Ed Sheeran – + (Album Review)

Comment

Ed Sheeran – + (Album Review)

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

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

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

U.N.I. is beautiful!

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

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

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

This is yet another magnificent song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment

Elton John – 21 At 33 (Album Review)

Comment

Elton John – 21 At 33 (Album Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 At 33 is available on CD and iTunes.

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

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

Comment

The Script – #3 (Album Review)

Comment

The Script – #3 (Album Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment

(When The Sun Sets Over) Carlton – [Compilation Review]

Comment

(When The Sun Sets Over) Carlton – [Compilation Review]

Few would argue about the influence of Melbourne's music scene in the 70s, for it was the mecca of the Australian Music Industry at the time. That said, I'm sure my Sydney neighbours would fervently disagree. While I’m Sydney born and bred, good music is good music and (When The Sun Sets Over) Carlton validates that point. With a runtime nearing three hours, this compilation is an extensive trip down memory lane, but will also excite those of us that missed out on experiencing this wonderfully vibrant music scene during its heyday.

SkyhooksCarlton (Lygon Street Limbo) is the perfect song to open this compilation. Not only were Skyhooks one of the most successful bands on the scene, at the time, but Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo) incorporates the energy and musicality of the 70s. A sensational song!

The SportsWho Listens To The Radio? (Original 7" Version) is one of my all-time favourite songs, having heard it repeatedly, ironically, on the radio. Yet, until listening to this compilation, I never knew who the artist was. Now I do and I have this compilation and streaming music to thank for bringing me back to one of the coolest songs from the era.

Jo Jo Zep & The FalconsSo Young is another sensational song and reminds me, in spirit, of Tom Petty. I love it!

The DotsLowdown is a little rough around the edges, but that adds to the character of the song. However, I’d argue that while Lowdown isn't a standout song, it is thoroughly enjoyable and the compilation wouldn't be the same without it.

StilettoMiddle Of The Bed is a sensational classic with a killer vocal, rhythm, and an intriguing guitar tune.

The Bleeding HeartsHit Single has a disjointed musical style that surprisingly works perfectly. Hit Single is dynamic and never dull. I don't know about you, dear reader, but it’s a hit from my perspective. It also has a slight Skyhooks influence; what's not to like?

Mighty KongHard Drugs (Are Bad For You) is another rhythmic monster. Seriously, you have to listen to this compilation, it is hit after hit. Incredible!

Mondo RockPrimal Park is a solid tune but it has a little too much pop-influence for my liking. However, there are certain elements, such as the chorus, that are spot on and thoroughly enjoyable.

Mark GillespieSuicide Sister is pure perfection!

High Rise BombersFaster Than Light is a great song. That brass section undoubtedly makes the song and I could happily listen to Faster Than Light on repeat for hours.

The ToadsEudil is addictive. Yes, even that interesting near-pop-based backing vocal grows on you; the song would be lost without it.

The Pelaco BrosMechanics In A Relaxed Manner isn't a bad blues-based tune, but I find the mix confuses my mind as the vocal presentation is too forward and slightly offbeat to the rhythm. In some respects, it is as though two songs have morphed into one.

The Relaxed MechanicsTruckin' Casanova is a campy tune, but I can't help but love it. An absolute classic and arguably a song that only an Australian band could have conjured up.

MillionairesGossip has a shifting tempo that takes a little getting used to. It isn't my favourite song from the compilation, but there was bound to be at least one of the tracks that didn't connect with me.

The KevinsOut At Night is a great song. Yes, another campy tongue-in-cheek song, but such is Australian humour.

Martin Armiger & Buzz LeesonNo Reason is a killer classic rock tune.

ParachuteThe Big Beat isn't anything to write home about, but the compilation wouldn't be the same without it.

Spare ChangeLet's Get Rich Together is one of those songs that takes repeat listens to truly enjoy. That said, once the connection is made, you'll be hypnotised by this exceptional song.

The Glory BoysThe Ballad Of Good & Evil is a fantastic song. The rhythm is amazing, but that vocal delivery is off-the-charts. So Good!

Eric Gradman Man And MachineCrime Of Passion is a solid song with an interesting vocal overlay. The sonic shift, mid-song, is also intriguing and while I'm unsure of how I really feel about Crime Of Passion, it suits the compilation perfectly.

Martin ArmigerI Love My Car is certainly reminiscent of the era, but I’d argue that it’s not quite worthy of this collection.

The Bleeding HeartsBoys (Greg Macainsh Demo Version) is a great track. It kinda makes me wonder what the non-demo version sounds like as this edition was already ready for prime-time in my opinion.

