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Five Finger Death Punch – And Justice For None (Deluxe Edition Album Review)

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Five Finger Death Punch – And Justice For None (Deluxe Edition Album Review)

There are times when I scratch my head and wonder why it took me so long to check out an artist. Yes, my musical interests are broad and that could be presented as a justification, but I’ve known about Five Finger Death Punch for a number of years and despite being an active fan of their associated genres and counterparts, I've never taken that next step, until now.

And Justice For None is more than just an interesting wordplay on Metallica's ...And Justice For All. From this perspective it reminds me of the Murderdolls calling their last album Women And Children Last; a play on Van Halen's Women And Children First. Both are classics, as is Metallica's ...And Justice For All, but how does Five Finger Death Punch’s And Justice For None stack up? Well, for starters, Five Finger Death Punch didn't turn down the bass!

On a serious note, And Justice For None is one of the greatest metal-infused albums I have ever listened to. There isn't a bad song to be heard and the musicality of the band is off-the-charts.

While you can't judge an album by its cover, I absolutely love the artwork on the Deluxe Edition that is the basis for this review. It's demonic and arguably a cliche, but is perfectly suited to the band and their style of music. The Standard Edition is equally compelling, but I decided to listen to and review the Deluxe Edition as that version is specifically available on vinyl and the album is so good that I'll have to pick up a copy. It’s also important to note there is a slightly different track listing between the editions; most notably Trouble, the lead song on the Deluxe Edition is omitted completely from the Standard Edition. I find this fascinating as Deluxe Editions traditionally dump additional songs at the backend of the album. As exceptional as Fake is, Trouble is a perfectly valid song and sets the tone for the entire album. The rhythm is amazing, as is the quality of the recording, mixing, and mastering. You can't always say that about metal-focused bands as they are either bass heavy and subsequently muffled, or they sound too thin throughout the entire soundstage. Five Finger Death Punch, however, punches you in the face with their sound, preserving the bass while ensuring there's a broad stereo image which is crystal clear.

Fake is bloody brilliant! It’s hard hitting and Corey Taylor inspired. In fact, I'd love to hear Taylor cover it, or perform it live with Five Finger Death Punch. That said, the song is so perfect with Moody's vocal presentation that Taylor could ruin it. Sorry, Corey, I love ya man, but Moody kicks ass on this song. Actually, when I think about it, Rob Zombie would also be perfectly suited to cover this masterpiece.

Top Of The World is rhythmic heaven and yes, I still hear a little Corey Taylor influence on this song, not that that’s a bad thing!

Sham Pain is brilliant. With a little hip-hop, pop-rock ballad tones, and metal-infused elements, this song ticks all the boxes for me. Plus, the play on words and lyrical context is incredible. Although, that guitar solo ends prematurely, despite fading out nicely.

Blue On Black is an absolute classic, entering into the social consciousness in 1997 when recorded by the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band. I thought the original was great, but Five Finger Death Punch has mastered it, making it their own. I dare say, besides the original, there isn't an artist on the planet that could cover this song better. Death Punch's version is really that good!

Fire In The Hole has an incredible musical hook that will grab hold of you and not let go until the very last note is played.

I Refuse is a stunningly beautiful ballad!

It Doesn't Matter is a great song, one I would label as pop-metal, but that isn’t a criticism as the song is excellent.

When The Seasons Change is a near-acoustic song that initially sounds a little out-of-place, but upon repeat listens, blends beautifully with the body of work that is And Justice For None.

Stuck In My Ways is great, but if there is a B-side to be found, this is it.

Rock Bottom is bordering on scream metal but thankfully backs off just before going over the edge. It’s a solid song, but nothing to write home about.

Gone Away is another exceptional cover. The original Offspring recording is remarkably good, but Five Finger Death Punch has taken it to another level, creating a unique, yet familiar, version of the song.

Bloody is a little pedestrian, but if it was recorded by another band, say Nickelback, I'd suggest it was perfectly suited for their style. It just sounds a little out-of-place for Five Finger Death Punch but it remains a solid B-side with a killer ending.

Will The Sun Ever Rise is simply fantastic!

Bad Seed is a symphonic-styled vocal-driven song that will have you reaching for the volume knob. You’ll really want to pump the volume to get the most out of this song, and the entire album. However, if on headphones, you can do permanent damage to your hearing, so please put it on the stereo and drive your neighbours insane. If they complain, tell them you have my permission!

Save Your Breath is the greatest song on the album. I could listen to it on repeat for eternity. It’s the perfect song to close the album with and encourages me to listen to the album again and explore more of Five Finger Death Punch's back catalogue.

From start to finish, And Justice For None is superb and will, without doubt, become a classic metal album as it ages; although, I’d argue that it has already reached that status.

And Justice For None (Deluxe Edition) is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store 16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, And Justice For None (Deluxe Edition) is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, and Spotify.

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Disturbed – Evolution (Album Review)

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Disturbed – Evolution (Album Review)

Sometimes the only way for an artist to remain relevant, and continue to grow creatively, is to evolve. Yes, Disturbed's latest album doesn’t have a meaningless title as they have evolved with a series of songs that will likely divide fans.

There is little doubt that Draiman has the vocal chops to approach most styles, but I can't help but wonder if some of the songs on this album would not have been better utilised for a side project. Think Corey Taylor's Slipknot verse Stone Sour styles and you'll likely understand where I'm coming from. Yes, Disturbed has a reputation for exceptional covers, especially The Sound Of Silence, but Evolution is a mix of Disturbed’s metal roots and their creative acoustic aspirations. It’s familiar, yet different; reminding me somewhat of the disjointed mess that is John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy. That album and this should really have been two separate albums or at the very least expanded and presented in the same manner as The Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness double album.

Are You Ready is the signature stadium-filling song that is pure Disturbed. Its energy and finesse is addictive and will appeal to new and old fans alike. I love it!

