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Agnetha Fältskog – I Stand Alone (Album Review)

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Agnetha Fältskog – I Stand Alone (Album Review)

Have you ever wondered what one part Chicago plus one part Abba would sound like? Well, I hadn’t but when I listen to I Stand Alone, I hear a correlation. Peter Cetera, former Chicago frontman and bassist, would produce this exceptional release, selecting the songs that he felt would be perfect for Fältskog’s uniquely smooth vocal delivery. Whilst there are a couple of misses, I Stand Alone is a thoroughly enjoyable release from start to finish and while ABBA’s success may always overshadow Fältskog’s solo career, you’d be foolish to overlook this 1987 release as it is arguably one of Fältskog’s greatest solo releases and success was only hindered by Fältskog’s lack of post-release promotion.

This review will largely be based on listening to, and appreciating, the CD release I’m fortunate enough to own. Sadly, the cover art has faded over the years but sonically the CD sounds marvellous. That said, I did lament that the vinyl reissues of Fältskog’s earlier solo releases in 2017 didn’t include this one. Of course, those reissues were originally released on Polar Music while Fältskog’s later recordings would be released on WEA Records. It may be a minor and somewhat insignificant aspect, from a music lover’s perspective, but WEA Records have yet to do anything with Fältskog’s back catalogue, meaning there is no vinyl reissue on the horizon. At least they haven’t issued a remastered brickwalled disaster as the original mastering is quite lovely with plenty of headroom allowing you the opportunity to turn the volume up according to your tastes.

The Last Time is a fantastic tune to launch I Stand Alone. Yes, it has that 80s feel to it, but that is part of the allure. While a little slow to start, the tempo kicks in after the first minute and reminds me fondly of Elton John’s Victim Of Love. This is one song that you’ll most certainly want to turn the volume up on and get the air guitar out for, for that guitar solo, while predictable, is perfect. 

Little White Secrets shifts the tempo a little too much for my liking. It has an almost Caribbean feel and is a B-side. I simply don’t feel the song suits Fältskog’s vocal style and the mix and subsequent soundstage are a little too centre focused.

I Wasn’t The One (Who Said Goodbye) [Duet with Peter Cetera] is pure gold and is one of the greatest duets of the 80s. Seriously, this is Chicago meets ABBA turned up to 11. It is flawless and I could listen to it on repeat for eternity. 

Love In A World Gone Mad is badly tracked. It’s a solid song, but coming directly after I Wasn’t The One (Who Said Goodbye) was a mistake in my opinion. Subsequently, it takes a while for the mind to adapt to the varied tempo and musicality, resulting in a love/hate relationship with the song, especially if you listen, as I do, to music in the original album format. All that said, if I’m to be completely honest, Love In A World Gone Mad is a little too campy for my liking. 

Maybe It Was Magic is a magnificent ballad that is perfectly suited to Fältskog. 

Let It Shine is a solid song but should have been tracked with Love In A World Gone Made and Little White Secrets as it again shifts the flow of the album a little too much. Truth-be-told, if I had my way, I would have tracked the ballad-styled tunes on Side A and the more 80s pop-driven songs on Side B. Thankfully, your mind does adjust, but it shouldn’t need to in my opinion.

We Got A Way is a solid upbeat pop-rock tune that flows perfectly from Let It Shine. 

I Stand Alone is a great song. The musicality is incredible with a beautifully sized and positioned soundstage ensuring that the more detailed your playback system, the more involving the music will become and you’ll hear elements that you may not have heard on a more modest system.

Are You Gonna Throw It All Away is magical. I adore Fältskog’s vocal delivery on this song and the musicality, especially the saxophone elements, makes this song nothing but a pure pleasure to listen to. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I turn the volume up and sing along. 

If You Need Somebody Tonight is a beautiful song to conclude I Stand Alone on ensuring that I’ll play the album again and stay within Fältskog’s incredible catalogue of music.

I Stand Alone is a hidden gem and if you’re a fan of ABBA or have any interest at all in 80s pop music, you’re bound to love I Stand Alone; I know I do. 

I Stand Alone is available on CD and iTunes.

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

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Hayley Westenra – River Of Dreams: The Very Best Of (Compilation Review)

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Hayley Westenra – River Of Dreams: The Very Best Of (Compilation Review)

Australian music lovers are often criticised for adopting New Zealand artists as their own. Well, in our defence, there is only the very slightest of water-filled ditches between our great nations so you can see how the distinction can be blurred. After all, the great city of Auckland is closer to my home on the east coast of Australia than the city of Perth is on Australia’s western coast. Despite this physical closeness, we don’t know everything that is happening across the pond and as such, I had no idea that Hayley Westenra was a New Zealander when I first heard the Westenra/Bocelli duet of Dell’Amore Non Si Sa. 

As per usual, I digress, only to raise Westenra’s heritage, however, as I was recently researching a song called Pokarekare; a beautiful unofficial national anthem for New Zealand and the correlation hit me. Naturally, I decided to delve deeper into Westenra’s back catalogue and upon listening to this compilation, I was so impressed that I had to immediately pen this review. It isn’t often that I feel so compelled, therefore, dear reader, I ask that you join me as I explore what can arguably be considered one of the greatest career perspective releases I have ever come across. 

Pokarekare Ana is simply stunning. The song itself is remarkable and Westenra performs it beautifully. An absolutely sensational choice to open this compilation with. It is so revered in New Zealand that many consider it, just as Australians consider Icehouse’s Great Southern Land, to be an unofficial national anthem. Pokarekare Ana is, at its core, an adorable song that has stood the test of time.

River Of Dreams (Adapted From “The Four Seasons: Winter, RV 297”) is a beautiful song and while I’ve never heard a poor rendition of this classic, there is no doubt that Westenra’s interpretation is one of the very best I’ve heard. Her vocal is so delicate as it soars above the musicality. Absolutely incredible! 

Dell’Amore Non Si Sa (feat. Andrea Bocelli) is incredible and I love Bocelli’s vocal inclusion but I can’t help but wonder if the mix could have been better. While I don’t know the history of this specific recording, it almost sounds in places as though the vocals were recorded in different recording studios and mixed at a later date; not an uncommon occurrence, of course, but one that can be disconcerting at times if not done well. Regardless, it’s still a lovely song and one that most certainly deserves its place on this career perspective release.

Shenandoah is a beautiful song that really showcases Westenra’s sensational soprano vocal. 

The Water Is Wide is incredibly relaxing and really demands one sit and listen for this is most certainly not background music. Music, really, doesn’t get much better than this. Stunning!

Songbird is one of the greatest songs ever written and recorded. Christine McVie certainly wrote a timeless classic and while I absolutely adore the Fleetwood Mac original, Westenra has performed it masterfully ensuring respect is paid to the original while simultaneously making it her own. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I think I enjoy Westenra’s interpretation more than I do the original. 

Both Sides Now is a great Joni Mitchell song. Mitchell’s version is timeless, but again Westenra takes a classic to another level and makes it her own. Given so many of the world’s greatest musicians have recorded this classic it is difficult to stand out from the pack, but Westenra’s interpretation would most certainly be in my top 10 recordings of this song. 

Ave Maria blows me away every time I hear it, regardless of who’s singing it, but this is one very special interpretation that reaches into your soul and takes you on a musical journey. It is one of the finest interpretations of this timeless classic. 

Benedictus is an incredibly beautiful song, leaving me somewhat speechless each time I listen to it. 

Amazing Grace is one of those songs that I have heard too many times and it no longer sounds amazing to me. That said, Westenra’s vocal presentation is spot on with this interpretation.

Danny Boy, in a similar way to Amazing Grace, has been overplayed and I’m sure the Irish will be bitterly disappointed when I say that I’ve never found the song appealing. That said, Westenra’s interpretation is one of the best I have ever heard. 

Summer Rain shifts the tempo and while the jolt to the system can be distracting at first, Summer Rain is a solid original pop-inspired crossover written by Westenra and Jeffrey B Franzel. I do, however, feel Westenra’s vocal gets lost in the musicality. Nevertheless, it’s a great song that is truly worthy of inclusion on this compilation; although a remix, with a small decibel reduction in the instrumental elements, would be appreciated. 

Never Say Goodbye (Adapted From “Pavane, M. 19”) is magnificent!

Grannies Schicchi: O mio babbling caro is a timeless soprano classic and Westenra’s is a solid addition to the lineup of interpretations. However, I feel that Westenra doesn’t quite hit the high notes as well as I’ve heard from other artists. That isn’t to say that this rendition is bad, just that I feel it could have been better. 