StilettoRozalyn is a killer song. The vocal delivery, in particular, is absolutely sensational, making for one of the best songs on the compilation. That said, there is a little sibilance in the vocal that can be distracting, especially when listening via headphones.

The DotsI See Red is rather rough around the edges, reminding me a little of the early Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan recordings. Overall, however, it isn't a bad song but it could have been great with a little more spit and polish.

Jo Jo Zep & The FalconsOnly The Lonely Hearted isn’t a song to write home about, but it's a solid addition to this compilation.

The SportsSuddenly is a great song that improves upon each listen. I love the vocal style and Suddenly is perfectly mixed.

Mondo RockTelephone Booth has a great rhythm that is full of energy. I dare say Telephone Booth would have been exceptional when played live.

Daddy CoolSaturday Night (GTK Live) is merely satisfactory as there are much better Daddy Cool songs that could have been selected for this compilation.

SkyhooksHey, What's The Matter? (Steve Hill Demo Version) is awesome! Although, the final master recording is even better. Regardless, it's Skyhooks, what is not to like?

Company CaineBuzzin’ With My Cousin is a little too left of the centre for me. That doesn't mean that you won't like it, but I just don’t connect with it.

Captain Matchbox Whoopee BandRoll That Reefer is different and feels out-of-place, but it’s certainly a compelling tune.

Stephen Cummings & Dave FlettThe Third Degree sounds too much like The Rolling Stones. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the song is excellent, but I do value uniqueness.

Rock GraniteYou Got Me Where You Want Me is a toe-tapper and a head-bopper. Great tune!

Jo Jo Zep & The FalconsSomeday It's Gonna Come To You (1976 Demo Version) is far better than the demo tag would make you believe. A sensational song!

Mark GillespieComin' Back For More is thoroughly enjoyable.

AutodriftersLocked Out Of Love is not my type of song, but you may enjoy it; especially if you're a Hank Williams fan.

Fabulous NudesI'll Be A Dag For You, Baby is daggy! It isn't the greatest song and should have been omitted from the compilation.

The Pelaco BrosTruckdrivin' Guru is a solid song, but nothing to write home about and again we have a song that is somewhat influenced by The Rolling Stones. I guess imitation is really the sincerest form of flattery.

Peter Lillie & The LeisuremastersHangin' Round The House is brilliant! An Aussie Classic!

The SportsLive Work & Play (Nightmoves Live) isn't a bad song but I'm more interested in the polish that often accompanies studio recordings. That said, this is a strong live performance with plenty of energy.

High Rise BombersRadio Show is a great song and that jam session mid-song is superb.

Eric Gradman Man & MachineBright Boy has an addictive beat and is overall an exceptional song.

SkyhooksThis Is My City is a great way to close this compilation. It ensures that I'll listen again as Skyhooks can do no wrong in my opinion.

For those of you calculating the track listing, some will wonder why there are only 43 songs reviewed, rather than the 45 included on the album. Sadly, likely due to contractual permissions, Daddy Cool’s Boy You're Paranoid and The Indelible Murtceps' Blue Movies Made Me Cry are missing from streaming services. This discrepancy is yet another reason why owning the CD is a good idea as you're not limited to accessing the music you love by outside influences that are out of your control. Despite this, (When The Sun Sets Over) Carlton is an incredible compilation of Australian artists from the 70s and the reputable Melbourne music scene. While there are a couple of songs that don't connect with my soul, the compilation as a whole does. Subsequently, every song, regardless of my subjective viewpoint, is essential.

(When The Sun Sets Over) Carlton is available on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes. It’s important to note that the aforementioned absent songs are available if you purchase the album.

If the omission of those two songs doesn’t worry you, you can also stream (When The Sun Sets Over) Carlton on Spotify and Apple Music.

Comment

Reverend And The Makers – @reverend_Makers (Album Review)

Comment

Reverend And The Makers – @reverend_Makers (Album Review)

While considered to be an Independent Rock act, Reverend And The Makers are arguably closer aligned to the Electronica spectrum. Nevertheless, if you were to put @reverend_Makers on at any party, it would go down extremely well.

This review is not based on the @BonusDisk edition of the album. I find the core 30-minute runtime to be more than adequate as I don't tire of the record, wanting to listen to it over and over again. However, the @BonusDisk edition is just a little too long for my personal tastes and I do start to become distracted approximately three-quarters of the way through. However, that shouldn't deter you, dear reader, as you may subjectively enjoy the longer runtime. Regardless, I applaud the band for giving fans the option, thereby allowing the more casual listener, such as myself, the opportunity to be captivated by the music in a sample-sized portion.

