Yearly Archives: 2012

Van Halen’s “A Different Kind of Truth” with David Lee Roth

[IMG]You know, I really want to like this album. I was not a fan of the Van Hagar years and, not being much of a rock fan in general, it was even a stretch that I ended up liking a lot of the early Van Halen recordings. One thing I really liked was how their arrangements had dynamics to then. Eddie Van Halen could assault the ears with his guitar, but back it way off at just the right times. The first Van Halen album is a gem for that reason–it had some great sound to it, and some kick-ass tunes.

But fast-forward to 2012, and things are not the same.

The huge flaw of A Different Kind Of Truth is the sound quality. Or lack thereof. To say it is horrible, an utter travesty, and absolutely putrid is total understatement. Yes, Van Halen was always an assault on the ears, but their music always had dynamics. On this album, the sound is so overly compressed that it fatigues you after only a couple of songs. The vinyl version has a little more breathing room, but not much. It is more like an onslaught than a recording. Everything is slammed and in your face. Sadly, this is how all modern albums are recorded in the pop/rock world.

To put it another way, put on the DCC vinyl (or CD…or even the cheap stock Warner CD) of the first album and crank it up. It was loud, but it gripped you, and you felt the music. You can’t even turn this one up, it’s that bad. It’s like a halfway decent Van Halen album as channeled through Pat Metheny’s Zero Tolerance for Silence and processed through eighteen daisy-chained dbx encoders connected in series. Then, smashed and brick-walled for good measure.  The vinyl version fares only slightly better; I still haven’t decided if it is worth paying double or more for it.  Like the old saying goes: you can’t polish a turd.

This is a shame, since I like some of the songs on this new album.  The lead-off single “Tattoo” grows on you after awhile, an infectious tune about the life-changing powers of a tattoo.  And the other songs are the usual David Lee Roth/Van Halen tales of women, cars, women and rock and roll.  So musically, it’s a good reunion of David Lee Roth with the Van Halens.  Some might argue that they miss Michael Anthony, but Eddie’s son Wolfgang does a fine job on the bass.  Diamond Dave and Eddie always tended to bounce off and contrast each other, but it is really a strain to enjoy it when the sound is forced at you like it is on this recording.

I would recommend this album more highly if it weren’t for the sound quality.  As such, pick it up for the music, but expect to be disappointed by the sonics.  It is fatiguing at best.

Led Zeppelin’s Mothership has landed

Mothership (Very Best Of) 180g 33RPM 4LP Box SetI can’t be accused of making many impulse purchases.  It took me this long to finally get a copy of the Led Zeppelin Mothership compilation on vinyl.  As I have the two CD sets already from the early 90s, I’ve not purchased any further Led Zep, other than the occasional tatty used LP that had more often than not been played out by the resident stoners in our area.

This set had everything going for it:  packaging, heavyweight vinyl and mastering by one of the legends in the field.  So, does it deliver?

Ummm…it’s like the old Lay’s Potato Chip commercials: you can’t only eat just one!  I swear I’m going to play only one track and end up playing a few sides, if not the whole set.  It’s that good, at least to my ears!  Having heard only the CD versions from the sets, and the two vinyl LPs I still own (one of them a dollar bin rescue), this sounds great to my ears.  I never sniffed the Classic Records glue and paid their exorbitant cost (especially now that they’re out of print…impossible to buy without selling a kidney).  And nobody else has seen fit to reissue these on vinyl up until Mothership.

First of all, the packaging.  The set arrives in its box with a square of bubble wrap to prevent shifting, and–get this–the records themselves are shipped in their heavy plastic sleeves outside of the jackets, just like any good seller of LPs packages their shipments.  Some assembly required!  The whole set follows a black/red/white theme that carries through even to the record labels, each Zep member represented by one of the four runes from the fourth album.

The sonics are quite good.  The moment the set landed here, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” was shaking the rafters of my listening room.  The surfaces of the vinyl are extremely quiet, although I do have a problem here and there.  (Side 8 is a bit crackly in two spots, but it looks like there is something on the vinyl itself, nothing a good cleaning can’t fix.)  “Whole Lotta Love” is a lot of listeners’ go-to track for the sonic quality of a Led Zep pressing, and to my ears this one does not disappoint.  One thing that struck me was how clean and dynamic the cymbal attacks are in the swirling midsection of this track–it’s not bright, but you hear a lot of detail, like a thick wooden drumstick hitting brass cymbal.  “Stairway to Heaven” is another go-to track, and it does the song’s dynamics justice being quiet and smooth where needed, and letting loose for the ending.