May It Be/Fellowship Of The Ring is an Enya masterpiece and it really takes courage to cover Enya for her musical prowess is incomparable. Well, Westenra not only covered it, but she covered it incredibly well. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I still prefer the Enya original, but as I listen to Westenra’s interpretation, I don’t find myself wishing that I was listening to Enya. That, in itself, speaks volumes. 

Ave Maria is beautiful. A favourite of mine and while this is the second interpretation of Ave Maria, on this compilation, Westenra doesn’t disappoint as she hits all the high notes, those that I feel she missed on Grannies Schicchi: O mio babbling caro, perfectly.

Now Is The Hour (Po Atarau/Haere Ra) is a song I’m not overly familiar with and while I would have preferred Ave Maria to be the closing track on this compilation, Now Is The Hour is lovely and encourages me to not only listen to The Very Best Of Hayley Westenra again, but also explore her remarkably diverse and enjoyable catalogue of music. 

Overall, Westenra’s River Of Dreams - The Very Best Of is just that; the very best of Hayley Westenra. The recordings, the mixes, the mastering, all leave me in pure amazement as to how a sound so pure can be reproduced with such perfection. Sonically, it is amongst some of the best recordings I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to and it isn’t far-fetched for me to say that I could listen to this masterpiece on repeat indefinitely.

Of course, you too can enjoy this masterful release, if not via the exquisite Apple Music stream, then via the iTunes Store. Alternatively, River Of Dreams: The Very Best Of Hayley Westenra is available on CD.

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Lionel Ritchie – Dancing On The Ceiling (Album Review)

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Lionel Ritchie – Dancing On The Ceiling (Album Review)

The 80s were in full swing by the time Lionel Richie’s third solo album, following his exceptional Can’t Slow Down, was released in 1986, yet nothing about Dancing On The Ceiling sounds locked to the era as the album remains as fresh today as the day it was released. 

Dancing On The Ceiling is a great opener, although I would have preferred it without the non-musical intro as the song gets straight into the synthesised beat that is incredibly addictive. Without a doubt, you’ll find me dancing and singing along to this track when no one is watching. If only I could somehow manage to dance on the ceiling! 

Released as the first single from the album, Dancing On The Ceiling performed well in the charts, reaching the Top 10 in most regions, and while the music video is delivered in a classic cringeworthy 80s-style, there’s something strangely compelling about it that makes you want to watch it over and over again. 

Se La has a killer reggae style and you would be forgiven if you hear a little Bob Marley in this track. That said, it is perfectly suited to Richie and is a very enjoyable song to listen to, especially if you enjoy reggae music. It’s certainly one of my favourite songs on the album.

Ballerina Girl is one of Richie’s most beautiful songs. Penned by himself, for his adopted daughter Nicole, you can’t help but be moved as you listen to Richie’s smooth tones and the love he has in his heart. This is one time when the literal meaning of a song comes to the forefront of consciousness and captivates my soul. It’s one of my favourite Lionel Richie songs by far. I’d love to see him do a concert with a symphony orchestra backing as this song, in particular, would be extraordinary. 

Don’t Stop has a great rhythm, once you get over the shock from the smooth and relaxing Ballerina Girl of course. Seriously, it is perhaps one of the worst cases of bad tracking I’ve ever come across. Especially considering it is the last song on Side A of the vinyl release. All I can think is that Deep River Woman would have been the perfect closer for the first side and would have flowed beautifully from Ballerina Girl. While Don’t Stop isn’t necessarily bad, it isn’t good either as it’s too long and just doesn’t fit, sonically, well on Dancing On The Ceiling. As a song on its own, I can see the appeal. Perhaps it should have been a B-side to one of the singles or left off the album completely. Nevertheless, it is part of the album and while I have mixed feelings about it, I also acknowledge that Dancing On The Ceiling wouldn’t sound the same without it. 

Deep River Woman is a gorgeous tune that really strips down the musicality and allows Richie’s extraordinary vocal presentation to be the focus of the song. I also find the inclusion of the country and southern rock band, Alabama, on backing vocals is the ultimate addition to the album and truly makes the song something greater than the sum of its parts. Similar, in many cases, to the interweaving harmony that made the Eagles so successful. Sadly, however, Deep River Woman failed to chart successfully. That, alone, perplexes me and makes me think that I’ll never truly understand the likes and dislikes of mainstream music audiences. 

Richie would later re-record the song with Little Big Town on his reimagined country-styled compilation album Tuskegee. It’s a great rendition, but nothing beats the original in my opinion.   

Love Will Conquer All is an incredible song. That intermingling vocal harmony in the chorus. That rhythm. It really is the complete package and Marva King takes Love Will Conquer All to another level with some absolutely gorgeous backing vocals. Absolutely brilliant!

Tonight Will Be Alright is a solid B-side. Nothing to write home about, but enjoyable. I would like to have heard this sung in a Neil Diamond style; in fact, I’d love to hear Neil Diamond cover it. That said, I just feel it needed a little more spit and polish in order to really blow my mind.  

Say You, Say Me is the song. It needs no introduction and nothing really needs to be said about it other than it’s utterly perfect. 

The reimagined version, as found on Tuskegee, doesn’t have the vocal or musical prowess as heard in the original and while it is good, the original is beyond reproach. 

Night Train (Smooth Alligator) gives me a feeling of déjà vu. Oh, that’s right, Side A had a questionable closing song as well. That said, the original vinyl releases omitted this song with it only appearing on the cassette and CD releases. Unfortunately, the latest vinyl reissues do include this ninth song and it has ruined the ending of Dancing On The Ceiling in my opinion. Hence, as much as I’d like to pick up a vinyl reissue of the album, I won’t be as long as they continue putting Night Train (Smooth Alligator) on the vinyl pressing. Look, it isn’t a bad song but Say You, Say Me was the perfect closer and if this song was to be included, it should have been done so before Say You, Say Me. Unfortunately, adding additional tracks was a thing that was done at the time. The only time I’ve come across a bonus track, that I wished was on the original cassette or vinyl release, was Michael Jackson’s Leave Me Alone; a song only initially available on the CD release of Bad

Despite this questionable closer, Dancing On The Ceiling is, without a doubt, one of the greatest R&B/Soul/Pop albums of the 80s and is arguably the very best work of Richie’s career. Yes, I love Can’t Slow Down as well, but I find Dancing On The Ceiling to be more fulfilling as a piece of musical art. I also find that I gravitate towards it more frequently and when I play Dancing On The Ceiling, it’s guaranteed to be played on repeat for hours.

Dancing On The Ceiling thankfully remains easily accessible, being available on Apple Music (Original | 2003 Reissue) and the iTunes Store (Original | 2003 Reissue). If you prefer physical media, you can pick up the 2003 extended reissue on CD or the standard nine-track vinyl reissue.

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Morgan James – Hunter (Album Review)

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Morgan James – Hunter (Album Review)

Who is Morgan James? I didn’t have a clue until the Apple Music algorithm suggested the album, Hunter, following a listening session that included Prince’s incredible ART OFFICIAL AGE. Yes, I was captivated by the cover art, but I was ultimately drawn into the musicality and vocal prowess of Morgan James. 

With regards to the cover art, the album artwork presented in this review is from the reissued release as the original CD pressings featured James in a striking black and white pose. Despite this variation, both covers are beautiful and it’s a shame that Hunter has only ever been released on CD as its design is screaming to be seen on a larger canvas. I should also mention that while the digital non-Mastered for iTunes edition sounds remarkably good, I can only imagine just how good Hunter would sound on vinyl. While digital music can sound warm and full, it’s unfortunately not always the case as it can also sound cold and shrill. Thankfully, this is one recording that takes sonic reproduction to another level. You’ll feel compelled to turn the volume up and at no time does the soundstage distort or sound hollow. It’s recorded, mixed, and mastered perfectly and the musical performance is simply exceptional, as is James’ vocal prowess; a vocalist that blows my mind.

Call My Name gives you an insight as to what to expect from the entire album. The rhythm is beautifully recorded and James’ silky vocal will captivate your soul. Of course, Call My Name is a cover of the Prince original, and as much as I adore Prince’s version, I’m left speechless by this interpretation. This is one song, and album, where I would strongly suggest turning the lights down and the volume up as you experience your own personal mind-blowing performance as James and the band are transported directly to your lounge room. Absolutely amazing!

The music video doesn’t, in my opinion, suit the musicality and style of the song. It’s a missed opportunity and unless you enjoy music via music videos, you’ll likely watch it a single time and never watch it again as it’s largely forgettable. A shame considering just how enjoyable the song is.