Bassline opens the album boldly. Let the escapism begin! I do hope you're reading this on your smartphone as you listen to the album as you'll be on your feet and dancing around in no time. Bassline is a sensational track that is masterfully mixed and recorded. Although, that could be said about all the songs on @reverend_Makers.

Don't sit down because Out Of The Shadows continues with a rhythm worthy of any dance floor. Sensational, absolutely sensational!

Shine The Light is a great rock track that you can dance to. Yes, (Was) Not Was declared that White People Can't Dance, but this white dude is giving it his best effort. I love it!

Depth Charge is a solid, albeit, predictable tune that works well in the album format but arguably isn't a standout track.

Warts N All has a toe tapping and head bopping beat, but I'm not sold on the vocal presentation in the chorus. It isn’t bad but sounds a little repetitive and whiny. That acoustic shift, mid-song, is absolutely marvellous, however. Overall, a great song.

Yes You Do slows the album down a little, to a near-ballad pace, but I absolutely love Yes You Do and I feel it fits beautifully into the album tracking.

The Wrestler picks up the pace and is easily one of my favourite songs on the album.

1+0 isn't inherently bad, but it is a B-side. Of course, that contradicts my Instagram micro review of the album whereby I stated there is not a single B-side to be found. Well, that was almost a year ago and I don't know about you, but I like the fact that my subjectivity can shift over time, based on further reflection and comparison against other music. It would, after all, be a sad state of affairs if our music likes and dislikes remained stagnant.

Noisy Neighbour is a killer rhythmic rock song and a rather humorous one at that.

What Goes Around has a terrible beginning, but the song comes into its own after the first minute and is extremely addictive in the final minute, compelling me to listen to the album again and stay within Reverend And The Makers catalogue.

Sonically, the TIDAL Hi-Fi stream is beyond reproach, but I dare say a vinyl release would add a little something to an already extraordinary album. That said, @reverend_Makers has only been made available on CD from a physical media standpoint. Disappointing, but you never know when a re-issue will be forthcoming.

@reverend_Makers is currently available on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, @reverend_Makers is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Should you be interested in the @BonusDisk edition, simply look for the slightly varied album name: @Reverend_Makers.

Comment

(Was) Not Was – (The Woodwork) Squeaks [Compilation Review]

Comment

(Was) Not Was – (The Woodwork) Squeaks [Compilation Review]

Every now and then I'll browse the library of albums that I’ve saved to my TIDAL Hi-Fi collection. Amongst the thousands saved, I'll inevitably come across a few that make me wonder just how they got there. (The Woodwork) Squeaks by (Was) Not Was certainly falls into that category and upon the first listen, I'm still unsure as to why I saved it. However, upon subsequent listens, the compilation has grown on me, so much so that it leaves me feeling compelled to listen to the compilation again and again.

From my perspective, it is interesting that I saved a collection of remixes and B-sides, as (The Woodwork) Squeaks was the first (Was) Not Was album I ever listened to. Generally, I prefer the core studio releases as a starting point. Nevertheless, I'm thoroughly enjoying this compilation and I invite you to put on your boogie shoes for this review as I have a feeling you're going to need them.

Tell Me That I'm Dreaming (Traditional 12" Remix) has a compelling boogie groove that almost instantly gets you into the music, if only the first few seconds were more compelling. You'll notice throughout this review that I won't contrast a remix with the original song. This is done purposely as I’ve not heard the original recordings. In some ways, that can be a good thing as my subjective opinion isn't clouded. Regardless, Tell Me That I'm Dreaming (Traditional 12" Remix) is a great song to commence this compilation with.

Out Come The Freaks (Predominantly Funk Version) is a great, albeit it lengthy, funk-based song. Remixes do have the tendency to drag on but at no time do I feel this remix needs to be shortened. In fact, it's so good that I could listen to it on repeat for hours at a time.

Wheel Me Out (Classic 12" Version) has a sonically rough introduction that doesn't flow on well from Out Come The Freaks (Predominantly Funk Version). That said, there are some elements in this song that I enjoy, but I have to acknowledge, for the most part, that I find this track to be tedious.

(Return To The Valley Of) Out Come The Freaks (Extended Version) is a great song with a sensational tempo. I love it!

Hello Operator (Classic 12" Version) has a glorious horn section that is so pure it sounds as though you were in the studio while the song was being recorded. Hello Operator (Classic 12" Version), besides starting out slow, is a hell of a good song and I adore that lyrical delivery.

