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1927 – …ish (Vinyl Review)

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1927 – …ish (Vinyl Review)

Sometimes a debut album can become a smashing success that simply can’t be replicated. Selling in excess of 400,000 copies and winning the 1988 Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Awards for best debut single (That's When I Think of You) and album, 1927 effectively became a household name in Australia overnight. While international success eluded them, that shouldn’t reflect on the wonderful musical experience that is ...ish. Ian McFarlane, in his opus The Encyclopedia Of Australian Rock And Pop, put it perfectly when he wrote ...ish is brimful of stirring, stately pop rock anthems. Yes, dear reader, it is that good!

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SIDE A

To Love Me is a great opener that is truly representative of the Australian music scene during the 80s. It is recorded, mixed, and mastered beautifully, as is the entire album.

That’s When I Think Of You has a beat, vocal presentation, and guitar solo that are off the charts. There is no pretentious playing here, it is simply beautiful! This is what good music sounds like, you literally won't be able to stop your body moving to the rhythm. So good!

If I Could is rock ballad heaven. Listen to the song once and you’ll be singing it for the rest of the day. If I Could is simply stunning!

You'll Never Know picks up the tempo, but doesn't feel out of place in the tracking of the album. By this stage, if you haven't already turned the volume up, I suggest you do so. Get that air guitar out and warm up those vocal cords, you're going to need them.

Compulsory Hero is one of the greatest songs ever recorded, by anyone, anywhere in the world. It is an unofficial Australian anthem and not only does it bring me to tears, but it makes me proud to be an Australian. It’s a sonic masterpiece!

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SIDE B

All The People is a great pop/rock tune, but it was always going to be difficult for any song to follow Compulsory Hero. Thankfully, in the minute or so it takes to flip the record, the senses have a chance to reset. Regardless, All The People is a worthy addition to the album.

Nothing In The Universe is a lovely song. While not on par with some of the earlier songs, it is certainly no B-side.

Propaganda Machine has an interesting punk/pop feel to it. I love it!

Give The Kid A Break has a sensational beat and series of guitar riffs. I hope you didn't turn that volume knob down as this song deserves to be heard at ear bleeding levels. While a B-side, no one ever said a B-side couldn't be thoroughly enjoyable.

The Mess, unfortunately, doesn't follow the quality B-side that is Give The Kid A Break. The mess is, for lack of a better term, a mess and sounds like pure filler. That, however, doesn’t deter me from flipping back to Side A and enjoying this sensational album once more.

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...ish is not only one of the greatest albums ever recorded by an Australian band, it is sonically and musically on par with all the greatest bands of the era. In fact, the production quality here is world-class and it truly shows on the 2018 vinyl re-issue. Pressed at the world-renowned Pallas plant in Germany, I’ve never heard this album sound so good…ever! The record is pressed on audiophile quality eco-grade vinyl and is so silent you’ll hear the blood rushing through your veins before you hear any unwanted surface noise. The soundstage is immersive, with incredible depth that proves just how good vinyl can sound if diligence is taken in the mastering and pressing process. Yes, the remastered edition on TIDAL Hi-Fi is excellent, but it pales in comparison to the vinyl release.

I could honestly keep talking about how exceptional this album is, but I suggest you just order a copy and experience it for yourself.

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

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

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Nirvana - "Bleach" (Deluxe Edition Vinyl Review)

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Nirvana - "Bleach" (Deluxe Edition Vinyl Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Big Star - #1 Record (Vinyl Review)

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Big Star - #1 Record (Vinyl Review)

While the #1 record position remained elusive for Big Star, time would end up being kind to this iconic 70s band as their #1 Record remains relevant over four decades later and has finally achieved the success that it should have at the time of release.

Big Star’s music sounds familiar, likely as a result of combined sound elements from numerous late 60s influences, but their sound signature is unique. While Big Star’s music can be seen as having influenced the alternative music scene, I also can’t help but see a correlation between their musicality and the often criticised, but secretly loved, ballad recordings by most of the 80s hair metal bands. I feel The Ballad Of El Goodo is a good example of this and while clearly inspired by those who came before, Big Star would take rock and pop and subsequently merge the two into the power pop subgenre.

While I have always adored power pop and the ballad-esk sound, the first time I recall noticing Big Star was when I was crate digging at a local record store a few years ago. The #1 Record cover is hard to miss and while rather nondescript, it is compelling. At the time I wasn’t confident enough to blind-buy the record, but I did sample the album on iTunes. This process was how I decided if I wanted to take a gamble on new music at the time. It was a poor man’s approach to music discovery, but it was essential at the time. Thankfully, TIDAL Hi-Fi has since assumed that role. The problem with the iTunes sample method was the best bits, such as the killer guitar solo in When My Baby’s Beside Me, began after the 90-second sample has elapsed. Hence, it was difficult to fully evaluate the song or an album. That said, it was significantly more helpful than the 30 seconds iTunes began with when the iTunes Store opened in 2003. Regardless, I had heard enough and knew that I had to have this #1 Record.