Hunter continues the captivating Jazz meets Soul meets R&B sound; a style that I truly adore and reminds me fondly of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. Hunter is sensational and while I was unsure of the album being named after this song, there is little wonder why as the song is off-the-charts and it’s a recording that you simply have to hear to believe. 

Heart Shake continues the upbeat nature often associated with soul music. Heart Shake has a killer hook and if you’re not moving to the rhythm and singing along after the first listen, you’re listening to the album wrong. 

Bring Yourself To Me maintains the tempo, but isn’t quite as strong as the previous tracks on the album. That said, Bring Yourself To Me is what I would class as classic R&B and if you’re partial to that style of music, you’re going to love this song. As for me, I’d likely refer to this song as a B-side. Not bad, but nothing to write home about.

I Want You has an exceptionally deep bass element that will reach directly into your soul. While some may consider it to be bass heavy, I prefer a little bass in my music and therefore I consider it to be absolutely perfect as there is no distortion to be heard and James’ beautiful vocal can be heard clearly as the soundstage hasn’t been completely crushed in the mastering process. That said, some of the musical elements do get a little lost in the mix, but it is nothing compared to most modern recordings that have this music lover scratching his head trying to figure out what, if any, musical instrument was used in the recording of a song. That aside, just listen to that fade out. They don’t make them like that anymore. I love it!

I Don’t Speak You maintains a relatively deep bass element, but I must admit that I find it a little distracting and it would be nice if it was dialled back a couple of decibels as I really want to hear James’ vocal unrestricted by the instrumentation. A solid song, nevertheless. 

You Never Lied is absolutely beautiful. 

Say The Words really focuses on James’ vocal and the term magnificent simply doesn’t begin to describe just how incredible this recording is. Seriously, take a listen, you’ll be blown away. James has, without doubt, one of the most beautiful female vocals I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear.  

The Sweetest Sound really showcases James’ vocal dexterity. Absolutely magical! Although, the ending is too abrupt, it really needed to be faded out rather than ending suddenly. Drown, therefore, takes a little adjustment to get used to as it starts very closely to the end of The Sweetest Sound and the mind is initially unsure how to handle the change. Once the jolt is past and the mind settles into the music, Drown is quite enjoyable. 

Fed Up On You picks up the pace with a jazzy original tune that reminds me of Aretha Franklin. Subsequently, I thoroughly enjoy it and the rhythm is sure to get you moving. 

She’s Gone is an incredible composition with a sound stage that is so dynamic that upon each listen, you’ll be hearing elements that you had never heard before. A great song!

Dancing In The Dark is a cover of the Springsteen classic and while nobody does it better than The Boss, James comes hauntingly close as her rendition is a magnificent homage to the original while ensuring it sounds unique; not an easy task considering how popular Dancing In The Dark has been for Springsteen. It takes courage to cover a song like this on a debut and James should be applauded for not only attempting it, but nailing it. 

Let Me Keep You (feat. Robert Glasper) is an incredible closing song. It compels me to listen to Hunter again and explore James’ growing catalogue. That said, to be completely honest, I’ve yet to listen to any of her other albums. I was so captivated by Hunter that I felt compelled to immediately pen a review. That doesn’t happen often, but when it does you know you’re listening to something very special. Let Me Keep You is most certainly one of those rare special songs and if you had any doubts while listening to Hunter, with regards to James’ musical ability, Let Me Keep You will silence those doubts for it is one of the greatest songs on the album and fades out so elegantly that you’ll likely be lost for words. It, really, is that good!

Overall, Hunter is an album that goes beyond the status of a debut. Yes, James released a live homage to Nina Simone some two years earlier, Morgan James Live, From Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola – A Celebration Of Nina Simone, but this remains the first studio album with a mix of original and cover songs that will captivate you from the very first note to the very last. Yes, Hunter may have been released in 2014, but it is thus far the best album that I’ve heard this year. Absolutely exceptional!

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Kylie Minogue – Golden (Deluxe Edition) [Album Review]

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Kylie Minogue – Golden (Deluxe Edition) [Album Review]

Kylie Minogue is Madonnic; by which I mean that Australia’s pop princess and one of the country’s most successful musical exports is continually transcending musical trends while remaining familiar and instantly recognisable. Yes, Madonna, has achieved the same level of diversity and evolution, hence the Madonnic association. Nevertheless, Golden sees Minogue adopt a country-pop style that is arguably different from her previous works but works surprisingly well. 

When Golden was released, I took a listen and was captivated enough to add it to my Apple Music library. Revisiting it now, essentially a year later, I want to know if Golden is good enough to add to my physical collection, keep within my digital collection, or remove completely from my music collection with the only recollection of the album being this very review. Between you and I, dear reader, it most certainly isn’t the latter. 

If you’re thinking there is only one edition of Golden, you’d be mistaken. Apple Music may currently only have the Deluxe Edition, but Golden is yet another modern release that has seen too many editions, on too many formats, released too close to each other. There is no doubt that some fans will rejoice with the variety, and it is important to note that my criticism of the multiple editions has nothing to do with the quality of music, but it is frustrating that all bonus tracks don’t make it to the Deluxe Edition. Seriously, shouldn’t a Deluxe Edition contain everything? Clearly, the Deluxe Edition isn’t as deluxe as the record label would like us to believe for the Japanese release includes two additional remixes of Dancing. A streaming edition (not available on Apple Music) features a remix of Stop Me From Falling that features Gente de Zona, while the Collector’s Edition cassette provides a bonus downloadable track, New York City (Live From New York). If that doesn’t cause you enough confusion to run for the hills, a Christmas Collector’s Edition cassette includes the single edition of Music’s Too Sad Without You. Plus, the Christmas Collector’s Edition cassette includes an exclusive Christmas video message from Minogue. 

Okay, so perhaps additional remixes and live tracks aren’t that impressive and rightly should have been left off the Deluxe Edition as I, myself, have often criticised the inclusion of bonus tracks that add little to no value to the listener. That said, it is still my belief that the Deluxe Edition should contain all additional tracks while a standard edition should be readily available for fans who are just interested in what can be assumed to be the very best selection from the Golden recording sessions.

Oh, by the way, in case you were wondering, yes, Golden was also released on vinyl and the cover art on the larger canvas looks incredible; although that format has also seen a variety of options that will send fans broke if they are to try and acquire each and every edition. Golden is not alone in this regard. Many modern releases are designed to part the true fans with their hard-earned money (a phrase I detest, but one that seems appropriate). It’s really disappointing for fans who want to support their beloved artists but need to purchase the album multiple times in order to do so. Yes, I acknowledge that artists, and the record labels, are in the business to make money, but that doesn’t make it right. Certainly, no-one is holding a gun to your head demanding you purchase it, but true completist fans know only too well the desire of collecting. It would be the same as holding an AA meeting in a beer garden and expecting all in attendance to order a lemon squash. Kind of ridiculous, isn’t it? 

Of course, I’m not suggesting that multiple releases should be outlawed, but to release so many editions, so close after the album’s initial release, is what strikes me as opportunistic. Anniversary editions, fine. A simple release schedule of the standard edition available on all formats with a Deluxe Edition (including everything) for the hardcore fans, fine. But the way Golden has been released suggests that for fans to get everything, they need to almost buy one of everything. I guess I just wish that a Deluxe Edition was the defining element for an album’s release and that while exclusives to streaming services have been largely criticised and expunged from said services, the same should apply for physical media thereby allowing the music-lover to purchase the album on the format that they prefer without needing to purchase multiple copies to get questionable bonuses. 

All that said, it’s ultimately the music that matters most. Join me as we take a look at the songs that make up Golden (Deluxe Edition).

Dancing is an incredible song and sets the tone for the entire album. Dancing, is certainly catchy, not far removed from Minogue’s renowned disco-sound, yet with a country vibe that deals with the somewhat sensitive topic of death in a brilliant way that I thoroughly enjoy because I too want to go out dancing!

The music video is excellent and will irritate those who dislike line dancing. Nevertheless, it is well done and mixes perfectly Minogue’s new and old styles while also ensuring the video is familiar to the album artwork that was to come a few months after the single’s initial release. It is, for lack of a better term, the complete package and one of the best modern music videos I’ve seen in a long time. 

Stop Me From Falling flows beautifully from dancing and what better than to contrast the proposition of death with that of falling in love. It’s another stellar song with a very interesting treble-inspired musical approach that works remarkably well. It’s a joy to listen to and I don’t know about you, dear reader, but the rhythm is spot on and I dare you to sit still while Stop Me From Falling is playing. 