Dance Or Die (From Sweet Pea Atkinson Album) is a killer song. You won't be able to stay still while this track is playing, so you have my permission to take a break from reading this review. Get up and boogie, I’m sure you'll thoroughly enjoy the experience.

Tell Me That I’m Dreaming (Souped Up Version) / Out Come The Freaks (Dub Version) is a great track that reminds me of Grace Jones and her style on the Nightclubbing album. That said, the transition between Tell Me I’m Dreaming (Souped Up Version) and Out Come The Freaks (Dub Version) isn't entirely seamless and the songs could very well have remained separate. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoy this track.

Out Come The Freaks (Classic 12" Version) is a great addition to this compilation, but it arguably isn't the greatest version of Out Come The Freaks.

(Stuck Inside Of Detroit With) Out Come The Freaks (Again) has an incredible rhythm that you can really connect with.

As someone with two left feet, White People Can't Dance is certainly the song for me. Although, when no-one is watching, I have "the moves". I love this song and it compels me to listen to the album again and explore the entire (Was) Not Was catalogue.

Sonically, the stream from TIDAL Hi-Fi is beautiful, with every musical element positioned perfectly. It’s really all anyone would need. While (The Woodwork) Squeaks hasn’t been re-issued on any physical media, recently, I feel content with this album being part of my digital streaming collection as it is, subjectively, not quite to the standard where I feel willing to outlay additional cash to pick up a copy. That isn’t a negative reflection on the compilation, just an acknowledgement that I don’t have an endless supply of cash and one has to carefully choose albums, especially considering the often inflated prices of re-issued vinyl. This is, yet, another benefit of music streaming as it allows for exploration and enjoyment without commitment.

(The Woodwork) Squeaks can be purchased on the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, (The Woodwork) Squeaks is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Comment

HammerFall – (r)Evolution – [Album Review]

Comment

HammerFall – (r)Evolution – [Album Review]

The Swedish are master musicians, but this is no ABBA. Nevertheless, this ABBA-loving metal head truly enjoys crossing the streams and HammerFall's exceptional (r)Evolution helps to achieve that goal.

HammerFall is pure power metal and while it’s possible to make linkages between them and Iron Maiden, I'd argue that HammerFall is more rhythmic in their musicality, resulting in an incredibly addictive sound with exceptionally clear lyrics.

Released in 2014, (r)Evolution is HammerFall’s 9th studio album, having formed in 1993. Amazingly, it has only been due to my adoption of music streaming services, in the last couple of years, that allowed me to explore (r)Evolution and HammerFall’s back catalogue. For all the negatives of streaming, specifically relating to artists getting paid, I’d argue that without streaming I’d never know of HammerFall as they arguably aren't as mainstream as other bands in the genre. That, however, is never an indication of quality.

On the topic of payments to artists, from streaming services, John Darko raises an interesting thought on his Darko.Audio podcast (Ep. 9) whereby he suggests that it’s time artists renegotiated their record contracts with streaming in mind, as it is their legacy contracts that are limiting them financially. There’s certainly logic to Darko's proposed thoughts but change doesn’t happen overnight.

That all said, and before I go completely off topic, let's check out (r)Evolution.

Hector's Hymn is a fantastic song to start the album on. Its tempo is perfect and that semi-acoustic intro is pure gold. Hector's Hymn sets the tone for the entire album and I suggest you turn that volume knob to the right, you'll thank me later, assuming, of course, you're not listening via headphones. Seriously, I also like immersive music, but taking care of our hearing is essential to our longtime appreciation of music.

(r)Evolution is incredible! Cans’ vocal delivery is off the charts. Metal doesn't get much better than this. This is stadium metal 101 and I'm in rhythmic heaven. You better get your air guitar out, you're gonna need it!

Bushido is chest-pumping power metal. I love it!

Live Life Loud shifts quickly following the intro, but that rhythm is out-of-this-world. Without a doubt, Live Life Loud would have to be a perfect song for performing live. It has room for audience interaction as well as sections where the band can jam beautifully, thereby creating a unique experience each time the song is performed.

Ex Inferis is my favourite song on the album. It’s a mix of Dio and Maiden, with a HammerFall twist. Sensational!

We Won't Back Down is a duet with co-producer James Michael. As a fan of Michael’s production work, along with his own band Sixx: A.M., this song is especially pleasing and works incredibly well. It was a smart move by HammerFall to record this duet as Michael's has an exceptional and complementary vocal presence. Pure perfection!

