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Agnetha Fältskog – A (Album Review)

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Agnetha Fältskog – A (Album Review)

Every now and then new music appears from the individual members of ABBA. Agnetha Fältskog is, of course, one-quarter of the enormously successful Swedish pop group. As a lifelong fan, of both ABBA and Fältskog’s solo efforts, I immediately ordered the vinyl release and while I love the album as a creative piece of work between Fältskog and her collaborators Jörgen Elofsson and Peter Nordahl, the vinyl release is a little disappointing.

From the get-go, I was surprised the cover art was so out of focus. Yes, it is captured softly to separate Fältskog from the album typography and while it may look glorious on streaming services and CD-sized canvases, the larger vinyl reproduction makes me wonder if I’m slowly going blind. One would have thought, or at least hoped, that this would have been taken into consideration, but sadly it wasn’t. 

While the mastering is solid, the pressing is questionable. Pressed by GZ vinyl, there are a number of scuffs from the manufacturing process that create a few additional pops and clicks. Yes, vinyl is fundamentally a fragile medium, but if records are cared for, as mine are, they can be appreciated without pops and clicks destroying or impacting the listening experience. Nevertheless, when the pops and clicks aren’t audible, the vinyl reproduction is sonically beautiful. 

SIDE A

The One Who Loves You Now is a lovely song to commence the album with, although I’d like to hear a version with a slightly slower tempo as I feel it would have further amplified an already exceptional song.

When You Really Loved Someone really comes into its own when the chorus begins. That said, this song borders on campy pop music and Fältskog’s vocal sounds a little overproduced and processed on this song. It isn't necessarily bad but it makes me think of numerous modern pop stars and therefore I question if the vocal presentation really suits Fältskog’s capabilities. Regardless, When You Really Loved Someone is an exceptionally enjoyable song.

Perfume In The Breeze has a great tempo. You'll be toe-tapping and head-bopping in no time. Although, again, I feel it is overproduced, especially in the vocal region of the chorus. It just sounds as though it’s following a modern pop music formula. As with the other songs, however, I do thoroughly enjoy Perfume In The Breeze. 

I Was A Flower is absolutely stunning. It’s one of the greatest songs Fältskog has ever recorded, if not the greatest. You'll want to turn the volume up and become absorbed by the soundstage as it wraps around you as the speakers disappear, leaving you, Fältskog, and the instrumental orchestral movements to exist in that special place where music and ecstasy intersect. Amazing!

I Should've Followed You Home is the perfect song to follow I Was A Flower. It’s a recording and mixing marvel as the vocals were recorded in two different studios. Yes, this has been done before, but each studio has a unique sound, yet the vocals are merged superbly. The decision to have Gary Barlow duet with Fältskog was superb as his vocal tonality compliments Fältskog’s perfectly. That all said, it would have been interesting to hear the difference had both artists been recording in the studio, at the same time, in a linear manner. I have a sneaking suspicion the song would have been even stronger, but I’m far from disappointed with the song we have as it’s superb.

SIDE B

Past Forever is beautiful. I really love Fältskog’s vocal on this track as it sounds largely untouched and natural. Her soaring vocal is a pleasure to listen to and I could put this song on repeat for hours. Actually, I’d like to see this song re-recorded as a duet with Celine Dion. All the sonic cues are there to suggest such a collaboration would be nothing short of pure perfection.

Dance Your Pain Away is a disco-based track that is significantly different to the past few songs and while auto-tune is clearly used here, it's a great dance track that has a modern sound and one which DJs would have a field day incorporating into their live sets. If you want to hear additional remixes, check out the remixes EP on TIDAL Hi-Fi or Apple Music

Bubble is a lovely vocal-based track. I absolutely adore it!

Back On Your Radio is campy. Okay, it isn't that bad. No, wait, there's the chorus again. It just isn't good and should never have been recorded, let alone released. Harsh, yes, but this is a song for an artist aiming for a younger audience, arguably an audience that Fältskog wasn’t focusing on as it sounds out-of-place with the rest of the album.

I Keep Them On The Floor Beside My Bed is the only song on A to be penned by Fältskog and is absolutely beautiful. As the final song on the album, it closes it perfectly and encourages me to listen again and stay within Fältskog’s back catalogue.  

Overall, A is a thoroughly enjoyable album that should be in every fan’s collection.

