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Psychedelic Pop

Bee Gees' 1st (Album Review)

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Bee Gees' 1st (Album Review)

While the album title may be deceiving, given Bee Gees’ 1st is actually their third album, it would be their first album recorded outside Australia and subsequently available to an international audience.

Recorded and released in 1967, Bee Gees’ 1st was arguably released at the height of the psychedelic era and while that is clearly represented in the album's artwork, the songs also possess that mystical sound signature. That said, the soundscape of Bee Gees’ 1st isn't completely absent of influence from their earlier recordings, but it can be seen as an evolution and ultimately one of their best albums. No, every song isn’t exceptional, but as an album it’s flawless.

Turn Of The Century is an extremely enjoyable song to commence the album with. It’s only a shame that the stereo mix suffers incredibly badly from excessive flutter; especially noticeable when listening via headphones. Thankfully, the mono mix, available on the Deluxe Version, doesn't suffer from this problem. To be quite honest, I’m surprised the sub-standard stereo mix was, and remains, available to the public. Interestingly, while it is distracting, it does add an interesting, almost psychedelic feel to the song. I can listen to and appreciate either mix, although the mono mix, in this case, is beyond reproach. 

Holiday is a lovely song that is not only enhanced by the harmonising vocals but that orchestral backing is superb.

Red Chair, Fade Away is the first Beatle-esque song on the album, although it really doesn't suit the Bee Gees. That said, it would have been intriguing to see what The Beatles and George Martin could have done with this song.

One Minute Woman is a lovely song.

In My Own Time is another song that one could be forgiven for mistaking as a Beatles recording. Nevertheless, it is a solid psychedelic rock tune that works well for the Bee Gees.

Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You is exceptional! The eeriness of the song, thanks in part to the Gregorian chant and the mellotron, is beyond belief. It is one of the best songs of the 60s and one of the best tunes ever recorded by the Bee Gees.

Craise Finton Kirk Royal Academy of Arts has to be one of the most obscure song titles I've ever come across. While different in style, to the other songs on the album, it does work, even if one immediately, once again, thinks of The Beatles.

New York Mining Disaster 1941 is another stellar track and would be the first international single for the Bee Gees. While it may not be as eerie as Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You, it isn't too far removed and works remarkably well amongst the other songs on the album.

Cucumber Castle is a solid song. Nothing to write home about, but the album wouldn't be the same without it.

To Love Somebody is 60s pop gold. While the song has been covered by a Who's Who of the recording industry, I dare say the original remains superior to all others. Although, I have always enjoyed Michael Bolton's rendition. Regardless, this is one song that has not aged and will undoubtedly stand the test of time for generations to come.

I Close My Eyes is an interesting song. There is no definitive rhythm for the mind to latch onto, yet it is compellingly addictive. A solid B-side.

I Can't See Nobody is another exceptional song and Robyn's vocal pitch is simply stunning, as is the harmonious backing vocals. This is one song where you’ll likely sing along to the chorus, but allow all other verses to go by as the vocal dexterity required to adequately karaoke this song would be challenging to say the least.

Please Read Me is a solid B-side.

Close Another Door is an interesting song with shifting musical elements throughout. Despite the constant shifts, it is thoroughly enjoyable and ensures I'll play the album again and stay within the Bee Gees' catalogue.

Overall, Bee Gees' 1st is an exceptional album that is a must own for every Bee Gees fan, especially those interested in the psychedelic 60s. It’s just a shame a reissue hasn’t been delivered to fans in over a decade and the last reissue is now out-of-print. However, if you don’t mind purchasing digital downloads, Bee Gees' 1st is available on the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC) and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, Bee Gees' 1st is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Click here to read other Bee Gees reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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Elton John - Madman Across The Water (Album Review)

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Elton John - Madman Across The Water (Album Review)

Madman Across The Water is an unequivocally exceptional album from start to finish. Having listened to the 24/96kHz MQA edition on TIDAL Hi-Fi, there is only one word that can fully describe the album and that would be immersive. The soundstage, performance, and presence of the band is incredible and you really get a sense of being in the studio while the album was being recorded. I have also listened to the CD-quality FLAC on TIDAL Hi-Fi, but it sounds rather flat and uninspiring by comparison. Yes, the MQA edition is really that good! That said, one must remember that MQA is not a cure and a poor sounding master will still sound poor. Sometimes there is little to no difference as readers would have seen in my review of Kalio’s sensational album A/B. It all depends on how the album was mastered. If the same mastering was used then the difference between a well-mastered CD and MQA, or high-res, is minimal at best. However, there are so many poorly mastered CDs that I dare say MQA looks more appealing as it isn’t based upon the CD master, but the original studio mastering that hopefully, in most cases, is not compressed to hell and back. For more information about MQA, check out MQA.co.uk.