Winter Is Coming slows the album a little, but it's a beautiful song. That guitar solo would melt butter.

Origins is the song that casual listeners would most confuse with Iron Maiden. That isn't a suggestion that HammerFall has merely copied Maiden's style, but they certainly appear to pay homage to them in this anthem-based song.

Tainted Metal is a solid tune, but not necessarily one to write home about. Nevertheless, it works perfectly in the album format.

Evil Incarnate, much like Tainted Metal, is a solid B-side. That said, the vocal repetition as the song closes is incredible.

Wildfire has an interesting backing vocal style. I'm not sure I like it, but it is compellingly addictive. That said, Wildfire is thoroughly enjoyable, even if a little erratic with shifts in style.

The Way Of The Warrior is the final track on this edition of the album and it compels me to listen to the album again and stay within HammerFall’s catalogue. It’s a killer final track.

Overall, there isn't a bad song to be heard on (r)Evolution. It’s exceptional from start to finish and I'd go as far as saying it’s HamerFall's greatest album. Now all I have to do is order the vinyl release. Yes, the artwork demands a larger canvas but this is one album that is worthy of adding to a physical collection. The TIDAL Hi-Fi stream is flawless, but when you love a band and an album this much, you really need to support them as they sadly get peanuts from streaming.

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

If you prefer streaming, (r)Evolution is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Comment

Stevie Jackson – (I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson [Album Review]

Comment

Stevie Jackson – (I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson [Album Review]

Thanks to the modern era of streaming music, discovery is truly at our fingertips. As such, (I Can Get Me Some) Stevie Jackson, even though I have no idea who he is. Yes, thanks to the “always accurate” Wikipedia, I can see Jackson calls Scotland home and is a singer and guitarist for the Scottish indie band Belle & Sebastian. That's about it, but no-one has ever said that you need to be familiar with an artist to enjoy their creative output. As such, let’s get into the review of Stevie Jackson's first, and only solo album, (I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson.

Pure Of Heart has a gorgeous musical introduction, but Jackson's vocal presentation takes a little getting used to. That said, following repeat listens, it really grows on you and is very relaxing to listen to. The hook, throughout, reminds me fondly of another song, but I'm at a loss as to what it could be. It just sounds familiar. I’m thinking something from John Lennon's catalogue, but I just can't put my finger on it. Regardless, Pure Of Heart is a fantastic song to commence the album with.

Just, Just, So To The Point is a brilliant indie-pop tune. The rhythm is poetry in motion and Jackson's smooth, yet fast, vocals are exquisite. Without a doubt Just, Just, So To The Point is one of my favourite songs on the album.

Try Me shifts the album to a more indie-rock style with a touch of punk. There are sections of Try Me that remind me of Skyhooks. It’s a solid song, with an energised beat. 

Richie Now is a song that could have come straight out of the 50s or 60s. That is a positive viewpoint, by the way, and while Richie Now slows the album down again, it doesn't feel out of place. A beautiful song!

Dead Man's Fall is glorious and reminiscent of Julian Lennon's style on Photograph Smile. I could listen to Dead Man's Fall on repeat for hours. It’s a rather basic composition but is masterfully recorded.

Bird's Eye View reminds me of a lullaby from my childhood. Again, as with Pure Of Heart, I just can't place it. Nevertheless, it is a solid vocal-ballad that will appeal to those interested in that genre. The bicycle sound effects during the song work really well in transporting the listener directly into the song. I mention this as it feels as though these types of techniques are becoming a lost art form. It's good to see some artists are still intent on creating a work of audible art.

Man Of God is a song I haven't been able to get into. It's a B-side and despite fitting adequately into the style of the album, it is just a little too unstructured for my liking.

Kurosawa is addictive, once it gets going. Although, I must admit I dislike the intro.

Where Do All The Good Girls Go? has a definite Beatles’ groove. Not a bad thing as I love that style and this song is what I imagine The Beatles may have sounded like if they stayed together. A fantastic song that is modern yet belongs in another era. I love it!

Telephone Song is a lovely vocal-focused song that is recorded beautifully. Without a doubt, one of the best songs on the album.

Press Send is a rather campy love song. It's not bad, but it's definitely a B-side.

Feel The Morning is a thoroughly relaxing song and that duelling vocal is beautiful. When I hear music of this calibre, I just want to explore everything else the artist has done. However, this album was released in 2011 and there hasn't been a follow-up solo album yet. Such a shame!

If I Can't Help Myself is the perfect way to close the album. It's a beautiful song and compels me to listen to the album again.