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The vinyl reissue that I own was pressed in 2009, just as the vinyl revival was starting to gain significant momentum. Sonically, the vinyl is silent and presents a very pleasing tonality and soundstage. That said, there is a little sibilance on side two, during the final couple of tracks, most likely due to the slightly off-centre pressing. It isn’t detrimental, just noticeable.

Overall the sound signature of the vinyl reissue is pleasing and while I would love to be able to let you know which master was used, the information on the sleeve is sparse and doesn’t even include production credits. Although, the cover-art design team were thankfully acknowledged.

As with many classic albums, the reason mastering is important is that to reissue an album, many record labels believe that the audio must be remastered. As a result of this mentality, #1 Record was remastered in 2009 and that remastering session reduced the overall dynamic range of the recording. While it wasn’t brutalised as much as many other remastered releases, it is still different to the original and that personally drives me insane. The remaster is currently found on post-2009 CD releases and TIDAL Hi-Fi et al. Having listened to the CD-equivalent TIDAL Hi-Fi remastered edition, I can say with certainty that the musicality of the album is still present. It is actually quite similar to the vinyl reissue, although the organic vinyl sound signature does create a difference in tonality. The truth is, the vinyl reissue is probably from the same 2009 mastering session, but who really knows?

Seriously, is it so difficult for record labels to add this information to a release?

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While this reissue is largely reminiscent of the way many albums were released in the 70s, the nondescript album sleeve and lack of liner notes is disappointing in the modern era. Perhaps we have been spoilt with the production qualities of reissues from The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and Queen etc. Granted, Big Star never saw the success that these before mentioned bands did, but I don’t believe that should factor into the design of an album. After all, when you look at the amazing albums released by independent artists, the major record labels should be ashamed of the substandard products they release. Yes, I know they are in the business of making money, not music or art, but a little more effort can go a long way to ensuring that business expands through word of mouth and continued interest.

That said, I’m not sure if I can recommend the vinyl reissue of Big Star’s #1 Record, although the vinyl sound signature may be enough to sway my opinion.

Granted, the original pressings were never extraordinary from what I’ve seen, but the print quality of the record sleeve is disappointing. An enlarged Polaroid photograph wouldn’t look as blown out as the photograph used on the rear cover. Yes, I understand it was the 70s and it was likely seen as artistic, but the reissue is still substandard in comparison to the original pressings.

Unfortunately, it is just too barebones for my liking. The record is housed in a plain (cheap) rice paper inner sleeve with no liner notes and no download code. The value proposition is ultimately decreased exponentially as a result of these omissions. Purists will most likely not be bothered by these concerns, but it doesn’t compel me to go and purchase their follow-up album, Radio City, on vinyl.

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SIDE ONE

Feel has a really unique offbeat entrance that I enjoy. The distortion in the recording is reminiscent of many Rolling Stone recordings, but I’d say Feel is a little less jarring than some of the Stones tracks. That said, this isn’t one of my favourite tracks on the album, despite being a solid song. It just doesn’t touch my soul and I feel something is missing, but I can’t put my finger on what it is.

The Ballad Of El Goodo is pure perfection! It sounds absolutely gorgeous on vinyl. As I have listened to both the vinyl and TIDAL Hi-Fi editions, this song alone is the reason to buy the vinyl release. When comparing the two, I found the clarity of TIDAL Hi-Fi to be too jarring across the entire soundstage.

In The Street is a solid track and who doesn’t love a cowbell in a song? The semi-guitar solo is thoroughly enjoyable and the rhythm will have you toe tapping and head bopping in no time at all.

Thirteen has a gorgeous guitar strum and vocal presentation. It doesn’t get much better than this and reminds me of Neil Young’s best works.

Don’t Lie To Me is Beatle-esk and you can really hear the influence in the guitar riff, vocal style, and drum beat. It is truly an epic song!

The India Song is an interesting, multilayered track, that has utilised what sounds like a flute. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm this as information is sparse, but I wonder if this lovely harmonic sound is actually derived from the electric piano of Terry Manning. If anyone has any more information, I’d love to hear from you. It is a multilayered track that merges all elements together extremely well.

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SIDE TWO

When My Baby’s Beside Me is a fantastic song with an addictive rhythm. It is a solid rock/pop tune that will appeal to almost anyone. Interestingly, when I first saw the incredible documentary Sound City, I heard a tune that Rick Springfield and Dave Grohl were working on and I could have sworn that I had heard that song before. The song in question is The Man That Never Was and every time I hear the song, it reminds me of When My Baby’s Beside Me. While they are clearly different songs, Springfield’s vocal delivery is the highlighting point that connects the two songs. I’d be interested to find out if you too, dear reader, can hear the similarities. I love finding both intentional and unintentional connections in music.

My Life Is Right is another song that reminds me of the songwriting skills of Lennon and McCartney. It is a lovely mellow tune, that defines power pop, with the execution of rock elements throughout. It is a superb recording and I find that I am always captivated by the clarity and immediacy of the guitar strum and depth of the drum beat.

Give Me Another Chance has the most incredible vocal presentation on the album. So smooth, creamy, and well balanced. Alex Chilton nailed it!