No More has a great vibe, with a little Marilyn Manson influence, especially in the opening and hook areas of the song. Donegan's semi-solo guitar tracking is fantastic as is the entire mix.

A Reason To Fight is a stunningly beautiful ballad. Seriously, Disturbed needs to release a pure ballads album or an acoustic record. Think Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged In New York. It would be a superb addition to their repertoire. If you thought their cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound Of Silence, from Immortal, was impressive, you'll be blown away with A Reason To Fight. It is arguably the best song on the album and one of the best original songs Disturbed has ever written and recorded.

In Another Time has a lovely slow build up that is required when transitioning from A Reason To Fight. It’s a solid Disturbed tune, but nothing to write home about.

Stronger On Your Own similarly doesn't blow me away. Don't get me wrong, I'll happily accept more Disturbed music any day of the week, but I feel Stronger On Your Own is recorded at the wrong tempo. Plus, again, I hear elements of Marilyn Manson, encouraging me to listen to his catalogue. It's a little Disturbing...pun intended!

Hold On To Memories is another song to get the acoustic treatment. It’s beautiful and Draiman's lyrical delivery is gorgeous. However, I remain steadfast in my recommendation of greater style separation. Besides the aforementioned albums, think Foo Fighters' In Your Honor.

Saviour Of Nothing, unlike Stronger On Your Own, has the perfect tempo. Equally hard-hitting, yet relaxing. The musicality is interesting and the short drum solo, followed by the guitar solo is incredible. A great song!

Watch You Burn is a B-side and I'm hoping it will grow on me, but at the moment I feel it isn't really a Disturbed song as it sounds out-of-place in their catalogue. That said, I adore the symphonic elements and believe they should have been more prominent throughout.

The Best Ones Lie brings us back to the traditional Disturbed sound we all know and love. The Best Ones Lie sounds like it was left over from the Believe sessions. That's a good thing if you were wondering.

Already Gone is another ballad and closes out the album beautifully. Yes, it encourages me to listen to Evolution again and stay within Disturbed's catalogue. I did initially listen to the Deluxe Edition, but I find the standard 10 track version offers the perfect length, especially considering the sonic differences and experimentation between Evolution and Disturbed’s back catalogue.

Overall, Evolution is an excellent album that grows on you the more you listen to it. Given the widespread popularity of The Sound Of Silence, it’s hardly surprising that Disturbed has decided to evolve their sound to include more ballad tones. I do, however, still wish they had separated the styles a little more, but I also acknowledge that the song introductions are well thought-out in relation to the shifting styles and don’t feel overly disjointed. It will be interesting to see how Disturbed take this shift in styling and apply it to future records.

This review has been based on listening to the TIDAL MQA (Masters) and Hi-Fi editions, as well as the Apple Music stream. Subjectively, I found the MQA edition to be a noticeable improvement over the Apple Music stream. However, the variance between the MQA edition and CD-quality Hi-Fi stream was negligible. The MQA edition, however, felt subjectively more musical, compelling me to move and connect better with the music. That all said, when an album is recorded, mixed, and mastered this well, you’ll enjoy it thoroughly regardless of the format.

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

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

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REO Speedwagon/Chicago (Concert Review)

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REO Speedwagon/Chicago (Concert Review)

I went to high school and college in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, the music I prefer is from that time period. And the many concerts I attend are artists and groups from those eras. Recently I had the pleasure of enjoying a band that has been making music for over 50 years: Chicago.

But first, let’s start with the opening act, REO Speedwagon.

The first time I saw REO was in July 2003. I remember thinking at that time that lead singer Kevin Cronin talked a lot! In the 15 years that have elapsed, nothing has changed! However, his talking between songs was showing appreciation to the fans. He acknowledged that without us, there would be no REO Speedwagon. As fans, we pay good money for concert tickets, merchandise, physical media, and streaming services. It’s nice to hear that the artist is aware of this, and recognizes it. Many artists don’t.

REO played their hits, including, “Take It On The Run,” “Roll With The Changes,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” and “Keep On Loving You.” REO performed like they wanted to be there, not as if they were begrudgingly fulfilling an obligation. At 66 years old Cronin can still sing the hits like it’s 1980.

The show ended with a tribute to Tom Petty. Cronin told the story of how Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was his favorite band (as is mine), and that he and Petty were neighbors in Southern California. The band dedicated “Listen To Her Heart” to Petty. REO kept it simple and beautiful.

Chicago was the headliner, and based on the crowd reaction, they were ready to party. But the mood grew quiet as Chicago announced they would be playing their album, Chicago II in its entirety. The only songs most fans recognized were “Make Me Smile,” “Color My World,” and “25 or 6 to 4.”  While they sounded great, it was a bit of a bore, as most people, including myself, like to hear the hits from a band that has been around more than 20 years, and in this case, more than 50.

The crowd woke up once the classic rock section began: “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “Beginnings,” “Saturday In The Park,” “If You Leave Me Now.” The brass section, including original members James Pankow and Lee Loughnane, were having the time of their lives, and sounded amazing. Another original member, Robert Lamm, sang with as much enthusiasm as he did when he first performed these songs 40 plus years ago.

The highlight of Chicago’s set was the Spencer Davis Group cover of, “I’m A Man.” Drummer Walfredo Reyes, Jr., and percussionist Ramon Yslas couldn’t have enjoyed themselves more banging on the drums, bongos, tambourine, occasionally trading places without missing a beat.

I would have preferred for Chicago to skip playing the album and focus on the hits. Their catalog is so vast, ranging from rock to brass to pop, that there’s a little something for everyone. While this wasn’t my favorite Chicago concert, if they come back to my area I will be in the audience once again.

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Alice Cooper – DaDa (Album Review)

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Alice Cooper – DaDa (Album Review)

Alice Cooper may have no recollection of writing and recording DaDa, but I personally consider it one of his greatest achievements.