(I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson is exceptional from start to finish and despite not connecting with a couple of songs, as a body of work, all songs work extraordinary well with each other.

The recording, mixing, and mastering is beyond reproach. The stream from TIDAL Hi-Fi is all anyone would ever need, but I’d love to get my hands on the vinyl release as it's not only worth owning, but it's worth supporting an artist that is this talented and brings so much joy to my life every time I listen to the album. Plus, I really like the artwork and would love to have it on a larger canvas.

(I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, (I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Comment

Oxygene – Jean-Michel Jarre (Album Review)

Comment

Oxygene – Jean-Michel Jarre (Album Review)

I wrote in my review of Rendez-vouz that Jean-Michel Jarre is my favourite artist of all time. That review chronicled my entrée into Jarre's music (and the world of Compact Discs), but it was not where Jarre's commercial success began. That milestone belongs to the often cited 'eponymous' debut album, Oxygène. It should be noted that the original album name, in Jarre's native French, is Oxygène, however, the worldwide release gained a slight simplification to Oxygene, which, as an English speaker, I will use throughout this review.

When the album was first released, I was no more aware of it than a tea leaf is aware of the history of the East India Company^, which is to say I was 7 years old, 8 by the time of the international release, and had no real interest in music. If I remember correctly, there were playground quips about smelly socks that came out as "soxygene," which I suppose now was probably derived from the album name entering the lexicon at the time, but I was completely unaware of the music.

Looking back at 1976 we see the height of the ABBA hits sharing the limelight with Chicago, Elton John, and Queen's legendary Bohemian Rhapsody. Barry Manilow, The Four Seasons, and The Bay City Rollers also made a mark on 1976. If we're looking for something a little different, how about Disco Duck, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, or, my favourite, Play That Funky Music? None of this is in the same league as Jarre's December release of Oxygene.

Although initially released only in his native France, it went to number one in the French charts and was then released internationally in 1977 to similar success, reaching the top 10 in eight countries. This despite critics claiming the album was "bland" and preferring the works of Mike Oldfield and Tangerine Dream. History would show that publisher Francis Dreyfus's reluctant gamble to press 50,000 copies for Jarre was money placed on the right horse. Oxygene has gone on to sell over 15 million copies and spawned three more albums from Jarre (see below).

Recorded in a makeshift studio in Jarre's home, the album was performed on a variety of electronic instruments, including one digital synthesiser, and recorded on 8-track tape. It was Jarre's third album, the first two being unsuccessful soundtracks. Oxygene was to mark the beginning of a successful and celebrated career for Jarre, as well as being widely recognised as an influence and a starting point for a new wave of electronic music.

I guess, listening with a critical ear, I can see the point those critics had. Oxygene isn't "gripping" or "epic" or even particularly complex. What it is, is very well crafted. By that I mean the elements that exist are all intertwined in a way that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. You could take any of the specific instrument sounds alone and they would be interesting, but unremarkable. Jarre's genius is blending these into a kind of symphony that carries you through the entire work, listening out for changes in tone or shifts in mood. You can hear each instrument at the same time as you appreciate the whole.

While I always like to be accurate with the album and track names, it is of vital importance that we address the proper name of the tracks on the original Oxygene release as, in later years, Jarre released several derivative follow-on works. In one case, an inaccurately named track here may, in fact, refer to a whole different album.

Oxygene (Part I) begins by quietly introducing some of the key sounds that run through the album. It's hard to describe the sounds, except to state the obvious that they are electronic in nature. I guess you might equate some of them to piano and strings. The whole track feels like a pent-up promise of what is to come. Like many Jarre tracks, it goes through distinct phases marked by different key sounds, while still being backed by the familiar. The centre phase gets quite majestic with bass-like and trumpet-like sounds before returning to that promise of what is to come, introducing the basic sounds that will throw the next track into the stratosphere.

Oxygene (Part II) comes seamlessly from the end of Part I. (As is typical of many Jarre albums, gapless playback is a must to get the best experience.) It immediately sets an underlying beat and introduces the shooting stars (I can find no better analogy) into another soundscape full of promise. Then, at precisely 1:41 into the track, they're let loose and the chill^^ starts. This phrase is what makes Oxygene (Part II) my favourite Jarre track of all. At around 3:25 it sets off on another path for two and a half minutes before arriving... at the beach. The sounds, while still electronic, are reminiscent of waves and seabirds.