I really like the multi-lead vocalist approach that Big Star went with. It reminds me of the Eagles, whereby the vocalist with voice best suited for the song, becomes the lead vocalist of that track. While that process is mostly a 70s thing, and many modern day leading men and women wouldn’t give their roles over so easily, I feel it is an aspect of harmony delivery that is missing from many modern recordings. It simply adds complexity and variance that can be enjoyed by all. No doubt some of you will likely point out the various boy bands that perform in a similar manner. While I can’t disagree completely, I have to be honest and say that while they can be good, they’re not 1970s good.

Try Again carries on beautifully from Give Me Another Chance. Chris Bell’s vocal delivery reminds me of Lennon’s solo work, especially on Imagine. When I hear music this good, I simply can’t fathom how Big Star was not one of the most popular bands in the world. I acknowledge their record label suffered problems with distribution etc, but it is almost criminal when you consider how talented the band was.

Watch The Sunrise has some incredible acoustic guitar work throughout the song, especially during the introduction. It is a lovely ballad-styled song.

ST100/6 has to be the weirdest song title I have ever encountered. If you have a better one, let me know in the comments. I also feel that this song should have been excluded from the album. Watch The Sunrise would have been a perfect ending for the album. Unfortunately, ST100/6 doesn’t do what all good final tracks should. It doesn’t encourage me to listen to the album again or stay within Big Star’s catalogue. The problem is, there is a song there, it just isn’t realised as the song ends prematurely at 0:57 seconds.

Despite my complaints regarding the quality of the vinyl production, it is an album that I enjoy having in my collection and I think you would too. While I don’t spin it as often as I’d like to, the songs are iconic to the era and stand the test of time. Is it smooth rock, pop-rock, or power pop? I honestly don’t think it matters what you call it when the music is this good.

Big Star’s #1 Record is available on Vinyl, CD, iTunes, and in 16/44 FLAC at the TIDAL Store. It is also available for streaming on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music.  

Other Big Star reviews by Subjective Sounds:

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Crowded House – 2016 Re-Issue Thoughts

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Crowded House – 2016 Re-Issue Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AC/DC – Ballbreaker (Vinyl Review)

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AC/DC – Ballbreaker (Vinyl Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Side One

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

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

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

I absolutely adore the groovy feeling that Boogie Man presents.  

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

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

Side Two

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

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

Caught With Your Pants Down is classic AC/DC.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bob Marley &amp; The Wailers – Legend (30th Anniversary Tri-Colour Vinyl Review)

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Bob Marley & The Wailers – Legend (30th Anniversary Tri-Colour Vinyl Review)

While Bob Marley’s catalogue is full of songs that are worthy of a best of compilation, Legend offers what I would consider to be the very best of his work.

While this review will focus on the 30th Anniversary Limited Edition tri-coloured vinyl, I’m also personally interested in obtaining the Blu-ray High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) release. The 30th Anniversary Blu-ray edition consists of the CD and of course the Pure Audio Blu-ray disc that is encoded in Stereo 2.0 LPCM 24bit/96kHz, along with Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD MA 5.1 24bit/96kHz formats. As a DTS HD Master Audio fan I’d love to pump this edition through my system, although the vinyl edition does provide more than enough depth and musicality to please me.

The Blu-ray 30th Anniversary edition is also presented in a lovely hard cover book-style that includes a 28-page booklet containing liner notes, unseen photographs, and forwards by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. I personally love these book-styled releases as I feel they add value to a format that is stuck somewhere between nostalgia and non-importance as the world marches to the streaming beat.

It is essential to note that there was a HFPA single disc edition released prior to this before mentioned 30th Anniversary Blu-ray set. That earlier edition only offered a Stereo 2.0 LPCM 24bit/96kHz mix and was largely criticised amongst the audiophile community. Basically that release had an average dynamic range of 10 out of 20, whereas the later release had a much more respectable 16 out of 20. The vinyl edition, that this review is based on, also has a 16 out of 20 dynamic range. Hence, it is best to avoid the single disc HFPA edition as mastering and dynamic range are more important than raw bit rates. It is arguably missteps like this that cause doubt in consumers mind, regarding the validity of high-definition audio formats. For those of you that are interested, the 30th Anniversary standalone CD also has a reduced dynamic range from 16 to 12. Seriously, CD is capable of a 16 and I see no reason why the CD is mastered to a lower standard.

I truly wish record labels would make one ultimate master and never touch it again!

Yes, I know they would fail to make money if they didn’t re-issue the back catalogue, but the public perception, thanks to marketing, is that remastering must logically be better; even the name remaster brings about connotations that the original master wasn’t sufficient. I can assure you that isn’t always the case. However, if done properly a remaster can be exceptional. Truth be told, I love reissues, but please don’t mess with my sound unless it is truly beneficial. By all means, re-issue an album with a new booklet containing additional information and photographs. Essentially add value so that I have something tactile to look at and hold while listening; hence why I am interested in the book-styled edition of Legend.  