While it pleases me to know Cooper emerged from this era sober, one can't help but consider just how much his alcohol addiction influenced this opus. While I don't condone substance abuse in the name of art, and I’m a teetotaller, one can't deny that the music we have in our culture today would likely not exist should experimentation with mind-altering substances have not occurred. That said, not all of Cooper's intoxicated albums are as special as DaDa. There is something mystical here that truly defies explanation, so much so that Cooper has previously suggested that he has no idea as to the meaning of the album, only declaring that it’s the most frightening album he has ever made. From my perspective, it’s a sonic wonderland and not foreboding at all.

This review is based on the 2018 vinyl reissue from Warner Music. Specific mastering details are omitted, but let me assure you this is one album you simply have to hear to believe just how good it is. Most modern reissues are pressed from high-resolution digital files, but it sounds as though this pressing was sourced from the analogue master tape. It’s incredibly warm with that familiar analogue sound while being totally absent of the sterile and cold reproduction that is often associated with CD and digital music reproduction. The CD release I have (cat: 7599-23969-2) was never bad, but this vinyl pressing is significantly better. Plus, that orange swirl vinyl, which looks more like a splattering, looks really cool and is a value-added proposition for this collector.

Having owned the CD for a number of years, this was one album that I desperately wanted on vinyl. The exquisite cover art simply demands a larger canvas and while the CD-sized artwork still looked excellent, it just isn’t the same. The liner notes on the rear cover pay homage to the original pressings, as does that Warner Bros. Records label. I don't know about you, but all these elements matter to me. It just makes the tactile experience all the more rewarding. Nevertheless, it is ultimately all about the music.

Side One

DaDa is a Bob Ezrin masterpiece. Yes, Ezrin alone wrote this lead song and as the producer and engineer, the entire album certainly has his sonic fingerprint. Ezrin and Cooper are akin to Elton John and Bernie Taupin or Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman; an incredible collaborative team! Largely instrumental, with near incoherent spoken words, DaDa sets a sombre tone that is eerie, yet riveting to listen to. In some respects, this lead-in song is as spectacular as Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding from Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Hence, I’d have to say that DaDa is one of the greatest lead-in songs of any album ever recorded.

Enough's Enough changes the tempo quite significantly, but despite this change, it does not sound so different that one may think they were listening to a different album. Enough's Enough is classic rock with a pop-influence. The rhythm is toe-tapping and head-bopping heaven. Dick Wagner's guitar presentation here and throughout the album shines. Enough’s Enough is simply a fantastic song and I find it perplexing that Cooper has never performed this, or any other song from DaDa live. What a waste!

Former Lee Warmer is epic! The musicality is beautiful, as is Cooper's vocals. Such a relaxing song. I could listen to Former Lee Warmer on repeat for hours.

No Man's Land picks up the pace again. While there isn't a bad song on the album, No Man's Land comes close. I say that partially because, as an earworm, it has the tendency to play like a broken record. It’s catchy and a little campy, but it does fit DaDa perfectly.

Dyslexia starts a little slowly, but by the time the first chorus kicks in, the song begins to grow on you. It’s an interesting composition, but to be quite frank, I'm not sure if I like Dyslexia or not. Yet, I can't imagine this opus without it.

Side Two

Scarlet And Sheba is one of Cooper's greatest songs. Absolutely sensational rock and roll and I love the eclectic musical overture that introduces the song. You'll find yourself singing along, as I do. The shifting style between chorus and verse is sensational. The team of Cooper, Wagner, and Ezrin hit the ball out of the park on this song, and quite frankly the entire album. Alice Cooper doesn't get much better than this! If only he would play it live, it would become a fan favourite as it flows seamlessly into I Love America and would seem like a no-brainer when touring stateside.

I Love America is campy 101 and brings a snigger to this non-American. Who knows, perhaps my American friends also find some humor in this song. It isn't bad, quite enjoyable actually, but it is unlikely to ever become an anthem. It’s no Lost In America or Born In The USA, but I still love it!

Fresh Blood is seriously groovy with a rock/jazz feel that is most certainly locked into the 80s sound. They don't make music like this anymore and that's okay as the nostalgic element is extremely satisfying. Nevertheless, it also has a dance/disco feel to it, not unlike many of the songs found on Elton John's excellent Victim Of Love.

Pass The Gun Around takes a while to get going. So long, in fact, that upon the first couple of listens you may think DaDa has come to an end. It’s likely done to separate the varied styles between this song and Fresh Blood. Nevertheless, once the song starts, you’ll be met with an astounding song that simply blows my mind every time I hear it. It is psychotic, yet relatable. The only other song I can think of that has such an effect on my psyche is the Guns N' Roses song Coma. The haunting chorus and overall musicality is magical as it connects with the pleasure centres of the brain. Yes, the song is slightly disturbing, and perhaps it takes a slightly disturbed mind to enjoy it, but it is sensationally hypnotic and makes me want to listen to this entire masterpiece again and again. Although, that inferred bullet shot always shocks me, despite knowing it’s coming. I think that is part of the appeal of the song as it not only brings ultimate meaning to the song but breaks the hypnotic hold it has on you.

While I’ve always been captivated by Alice Cooper and consider his body of work to be amongst some of the very best in recorded music history, DaDa is exceptional. It’s an album I can't live without and I dare say people will be dissecting this record forever, trying to figure out exactly what it’s about and what was going through Cooper’s head at the time. Well, I say good luck to them as Cooper, himself, has no idea. I'm equally naïve, so if you’re reading this via The Wayback Machine, I don’t have the answer either. I just know I love DaDa and if I could only have one Alice Cooper album, it would most likely be this one.

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

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

Click here to read other Alice Cooper reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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AC/DC – '74 Jailbreak (EP Review)

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AC/DC – '74 Jailbreak (EP Review)

Few EP releases are as strong as AC/DC's '74 Jailbreak. In many respects, one could call this release a mini-greatest hits had it not been for the fact that the included songs were largely unavailable to music lovers outside of Australia. Released in 1984, US audiences were able, for the first time, to easily hear five exceptional tracks that were never released in their region during the 70s. While it is difficult to comprehend the fan's joy upon first hearing this release, one only has to spin the record and turn up the volume to hear just how polished AC/DC was in those early years.