Oxygene (Part III) starts with a sound like manually plucking the lower octave springs of a piano before getting a serious tone that portends something to come. What I can only think of as a kind of bass-penny-whistle gives a sinister overtone to the serious melody before fading to the singing of birds. Uncharacteristically, the track ends in silence.

Oxygene (Part IV) begins with swirling winds, a few tentative notes, and then begins probably the most widely recognised Jarre phrase of all. Combining many elements of the previous three tracks, it sets a fantastic, timeless melody against some great percussive and atmospheric sounds before soaring to some brilliant keyboard accents. The most melodic track of the album, it could be played on a variety of instruments and still be recognisable and captivating.

Oxygene (Part V) is the longest track on the album at over ten minutes and begins seamlessly from the prior track. Classic synth "pings" fade under organ-like notes that gently lead the listener into a slowly changing, church-like opening. But over its considerable length, this track takes several turns. First, at about 3:30, hard notes add to the melody making it a little heavier before that heaviness begins to take over around half way. Then 5:30 sees a complete change of mood and pace including some stereo panning. The final change comes just before the 7:00 mark with trumpet-like notes taking the lead over the fast-paced sequencer beat. The final minute features waves on the shore overlaid less and less with the sequencer. And finally, seabirds.

Oxygene (Part VI) fades in over the waves and birds, and we return to a sound that is both clearly electronic, but also melodic in a melancholy sort of way. In fact, there are two melodies working together until they gradually blend and then halfway through, the energy picks up as they meld. The birds and waves never leave and accompany us to the end of the track, a whole minute beyond the melody before all slowly fade out.

At just shy of 40 minutes in length, Oxygene explores a number of different electronic sounds and techniques that would come to be the hallmark of Jarre's early works. While the immediately following albums would get punchier, rowdier, crazier, and ever more complex, they would all build on what Oxygene delivered. It is not Jarre's most... anything... album. Not the shortest, nor longest, nor quietest, nor loudest, nor any superlative I can think of. But it is the proto-Jarre album, for which it should hold an esteemed place in any collection.

At this point, it is worth documenting the follow-on works that derived from the original Oxygene.

R-153549-1243808333.jpeg.jpg

In 1997, Jarre produced a sequel album called Oxygene 7-13. Despite the intervening 20 years, the album and track names suggest these are a continuation of a single body of work. In fact, the album took some of the same instruments and sounds and re-imagined them for the new musical era.

R-29573-1504003375-4183.jpeg.jpg

A year later, Jarre released Oddysey Through O2, which contains remixes of the Oxygene 7-13 tracks by various artists – mostly DJs. This is a haphazard album as not all of the originals are remixed, and some are remixed multiple times, and there is even a non-Oxygene track, Rendez-vous 98, included. Many are infused with house beats that barely let Jarre's sound through. Jarre had final say on the tracks, but it is an album only for die-hard or completionist fans.

Ten years on from Oxygene 7-13, Jarre marked the 30th anniversary of the original release with a new recording of the original tracks using the original instruments. One key difference was the requirement for a live performance to include three additional musicians as the original had included a lot of over-dubbing. The performance was filmed on a stage, in a single take, for an accompanying DVD. If you're an Oxygene fan, I highly recommend watching the DVD — it's mesmerising to watch the performers work their instruments as you hear the results.

40d9ebd8-db2e-4314-996a-da81a233f1d1_grande.jpg

Finally, as of writing at least, the 40th anniversary of the original release (2016) saw a completely new album, Oxygene 3. In contrast to the 20th-anniversary outing with Oxygene 7-13, Oxygene 3 takes the original minimalist approach but updates it with modern technology — 31 instruments were used compared to 8 on the original. The album comprises Oxygene 14 through 20.

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

If you prefer streaming, Oxygene is also available on TIDAL Hi-FiSpotify, and Apple Music.

Oxygene (30th Anniversary) is available on CD/DVD.

For more details on Oxygene 7-13 and Oxygene 3, keep an eye out for future reviews on Subjective Sounds.


^ Apologies to Douglas Adams for this appropriation from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

^^ This is one of a handful of tracks in my music collection that actually makes a chill run through me when I'm listening in a suitable environment.

Comment

Sigur Rós – () [Album Review]

Comment

Sigur Rós – () [Album Review]

Music truly is an art form. Sigur Rós have created an ethereal soundstage that soars above the clouds, yet remains grounded and relaxing to this music-loving individual. While sombre in parts, () is emotionally uplifting and extremely enjoyable to listen to. It is simply amazing, as is the vinyl layout.