Sadly, this poorly mastered initial HFPA release wasn’t the only disappointment on the Pure Audio Blu-ray format. One day I will review Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black (HFPA) release and you will see further evidence regarding the shortcuts taken to launch a new format quickly. I’d like to say that is the only other one Universal Music made errors on, but I simply can’t lie. The truth is the HFPA format is excellent when done properly, but the same can be said for vinyl, CD, and frankly any other format you can think of.

Nevertheless, we are here to discuss one of the most beautiful vinyl records I have in my collection. The tri-colour, as you can see in the photographs, is simply exquisite. It is reminiscent of not only Bob Marley, but the reggae sound and associated culture. I was honestly blown away when I first saw the records as a number of other multi-coloured releases I have are questionable, regarding the colours and the way the colour has been mixed. To get it so accurate, there has to be some magic sauce in the mix. YouTube is full of videos that detail how records are pressed and when I watch those videos, I’m honestly amazed this turned out so well. It is so accurate that it reminds me of the way picture discs are created, yet I don’t believe this process was used as coloured vinyl vs picture disc vinyl have quite a different appearance and the noise floor is also a key noticeable difference. With that in mind, this pressing is basically silent, with only a little surface noise noticeable between tracks. It is really no worse than a solid colour or black pressing and the sound presentation is amongst the best in my collection. You can really turn the volume on this album up! If anyone has any information on how they pressed this record, I would love to know. I know this isn’t a new technique as the Icehouse album Man Of Colours was also released in a limited tri-colour pressing in 1987. Unfortunately, I have never been able to source a copy of that record for a reasonable price. They literally go for a few hundred in mint condition. If you’re one of the lucky few to have a copy that you no longer want, shoot me a message.

Anyway, what album was I reviewing again? Honestly, I have wanted to do this review for the longest time, but I knew that I would digress excessively.

The vinyl sleeve itself is presented as a gatefold and looks simply stunning. The forwards that are included in the before mentioned Blu-ray release, are also present within in the gatefold. Despite that, I still want the ultimate digital edition to go with the ultimate vinyl edition. It is the collector in me and I feel no need to apologise for my consumeristic behaviour.

Most pleasing is the level of detail that is included with each song on the back of the sleeve. It is concise but includes important information relating to the album it was originally released on, along with a short review. I truly believe this additional information should be included with all albums, but it seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

Let’s progress to my subjective thoughts of the songs, before I digress any further.

LP 1 / SIDE 1

Is This Love was a fantastic choice for the first track of the album as it highlights the key sound signature that we recognise as belonging to the reggae genre. It has a simple, yet complex beat, combined with vocals and an overall tonality that will get your body moving.  

No Woman No Cry is a lovely song, but I’ve always disliked the lows in the song, especially within the first few chords as the keyboard introduction sounds too distorted for my liking. Of course, it is important to note that this is the live version of the song, from the London Lyceum concert – released on the Bob Marley & The Wailers Live! album. The original studio recording, found on Natty Dread, doesn’t exhibit this effect. However, the studio recording is arguably not as strong a performance as the live recording. Let’s just say that I’m glad we have both editions, but neither is 100% perfect. While both versions are not on the tri-coloured vinyl release, the studio edition does also feature on the before mentioned 30th Anniversary Blu-ray (HFPA) release. That all said, once the song gets going this initial dampener dissipates and I find myself singing along to the chorus line.  

Could You Be Loved has such an addictive beat. I dare you to remain still while this song is playing. Yes, that could likely be said about all reggae music as it is a genre that encourages uninhibited movement, but I have also heard many reggae songs and artists that don’t have the resounding effect that Marley and the Wailers did. I truly believe it was Marley’s inclusion of rock and roll elements that assisted in their sound signature.  

Three Little Birds shifts the style to being a little more melodic, in direct comparison to the speed of Could You Be Loved, but I love it. Three Little Birds is one of those sing-a-long style songs that has such a positive chorus. I’ve no doubt that many parents have sung the chorus to their children over the years.

LP 1 / SIDE 2

Buffalo Soldier is my son’s favourite song. He has the standard CD edition and despite only being 9, he can belt out a fairly good rendition. Although, some of the lyrics are a little different to those that Marley and Williams penned. Buffalo Soldier certainly follows on well from the pace of Three Little Birds. While this is a compilation album, I find that the song selection and track positions are perfect. There is never a sonic jolt to dampen this collection of incredible songs. It is as if all the songs were composed at the same time. I mention this because many compilations do not present such a smooth transition from track to track.

Get Up Stand Up is certainly motivation from a societal perspective, but I find that I’m conflicted with regards to the speed of the song. Subjectively, I would like the tempo to be a little faster. Seriously, I’m clutching at straws aren’t I? It is an incredible song!  

Stir It Up follows a similar tempo to Get Up Stand Up, hence it tracks well. I find Stir It Up is a very simple composition, but rather evolved as each time I listen to the song I experience the different layers of musicality the song has to offer. Over the years I have appreciated Marley’s music for its flexibility, thereby allowing appreciation by both novices and the collector/audiophile community. While Stir It Up isn’t my favourite track on the album, I can’t exactly say what I dislike about the song. I guess I’m just not feeling the groove. In reflection, and somewhat fickly, I can’t help but wonder if it is a little too complex and my mind is struggling to identify a key groove. 