Without a B-side to be found, '74 Jailbreak is one of the greatest AC/DC releases and should be in every fan's collection. Yes, the EP is short but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if you have a copy on CD or are listening to the EP via a streaming service. For me, I have the 2003, remastered by George Marino at Sterling Sound, vinyl record. Talk about perfect, vinyl rarely sounds better than this, although I don't feel that way about all the AC/DC reissues from 2003, especially Back In Black with its inner-grove distortion. While '74 Jailbreak could have been mastered to 45-rpm, the 33.3-rpm pressing has an incredible soundstage with a perfect mix that ensures the bass and drum beats remain prominent, but never overpowering. Similarly, Scott's vocals have never sounded better and each high-hat tap is crystal clear. The vinyl edition is so well mastered and pressed that I feel no need to even compare it to the TIDAL Hi-Fi CD-quality edition. Yes, dear reader, this is where needle dropping to local digital files comes into play.

The artwork, in the full 12-inch format, is glorious and the inner sleeves, from these 2003 reissues, show just how much time and care was taken with the reissues. Many musicians and record labels could learn a thing or two about re-issuing albums on vinyl if they checked out the quality of the AC/DC pressings; excluding of course Back In Black. They are prized possessions!

Side One  

Jailbreak was released initially on the 1976 album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and was also released as a single, with a reissue of the single arriving in 1980. While Jailbreak may not be the first song fans gravitate towards, it has been featured in AC/DC’s live performances for decades. The 1985 Dallas live recording, featured on Backtracks, is solid but doesn't have the power of the original. Normally, I prefer Johnson over Scott, but not in this case. The drawn-out 13-minute plus performance does hold the listener’s attention, but at times it can feel a little too self-indulgent. Similarly, the 1992 live performance, as heard on Live (Collector's Edition) suffers the same fate. Nevertheless, I feel this latter performance is more polished with Johnson's vocal delivery being stronger. Still, there is no escaping the fact that the original studio recording cannot be topped. Of course, that all depends on how much you love music videos. Featured on AC/DC's Family Jewels DVD collection, the clip is less cringe-worthy than other music videos of the same era, but Scott barely moves and appears to be singing this rock and roll tune in a polite college boy manner. It’s interesting, to say the least. Nevertheless, I'm glad it exists for posterity value if nothing else. Bottom line: Jailbreak is an exceptional song and a great start to '74 Jailbreak.

You Ain't Got A Hold On Me has an incredible rhythm. Although, I’ve always thought that Scott's vocal sounds particularly thin and forward on this song. Interestingly, you may notice when listening to Johnson-era recordings, by comparison, his vocals were always mixed in a more central position in relation to the music, whereas Scott’s always stood out in the mix. It is a minor difference, but noticeable.

Show Business is blues rock 101. I love it! The 1975 live recording, as featured on Family Jewels, is a solid performance but I have to wonder if Scott borrowed his outfit from Elton John.

Side Two 

Soul Stripper is a layered and complex wonderland. The soundstage is massive. The entrance, while lengthy, never gets dull and Scott's vocal entry and presence in the song is nothing short of perfection.

Baby, Please Don't Go is a cover, and a bloody good one at that. To say the song has been covered extensively is an understatement, but I’ve yet to hear, or see, anyone perform this song as well as AC/DC. Seriously, get your Family Jewels DVD out again and check out the larrikin-based performance on Australia's popular music show, Countdown, in April 1975. It’s hilarious and Scott would have easily made a name for himself on the streets of Sydney's Kings Cross with that outfit. It’s certainly an interesting contrast to Angus' schoolboy outfit and it’s funny to see Scott light a cigarette during the performance. That would never be allowed today and who knows maybe the Pippi Longstockings outfit would now also be condemned for fear of offending someone. Regardless, the performance shows just how much AC/DC was enjoying themselves. Their energy and smiles are addictive.

From start to finish, '74 Jailbreak is an exceptional collection of blues-based rock and roll songs that will never age and will remain part of the social consciousness for generators to come.

'74 Jailbreak is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC) and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes). The iTunes edition is also presented in the iTunes LP format for Mac or PC users.

If you prefer streaming, '74 Jailbreak is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music.

Click here to read other AC/DC reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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Meat Loaf – Hang Cool Teddy Bear (Album Review)

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Meat Loaf – Hang Cool Teddy Bear (Album Review)

For about the last 25 years, I’ve been a Meat Loaf fan. While my opinion of his musical prowess will never change, I find myself viewing his work in the categories of with and without legendary songwriter, Jim Steinman.

You may assume that I dislike his non-Steinman collaborated works, but that couldn’t be further from the truth as I class Meat Loaf's 1995 album, Welcome To The Neighbourhood to be amongst his greatest achievements as a musician. Granted, Steinman penned two tracks on that album, but for the most part, it was Meat Loaf selecting songs from a variety of songwriters.

While Hang Cool Teddy Bear is compiled with a who’s who of the recording industry, the album feels disjointed with a number of songs that are simply mismatched to Meat Loaf's vocal style. That isn't to say the album is bad, just that it fails to live up to expectations. Nevertheless, let's take a look at the songs, the album and how this release fits into Meat Loaf's career.

Peace On Earth is a terrible song to commence the album with. It is overproduced and the sonic introduction is largely pointless while the tempo is too upbeat for Meat Loaf. On this track, along with track 2, Living On The Outside, it sounds as though Meat Loaf was inspired to merge his lyrical style with that of Lou Reed and Johnny Cash. It simply doesn't work, although I do enjoy the chorus lines throughout Peace On Earth.

Living On The Outside isn't a bad rock song and would have been much better suited as the lead track. It’s catchy, with a solid rhythm, while not being as alien to Meat Loaf's style as Peace On Earth is.