Tiny Dancer is an absolute classic and John's vocals are perfectly placed in the mix. Close your eyes and you will swear John and his band are in the room with you. The timbre of the instruments and John's vocals are simply astounding.

Levon is an incredible performance. The vocal build to the choral climax is to die for. It is sonically beautiful and one of John's greatest recordings.

Razor Face is a solid song, but it isn't anything to write home about.

Madman Across The Water is incredible, but as mentioned in my review of Tumbleweed Connection, I do prefer the original over this re-recording. As this is the version most people would be familiar with, I encourage you to check out the original. You won't regret it!

Indian Sunset has an impressive level of musicality. So good, in fact, that it almost steals the thunder from John's vocal delivery which is astonishing in its own right. I specifically love the near acoustic vocal delivery and the gradual layering of musical components, resulting in a more realised composition that will knock your socks off. Music is seldom this good and while I adore my Elton John compilations, Indian Sunset doesn’t feature on any of them. This song is yet one more point of validation that proves John and Taupin are musical geniuses and a collaborative team like no other.

Holiday Inn feels as though it should have been included on Tumbleweed Connection as it sounds a little disjointed with the rest of the songs on Madman Across The Water. As a song on its own, it has some exceptional musical shifts that I simply adore, but overall the song is somewhat forgettable as I don't feel the lyrical delivery is as polished as it could be. Of course, I could merely have this view because it follows the exceptional Indian Sunset.

Rotten Peaches is a B-side. It flows well within the album tracking, but it is pure filler.

All The Nasties is my favourite song from the album. It astonishes me that this song hasn't made any of his career perspective compilations. Elton John is clearly greater than a single compilation will allow. Thankfully in the modern era of the playlist, the individual listener can compile their own quasi-compilation. By the way, the drum depth throughout this song is pure gold. All The Nasties is truly exceptional and will captivate you from the first note.

Goodbye is short but beautiful. It follows on perfectly from All The Nasties and compels me to listen to the album again and stay within John's catalogue.

Overall, Madman Across The Water is an incredibly recorded, mixed, and mastered performance that is simply unforgettable. While I adore the sonic presentation that the MQA edition delivers, the collector in me is compelled to pick up the SACD release as it contains the 2004 Greg Penny 5.I Surround Sound Mix that can only improve upon the immersion provided by MQA. Interestingly, the surround sound version reportedly contains the external version of Razor Face on the surround sound mix. That said, it wasn't my favourite song on the album so I'm unsure if it’s truly of interest. Nevertheless, it is good to know a variant exists, even if it’s only a longer rendition.

Madman Across The Water is available on Vinyl, SACD, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, you can also listen to Madman Across The Water on Spotify or Apple Music.

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

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Elton John - Empty Sky (Album Review)

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Elton John - Empty Sky (Album Review)

Debut albums are interesting. They can produce one hit wonders, launch long-lasting careers, or be largely forgotten. The later is, of course, what has happened to Elton John's debut Empty Sky. Yes, John would go on to be incredibly successful, but I dare say most people would be unaware of this debut and would likely point to the self-titled Elton John album as his debut. Regardless, if you are reading this then it is not too late to check out Empty Sky and can hear the true origins of one of the greatest musicians in history.

Besides Skyline Pigeon, most people, even casual fans, would not have heard the songs off this album as they seldom appear on John’s live performances or career perspective compilations. It is truly a shame as there is plenty to appreciate here. The album is beautifully recorded and mastered, even though the edition used for this review was the 1995 remaster. We must remember, however, that remaster wasn’t always such a dirty word. It did, initially at least, have noble intentions.

