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Nirvana

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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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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