Los Angeloser has an incredible beat and rhythm. You will be toe tapping and head bopping from the first minute. Thank you, James Michael, for writing yet another incredible song.

If I Can't Have You had potential but the mix is too muddy. It could have been another I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won‘t Do That), but the dynamics are so squashed that the backing vocals and Hugh Laurie's piano elements are barely discernible throughout much of the song.

Love Is Not Real/Next Time You Stab Me In The Back has a really enjoyable drum and guitar backbeat and the Brian May and Steve Vai intermingling guitar solo is out of this world. Despite being mastered too loud, this song, in particular, sounds superb thereby proving that all distortion and a squashed dynamic range does not always result in a negative outcome. Sometimes it suits the tone and style of the song perfectly. That doesn’t mean it is applicable to all songs. It should be added selectively, not as a standard in the mastering and mixing process.

Like A Rose is a great track. Jack Black really adds some vocal attitude to the song and overall it has an incredibly addictive rhythmic beat and a gorgeous, albeit concealed guitar track. Like A Rose is one of the best songs on Hang Cool Teddy Bear and is one of my all-time favourite Meat Loaf tracks.

Song Of Madness features Steve Vai for the second time. The entire song is excellent and worthy of inclusion in Meat Loaf's catalogue. Even Meat Leaf pushes his vocals beautifully in this song with his signature smooth highs and guttural lows. Turn this song up to 11, you'll thank me later.

Did You Ever Love Somebody slows the album down a little, although I'm not keen on Meat Loaf's vocal style in this song. While the song isn't a ballad, as such, Meat Loaf's ballad tones are generally more polished than they appear here as it sounds as though he didn't have his full range available to him during the recording of the song.

California Isn't Big Enough (Hey There Girl) is a mixed bag of musicality that I enjoy, but I find it confusing at the same time. It’s a rock song, with 80s synth elements, amongst a cascade of other styles. Think Tears For Fears meets Meat Loaf. It grows on you, but I wouldn’t call it a standout.

Running Away From Me is a classic B-side, but I like it!

Let's Be In Love isn't a bad song, but it’s made significantly better thanks to Patti Russo. Again, Meat Loaf's vocal presence feels lacklustre, especially in the quiet passages. In comparison, Russo's Vocal takes the song to another level. It’s disappointing that Russo doesn’t enter the song until around the midway point of the song.

If It Rains is a great song but I think I would like to hear it get the Kid Rock treatment as it lacks a little edge and the tempo could be a few beats faster. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoy this song.

Elvis In Vegas is adequate for a closing song. That said, as the song was penned by Jon Bon Jovi, Desmond Child, and Billy Falcon, I’d love to hear Bon Jovi record the song as it definitely has their sonic cues. Regardless, and despite the hot mastering, Elvis In Vegas compels me to listen to the album again and stay within Meat Loaf's catalogue.

Overall, Hang Cool Teddy Bear is a solid release but is far from classic Meat Leaf. That said, the album does grow on you the more you listen to it.

This review has been based off listening to the CD release (cat: 273 4097) of the album.

As mentioned throughout the review, Hang Cool Teddy Bear has been recorded, mixed, and mastered far too loudly. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I want to control my volume and I see absolutely no reason for the constant redlining of music. At no time do I feel enveloped by sound as the music is clearly coming from my speakers. The result is a lack of soundstage and true stereo separation.

The artwork is, as always with a Meat Loaf release, stunning. Although, that starts and ends with the cover art. The rear of the CD terribly laid out. Yes, the producer is important, but why is his name so prominent while the song titles are presented as if they were footnotes?

The liner notes booklet is similarly plain with a font too small to be easily read. I’d like to say the vinyl release would solve this problem, but I can't begin to tell you just how many vinyl releases also get typography wrong. No wonder I tend to ignore lyrical meaning!

While it is possible the vinyl release may improve on the harsh and limited dynamic range heard on the CD, Hang Cool Teddy Bear was only released on vinyl for a limited run, resulting in it now being out-of-print and costing far more on the secondhand market than it should.

While there is no news regarding a possible vinyl reissue/remaster, Hang Cool Teddy Bear is available on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, you can also listen to Hang Cool Teddy Bear on Spotify and Apple Music.

Click here to read other Meat Loaf reviews by Subjective Sounds. 

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SIXX:A.M. – This Is Gonna Hurt (Album Review)

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SIXX:A.M. – This Is Gonna Hurt (Album Review)

One would be forgiven for thinking rock legends of the calibre of Nikki Sixx, Dj Ashba, and James Michael wouldn't have anything inspirational to say, particularly if you consider Sixx's entertainingly sex, drugs, and rock and roll past. That, however, couldn’t be further from the truth as This Is Gonna Hurt is perhaps one of the most positive, heartfelt, and inspiring albums to ever be released in the rock and roll genre.

This Is Gonna Hurt is a stellar hard rock song to commence the album with. I love it!

Lies Of The Beautiful People is fantastic, but I feel it’s sonically compromised as it sounds overly compressed. Ashba's guitar solo is also lost in the overly complex and shallow soundstage. Yes, I recognise this is a style of recording, but when you have musicians as skilled as Ashba and Sixx, you really want them to shine.

Are You With Me is a great tune with a killer semi-solo drum beat that blows my mind. Unfortunately, it’s another track that is sonically compromised due to a shallow soundstage.

Live Forever is superb! Michael's vocal dexterity is perfect for the song and while I don't often listen to lyrics for their literal meaning, preferring to consider lyric delivery as just another musical element, I often find with all Sixx: A.M. records that I gravitate to the vocals. James Michael is clearly not only a marvellous Producer, but he has the unique vocal chops that are needed to stand out from the crowd. Plus, Ashba's solo really stands out on Live Forever. I love it!

Sure Feels Right slows the album down with a mellow, country-inspired, tune. Yes, it may sound a little strange, but when you listen to the song it simply works and surprisingly doesn't feel out-of-place with the rest of the album. It reminds me a little of the shift in rhythm that Kid Rock has applied to some of his music over the years. Exceptional!