Easy Skanking is simply awesome. The tempo is perfect and I love the backing vocals. Sometimes backing vocals can be a distraction, but occasionally they work exceptionally well. This is one case where I couldn’t imagine the song without the backing vocals.

LP 2 / SIDE 1

One Love / People Get Ready is one of those simple, yet complex and feel-good vibe songs. It is exceptional!

I Shot The Sheriff, in my opinion, is the best song in Marley’s catalogue. I really enjoy the little shift between the verse and the chorus, where the song seems to halt but we know the song is not over yet. However, unlike Easy Skanking, I’m not convinced the backing vocals are necessary. I feel they are extraneous and frankly aren’t as polished as I would like. That said, they are so irritating to me that they strangely make the song even more compelling.  

Waiting In Vain is a lovely ballad, but isn’t necessarily a song that I listen to outside of the album/compilation format. That’s a shame when I think about it, as it is truly an exceptional track and one that I would say is a highlight of Marley’s career.  

Redemption Song is about as acoustic as Marley gets. That isn’t a bad thing as the guitar twang and vocal delivery is simply gorgeous.

LP 2 / SIDE 2

Satisfy My Soul just doesn’t. I don’t find the song offensive, I just haven’t linked my soul with the song. I thoroughly enjoy the chorus, but I’m not a fan of the verse. The song simply feels disjointed to me.

Exodus is full of energy and the brass instruments are off the charts, while thankfully not taking over the song as they are prone to do. The beat is, as so many Marley songs are, addictive. Basically, every element of this song is perfect and I simply can’t fault it. 

Jamming is a groovy song. It honestly amazes me how simple some of Marley’s songs appear to be, yet they are offer the listener so much and I never get tired of listening to them.

Punky Reggae Party concludes the compilation with a song that has elements of various other tunes that have come before it. It isn’t my favourite song as I feel the chorus is a little overworked, but this song does encourage me to listen to the album again and I feel that is what all closing tracks should aim to achieve.

To be completely honest, this review could have easily been summed up by saying Bob Marley is a legend! Seriously, I don’t think there is anything else that can be said to justify just how astonishing Marley and the Wailers truly were.

My edition of Legend, used in this review, was purchased from Goldmine Records.

Legend is currently available for purchase on Vinyl, Blu-ray High Fidelity Pure Audio, CD, iTunes, and the TIDAL Store.

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

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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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Carpenters – Close To You (CD Review)

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Carpenters – Close To You (CD Review)

For years, I have been captivated by the Carpenters and the incredible vocal capabilities of Karen Carpenter. To say the world of music is a lesser place for her no longer being with us is an incredible understatement. For me, she was the quintessential female vocalist. Her vocal range was incredibly smooth and immediately identifiable. I find with modern music, that many of the vocalists blur into one another and lack a defined sound. Yes, imitation is a form of flattery, but there can only be one Karen Carpenter and this should also apply to all present and future musicians; for nothing is more enjoyable as a music lover than randomly listening to a song and instantly identifying the artist. Seriously, try it with modern music, of any genre, and you will find that many of the run-of-the-mill songs and albums don’t have a unique sound.

What is unique is the Carpenter’s second album Close To You. It is an exceptionally refined recording that could easily be mistaken for a greatest hits collection. That said, I don’t believe the Carpenters ever released a bad album, although I am critical of some of their style experimentations, on various albums.

The version I have of Close To You is the ‘digitally remastered’ release from 1990 and to be honest, it isn’t a bad mastering. Perhaps that is because it was mastered before the ‘loudness wars’. Certainly, there have been no additional re-mastering attempts and I have to be completely honest by saying that this is a good thing. While I have never heard an analogue version of this album, I feel that much of the sound that is associated with analogue sound has made it through the transfer. That said, it is still a little too sterile for my liking, but it is not obnoxiously so.

Regarding the analogue reproduction of the Carpenters, I have the vinyl re-issue of The Singles 1969-1973 that contains (They Long To Be) Close To You, amongst others. Yes, we all love that song, even though it has been overplayed, but I have to be completed honest when I say that this vinyl re-issue offers a superior sonic quality than this ‘digitally remastered’ edition. It is smoother and fuller. Yes, all the buzzwords that vinyl lovers throw around, but for good reason. Vinyl simply fills in the gaps. It is also a very different mastering approach and while I acknowledge that it may in-fact be the technological limitations of vinyl that colourises the sound, I like it!

Unfortunately, on both of these albums, mastering details are largely non-existent and unverifiable. Therefore, I don’t know the original source that was used for either release or the mastering engineer involved. Although, Bernie Grundman and Richard Carpenter have been referenced in relation to the CD remastering from 1990. Despite this, one must remember that each mastering engineer will master an album for their own particular tastes. Hence, why it is essential to have some of this information, especially with regards to vinyl re-issues, as too many are reportedly using questionable CD-quality masters to print the new vinyl re-issues. In a world where vinyl and streaming music delivery platforms are consistently increasing in popularity, skimping on vinyl production is only going to have a negative effect on the music industry as a whole. I implore anyone in the creation of music to take the mastering process very seriously, to ensure that the ultimate physical format is the perfect complementary product for the modern day streaming technologies.