The core music video for Stop Me From Falling is a little less story-driven than that for Dancing, but the interlinking of a live performance, behind the scenes elements, and Minogue singing and dancing in solo elements is perfectly edited and is one of those cases where after seeing the music video, the song itself is more profound and even better than when listening to it in the album format.

There is a secondary music video that was shot as well, which is more story driven but is cringeworthy. Even the remix chosen for the song doesn’t appeal to me and I’m glad it wasn’t the edition that appeared on the album. 

Golden has a slightly slower rhythm than the previous tracks, but it’s a lovely song and one that is thoroughly enjoyable to listen to. That said, I feel Minogue’s vocal could have been stronger throughout. It isn’t so much the mix as I feel she just didn’t knock it out of the park on this track. 

The Golden music video is relatively basic and while this simplicity is rather common as you proceed to, and pass, the third single, the quality often begins to suffer as the record labels don’t really care about putting too much money into promotion after an initial boost. A shame, but at least it isn’t cringeworthy. It is, however, easily forgotten and you’re unlikely to watch it again unless your preferred way to consume music is via music videos.  

A Lifetime To Repair is really pushing the auto-tune/vocal manipulation a little too far for my liking. I know it is the predominant style of the modern pop era, but I feel there are times when it is overused and I feel that becomes apparent throughout this song. It’s still a great tune though and the musicality and soundstage is magnificent. Seriously, listen to A Lifetime To Repair a couple of times and you’ll immediately notice sonic elements that you had missed the previous time around. This is one song where repeat listens really enhances the experience and that fiddle during the chorus is epic; if only it were more prominent in the mix. 

Sincerely Yours is magnificent. A beautiful song from start to finish!

One Last Kiss is a good song, but arguably the first B-side on the album. I’m not convinced that the nasal approach of Minogue’s vocal suits the song. Yes, it works, but it is this element that makes One Last Kiss a B-Side for me. 

Live A Little is addictively good. I love it!

Shelby ‘68 has an exceptional vocal presentation. I love the styling and the beat, and while slow, is absolutely magnificent. This is one of the best songs on the album and I’d argue it’s one of the best songs Minogue has ever recorded. 

Radio On really brings Minogue’s vocal front and centre. It’s a lovely mix and good to hear her voice so clearly as many of the songs that she is known for are musically dense and we rarely get to hear just how beautiful her voice is, other than in a near-acoustic song, such as this, that is a lovely addition to the album. 

Love isn’t a bad song, a little short for my liking, but it works really well within the album format and Golden wouldn’t be the same without it. 

Raining Glitter is a fun song that is thoroughly enjoyable to listen to but it’s nothing to write home about and doesn’t push the boundaries of what Minogue is capable of. 

Music’s Too Sad Without You (with Jack Savoretti) is the song that closes out the core 12-track standard edition and vinyl releases of the album. It is a perfect closer. However, the additional four tracks on the Deluxe Edition are excellent and therefore I’d strongly recommend you listen to the Deluxe Edition. That said, Music’s Too Sad Without You is a beautiful song and Jack Savoretti fits in perfectly with Minogue’s style. It’s a great duet-styled song and one of the highlights on Golden.

The music video for Music’s Too Sad Without You is exceptionally good. It’s beautifully filmed and edited with only the bare necessities in place. Although, as perfect as it is, the fade out towards the end of the song begins too abruptly for my liking. Nevertheless, it is one blemish on an otherwise perfect production. 

A live duet of Music’s Too Sad Without You was also recorded and released on Savorett’s Singing To Strangers. It isn’t a bad live recording, the musical elements are recorded extremely well, but the vocals, especially Minogue’s, are lacking in strength within the mix and subsequently sound distant. A shame considering just how good this song is. 

Lost Without You is a great song and while I acknowledge it is a little jolting from the smooth and magnificent Music’s Too Sad Without You, it’s a stellar addition to the Deluxe Edition and once the chorus begins, the mind has adjusted to the sonic shift and all is well. 

Every Little Part Of Me is a great dance meets country meets pop song, but it does challenge the mind a little; not that that is a bad thing!

Rollin’ isn’t Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’, but it is perfect for Minogue and is a value-added proposition for fans. 

Low Blow is Lady Gaga meets Kylie Minogue. It isn’t bad, it’s actually really good, but the various stylings are intriguing and while it may not appeal to everyone, I certainly like it. The soundstage and musicality is off-the-charts good and it does what all good closing songs should, it encourages me to listen to the album again and stay within Minogue’s extensive catalogue. It’s also a song that will induce an earworm for hours and days afterwards. 

Overall, Golden (Deluxe Edition) is an exceptional release that will ultimately appeal to longtime Minogue fans as well as newcomers who appreciate the country-pop style. As an irregular Minogue fan, ever since Locomotion set the charts on fire, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoy Golden and plan to pick it up on vinyl as the more I listen to it, the more I become captivated by it. Of course, the problem is deciding which one to get. There is the Limited Edition 180gm Clear Vinyl release, the Limited Edition Super Deluxe Edition (featuring the record, a hardcover book, and the CD – I’ve seen it in person and it looks amazing!). Plus, there is also the standard black vinyl gatefold release and a picture disc edition. Seriously, there are too many versions, aren’t there? Nevertheless, I think I’ve settled on the Super Deluxe Edition as it offers a good balance of everything Golden presents. 

Ultimately, Golden is a fantastic modern country-pop album that is only let down by too many varied editions. 

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Elvis Presley With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – If I Can Dream (Album Review)

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Elvis Presley With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – If I Can Dream (Album Review)

It never ceases to amaze me just how many different ways the music industry can repackage the music we know and love. While I was underwhelmed by the Carpenters With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra release, I was blown away by the Elvis Presley album. 

The song selection is superb, but I do question if Burning Love was the best song to get the Philharmonic treatment and open the album with. Of course, that is only one song, and the rest of the album is beyond reproach with a very tasteful orchestral inclusion to Presley’s timeless classics. 

Of course, this 2015 compilation wouldn’t be the only release to merge the classical with the rock and roll legend, but to be completely honest, I haven’t taken the time to listen to the followup, The Wonder Of You, as I fear it was released following the overwhelming success of If I Can Dream and history has taught me to be wary of additional instalments as they can, but rarely do, exceed the expectations of the original highly successful release. Of course, the Helene Fischer duet on The Wonder Of You is, to say the least, compelling as she has a divine voice. Never say never, dear reader, for one day you may just see a review of The Wonder Of You pop up on Subjective Sounds; just don’t hold your breath for a review of Christmas With Elvis And The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The release of If I Can Dream that I’m fortunate enough to own is the standard 14-track CD release. Sonically, it’s beautiful and that is of course, in part, due to the masterful arrangements and mixing that ensures Elvis has never sounded better. The mastering is beyond reproach and shows just how good CD can sound, thanks in part to Vic Anesini at Battery Studios in New York. Of course, as with all standard releases, there is also a Deluxe Edition that I’ve lusted over for some time, but I have to remind myself that I am thoroughly happy with the track selection that is featured on the standard CD release and while I may be missing out on Anything That’s Part Of You, What Now My Love, and Heartbreak Hotel, I much prefer the artwork on the standard release as it is less pompous than the Deluxe Edition. Although, and this may be confusing, the Apple Music/iTunes (Mastered for iTunes) edition uses the alternative artwork even though the additional tracks are not present. Nevertheless, I love the classic photographs that appear throughout the liner notes as they pay homage to the era; something that I feel all reissues should do henceforth as a true representation of the artist.

Also included in the liner notes is a lovely reflection by Priscilla Presley, giving us some insight into Elvis’ mindset following his recording sessions whereby he longed for a fuller sound, one that can really only be achieved with the assistance of an orchestra. I can’t argue with that opinion, for I too love the fullness of an orchestral body of work and when I listen to some of the legacy Elvis recordings, I would appreciate a fuller sound. Well, now we have it and it is fair to say that if you take the time to listen to, and appreciate, If I Can Dream, you’ll hear these classics as you’ve never heard them before and you’ll likely, as I have, fall in love with them all over again. 

Just a final note on the liner notes, I can’t begin to express just how appreciative I am to the team behind this release. They have gone above and beyond, nothing has been missed, and it is a pleasure to sit, flick between the pages, and enjoy as I sit back and listen to this masterpiece. I’d like to say this is common, but I have so many CD releases that seem as though they’ve just been thrown together on a whim, with no real thought or care put in place, especially in the modern era where streaming is now dominant. Subsequently, it is refreshing to see that some record labels and releases still go that extra step to ensure fans are rewarded with albums that can really be wonderful experiences that extend beyond the sonic pleasures of the release. 