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

If you prefer streaming, A is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music

Click here to read other Agnetha Fältskog reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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Barbra Streisand – One Voice (Live Album Review)

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Barbra Streisand – One Voice (Live Album Review)

Barbra Streisand needs no introduction and by anyone's standards is one of the greatest musicians to have ever sung a single note. No more is that more apparent than on One Voice; a long-awaited live performance captured September 6, 1986. While Streisand has, in recent years, released a few additional live performances, One Voice remains at the pinnacle of Streisand’s career and is, in my subjective opinion, the greatest live performance of her career. There isn’t a single B-side to be heard on this flawless recording. The mix and master are equally compelling and while One Voice is a live album, it would also have to be placed amongst Streisand’s greatest releases. 

I was fortunate enough, many years ago, to own this release on both cassette and CD, but as one who initially thought the MP3 was the ultimate solution for the music lover, I digitized the CD and subsequently sold both copies. What a fool! Nevertheless, thanks to TIDAL's CD-quality Hi-Fi stream, I can access the album whenever in the mood. To be completely honest, I'd love to see One Voice reissued on vinyl as it was originally recorded using an analog system and would be nothing but pure joy to appreciate on that format, especially if the vinyl pressing process was an all analog affair. Still, the TIDAL Hi-Fi stream is perfectly transparent to my memories of the CD and is thoroughly enjoyable. The Apple Music stream is equally compelling, even if tad concealed by comparison.

Somewhere (Live) starts off slowly with a lovely atmospheric introduction. The first notes Streisand sings are magical, and you can immediately tell just how extraordinary this performance is going to be.

Evergreen (Love Theme From "A Star Is Born”) (Live) is, while very similar, a much better rendition than the studio counterpart. Streisand's vocal soars and compels me to turn the volume up, resulting in a musical experience unlike any other. Simply amazing!

Something's Coming (Live) is a great song, but the synthetic elements irritate me. I'd love to hear this song with an orchestra backing instead.

People (Live) is one of the greatest songs of all time. Streisand’s presentation here is absolutely flawless and her words at the beginning of the song are as relevant today as they have always been. I absolutely adore this song!

Send In The Clowns (Live) is beautiful!

Over The Rainbow (Live) is absolutely magical. Seriously, listening to Streisand perform this song makes one question how the human voice is capable of such beauty and that final note is held with so much control, it leaves me speechless every time I hear it.

Guilty (Live Duet With Barry Gibb) has always been one of my most favourite songs from Streisand's catalogue and, as with Evergreen, I much prefer this live performance to the studio edition.

What Kind of Fool (Live Duet With Barry Gibb) is another astonishingly good song. The duelling vocals are so perfectly suited that they not only complement each other, but they amplify the song to greater heights. No-one else could have performed this song with Streisand as well as Gibb has. Of course, as a Bee Gees fan, I’m likely a little biased. 

Papa, Can You Hear Me (Live) is such a delicate song but Streisand performs it masterfully. While I haven't listened to every cover of this song, thus far, Streisand’s is superior to all I have heard, even the rendition recorded by the incomparable Nina Simone.

The Way We Were (Live) is one of my favourite Streisand films, second only to The Mirror Has Two Faces. Subsequently, I absolutely adore this song. It is one of Streisand's greatest. 

It's A New World (Live) is a lovely ballad with a beautiful meaning.

Happy Days Are Here Again (Live) is a beautiful song. It’s timeless, although that could easily be said about the entire performance.

America The Beautiful (Live) is sung so stunningly that one can only sit and admire it. America The Beautiful closes the recording nicely, ensuring I'll listen to the live performance again and stay within Streisand’s extensive catalogue of music.

Overall, One Voice is one of the greatest live performances of all time. That it was captured for us to appreciate is a wonderful blessing and gift to the human race.

One Voice is currently available on CD, the TIDAL Hi-Fi (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, One Voice is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music.

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Sophia Pfister – Birdcage (Album Review)

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Sophia Pfister – Birdcage (Album Review)

In 2016 I declared that the world needed a complete Sophia Pfister album as her Self-Titled EP was so captivating, due in part to Pfister's sultry vocals and the production quality, that I simply wanted more. During the last couple of years, I've seen sporadic updates of the recording process and in August, Pfister dropped her first full-length album, on vinyl first and then a later on digital stores and streaming services.