I remember the moment I first heard this album, it was my first exposure to Sigur Rós. It was so compelling that I immediately placed an order for the vinyl record. When it arrived, I was further gobsmacked because the production quality was exceptional. It also included a copy of the CD, rather than the regular MP3 download code. Personally, I prefer it when artists include a copy of the CD. In a perfect world, they’d also include a download code, but we're not there yet and may never be. Regardless, I can make my own MP3 or FLAC copy from the CD if the need arises. Although, with a TIDAL Hi-Fi subscription, all my needs are catered for.

The vinyl design is beautifully bare. It’s elegant and the tactile experience is something to behold as the finish is matte and subsequently feels like a real canvas. There is a cutout on the cover that indicates the name of the album and depending on which inner sleeve is on top, the artwork will dynamically change. I don't know about you, but I love it when vinyl is produced in this manner. Think The Rolling Stones' Some Girls, or Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti. Exceptional albums in their own right but made more memorable as a result of the captivating artwork.

The inner sleeves are immaculate pieces of art with glossy elements gently imposed, thereby again signalling the album's name. However, the inner sleeves, as with all artwork contained within, is absent of any liner notes. That, however, isn't a bad thing as one doesn't need such distractions while listening to this masterpiece.

Similarly, each record label is barren of information. Even indications for Side A or B are missing, although there are slight variations in the label artwork, such as the copyright inscriptions, that over time will allow the listener to easily identify the side they’re playing. I must admit, this initially intrigued me as I had no idea which side, or which vinyl, to play first. It did dawn on me, however, as soon as I returned to TIDAL. All songs were listed as Untitled #1, #2, etc. In truth, the official track listing is simply Untitled for every song. Despite that, it was at that moment that I had remembered how no song specifically stood out from any others. It was a complete body of work and while () does have a recommended running order, the vinyl record allows the album to be played in any order the listener desires. In essence, Sigur Rós have given fans a piece of tactile interactive art, thereby bringing them closer to the music and allowing for a true subjective experience.

Of course, while this user participation is paramount to my interpretation and appreciation of the music, the recording was actually conceived as a double album; featuring one-half melancholy, the other inspirational. Truth-be-told, the music is so spectacular that either contrast blends beautifully with each other, hence the ability for the vinyl record to be played in any order.

However, in order to maintain a sense of flow, throughout this review, songs will be presented in the same order as they appear on all streaming services and the CD release. That said, I can't tell you just how addictive it is to be able to play this album, via a turntable, in so many different ways. An incredible concept!

Untitled #1 (Vaka) sets the relaxing tone by which the album will follow. You'll likely get tired of reading this but this one beautifully composed song.

Untitled #2 (Fyrsta) flows on nicely from the lead track, but the entrance to this song is a little rough for my liking. However, once the song moves into its core musical element, it’s astonishingly good.

Untitled #3 (Samskeyti) is, without a doubt, my favourite song on the album. As mentioned earlier, I consider () to be a complete body of audible art, but I could listen to this song on repeat, for eternity. It may sound morbid, but this is my funeral song. It’s uplifting and joyful as one looks towards the journey ahead while reflecting on the days that have passed. This is what music is all about; emotion and Untitled #3 (Samskeyti) has it in bucketloads.

Untitled #4 (Njósnavélin) becomes a compilation of all songs that came before it, yet it remains unique with a lovely rock edge that has sonic cues that remind me of U2. A beautiful song!

Untitled #5 (Álafoss) is simply gorgeous. That jazz-styled brush drumming is out of this world, as is the vocal instrumentation technique. Superb!

Untitled #6 (E-Bow) has a hypnotically slow beat that works perfectly with all other musical elements. It is, yet again, another beautiful song.

Untitled #7 (Dauðalagið) is probably the only song on the album that doesn't knock my socks off. It isn't bad per se, just slightly repetitive and the vocal delivery makes it less relaxing than the other songs on the album.

Untitled #8 (Popplagið) is an epically long track to close the album on, but there isn't an extraneous note to be found. The final track is exceptional and certainly commands me to listen to the entire album again, in whichever order I deem appropriate.

() is nothing short of a musical masterpiece and is one album that everyone should have in their collection. It's astoundingly good and words are really incapable of expressing just how incredible this piece of audible art is.

As for the quality of sound from the vinyl record, it’s warm and full, a complete joy to listen to. There is a little surface noise on the first few rotations, but nothing to worry about as once the music begins, there are zero distractions. You really won't be disappointed if you pick up the vinyl release. Remember, if you don’t feel like getting up and flipping the record, you’ll always have the option to sit back, relax, and enjoy this experience via the CD.

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

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

Comment