Burning Love is a great song, but I’m a little conflicted about the decision to use it as the opener as the other songs included on this compilation release are a little less rock and roll. That isn’t to say that Burning Love doesn’t work with an orchestra approach, or that I dislike the song, nothing could be further from the truth. It simply means that out of all the songs selected, I feel this is the least appealing, but I can understand why it was chosen. Regardless of my subjective thoughts, fans will likely be in awe and will thoroughly enjoy this rendition. 

It’s Now Or Never is a lovely song and sets the tone and overall tempo for the rest of the album. 

Love Me Tender is one of the most beautiful songs ever written and recorded and while the original is beyond reproach, this melding of styles takes the song to a completely new level. One that will allow you to experience it as if it were the first time all over again. This song is the very reason why I love music as much as I do. 

Fever (feat. Michael Bublé) is a great song and while I was initially skeptical of Bublé’s inclusion, it works so well. However, if there is one element that doesn’t sit well with me, it is the vocal tracking. There is a difference between the Presley and Bublé vocal tracks, resulting in a little echo, most likely due to the tracks being recorded in two different studios, at two different time periods. You don’t notice it when listening to the songs with Presley on his own, but it is a minor irritation in this song. Not that it deters me from enjoying it, for I love it, but this slight variation is especially apparent when listening via headphones so music lovers who are sensitive to such small deviations may be best advised to listen to the album via loudspeakers. 

Bridge Over Troubled Water is an absolute classic and while I love the Simon & Garfunkel original, Presley’s rendition has always been incredible, one of the very best ever recorded, and this orchestral rendition takes the song to another level of listening pleasure. Truth-be-told, I’ve never heard a bad interpretation of this masterpiece, but I do have a soft spot for this version and I suggest you turn the volume up, sit back with a glass of wine, and enjoy. It’s absolutely spectacular!

And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind is a song where you can really hear Neil Diamond. Arguably, I feel the Neil Diamond original is the better version and as I think about it, I can’t help but wonder just how incredible Diamond’s entire catalogue would be with an orchestral mix. Nevertheless, this is a lovely rendition and a perfect addition to the album. 

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling is another absolute classic and while I enjoy Presley’s rendition, I feel the mix with the original recording and the orchestral backing is a little rough in places, especially in the backing vocal elements that I feel detract from the orchestral element as they are simply too prominent in the mix.

There’s Always Me is one of the songs on the album that I’m not overly familiar with. Yes, I adore Presley’s entire catalogue, but even the most devout fan will likely be unfamiliar with a few songs here and there. Nevertheless, There’s Always Me is a lovely addition to the album and doesn’t feel out-of-place.

Can’t Help Falling In Love is another Presley classic that requires no introduction or commentary. The original is a masterpiece and this orchestral version has merely enhanced the song. Stunning!

In The Ghetto is one of my all-time favourite Elvis songs. Without a doubt, the production team behind this release really chose well, considering just how many exceptional songs Presley recorded in his life. I can only imagine the discussions surrounding the selection process. It certainly wouldn’t have been easy and perhaps that is why additional releases have been forthcoming because the mixture of Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is a match made in heaven.

How Great Thou Art is a lovely hymn and on first listen doesn’t seem like a good song to select for this compilation, but I’m happy to say that I stand corrected for I couldn’t imagine this release without this song. 

Steamroller Blues is moody and brooding and absolutely perfect. 

An American Trilogy is a lovely song that is enhanced beautifully with the orchestral overtures. 

If I Can Dream is the perfect song to close the album on as it bookends the album nicely with the style of Burning Love as the opener, ensuring that I will listen to the album again and stay within Presley’s extensive catalogue of music. 

Overall, If I Can Dream is, truly, a dream come true for any Elvis fan. Elvis is in the room with you, as is the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and arguably has never sounded better. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I couldn’t imagine a better homage to such a sensational talent. We are truly fortunate to have Elvis’ music, but we are even more fortunate to have such a respectful modernisation of some of his greatest hits. 

If I Can Dream is available on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes)

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Glenn Frey – After Hours (Album Review)

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Glenn Frey – After Hours (Album Review)

Friday night comes, following a busy week, and all you feel like doing is pouring yourself a drink, sitting back, and relaxing with music; well, at least that is what appeals to me. I started out listening to Frank Sinatra’s extraordinary Come Fly With Me, twice, and as I was perusing my record collection, I noticed Glenn Frey’s After Hours. Acknowledging that I hadn’t played it for quite some time and that it is similarly relaxing to Sinatra’s 1958 opus, I took the record out of the sleeve, placed it on the platter, gave the needle a clean and got the carbon fibre brush in order to remove any dust artefacts that may have been present. It is a labour of love. Then it was time. Time to drop the needle, sit back, and enjoy. 

Yes, purists will argue that Frey is nowhere near as soulful and smooth as Sinatra, but the way I look at it is that they are different, not only from a vocal dexterity point-of-view but also from the perspective that After Hours is a stereo production whereas my copy of Come Fly With Me is the mono release. The difference between mono and stereo was ultimately the greatest shift to endure but that soon past within moments as For Sentimental Reasons rang out and opened After Hours. 

As I grew up with stereo sound, the concept of mono has sometimes seemed counterproductive but there is just something about the mono sound that is strangely compelling. It is similar to the difference between digitally delivered music and vinyl. Neither is necessarily better or worse, they are just different and some people vehemently support one format over another. For me, it just has to sound right and the two aforementioned albums certainly do. What I do find, however, is that mono recordings tend to fill the room far better. You still get an incredibly evolved soundstage but there are no audible holes in the soundstage to speak of. Whereas, a couple of times, when listening to After Hours I notice that when Frey isn’t on vocals, the soundstage sounds as though something is missing where he should be. Well, you don’t get that with mono, or certainly not in my experience. That said, it could simply have been an issue with the chosen mix for After Hours; as it only happened a couple of times, it’s not detrimental to the enjoyment of the album and overall After Hours has been recorded, mixed, and mastered beautifully.

The vinyl release is quite exquisite. Housed in a gatefold sleeve, the cover art is perhaps a little pedestrian, but it certainly invokes the nighttime street view associated with countless jazz clubs. Therefore, this minimal approach is perfectly suited for the style of music but is unlikely to be memorable or displayed. It’s no Surrender; an incredible jazz album from Victor Cajiao and Joe Cristina that really needs a vinyl release to showcase the gorgeous artwork. Regardless, when you open the gatefold, you’re met with liner notes and a series of absolutely magnificent photos, presented in sepia, to once again connect the artwork to the style and era of the music contained within. 

The record label is beautifully simple and again works with the style Frey was aiming for, on what would sadly be his last album. The record is flat and quiet, with only a small amount of noise noticeable between tracks. It really is a nice vinyl mastering and pressing job. 

While not a disappointment for me, as I will explain later, some may lament the inclusion of only 11 of the 14 available tracks on the vinyl release. Yes, this is another case of the Deluxe Edition blues for those that wish for the vinyl counterpart to have the same tracking as the digital release. Let’s be honest, this is a further attempt to make fans, like you and I, purchase multiple copies. It works, but not on this occasion. Plus, with streaming services now being so varied and readily available, those specific tracks that are on a Deluxe Edition can be streamed if and when it suits me. 

Another reason for not including so many tracks on a vinyl release is that it is a doubled edged sword. On one hand, you want everything, preferably not on multiple records, but the sonic quality suffers the closer grooves are placed together and the dreaded inner-groove distortion is a real problem when a recorded has been mastered and pressed with a focus on filling all available space. It may work perfectly well on the compact disc, but vinyl needs a little more tolerance and while upgrading your needle does help with inner-groove distortion, many people will not go to those extents so it is nice to see that After Hours is mastered in such a way that inner-grove distortion isn’t present; certainly not at an audible level. 

While the three additional songs will be reviewed on their own merit towards the end of this review, I find they’re not compelling enough to buy the Deluxe Edition CD as out of the three, only one is truly worthy of inclusion and even then it doesn’t offer the listener additional value. Of course, that is my subjective opinion and you may feel the additional tracks are excellent. If that is the case, then I would strongly suggest you look at picking up the CD release. 

Another reason why I’m not compelled to pick up the Deluxe Edition to go with my vinyl release is that the tracking is different as these omitted songs are placed throughout the album, thereby changing the flow of the album that I know and love. If those additional songs were included at the end of the Deluxe Edition, as done with Barry Gibb’s In The Now I would have been more inclined to pick up the CD as well. I’m sure you know what it’s like, dear reader, for your beloved album has been remastered and it suddenly has an outtake, demo, or god-forbid an interview at the end of the CD. It is infuriating and while I like additional content, I wish the record labels would add it to an additional disc and leave the master tracking of the album alone. 