At the time of the album's release, I was busy moving home and subsequently delayed ordering the vinyl edition. It’s a little embarrassing to admit that I’ve still yet to place my order, however, just as I did with Pfister's debut EP, I can review the streaming edition and compare the vinyl release at a later date. Pfister is actually the perfect artist to do this with as she is a proponent of the vinyl format and I was beginning to wonder if we'd ever see Birdcage on the various digital platforms. While I applaud her commitment to the vinyl format, especially considering she remains independent and these releases are completely self-funded, I feel it is far more important for independent artists to focus on attention, rather than the delivery method. With that in mind, I don’t feel streaming and other digital delivery methods challenge artistic intent, for the physical counterpart should always offer a value-added proposition to the music lover. It is also important to remember that no matter how much we champion the vinyl format, there will always be those amongst us who dislike or are not interested in the format and that is okay. Yes, one could argue that exclusivity towards formats should be viewed in the same manner as attending an art gallery, or concert venue, where the consumer needs to go where the artist feels their work is best represented. If I were reviewing Beyoncé’s exceptional Lemonade, and the associated initial exclusivity with TIDAL, I’d agree with my aforementioned statement, but with one caveat – Beyoncé is a household name and therefore can afford to lose the attention of the casual fans as her rabid fan base will follow her to whatever platform or venue she decides to release her music via. While I’ve no doubt Pfister can reach similar heights throughout her career, it takes time to develop an audience and that audience needs access to Pfister without restrictions at this stage in her career. 

Birdcage (Feat. White Buffalo Stands) offers a seamless transition from Pfister's Self-Titled EP. If you loved that release, as I did, you'll feel right at home as it’s a beautiful way to start the album. The backing indigenous-styled vocals towards the end of the song are beautiful and show a skilled layering of musicality that has evolved since Pfister's Self-Titled EP.

The Wheel is a rather complex composition, with a variety of musical elements and styles throughout. While on paper it shouldn't work, it absolutely does and it's one of those songs that offer the listener something unique upon each listen.

Drifting is a beautiful vocal-focused tune. It’s thoroughly relaxing and that Banjo element, that I claimed was too prominent on Pfister's song, Sugardaddy, I find is perfectly mixed here and is simply stunning. In fact, the entire soundstage and musical depth of Drifting is nothing short of spectacular. Yes, dear reader, this is sonically how good music should sound. Exceptional!

Loved By Strangers has a very familiar rhythm that picks up the pace of the album. The composition, again, is rather complex, but you feel as though you are encapsulated by musical elements as the soundstage is perfectly presented with incredible instrument separation. Another great tune!

Bad Decisions is the greatest song Pfister has written and recorded thus far. As I listen to this masterpiece, I’m reminded of Adele, on stage, singing Hello. Yes, it is that good and this song is stadium ready and a massive hit just waiting to be discovered.

Ride The Wave isn't a bad song, but I feel there are elements within that have been borrowed too heavily from Pfister's Self-Titled EP. Of course, following Bad Decisions was always going to be a challenging task. That said, if there is a B-side to be heard, it is Ride The Wave.

Separate Ways (Feat. Dave Alvin) is second only to Bad Decision. It’s bloody brilliant and an exceptional duet. I love it! If I had one criticism, it would be that the electric guitar tracking should have been a couple of decibels louder, especially towards the end of the song.

Living In The Grey is a thoroughly enjoyable closing track that ensures I'll listen to the album again and stay within Pfister's small, but growing, catalogue of music.

Birdcage is an absolutely stunning debut album and, by any standards, is world-class. When you compare it to some of the big name mainstream releases, you can only wonder how they have received recording contracts while Pfister remains independent. Of course, Pfister may decide to remain independent, but she has the musical talent to be one of the leading ladies in the music industry and while the industry is changing, record labels and solid management and promotional teams remain vital to achieving such heights, especially at the beginning of one’s career as a musician.

I can, without doubt, confirm that Birdcage is both sonically beautiful on Apple Music and TIDAL Hi-Fi. Yes, TIDAL's CD-quality stream offers a little more depth but the core performance is transparent, regardless of the delivery platform, meaning that the recording, mixing, and mastering is absolutely perfect. With that in mind, and knowing just how good Pfister’s debut vinyl EP sounded, I can't wait to get the vinyl release of Birdcage. Speaking of which, I better go and order myself a copy before they sellout.

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

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

Click here to read other Sophia Pfister reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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The Bee Gees Sing & Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs (Album Review)

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The Bee Gees Sing & Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs (Album Review)

While Bee Gees’ 1st would be their international debut, The Bee Gees Sing & Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs is actually their first album, recorded in Australia before the harmonising trio relocated to London.

Released in 1965, the album is largely made up of singles that had been released in the years preceding this release. The success of this album was lacklustre and the Bee Gees would only really receive the recognition they deserved, in Australia, at a later stage in their career. Nevertheless, if one was to base their likes and dislikes on album sales, they would miss out on the richness of back catalogues.