Deadlihood is one of my favourite songs on the album. It is a hard-hitting rhythmic wonderland with some very cool vocal distortion.

Smile is an absolutely beautiful recording.

Help Is On The Way is a fun song. One of their best! Yes, it is overly compressed with almost no soundstage to speak of. However, it reminds me of the intense rhythm of Rob Zombie's Sinister Urge album. I don’t know about you but I feel the importance of rhythm in rock and roll is understated. A solid rhythm can make an average song sound exceptional and that is certainly the case for Help Is On The Way. That said, I must admit I also find the song to be a little campy, not that that is always a bad thing!

Oh My God is a song so similar in tonality that the casual listener would be forgiven for thinking it’s a U2 song. That shouldn't be seen as a negative reflection as the song is beautiful in its own right. There’s even a small hint of Bon Jovi’s musical style in Ashba's guitar solo. Regardless, Oh My God is an exceptional song that most listeners will find inspirational.

Goodbye My Friends is a mixed bag. I love the musicality and piano introduction, but I'm not sold on the vocal style throughout the verses. Overall, Goodbye My Friends sounds too busy, causing my brain to struggle to determine which all-important rhythm to connect with.

Skin is brilliant! Amazing! Exceptional! You get the idea. This song should inspire everyone. It is so beautiful and I would go as far as saying it is one of the best songs ever written and recorded.

This Is Gonna Hurt is an incredible album that I have always enjoyed. Although, truth-be-told, I could say that about all of Sixx: A.M.'s music.

This review is based on listening to the CD (cat: 88697749012). While I would love to be able to own a vinyl edition, specifically for the artwork and increased dynamic range, This Is Gonna Hurt was unfortunately never released on vinyl. Hopefully, a reissue will turn up sometime, perhaps for the 10th Anniversary. That said, a unique iTunes edition exists that I’ve owned since the album's release in 2011. It is superb with interactive artwork, a documentary, and music videos. While I may lament the sonic quality of iTunes AAC 256kbps files, the iTunes LP is a value-added proposition. Sadly, despite Apple continually claiming music is in their DNA, iTunes LP releases are not available on the iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV. I say sadly because the iTunes LP idea is pure gold for music lovers. It is the missing link in digital music downloads and streaming. Whether it was Apple dropping the ball or the record labels not willing to invest in the concept, l’m not sure. Perhaps consumer demand wasn't there either. I still hold out hope that this will change, especially considering bonus features in films have made their way to iTunes purchases, across all Apple hardware platforms, but I feel it is more likely that Apple will quietly abandon the iTunes LP feature. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but l’ve never understood why higher quality and more elaborate content is rewarded in the film industry but dismissed in the music industry. It simply doesn’t make sense!

Regardless, This Is Gonna Hurt is available on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), iTunes LP, and as a standard iTunes release.

If you prefer streaming, This Is Gonna Hurt is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Other Sixx: A.M. Reviews By Subjective Sounds

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Rex Brown – Smoke On This... (Album Review)

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Rex Brown – Smoke On This... (Album Review)

You may know him as the bassist from Pantera and Down, but despite his Heavy Metal roots, Brown has delivered an exceptional solo debut filled with killer blues-based hard rock tunes.

Listening to Smoke On This… gives me the impression of an album that while being unique is also influenced at times by Pantera's Cowboys From Hell and the sound signature Slash used for his solo album and further collaborations with Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators. That isn't to say plagiarism of any sort has occurred, but if you appreciate the aforementioned artists, you will thoroughly enjoy this album.

Sonically, the album is nicely mixed and mastered, despite pushing distorted elements to their limit. The one problem I have come across is on Johnny Kelly's drum track whereby the crunching of the cymbals is jarring on the senses. I would have preferred a slightly more open sound, thereby allowing the cymbals space in the soundstage to breathe and shimmer. It would be interesting to see if this same issue is prevalent on the vinyl release, or if due to the restricted vinyl mastering process, this distortion has been limited as the dynamic range most likely wouldn’t be as compressed.

Speaking of vinyl, that cover art is awesome and would look fantastic. I adore black and white photography and while it won't work with all album covers, it works perfectly in this instance as it captures the attitude of both the artist and recording.

Lone Rider gets the album off to an energetic start. The distracting element, however, is the aforementioned crunching cymbals. Otherwise, it’s an incredible song to commence the album with.

Crossing Lines has a great rhythm, but again the shrill sound of the cymbals are a little too forward in the mix and I feel it takes away from an otherwise solid tune.

Buried Alive has an incredible guitar twang introduction that builds into a blues-based rock tune that any musician would be proud of. Brown’s vocal presentation, not only on this track but across the entire album, is exceptional and feels perfectly suited to the associated musicality.

Train Song is amazing! Best song on the album without a doubt. Yes, I can hear the influence of Cowboys From Hell, but I love that song too. I don't know about you, but I enjoy music that offers similarities but has been completely restructured to present something new and evolutionary.

Get Yourself Alright has a mellon collie blues-rock sound. It is an impressive mix and offers incredible depth, reminding me of the work Julian Lennon did with his exceptional Photograph Smile album. Get Yourself Alright pushes the genre limits and is anything but another mere rock tune.

Fault Line is a lovely soft rock tune. Every musical element is perfectly positioned and I simply adore the interweaving vocal along with the gorgeous piano outro.

What Comes Around... is a little campy, especially in the chorus. However, if we call it a B-side, it’s a valued addition to the record.

Grace, while suiting the album, is a classic B-side.

So Into You is a solid rock song. Despite that, the overlapping lead and rhythm guitar confuses the senses as I’m unsure of which groove to connect with.

Best Of Me is a beautiful song! From the elegant beginning to the riff-driven chorus, to the mellow verse; every aspect of this song is perfect. While it may not suit everyone, the musical shifts are incredible and at no time does the song feel disjointed.