Nevertheless, as streaming allows me access to these tracks, I’ll simply add them to my virtual library to enjoy when and if the mood strikes me. On the topic of streaming, I have listened to the album on both Apple Music (Mastered for iTunes) and TIDAL Masters (MQA) and unfortunately, neither stream holds a candle to the vinyl release. That isn’t to say that neither is good, because they are both superb, but I find them very clinical in their presentation and for this style of music I honestly feel the vinyl record is a much better delivery method. Hence, if you can, and if you’re interested, may I suggest you track down a copy of After Hours on vinyl; it really is that good!

SIDE ONE

For Sentimental Reasons is a lovely song and the perfect opener for After Hours. The musicality is spot on as is Frey’s vocal. The light backing vocal element, not often heard on modern recordings, is mixed in perfectly. The end result is a rendition of a classic that is stunning and prepares the listener for the songs that are about to come throughout the rest of the album.

My Buddy is campy, has always been campy, but I love it! That drumming is off-the-charts good and Frey once again is front and centre, as if his spirit is in the room with you, as you enjoy the smoothness of My Buddy.

Route 66 picks up the tempo a little, but Route 66 is one of the greatest classics to have ever been composed and this interpretation is no exception. It isn’t fundamentally different and doesn’t necessarily take the song to a new level of enjoyment, but it doesn’t detract from the origins of the song and pays homage to the history of the most common renditions. 

The Shadow Of Your Smile is a lovely song that would be perfect as the background of any dinner or post-dinner rendezvous. Actually, this entire album could be used in that romantic context. That said, the music-lover within doesn’t want this song to be merely heard as background music, therefore for me and my significant other it may not be the best album to have playing as I would constantly be commenting on just how good it is. Yes, dear reader, I do do that; much to the frustration of my better half. Thankfully, she understands my love of music and while she doesn’t necessarily share it, she lets me harp on about it ad nauseam; yep, she’s a keeper!

Here’s To Life is one of the most beautiful songs on the album. It is the perfect way to close out Side One and absolutely encourages me to listen to Side Two. This is one song that I would have loved to have heard George Michael perform on his spectacular Symphonica release as I believe it would have suited his style and vocal capability. That said, Frey performs Here’s To Life absolutely flawlessly and I would say it is one of his greatest vocal recordings, even surpassing that of his younger years in the Eagles. That’s saying a lot considering how much I adore the Eagles and have always been blown away by Frey’s vocal prowess. Music really doesn’t get much better than this!

SIDE TWO

It’s Too Soon To Know is a beautifully smooth tune. 

Caroline, No is one of my favourite songs and Frey knocks it out-of-the-park. 

The Look Of Love is a brilliant song but nobody does it better than Diana Krall. This rendition is enjoyable, but when I hear it I just want to put on Krall’s edition

I’m Getting Old Before My Time has an incredible bass track. It’s really prominent and for lack of a better term is perfect! The song itself isn’t bad, but to be completely honest I’m not overly familiar with it, hence your opinion may be vastly different to my own. 

Same Girl is stunning! 

After Hours is a lovely song to conclude the album with, but I would have preferred Same Girl to be the closing track as I felt it relaxed the mind to such a state that it would have been the ultimate closer. Nevertheless, After Hours is no slouch in that department and it encourages me to flip the album and listen again. It’s also important to note that this is the only original composition from Frey on the album. Writing with Jack Tempchin, the result is incredible and doesn’t feel out-of-place with the other standards featured on this release. That’s no easy task, even if you are as skilled as these gentlemen. Standards are standards for a reason and After Hours is a modern-day offering. 

Additional Deluxe Edition Tracks:

The Good Life is a lovely song that offers a nice flow from My Buddy in the Deluxe Edition version and leads well into Route 66’s upbeat as it has a little faster tempo than My Buddy. However, as good as it is, I don’t find that I miss it on the vinyl release. It is very short and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the song’s over before it started.

Worried Mind has a country twang to it and while Frey and the supporting musicians perform it incredibly well, it doesn’t suit the rest of the songs on the album and therefore I am very happy that it is only on the Deluxe Edition of After Hours.

I Wanna Be Around is lovely and while it could have been included on the vinyl release, I honestly don’t feel After Hours needed this additional track as I don’t feel the 11-track release is lacking in substance.

There is little doubt that After Hours represents Glenn Frey at his very best. Yes, his Eagles work is beyond reproach, but After Hours is his greatest solo release and is an album that should be in everyone’s collection. It really is that good!

After Hours is available to own on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes). A Deluxe Edition is also available on CD and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes)

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A-Ha – Hunting High And Low (Album Review)

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A-Ha – Hunting High And Low (Album Review)

Few debut albums reach the commercial success a-ha had with Hunting High And Low, yet I dismissed it as just another campy 80s synth-pop release that wasn’t worth exploring. Well, dear reader, I was wrong, but you have to promise not to tell my better half as she has always enjoyed a-ha and whenever she spoke about them my sarcastic response was a-ha, yeah, a-ha! Don’t worry, I did the same with Wham!, yet I absolutely adore their music today. Many who know me well know that I can be fickle, but I also feel that we should never be entirely closed off to experiencing new music, outside of our comfort zones, for one never knows just where that experience can lead. In this case, it has led to a true appreciation of a band that I had previously ignored. 

Thanks, in part, to streaming, one can now explore a world of music beyond their own tastes and Apple Music’s 2015 Remastered Version, also Mastered for iTunes, is sonically pleasing without a single digital artefact to worry about. Remastering often gets a bad wrap, even here on Subjective Sounds, and while I can’t comment on how the album originally sounded, this Apple Music stream sounds just right. While I’m keenly interested in picking up Hunting High And Low on vinyl, along with their career perspective, Headlines And Deadlines: The Hits Of A-Ha, I’d be perfectly satisfied with this digital stream. It’s really that good!

Take On Me may be a-ha’s most successful song, but it is also the campiest and the one which probably kept me at arm’s length for so many years. It isn’t bad, but I do feel that it has been excessively played and that can, unfortunately, create boredom and disdain for an otherwise solid song. All one needs to do is look at how loathed Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On and Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing are to know that overplaying of a song can ruin it. 

Train Of Thought has a great rhythm and reminds me in places of Elton John and Grace Jones. Subsequently, I love it!  

Hunting High And Low is absolutely stunning. While stylistically different from the first two tracks, Hunting High And Low sounds familiar while taking a-ha in a completely different direction musically, showing just how talented these musicians are. 

The Blue Sky returns the album to a more synth-pop styling and while solid, I’d class it as a B-side. It has a sound that is very alternative and one which I feel takes a few listens to fully appreciate. Still, it isn’t the strongest song on the album, but there is a solid tune hidden here, if only the tempo was shifted a little and the lyrical delivery was more in-line with the musicality.  

Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale is great! You’ll want to turn the volume up when listening to this. The soundstage is incredible and that initial gradual build is extremely compelling. 

The Sun Always Shines On T.V. is one of my favourite songs on the album. Yes, it is borderline campy, just as Take On Me is, but it has been played to a less excessive degree. Plus, it rocks! Turn that volume up and you’ll be amazed at just how enjoyable The Sun Always Shines On T.V. is. It’s a stadium filler if there ever was one. 

And You Tell Me isn’t a bad ballad-styled track, but I’m unsure how I really feel about it. In one way I thoroughly enjoy it, but in another I question myself as to why. I also feel it is a little too short. Nevertheless, Hunting High And Low wouldn’t be the same without it. 

Love Is Reason is a classic B-side. It isn’t bad, but that repetitive chorus does become tiresome. Great musicality, however. 

I Dream Myself Alive is a solid tune. Nothing to write home about, but worthy of inclusion.

Here I Stand And Face The Rain has a very unique opening with the vocal delivery. I do thoroughly enjoy the acoustic styling, however, when the synth elements enter the mix, they do so in a manner that is complementary, thereby ensuring fluidity. Without a doubt, Here I Stand And Face The Rain compels me to listen to Hunting High And Low again and stay within a-ha’s catalogue of music; exactly what a closing song should compel the listener to do.

Overall, Hunting High And Low is an incredible debut and an album that represents some of the very best music in both the synth-pop and new wave eras. Yes, it retains an 80s feel, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing and to be completely honest, the album hasn’t aged nearly as badly as one would have thought. 

Hunting High And Low is available to own on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).   