My opinion is that the vinyl re-issue of The Singles 1969-1973 is most likely pressed from the 96kHz/24bit release that can be found on HDtracks as Universal Music, under their Back to Black label, are not always going back to the original tapes, but using the high-resolution digital master that was hopefully captured from a first generation master and mastered correctly.

While the CD is adequate, the quality of the CD booklet is pathetic. Seriously, if you’re going to go to the trouble of remastering the music, why not include additional photographs and liner notes from the era? Even updated notes that look back at the album, the production, and the remastering process would be appreciated. The CD design is so uninspiring that I would say you’re better off streaming the album as the physical product doesn’t offer any additional value; especially if you’re a TIDAL Hi-Fi subscriber.

Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the songs that make this album a must own/listen for any fan of the Carpenters:

We’ve Only Just Begun is a simply gorgeous song to start the album with. It is the epitome of the Carpenters in my opinion. An intertwining mix of piano, vocals, and a gentle beat that is hypnotic, ensures this song is repeatedly played. The only element that I don’t like in this song is the drum beat. It sounds rather hollow, as if the drum skin wasn’t tensed correctly in the studio. That said, it may just be the sound signature as it appears on other tracks as well. Interestingly, the before mentioned vinyl release doesn’t suffer from this issue, hence why mastering information is important.

Love Is Surrender is a track that I enjoy, but I find the pacing to be out-of-sync with my expectancies of a Carpenters song. However, I love the merging of the song into Maybe It’s You.

Maybe It’s You again highlights the incredible talent of Karen Carpenter. The backing instrumental elements are perfectly suited to the song and it takes you on a beautiful sonic journey. This is one song I would love to hear on vinyl, or high-resolution digital formats, as I swear there is more to the song than the CD is able to expose.

Reason To Believe is the perfect follow up tune to Maybe It’s You. It increases the pace of the album, thereby ensuring Help is a welcome addition to the tracking of the album. While I love The Beatles original version of Help, the Carpenters edition is nothing short of superb. Yes, the world of music is large enough for these two incredible renditions.

Nothing can be said about (They Long To Be) Close To You that hasn’t already been said. It is one of the world’s greatest songs ever recorded. While the Carpenters weren’t the first to record this song, it is their song. Nobody does it better!

Baby It’s You is a harmonic wonderland. Seriously, close your eyes and turn the volume up. Incredible!

I’ll Never Fall In Love Again is another absolute classic by the Carpenters.

Crescent Moon has a moody feel to it and while I enjoy the song, I feel it is disjointed in relation to the artistry that is found throughout the album. It is certainly not a b-side, but I feel that it belongs on another album.

Mr. Guder is wonderfully atmospheric and is highly enjoyable from a vocal delivery perspective. It is certainly uplifting in direct contrast to Crescent Moon. This is one song to just turn up, so you will be completely immersed in the music.  

I Kept On Loving You commences without a break from the previous song and it certainly works with the flow of the album. While Richard Carpenter is the vocalist for this song, his vocals are not nearly as tonally appealing when directly compared to the lyrical style Karen presented on the album, but nevertheless the song is very enjoyable.

Another Song is an enjoyable song, but it feels like a b-side and could have been left off the album.

Overall, Close To You is an exceptional release that any fan of the Carpenters should own, despite the limited appeal of the CD-packaging. That said, hopefully a vinyl re-issue is on the horizon, but as nothing seems to has been done with their catalogue for years, that seems unlikely.

The Carpenters Close To You is available for purchase on Vinyl, CD, iTunes, and the TIDAL Store.

Close To You is also available for streaming on TIDAL Hi-Fi

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Sophia Pfister – Self-Titled EP (Vinyl Review)

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Sophia Pfister – Self-Titled EP (Vinyl Review)

Last month I had the privilege of reviewing Sophia Pfister’s debut EP on TIDAL Hi-Fi. While I was blown away with the mastering, nothing could have prepared me for the sonic wonderland that is contained within the grooves of the vinyl record. Well, that isn’t entirely true as Sophia did mention to me that “it sounds way better on vinyl! It's mixed and mastered slightly different, you'll hear!”

You may recall that I wasn’t fond of the Banjo presence, on the track Sugardaddy, as I felt it was too jarring for my sensitive ears. That is no longer the case. The mastering on the vinyl release mixes the Banjo elegantly with other instrumental elements and Sophia’s incredible vocals.

What this proves is that mastering does matter. Sadly, that isn’t always the case as many ‘new’ vinyl releases are simply cut from the same digital source and arguably sound terrible. Hence, I won’t be getting rid of TIDAL Hi-Fi anytime soon as it is simply too compelling to have a CD-store in my home.

The vinyl pressing of Sophia’s EP has a soundstage that is massive, fat, and creamy; just like vinyl should be. Sophia’s vocals are even smoother than on the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition.

How is that even possible?

Yes, vinyl is the king of sonic quality when mastered and pressed to the highest standards. Although, I have to ask myself, when an independent artist can produce a record this good, why can’t the big record labels?