One Of These Days is a killer final track. It compels me to listen to the album again and hope that Brown will not only have success with this debut solo release but will continue to record new music.

Overall, Smoke On This... is an exceptional album and while a debut solo performance for Brown, this is one example that showcases how decades of experience can have a profound effect on one’s musicality.

I’m so enamoured by this release that I'm going to order a copy on vinyl; specifically, the limited edition clear version that includes the CD. I like it when vinyl records are shipped with a CD. It is simply a value-added proposition for the consumer.

Smoke On This... is also available as a standalone Vinyl release. Alternatively, you can purchase the album on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, the album can also be heard on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Meat Loaf – Bat Out Of Hell (Album Review)

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Meat Loaf – Bat Out Of Hell (Album Review)

Bat Out Of Hell is an absolute classic and while there are few that would dismiss its importance to the history of recorded music, most of us would agree that it is a landmark album. It's a shame then that the sonic quality has never really lived up to the hype, but more on that later.

In 1993, Meat Loaf had once again exploded on the world's stage with Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell and the monumentally popular lead single I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That). Both would herald my first experiences of Meat Loaf and I was immediately hooked. So much so that the acquisition of the album that started it all was all but guaranteed.

As I played the Bat Out Of Hell cassette, I remember being surprised that an album would have fewer than ten songs. You must remember that this was at the height the CD era when artists and record labels had a tendency to fill the capacity of the CD for no other reason than because they could. Sure, there were some exceptional albums that went for the 74-minute duration, but they were often the exception, rather than the rule. Despite this, I quickly learnt that the song limitations on Bat Out Of Hell were due to the approximate 44-minute runtime of the vinyl LP and the fact that Meat Loaf often defied the radio-friendly runtime. 

Sadly, the cassette no longer exists in my collection. It became a casualty of the MP3 era. Yes, dear reader, I was a bloody idiot! The most unfortunate aspect of this move to digital convenience was that I’ve never been able to find a comparable copy, on any format. While I acknowledge the placebo effect in relation to my memories of how the cassette sounded, I have found that many of the currently available editions lack midrange with excessive treble. It is frustrating and reminds me of my beloved ABBA collection. Some releases are excellent, most are substandard, usually due to varied masters and master tape quality.

A few years ago, I decided to pick up a vinyl release as much for the artwork as the promised return to analog sound. Well, let's just say the CD-quality edition on TIDAL Hi-Fi is significantly better. That's putting it mildly as Lucifer himself wouldn't allow the Simply Vinyl pressing to enter hell. It truly is that bad!

The catalogue number for the aforementioned atrocity is SVLP 0086/82419. Simply Vinyl even had the audacity to claim that it was pressed on Virgin Vinyl, a fact that is a completely inaccurate as the surface noise alone is off the charts. Even recycled vinyl can sound adequate if the record has been mastered and pressed with respect to the limitations of the medium and the original recording. Besides the poor sonic quality, the Simply Vinyl release is pressed so poorly that the lead song, Bat Out Of Hell, starts about a second later than it should.

I could go on and on about how pathetic the pressing is and how much extraneous treble is present. I could also detail how the record lacks soul, drive, and emphasis, not to mention musicality, but I think you get the idea. Simply avoid this pressing at all costs.

As a result, I won’t be using the Simply Vinyl release for this review as it would tarnish my thoughts on the songs themselves. I will subsequently be using the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition as the basis for this review. It still isn’t what I would consider as perfect, but it offers a decent quality that allows me to enjoy Bat Out Of Hell.

Bat Out Of Hell is a killer track to commence the album with. It is the epitome pop/rock opera, along with Paradise By The Dashboard Light of course, and I simply adore it.

You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night) has the classic Jim Steinman spoken intro that works well with the song, but I find the musicality in this track to be too campy and rather dated. That is not to say that I dislike it, but this song could have easily come from Abba's catalogue, especially with the backing vocal style. Regardless, once the song gets going, I find it captivating and feel the need to sing-a-long.

Heaven Can Wait is simply gorgeous!

All Revved Up With No Place To Go is a little too jazzy for my liking. Despite that, I don’t dislike the song and will once again belt out every chorus and verse. 

Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad is pure Meat Loaf. Just like Heaven Can Wait, I thoroughly enjoy songs that highlight Meat Loaf's vocal presentation. While he’s been criticised in recent years for poor live performances, there is no shame on this track. He knocked it out of the park with Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad; one of my all-time favourites.

Paradise By The Dashboard Light has a reputation that needs no introduction, Pure perfection from a songwriting and musical perspective. It's a shame it lacks midrange while also needing a little boost in the low end. Regardless, it would be in my Top 100 songs of all-time, if I had such a list.

For Crying Out Loud is another of those exceptional vocal-driven tunes that are perfect for Meat Loaf. While we all likely gravitate to the well-known, face-paced, rock tunes on the album, I personally adore this song and the gradual build-up is pure gold. Just as Bat Out Of Hell was the perfect song to begin the album with, For Crying Out Loud is the ultimate closer, encouraging me to listen to the album again and stay within Meat Loaf's catalogue for the rest of the day.

Bat Out Of Hell is one of the greatest albums ever recorded; even if not from a sonic standpoint. While Meat Loaf gets most of the credit, Jim Steinman needs to be remembered as the silent but extremely talented writer that was as important to Meat Loaf’s success as Bernie Taupin was to Elton John. Yes, both Meat Loaf and Elton John have worked with other songwriters, but it could be argued that their best work occurred when working with these key contributors.

Without doubt, I need to source a better original for my physical music collection. I have been considering the Analogue Spark SACD release as it is reported to be very good and amongst the best masterings of the album. However, as I was finalising this review, I noticed that Friday Music has just re-issued the album as a 40th Anniversary Edition on red vinyl. Yes, I’m sceptical of another vinyl edition as well. However, it is important to note that this edition has been mastered by Joe Reagoso and Kevin Gray at RTI. Those names alone are akin to royalty in audiophile circles and based on my prior experience with Friday Music pressings, I’m almost tempted to order a copy.