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Icehouse – In Concert (Live Album Review)

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Icehouse – In Concert (Live Album Review)

Have you ever purchased an album by an artist you love, yet disliked it upon the first play? Well, I have, and this release was one that I just couldn’t get into. It didn’t matter that I had both the vinyl and CD editions, as well as an autographed placard of the album cover. I just didn’t connect with the live performance as I had hoped I would. Subsequently, both releases remained unplayed in my collection since their release in 2015. That, of course, changed when my son asked if he could have the CD edition for his own collection.

As I thought more about my son’s request, I found myself at an interesting crossroads regarding my love of collecting the music that brings me joy. Not only have I acknowledged that I’ll never be able to own all the albums I desire in my own personal collection, but I also acknowledge that it is somewhat foolish to have multiple copies of the same album as I find little joy in trying to decide which edition of an album I should listen to. It is the old Vinyl vs CD argument and rather than enjoying the music I find myself focusing on the formats; a rather tedious and often soul-destroying process that yields no enjoyment. A great example of this predicament is Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms of which I have two copies; one vinyl, the other the 20th Anniversary SACD release featuring not only the standard CD edition but the HDCD, SACD stereo mix, and SACD 5.1 surround sound mix on a single disc. The vinyl edition is the incredible Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release. Yes, all this jargon will likely drive non-audiophiles to the hills, with those remaining wanting to declare me insane; quite frankly I couldn’t blame them. It is insane and given I can only listen to one album at a time, I think it is time to cull down my collection and select the edition that brings me the most pleasure. After all, there is no point in listening to one version of the album only to wonder how a song would sound on another format. 

Of course, the big winner in all of this is my son. He was always going to inherit an incredible music collection, but I can start giving him some of my duplicates, knowing that he will enjoy them. Also, selfishly on my part, I get to see the excitement in his eyes and truth-be-told that is the greatest gift of all. Although, I didn’t quite say that when he woke up the entire household singing along to Electric Blue from the In Concert album, I had given him the night before. Still, I had a grin from ear to ear because I’m sure I did exactly the same thing when I first heard Electric Blue so many years ago. 

As I no longer have the CD release, my son will have to write that review, this review will be based solely on the vinyl release that is nothing short of spectacular now that I am no longer comparing it to the digital counterpart. 

Spread across three records and six sides, the entire near two-hour performance is presented on the most beautiful black vinyl you’ve ever seen. The label itself is gorgeous and while some may think of it a simple, I appreciate how it connects back to the ultra-successful Man Of Colours era; a theme that remains consistent throughout the artwork.  

Photographs and typography are simply gorgeous and the message from Icehouse front man and founder, Iva Davies, is a welcome addition. His acknowledgement of the work bassist Steve Bull put into making this release a reality is one of those rare moments in the music industry where credit is given where credit is due. Similarly, Davies also informs us through the liner notes that while this live album is not from a singular show, it matches the setlists that were performed throughout late 2014 and the subsequent best versions of each song were selected with no overdubbing or re-recording. The result is exceptional and it’s utterly flawless as the songs flow so smoothly you’d swear they were recorded on a single night in the same concert hall. 

Perhaps the only element that is a little disappointing for the vinyl release is the rice paper record sleeves as they have a tendency to scuff records and deposit additional pop and click inducing fibres into the grooves. Thankfully, my Pro-ject anti-static record cleaning brush solves that problem as does replacing the sleeves with anti-static inner sleeves; admittedly an additional cost, but one that I thoroughly recommend to all vinyl music lovers.  

The noise floor of the records, however, is incredibly low. You’ll be hard pressed to hear any surface noise, even when pumping the volume to ear-bleeding concert levels. The records have also been cut with audible quality in mind as there is no chance of inner grove distortion as each record ends before the dreaded inner grooves can become an issue. Yes, you’ve got to get up and turn the record over more frequently, but it is worth it for the additional sonic benefits. Plus, who doesn’t like a 3LP set? You really feel like you own something with a package that large and it reminds me fondly of my six-sided Wings Over America; another truly exceptional concert that I have on both CD and vinyl and will have to decide which edition truly brings me joy, gifting the other to my son. 

Anyway, without further ado, let’s take a look at the songs that make up Icehouse’s In Concert

SIDE ONE

Walls was an interesting choice to open the live performance. I’m unsure if I agree with the helicopter introduction. Yes, it works well, but how does it apply itself to the music? Given many of Icehouse’s recent live performances have been in theatres, I’m struggling to see the relevance. Nevertheless, Walls is an excellent song that has always been a favourite of mine since first being released on Icehouse and this live performance maintains the energy of the original, ensuring the listener knows exactly what to expect from the entire live album.

Mr Big has a sensational rhythm, but that chorus-driven drum element is a little too shallow for my liking. It isn’t bad, it’s just different to the way the original studio release sounds and my preferred live performance of this song can be found on Live From The Ritz, available on the 25th Anniversary CD+DVD release of Man Of Colours.

Love In Motion is sensational and while the Chrissy Amphlett duet was off-the-charts good; sadly Amphlett is no longer with us, but her legacy with the Divinyls lives on as does her spirit, captured on the 1992 re-recording of Love In Motion for the compilation album Masterfile. While Masterfile is long out-of-print, you can find this exceptional version of Love In Motion on White Heat: 30 Hits.Yes, Love In Motion was written and recorded well before the Amphlett/Icehouse collaboration, but she really added something special to the song and while I don’t think there was a ever a live performance of the song with Amphlett, she is remembered fondly when listening to this live rendition.

Crazy has one of my all-time favourite guitar hooks. So good! The live performance is perfect as it is reminiscent of the original studio recording, while being unique in its own right.    

SIDE TWO

Hey, Little Girl is a song that I have a love/hate relationship with. That’s a subjective viewpoint and not indicative of the song itself, but sometimes I feel this song is simply too campy and other times I thoroughly enjoy it. The live performance is excellent, minus the spoken word elements before the start of the song. However, if you really like this song, you’ll definitely want to track down a copy of the Hey Little Girl (’97 Remixes) as the remixes are seriously good on that long out-of-print maxi single. It also has one of the most unique CD designs I’ve ever seen as the CD is partially clear. 

Electric Blue is iconic; such an 80s song! It’s one of my favourites and you may remember earlier that my son woke up the household singing Electric Blue as it is also one of his favourites. Electric Blue makes you want to sing and while my son still gets some of the lyrics wrong, he’s giving it his all, not worried about how he sounds and how much taunting his sister dishes out to him. It would be a proud moment for this music-loving father if he did something music related when he grows up. If not as a career, certainly as a hobby. I’m thinking about an Icehouse cover band, what do you think, dear reader? 

Baby, You’re So Strange is a fun song and I love the live rendition on In Concert as it really takes the song to another level of moody and brooding musicality. 

SIDE THREE

Heartbreak Kid is lovely. Davies decision to talk about the history of the song, prior to commencing the performance, is invaluable as it’s fascinating to hear about the origins of the tune and see just how smoothly Davies transitions from a Bob Dylan impersonator to Iva Davies. Exceptional!

Dusty Pages has always been a favourite song of mine. It’s the best song off Sidewalk with the exception of Don’t Believe Anymore. This acoustic-based rendition is absolutely lovely and complements the original perfectly.  

Street Café had a great music video when first released in 1982. No, it wasn’t quite as epic as Great Southern Land, but this live interpretation is. It’s magnificent and a pleasure to listen to, as are all the acoustic-based songs on side three of the vinyl collection. 

Man Of Colours is Davies’ song, so I was quite surprised to find that Michael Paynter was the lead vocalist on Man Of Colours. His performance is absolutely stunning, but I still miss Davies performing this masterpiece. Sure, Davies is there in a backing vocal capacity, also allowing him to play the Oboe while Paynter vocalises the song, but it isn’t quite the same. That, of course, shouldn’t take anything away from Paynter as he is incredible, and I look forward to following his career in the years to come. He really did pay homage to the original while making it his own. 

SIDE FOUR

Miss Divine is one of the best songs off Code Blue and I have always thoroughly enjoyed it. However, I’m torn over this live performance as I feel it’s a little disjointed in the vocal department and that acoustic guitar strum is too forward in the mix. Of course, loving the original as much as I do, I could simply prefer the studio recording which I believe is impeccable. Subsequently, this live performance just doesn’t do it for me. 

Don’t Believe Anymore would have to be my all-time favourite Icehouse song. Okay, perhaps I have a few that that could be said about, but the saxophone element in both this live performance and the original studio release is nothing short of spectacular as it captivates me beyond belief. 

Great Southern Land is the quintessential Icehouse song and requires no hyperbole. 