The EP certainly highlights the capabilities of my Pro-Ject Debut Carbon and Ortofon OM20 needle. While my setup and collection is on the modest end of the audiophile spectrum, this EP is right up there with the best pressing in my collection; Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms (Mo-Fi Edition). The pressing, of Sophia’s EP, is about as silent as vinyl can get, with very little of the normal noise that is associated with the medium. Tom Weir of Studio City Sound did an incredible job mastering this EP. I’ll have to watch out for other albums that he has had a role in.

When the record arrived I was ecstatic. In-fact, it nearly didn’t arrive as it was delivered to my neighbour’s home by accident. Thankfully, they are honest people and I can’t thank them enough for ensuring the record was delivered safely.

As I carefully opened the box, the first thing I noticed was a little message of Thank You! written on the inner flap. Record collectors will understand, that’s just cool and something that adds that little special element to one’s collection, especially considering the addressing of the package was also personally written by Sophia. Yes, this slightly crazy collector will be keeping the mailing box!

Taking the record out of the carefully packed bubble wrap outlay, my next surprise was that Sophia had signed the rear album cover. I had a grin from ear to ear as this was such a wonderful surprise. I actually didn’t read that these were signed copies when I made the purchase, hence my surprise. I love collecting signed copies of albums, but what makes this album so special is that not only was the record sleeve signed, but Sophia also wrote a personalized short message on the inner sleeve. Let’s just say I was on cloud number nine.

BTW: if you want your own copy of the vinyl EP, you’d better hurry as there are only 29 left as I publish this article. Given the sonic improvement over the that of TIDAL Hi-Fi, and my love of the EP, I may just have to buy a second copy for myself as I fear this one will be worn out from repeat plays.

If vinyl isn’t your thing, remember that you can purchase the EP in CD-quality FLAC on the TIDAL Store or on iTunes. The EP is also available for streaming on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

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Frank Sinatra – Songs For Young Lovers (10-inch Vinyl RSD 2015 Review)

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Frank Sinatra – Songs For Young Lovers (10-inch Vinyl RSD 2015 Review)

Frank Sinatra had one of the most recognisable voices in recorded music history. He is the epitome of that ‘easy listening’ area, located within most music stores. Plus, when it comes time to turn down the lights, and enjoy a romantic evening with a significant other, there is no one quite like Sinatra to set the tone.

Songs For Young Lovers is Sinatra’s seventh album and is rather short with a running time of just over 21 minutes. Interestingly, there has been a trend over the last few years where albums are being released with a shorter runtime. Two that I can immediately think of are AC/DC’s Rock Or Bust (34:55) and Rob Zombie’s The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser (31:29). I was initially a little perturbed by this shortening of albums again, but it is growing on me and I find that a shorter runtime is keeping the album tight, with no filler to be seen. This is one reason why I adore Songs For Young Lovers as it plays like it should simply be a greatest hits release. In reflection, I feel the CD with its 74–80-minute runtime was just too long for an album. After listening to an album that maxes out of the capacity of CD, I find that I am often tired by the time it concludes. Whereas a 40-minute album, or less, encourages me to listen to the album again. It is an interesting conundrum, but I do hope with the resurgence of vinyl and the refocus on the song, via streaming services, that we will see less filler-filled albums; for a format need no longer be filled, just because it can be.

Anyway, at the time of Record Store Day 2015 ( RSD 15), my better half was in Europe looking for a gift to buy her beloved, that’s me (she doesn’t read my reviews, so I can pad my ego), to say she was thinking of me. She had asked me if there was anything in particular I would like. It was a shame that she wasn’t travelling to the United States as I would have got her to pick up Neil Young’s Pono music player, but I did make it clear that I wasn’t interested in the regular fridge magnet, fancy spoon, or other dust collecting knickknack. Yes, dear reader, I know what I want, and I’m not afraid to ask for it when questioned on the subject. Sure, I like surprises too, and I did get a couple of those, but as much as consumerism may be essential to modern society, I only want to have the goods and services that I will use. Hence, this is one reason why I generally only link to TIDAL Hi-Fi here at Subjective Sounds, despite most of the albums I discuss being available on other streaming platforms. I know some reviewers out there have numerous subscriptions, but I find that TIDAL’s catalogue is sufficient for my diverse interests. For the few albums that aren’t present on the service, I generally have those in my private collection anyway. Interestingly, the biggest holdout for TIDAL Hi-Fi is Metallica. Given that they supported Neil Young’s Pono, with a limited edition signatured edition, I’m quite surprised that they would not be present on a platform that not only pays a higher royalty, but also offers CD-quality streaming to a significant number of countries. Nevertheless, I have their catalogue on vinyl and CD, plus with the addition of iTunes Match for my own private collection, I have my bases covered.

Now will you look at that, I have written close to 500 words about everything other than Frank Sinatra’s album. Fingers crossed I can get back on track, but don’t quote me on it.