The Bee Gees’ back catalogue is full of hidden gems, especially considering many readers would only be familiar with their chart-topping, re-invented, disco-styled music. Nevertheless, these early recordings are beautiful. You’ll hear the influence and similarities to The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and The Hollies amongst others. That isn’t to say that the Bee Gees lacked originality, for their harmonious interweaving vocals were as legendary then as they would be throughout the band's career.

Out of the 14 songs, five were new recordings with the lead song, I Was A Lover, A Leader Of Men being released as a single. While the single failed to gain any traction in the charts, the song is exceptional with a sonic signature that would be replicated, albeit with more success, on future albums.

I Don't Think It's Funny is a lovely acoustic-based song with Robin Gibb on lead vocals. His gritty, yet smooth, vocal delivery is absolutely captivating.

How Love Was True is another enjoyable track that is somewhat reminiscent, in my mind, of the harmonious Lennon/McCartney years.

To Be Or Not To Be is definitely inspired by early Beatles recordings. Think Please, Please Me/With The Beatles era. It isn't a bad tune but arguably doesn't suit the Bee Gees.

Timber is short and to the point. It is certainly reminiscent of the late 50s and early 60s. Timber was recorded and released as a single in 1963 and with a runtime of less than two minutes, one can only wonder how tedious playing that 45 would have been.

Claustrophobia is a great 60s pop tune. I love it!

Could It Be I’m In Love With You has an addictive rhythm that will have you toe tapping and head bopping uncontrollably.

And The Children Laughing is a song that reminds me of The Seekers. Unfortunately, it isn't to my taste and while it’s adequate, it’s a B-side.

Wine And Women would be the first Bee Gees single to achieve chart success, no doubt due to the band, their friends, and dedicated fans buying as many copies as possible in the hope radio disc jockeys would notice them. I don't know about you, dear reader, but surely they could have come up with a better song to release as a single. Okay, so it isn't that bad, but it certainly isn't the most compelling song.

Don't Say Goodbye is another B-side. Although, the choral harmonies are very nice.

Peace Of Mind is a great song with a killer guitar solo. Sensational!

Take Hold Of That Star is too slow for the Bee Gees. That said, it is a lovely song, I just don't feel it suits them.

You Wouldn't Know is a great pop/rock tune with an incredible rhythm.

Follow The Wind is a fantastic song to conclude the album with and ensures that I’ll to listen to the album again and stay within the Bee Gees pre-disco era catalogue.

Overall, The Bee Gees Sing & Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs is a superb collection of their early recordings. While it doesn't necessarily stand out, it certainly shows just how talented these three brothers were at such a young age.

Sonically, one must remember the era these songs were recorded in. However, the 2012 remaster, from TIDAL Hi-Fi, which this review is based upon, is likely the best quality these songs will ever be presented in. It doesn't happen often, but this remaster is lovely and worthy of inclusion in any Bee Gees collection.

The album cover is also exquisite. Yes, it’s reminiscent of the era and the style of music, but it also just works. I’d love to see this re-issued on vinyl. It would be a pre-order for sure! Until then, I will have to be satisfied with the edition available in CD-quality on TIDAL Hi-Fi as a CD release is also unavailable. Nevertheless, if you would like to own a copy of The Bee Gees Sing & Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs, the album is available on the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC) and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, you can also listen to The Bee Gees Sing & Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs on Spotify and Apple Music.

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

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Carpenters - Self-Titled (Album Review)

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Carpenters - Self-Titled (Album Review)

Is it just me, or are re-issues of the Carpenters’ albums well overdue? No, I'm not just talking about hastily thrown together anniversary deluxe editions. I'm referring to the record label and copyright holders going back to the master tapes and creating a respectful remaster that would be the definitive releases of their studio albums. I say this because, as much as I appreciate my Carpenters CD collection, none compare to the sonic brilliance heard on the vinyl release of The Singles 1969-1973. It is truly wonderful but, every time I play their third Self-Titled album, I am left wanting more. Especially considering a few songs from this album are present on the aforementioned compilation.

Unfortunately, I find the CD exhibits a very clinical digital harshness in tonality. Yes, it is a digital transport method, but it is fatiguing to listen to. Perhaps it could be suggested that my Pro-ject Debut Carbon (fitted with an Ortofon OM20 needle) is more musical than my Oppo BDP-103. I would, however, have to disagree with that as I get exceptional sound from the Oppo, provided the music is mastered correctly. Comparatively, I have some terrible vinyl pressings that no turntable could present favourably. As always, it really comes down to how the album was mastered. I'm sure some of you may think I am overstating the variances, but I can assure you the difference is night and day. Now that isn't to say that vinyl is incomparable, but it is closer to how I believe the Carpenters should sound and there is no listening fatigue.