SIDE FIVE

Can’t Help Myself has an addictive beat, but it’s one Icehouse song that I neither love nor hate. It merely exists. It isn’t a bad live recording, but it isn’t great either. 

Nothing Too Serious is one of Icehouse’s best and is certainly a highlight from Man Of Colours. It’s a great live performance but the tuning on those cymbals sound a little off as they’re very shrill. I’d love to say it is only on the vinyl edition, but I’ve heard it both on the TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music streams.

We Can Get Together is another fantastic song from Icehouse and I’m consistently amazed as to just how good the debut, by Flowers at the time, really was. This live performance is incredible and has all the energy that one would expect from the song. Incredibly, while it may be over three decades old, We Can Get Together remains timeless.

SIDE SIX / FIRST ENCORE

Icehouse, of course, became the band’s name following the shift from Flowers to Icehouse in 1981. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I’ve never heard a better version of Icehouse than that which appears on In Concert. Exceptional!

Cross The Border is another of my all-time favourites. It has a sensational rhythm and is the best song from Measure For MeasureThis live performance isn’t bad either. It doesn’t stray far from the original composition, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when the song was perfect to begin with. 

/ SECOND ENCORE

Sister closes the live album nicely with the energy that has always existed in this song. It, without a doubt, encourages me to listen to the album again and stay within Icehouse’s extensive catalogue of music. 

In Concert is an exceptional live album with a selection of songs that cover the greatest eras of the band. However, it’s a little disappointing that nothing from Big Wheel or The Berlin Tapes was included. Satellite would have worked well before or after Nothing Too Serious. Heroes, the David Bowie song that Davies performs immaculately well, would have been perfectly suited to appear after Man Of Colours. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, these songs were excluded and while they are missed, it doesn’t detract from the astonishing performance and album that is In Concert. 

In Concert is available on VinylCD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

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

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New Kids On The Block – 10 (Album Review)

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New Kids On The Block – 10 (Album Review)

New Kids On The Block was never on my radar during their peak years, I was too cool for a boyband. Funny thing is Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, and Nirvana was just that; a sausage fest. They just we’re cutesy and just like many people ridicule Nickelback today, New Kids On The Block received as much ridicule as Nickelback and Justin Bieber. Okay, no, Bieber gets way more ridicule than the kids ever did. Truth-be-told, besides Baby, I’ve never taken the time to listen to a Justin Bieber album, so I’m not going to pile on because I may, end up, liking something that he’s released – Love Yourself, for instance, isn’t bad. A great collaboration with Ed Sheeran!

Long-time readers would no doubt be aware of my erratic music tastes. After all, I just finished writing my review for Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All and went straight for this album. No, I’m not insane, I just love music and good music is good music. Actually, my eclectic music tastes have been a source of ridicule by friends, family, and peers for years. So many people don’t understand how one can appreciate such a broad range of music. For me, there is no other way and it makes perfect sense. Most important of all, it brings me true happiness. So, laugh if you will, cause when I put 10 on, I turn the volume up and I’m transported to my happy place. The place where no one can touch me. Where I’m alone. Me and the boyband that I once rolled my eyes at but now acknowledge just how talented these musicians are.  

I enjoy the album so much that I purchased the CD (unfortunately 10 has never been released on vinyl), but the moment my daughter saw it, she asked if she could have it as she loves We Own Tonight and Remix (I Like The). Well, what could I say? I rolled my eyes but in hoping that my children will love music to the level that I do, I passed my brand-new unplayed CD onto her. I still haven’t bought a replacement. I’m waiting for her to tire of it and give it back to me, but I’m starting to think that will never happen. Nevertheless, while I enjoy listening to music alone (okay, so I like to sing and dance without anyone seeing me), sharing music with those you care about is one of the greatest gifts you can give anyone, and it is one of the reasons why I love sharing my passion with all of you.  

In the absence of the CD, I turn to TIDAL Hi-Fi’s CD-quality stream that is indistinguishable from the CD counterpart. I still move uncontrollably to the beat and sing-along where appropriate. Sure, my daughter would let me borrow her copy of the CD, but maybe instead of me reviewing that copy, perhaps she will one day add her own review to Subjective Sounds, of the CD, even if it is only via the comments section. Regardless, the TIDAL Hi-Fi stream is magical as 10 has been recorded and mastered beautifully. It is dynamic and not at all jarring on the senses thereby ensuring that I could listen to the album on repeat for hours. Similarly, the lossy Apple Music stream is beautiful as the mastering is the same, although, as is to be expected, it is a little more concealed by comparison to the CD-quality stream. That said, unless you compare them side-by-side, as I have, you’ll likely be more than satisfied with either stream. 

We Own Tonight is the perfect song to open the album with. The shared vocals and harmonies are lovely as is the soundstage that has been created. It is one of those songs that gives me goose bumps and it’s incredibly addictive, resulting in the song being played on repeat and sung along to more times than I can remember. Music should impact you on an emotional level and We Own Tonight certainly does that.   

Remix (I Like The) picks up the beat and all I want to do is dance. Yes, it would be embarrassing to witness so I’m glad I’m a writer and not a YouTuber. When I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever stood or sat still when this song is playing. Even as I’m typing this review, my legs are moving to the beat. Thankfully, my hands know their way around the keyboard and can type while the rest of my body is moving to the rhythm. 

Take My Breath Away is initially less energetic, but the ballad-pop-styled tune is absolutely perfect for the New Kids On The Block style. Take My Breath Away is a killer song and if I have one criticism it would be that I would like to have the backbeat more pronounced in the soundstage as it sounds a little hidden when I feel it should be at the forefront of the song.

Wasted On You is sensational. I love the beat. The atmosphere. The vocal performance. That mid-song sonic shift is incredible. Wasted On You is a perfect pop song!

Fighting Gravity is a little predictable and campy, but if we class it as a B-side, then it is perfectly acceptable and suited to the album and the New Kids On The Block legacy. 

Miss You More has a sonic introduction and backing that I adore. I’d love to hear just the instrumental of it, but I absolutely love the vocal delivery on this song. It’s sensational and one of the best songs on the album.

The Whisper has an addictive beat that will get you toe-tapping, but it’s a largely forgettable B-Side. 

Jealous (Blue) has a fantastic vocal presentation and unlike The Whisper, my entire body moves with this song. I adore the depth and width of the soundstage on Jealous (Blue). Exceptional!

Crash reminds me of the entire A Night At The Roxbury soundtrack. Good soundtrack! Crash does feel a little out-of-place with the other songs on the album, but it’s done so well that the campiness of the song is absent and it will encourage you to get up and move to the dancefloor. Seriously, if you’re sitting still while Crash is playing, you’re listening wrong.

Back To Life is a fantastic vocal-led song that while fundamentally different from Crash, flows perfectly. While it isn’t one you can sing along to and you’ll likely not have the inclination to toe-tap, or head-bop, Back To Life is thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable. 

Now Or Never is campy, but it’s a good song. Yes, I can roll my eyes and be embarrassed when this song comes on the speakers and everyone looks at me, but that subjective response doesn’t mean it’s bad. 

Survive You / Let’s Go Out With A Bang is a sensational way to close the album. Survive you is stunning and the CD-hidden track, Let’s Go Out With A Bang, is off-the-charts! Of course, the silence between the songs is infuriating and as I’ve mentioned before, I’d love the record label or artist to re-track the hidden songs so that when you stream the album, you can listen to just that one song if you wish. Regardless, Let’s Go Out With A Bang is the perfect song to conclude the CD with and it encourages me to listen to the album again and explore more of the New Kids On The Block back catalogue. Of course, if you’re streaming via Apple Music, you’ll find there’s an iTunes exclusive track to enjoy.

Block Party has attitude and follows Let’s Go Out With A Bang perfectly. Sure, I feel the aforementioned track would be better suited to close the album with, but I’m far from disappointed with the inclusion of Block Party on the iTunes/Apple Music edition of 10.

Overall, 10 is an exceptional album that has to be heard to be believed. Yes, it is modern day pop-styled and if you’re not into that kind of music, you’ll likely not enjoy this album. 10 simply isn’t overproduced, unlike many modern pop albums. It also isn’t compressed to hell and back as the soundstage is well developed and each sonic element is beautifully expressed without the crushing sound that is often associated with this style of music. Sure, there is a lot of electronic sampling, but it is handled respectfully, reminding me of the Bee Gees disco era. It has been five years since 10 was released and while an EP, Thankful, was released in 2017, I want a true follow up to 10 as I feel the New Kids On The Block are just getting started.

10 is available on CD and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, 10 is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music.

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