One of the things that intrigued me, when my significant other gifted me this album, was that it came as a 10–inch release. In-fact, it was the first 10–inch vinyl in my collection, so to me it was rather unique. It was also the first time that this album had been reissued on vinyl since the mid 80s and the version I have is the stereo release. The RSD reissue was not released in Mono, however, Vinylogy’s DOL label reissued a Mono release in 2015 that includes additional tracks. It is important to note that as Songs For Young Lovers is no longer in copyright in Europe, Vinylogy’s release is most likely cut from a digital source of unknown origin or mastering quality (possibly a CD). It is almost certain that the original tapes would not have been used. Perhaps a first, or second, generation duplication master tape if we’re lucky. That said, these ‘bootleg’ style pressings from DOL, WaxTime, Vinyl Lovers etc, that I have in my collection, all seem to have a pleasurable sound as well as being incredibly quiet with little to no noticeable noise between the tracks, or throughout the lower volume areas within songs. Even some of the highly regarded vinyl labels don’t achieve this. I guess what I am trying to say is that if you are after a Mono release of the album, you should seriously consider the DOL release. Personally, the stereo edition is adequate as I’ve never quite got into Mono recordings. If anyone can suggest a Mono recording that I should check out, that you believe is superior to the stereo mix, please let me know and I will take a look.

While the RSD 15 edition of Songs For Young Lovers was limited to an odd print run of 2,575 copies, none of them are numbered. Yes, I know a number isn’t everything, but it is something to show off and my kids think it’s cool. When it comes to music appreciation, music loving parents really have to fight to have the music heard in the modern era. Yes, the technologies have been wonderful for music discovery, but let’s just say that YouTube et al has eroded more hours of my life than I care to admit.

What I particularly like about this reissue of Songs For Young Lovers, is Universal Records ensured that this release is as close to a replica of the original as possible. Yes, there are a couple of very minor alterations but original information is presented such as how to store the record and a word about high fidelity vinyl reproduction. From a collector’s point-of-view, I love this additional information as it is nostalgic, as well as informative, of the vinyl production, distribution, and playback processes employed in the 1950s. If only they would include this kind of information/marketing speak on modern releases. I love liner notes that give me something more than who sang and played what, along with the lyrics of the song and the random individuals the artist wishes to thank.

I’ve often read that Songs For Young Lovers is considered to be one of the first concept albums, whereby a theme or story arc continued throughout the entire album. While I’m in no position to disagree, I have always enjoyed a concept album and have held Alice Cooper’s concept releases, such as Welcome To My Nightmare, in the highest regard as they tell an overarching story across the entire album, rather than being random songs from the same genre, as Songs For Young Lovers is. That opinion shouldn’t be viewed as negative, just a different view as to what a concept album is.

Songs presented on this album include:

The lovely playful song My Funny Valentine. It immediately shows off Sinatra’s gorgeous vocal delivery. Honestly, the world has so many amazing vocalists, but as soon as I hear Sinatra, I find that I am just in awe and I honestly don’t believe he had, or has, any peers.

The Girl Next Door is a lovely easy-listening track. Perhaps what I love most is the mix of Sinatra’s vocal with the accompanying musical elements. In this case, as with most of Sinatra’s recordings, his vocal delivery takes pride of place and isn’t drowned out by the music; a very common problem I find with modern recordings.

A Foggy Day is a song that I truly enjoy. The song has a number of slow and fast elements that work perfectly together.

Like Someone In Love has that traditional classic tone that is common in recordings of that era. It isn’t my favourite song on the album, but I don’t think I have ever heard a bad Sinatra song.

I Get A Kick Out Of You is an absolute classic Sinatra song. If you’ve never heard the song before, just take a listen. It is one of the best songs Sinatra ever recorded and it would be in a playlist of my top songs of all time. I love how Sinatra holds onto the lyrics, before ending the specific word. It is unique and has a very jazzy feel.

Little Girl Blue is a letdown after I Get A Kick Out Of You, but it is a lovely relaxing song.

They Can’t Take That Away From Me has a very sultry late night jazz sound. I love it! It is a sing-a-long song that makes you move and smile throughout. The one thing that I find fascinating is how short this song is. That said, it is the perfect length at just under two minutes, but it feels like it should be considerably longer.

Violets For Your Furs isn’t my favourite Sinatra song, but as I eluded to earlier, there really isn’t a bad Sinatra song. It should also be noted that Sinatra sang other people’s songs. Hence, not all songs are equally appealing to his vocal style.

So how does the record sound? Absolutely gorgeous. Warm and smooth with no harshness to be seen. I have also listened to this album on TIDAL Hi-Fi and that edition is akin to a facsimile of the record. Not bad by any means, but just not as dynamically engaging as the record. Plus, the record adds an element of nostalgia to a recording that was released when vinyl reigned supreme. As I listen to the vinyl edition, it sounds like Sinatra is is my living room. Hence, as much as I love TIDAL Hi-Fi, if you can get a copy of this album on vinyl, don’t hesitate as it is significantly more appealing.

Overall, this is a great collection of songs that highlight some of Sinatra’s greatest recordings. If you’re looking to add a little romance to your relationship, you can't go wrong by spinning this album, while you share a glass of wine and a cheese platter with your significant other.

Songs For Young Lovers is available on Vinyl and TIDAL Hi-Fi.

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