the TIDAL Store.

The album is also available for streaming on Apple Music.

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30 Seconds To Mars – Self Titled (CD) Review

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30 Seconds To Mars – Self Titled (CD) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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