The album artwork is gorgeous and screams of the need to own a copy on vinyl. While it was reissued in September 2017, it is important to note the bonus tracks are not included on the vinyl release. I'm normally a stickler for original track listings, but in this case I feel the bonus tracks add depth to the album and most likely the only reason they were previously omitted was due to vinyl runtime restraints. Fingers crossed there is a download code that will include the bonus tracks, but wouldn’t it be cool if they packaged the original vinyl with a 7 or 10-inch record including those three tracks. Now, that would be a value-added proposition for fans like you and me.

Empty Sky has a great rhythm that sets the tone for the entire album. The instrumental introduction is fantastic and allows the mind to become enveloped in the tempo before John's iconic vocal is introduced. You will be toe tapping and head bopping throughout.

Val-Hala has a very regal sound to it. It is lovely, but there is a little distortion in the recording that I find distracting. I'm not sure if this was intentional, or a result of the recording and mastering techniques of the era. I had considered that it could have been an artefact of the remastering process, but if one is to believe the blurb, this remastered edition used the Sadie Digital System and Prism Super Noise Shaper that is said to only enhanced the recording. Subsequently, my only thought is that it is present on the original, especially as it is also the only song on the album that exhibits the effect. Perhaps it was done with artistic intention.

Western Ford Gateway has an absolutely sensational electric guitar riff! The vocal presentation is reminiscent of John Lennon's Imagine (album) recording style. Of course, Lennon’s album was released well over a decade later, but I find it intriguing to look back on music with present-day thoughts and wonder where the influence originated. When I hear this song I often wonder if Elton John influenced John Lennon, or if Elton took influence from Lennon's recordings with The Beatles. Even if there was no real-world correlation, it is interesting to ponder such blasphemous theories.

Hymn 2000 is an enjoyable song, but I find the flute and other musical elements detract from John's vocal delivery. It simply feels a little too busy, especially when listening on loudspeakers. Headphones, interestingly enough, limit this effect.

Lady What's Tomorrow is a nice song, but it is nothing to write home about. A classic B-side!

Sails has a rhythm rivalling Empty Sky. I love it! When I listen to this song, and so many songs from the album, I can't believe these classics have mostly been omitted from the various live performances and compilations. Granted, when you are as successful as Elton John has been, all songs can't always be revisited, but it would be wonderful to see a little more variety at times.

The Scaffold has a gorgeous tonality and rhythm. It is one of my favourite songs on the album and has an addictive chorus that compels you to sing-a-long. Absolutely Brilliant!

Skyline Pigeon is arguably the most well-known track from John's debut album and was included the exceptional compilation Diamonds (Deluxe CD and streaming editions only). The Piano Version included on Diamonds is the re-recording that was done during the Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player sessions. It certainly has more polish than the original and John's vocals are significantly more prominent, but I do love the rawness of this original recording and if you haven't heard it, I implore you to give it a go. It is more acoustic, by comparison, but thoroughly worthwhile.

Gulliver/It's Hay Chewed (Reprise Version) is an interesting song that closes out the original release. It isn't bad, but the intermingling of songs is somewhat distracting and I feel Skyline Pigeon would have been the perfect song to conclude the album with. That said, the first few minutes of Gulliver/It's Hay Chewed is excellent.

Lady Samantha is a solid bonus track with exceptional musicality. It is a shame it didn't make the core album.

All Across The Havens is most certainly a B-side. Perfectly adequate but I can understand why this song didn't make the initial cut. It has a great rhythm to it, however.

It's Me That You Need has an incredibly gorgeous vocal track. I also love the musical elements and it is yet another track that shows just how successful Elton John was to become.

Just Like Strange Rain isn't bad, but it isn't great either. While I’m glad it’s on the remastered CD/ digital release, it isn't overly compelling and fails to generate the interest I believe is required to listen to the album again. That said, l know how good the rest of the album is and therefore I'm going back for another listen.

Overall, Empty Sky is one Elton John album that you simply must own or have within your streaming music library. It is timeless and will likely always remain that way. 

This review is based on the 1995 remastered CD on TIDAL Hi-Fi. While I remain interested in the vinyl reissue, I find the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi is sonically perfect. That said, the collector in me is already wanting to reach out to Piers (mataurecords.com.au) and ask him to order me a copy.

Elton John's Empty Sky is available to own on Vinyl and CD, or digitally from the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC) or iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, you can check the album out on Spotify or Apple Music.

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

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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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