Do you have a preferred edition of this classic? If so, please let us know in the comments. 

Bat Out Of Hell is available on Vinyl, SACD, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, Bat Out Of Hell is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Click here to read other Meat Loaf reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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ZZ Top – Eliminator (Album Review)

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ZZ Top – Eliminator (Album Review)

With a signature sound like no other, ZZ Top is the very definition of blues rock and roll. They are a no-frills trio that are, in my opinion, only topped by AC/DC. Although, let’s be honest, as cool as Angus' schoolboy uniform is, those signature beards remain unchallenged.

Eliminator is eighth studio album by ZZ Top and is arguably as polished as the band has ever been. While I love their entire catalogue, Eliminator plays like a greatest hits compilation and there isn't a B-side to be found. Seriously, if you don't have a copy of Eliminator in your collection, you're missing out on one of the greatest rock and roll albums in recorded music history. 

Of course, it wasn't only the music that made this band a household name. The now iconic music videos certainly played a part. Yes, they're corny and cliche, especially with their fluffy guitars, but it encapsulates the 80s and the MTV era. 

If the beards didn’t catch your attention, then Eliminator would. Yes, Eliminator not only characteristically graced the album cover but would also appear in their music videos during this era. I don’t know about you, but Eliminator is simply stunning. 

The vinyl artwork is truly amazing and simply looks fantastic on display or in the hand. However, I have always been perplexed by the coloured box within the artwork itself. Initially, I had thought it was an indicator guide for other formats that was simply left in the final artwork, but that isn't the case as the reformatting, of even the cassette version, crops tighter into the artwork. It is an absolute mystery. If you have any thoughts regarding this interesting design decision, I'd love to hear from you.

Overall, the 30th Anniversary vinyl release (circa 2013) is a collector's dream come true. Yes, it is rather barebones, but the print and pressing quality is exquisite. Priced in the budget range at sub $30 ($AUD), the sonic performance of this record trumps many of my more expensive 'audiophile' pressings, thereby proving that one does not need to go broke in the collecting of new vinyl for one's passion. That said, this is the exception rather than the rule and the similarly priced 2016 re-issue is reported to have a serious pressing fault as Legs prematurely ends. Logic would dictate that the same master should have been used, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. If it was, one must then question the obvious lack of quality control. Regardless, the 2013 pressing I have is flawless. Beautifully quiet, although not a major issue for rock music, and sonically pure. I’ve never heard the album sound better. It is honestly a 10 out of 10. I’ve also compared it to the CD-quality TIDAL Hi-Fi edition, from the 2008 remastering session, and I find that by comparison, it lacks the overall warmth and depth of the vinyl counterpart. It is, however, a solid edition should you prefer to stream the album. Unfortunately, I don't know which specific master was used for the 30th Anniversary release as that information is not available. However, a little research and subsequent deduction indicate this release was most likely pressed from a different master as the 2008 Deluxe Edition CD reportedly reduced the dynamic range from a 12 to a 6 out of 20. Yes, I acknowledge the dynamic range differences between the formats, but this difference is simply too large to ignore. Most likely this is why I prefer the vinyl release as every drum and bass beat resonates within your soul as the lead guitar and vocals tantalise your senses. Yes, it really is that good!

The 30th Anniversary vinyl release is printed in a high-gloss that looks incredibly impressive but quickly becomes a fingerprint magnet. Inside, you get a singular printed sleeve with Eliminator on one side while the other side remains black. Yes, it is a basic design but appeals to purists as it remains faithful to the original 1983 release. I like it when record labels don't make changes for the sake of making a change.

SIDE XI

Gimme All Your Lovin has such an incredible rhythm. It is the perfect song to start the album with and really sets the tone for the entire record.

Got Me Under Pressure continues the toe-tapping head-bopping rhythm. Sensational!

Sharp Dressed Man is a song that defies explanation. Just turn the volume knob to 11.

I Need You Tonight slows the rhythm, but increases the blues. It's absolutely gorgeous and that guitar is, as with most ZZ Top recordings, pushing the distortion right to the limit while remaining hauntingly clear.

I Got The Six is a perfect rock and roll song. It's nothing to write home about, but it is the meat and potatoes of the album.

SIDE X2 

Legs is iconic! Interesting fact: every time I hear the first few chords, I'm reminded of the Mythbusters television series theme song. I’m honestly surprised there wasn't a lawsuit around this unless they obtained permission of course. Either way, after watching an episode it makes me want to listen to Eliminator.

Thug is a solid tune but it isn't one of my favourites. That said, I do appreciate the bass emphasis on this track.

TV Dinners is one of my all-time favourite ZZ Top songs. Seriously, to take something as mundane as a TV dinner and turn it into an incredibly rhythmic blues rock and roll tune, that takes exceptional skill. It is soloing heaven and features some of the best musicality heard on the album. I also adore those mid-song pauses as they're executed perfectly.

Dirty Dog is a great tune with a tone that is borrowed from Legs. While plagiarism is bad in and of itself, self-plagiarism in music ensures an identifiable sound. 

If I Could Only Flag Her Down brings us back to blues rock and roll. While it’s enjoyable, I feel the vocal tracking is particularly lacking and lost in the mix, especially in comparison to the rest of the album. It sounds like Lemmy Kilmister sang instead of Gibbons. Hey, I love Motorhead too, but this is a ZZ Top album.

Bad Girl, as the final track, is compelling enough for me to play the entire album again. The rhythm is addictive, as is the rawness of the pseudo-live performance. However, the final spoken words, at the end of the track, seem pointless. I really don't like it when artists do that. I know it’s artistic expression, but you'd think I was a little weird if I closed every review with a random word or two.

Regardless, Eliminator is not only one of the best albums ever recorded by ZZ Top, it is one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all-time.

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

If you prefer streaming, you can also enjoy Eliminator on Spotify and Apple Music.

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