I have also listened to the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi and, despite being different releases, similar sonic limitations are present and I would go as far as saying the TIDAL Hi-Fi version is noticeably inferior when compared to the CD, using the same DAC and overall settings. Surprisingly, the CD has a warmer and more pleasing tone than its TIDAL counterpart.

If you have an original, unmolested, vinyl release of this album I am truly envious and can only assume it sounds incredible. It is important to note that some people are less than impressed with the vinyl re-issue of The Singles 1969-1973. Apparently, it is a shadow of its former self and how the original sounded. I have no doubt, but it is still the best sounding Carpenters album I own.

Also, while I'm criticising things, let’s talk about the CD artwork and overall packaging. Housed in a standard jewel case, you get a rather bland CD and liner notes are non-existent, unless you call the reprinting of the rear cover a liner note. Surely, they could have included printed lyrics, but alas it is about as barebones as you can get. No wonder streaming music has taken off so quickly. Convenience is, of course, one key element, but I have numerous albums, on a variety of formats, that are simply not worth owning because their presentation offers no value-added proposition for the consumer. I also find it hilarious that the CD lists the tracks as being on either Side One or Side Two. Yes, double-sided optical discs do exist, but with a runtime of 31 minutes, it isn't even utilising half the capacity of the CD. This is just pure laziness. If I worked for a record company, pumping out substandard products such as this, I would be ashamed. While I understand re-issuing is all about financial return, it is my belief that an album shouldn’t be remastered, or re-issued, unless it is going to be done properly and with the respect it deserves. As music lovers, we really shouldn’t have to put up with such variations in quality,

Okay, so now that I have had my little rant and got all the depressing aspects out of the way, join me as I take a listen to the most important element; the music!

Rainy Days And Mondays is simply gorgeous. While I prefer listening to the song on the aforementioned vinyl compilation, I would listen to, and enjoy, this song on almost any speaker known to man. It is addictive and my mind plays it over and over as if it were a broken record.

Saturday is a campy B-side. I simply do not get any enjoyment from this attempt-to-be-funky tune.

Let Me Be The One thankfully brings Karen Carpenter back to the microphone. I'm sorry, but while Richard Carpenter is incredibly talented, I listen to the Carpenters primarily to hear that gorgeous vocal. Karen Carpenter was one of the greatest female vocalists in history and Let Me Be The One is an exceptional Carpenters tune that validates that opinion.

(A Place To) Hideaway is a beautiful song and one of the best on the album. Despite my complaints about sonic quality, this song is simply magical.

For All We Know is another lovely song, perfectly suited to the Carpenters’ style, but the sonic quality of this particular song sounds concealed. Still, as with their other songs, I can sometimes get past the substandard mastering as their songs are incredibly relaxing and a pleasure to listen to. Although, the aluminium foil sounding hi-hat cymbals, throughout For All We Know, is challenging to look past.

Superstar is one of my all-time favourite songs. This song on vinyl is beyond amazing. That said, other than being a little shrill on the CD, it sounds darn impressive.

Druscilla Penny isn’t a bad song and I certainly appreciate the upbeat approach as it suits Richard Carpenter's vocal style. However, what is with that beat that sounds strangely like a speck of dust on a vinyl record? It doesn't sound out of place, it just sounds wrong.

One Love is sensational. It is the definition of Easy Listening as my eyes subconsciously close, when this song is played, as I visualise the performance.

Bacharach/David Medley: A: Knowing When To Leave, B: Make It Easy On Yourself, C: (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me, D: I'll Never Fall In Love Again, E: Walk On By, F: Do You Know The Way To Jose is a fantastic medley that I simply adore. Some of you may be wondering what the song transition is like. Well, it can be summed up in a single word: masterful.

Sometimes is a lovely song, but I feel it is unbalanced as the instrumentation is featured for too long before the lyrical element begins. Subsequently, the lyrical delivery, while beautiful, is over too soon. I also don't like the ending of the song as I feel it concludes abruptly. It doesn't leave me compelled to listen to the album again or stay within the Carpenters' catalogue. If the medley was the final track on the album, I dare say my opinion would be vastly different.

Overall, the Carpenters’ Self-Titled album is an exceptional release from a musicality perspective. If I have been overly tough on the mastering of the CD, it is only because I’m aware of how incredible their music can sound and I truly hope someone is working on an archival project that will bring us closer to the original master tapes.

This review is based on listening to the Australian issued Karussell (PolyGram/A&M) release; cat: 550 063 2.

The Carpenters’ Self-Titled third album is available for purchase on CD, the TIDAL Store, and iTunes. If you prefer streaming, it is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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