I had heard that the CD version of this compilation was a bit compressed in comparison to other CD versions, so I was wary of purchasing this set. But the LP seems like it was cut from a better set of master tapes perhaps.  Credit for the excellent sonics can also go to mastering legend Stan Ricker, who mastered these eight sides at half speed; it is nice to once again see “SR/2” in the deadwax at the inside of each LP.  The vinyl itself is thick, advertised as 180 grams but actually feels and looks a bit thicker; these discs are substantial to hold.  Kudos to RTI for the quiet and flat pressings!

I am sure Jimmy Page will once again get the urge to reissue the original albums on vinyl.  I would hope that Rhino does these, and that they receive a proper treatment through using proper master tapes (uncompressed, of course) and that Stan Ricker is on hand to master them.  The results of this limited set of Led Zeppelin tunes really  whets the appetite!

Rumer’s “Seasons Of My Soul” finally released in the US

Seasons Of My SoulIt is nice of Atlantic to give us Rumer’s Seasons Of My Soul…two years later.  This album was released later in 2010, and it took until 2012 for the album to get a proper release here in the US…only a short time before Rumer is set to release her second album throughout the rest of the world.  I can only imagine that it is typical record industry politics that has kept it from US listeners.  Most of us who cared about the music have already bought an import copy (or two).  A little late aren’t we, Atlantic?

To add possibly insult to injury, the US version not only stops at 11 tracks (like the original release; there are at least a half dozen new tracks that could have been included as bonus tracks), it rearranges the track order, putting the show-stopper “Slow” first on the album, and moving “Am I Forgiven” to third spot, upsetting the flow of the album.  It’s like the marketing department decided how to sequence this for the US: put the “first big hit” in the #1 spot on the album so that fickle US listeners don’t tune out the album immediately.

Even more curious is why the album is shown as being a CD-R on Amazon’s website.  It is presented as one of Amazon’s CreateSpace products, manufactured on demand.  I can forsee this happening for releases in the future as the world unfortunately shifts to downloadable music product, but for an artist who has already shipped a million albums worldwide, it is an insult?  Atlantic Records in the US can’t even bother to give her a proper release?  (And they wonder why the recording industry is so screwed up and people download illegally??)  Atlantic should be ashamed…especially since Rumer is probably one of the few good artists they still have signed to the label!  She deserves better than getting the shit end of the stick.

Peter Gabriel’s New Blood gets it right!

New BloodAs I sit here listening to Peter Gabriel’s latest release, New Blood, I can’t help but think that either Peter or his record label got it right.  In this age of digital downloads and disappearing CDs, it is nice to have alternatives.  New Blood was released on standard CD, but was also released in a very nice two-LP gatefold package, with a 7″ bonus picture disc containing “Solsbury Hill”. The part that “gets it right” for me is that the album not only comes with a download–that download is for a choice of MP3 file or high-resolution digital, which you can then burn to an audio DVD that will play back in any standard DVD player in high resolution, or store on a music server to play back on something like a Squeezebox.

This is how music should be released today.  CDs and downloads may still be today’s standard, but for those of us who want a more deluxe package and prefer vinyl, offering a high-resolution download is a very nice bonus.

Now, for a quick look at the album itself.  The concept was to give a new lease on life to Peter’s back catalog of music.  This is not a new idea: even a hack like Sting attempted to set music to strings, only Sting’s project (Symphonicities) was such an epic failure due to both the source material (you can’t “symphonize” something like “Next To You”, one of the best tracks from the first Police album, without it becoming an embarassment to listen to), and due to overall poor string arrangements.

Gabriel’s album actually works, and works quite well.  His music is not your ordinary pop music.  If one had noticed the broad hints of cinematic sweep in his original recordings, they become even more obvious in this project.  These renditions could serve as a soundtrack to some as-yet unfilmed picture, with the originals sitting in nicely beside them at dramatic points in the film.  As “San Jacinto” spins right now, slowly uncoiling at the end, you can almost visualize some vast landscape receding in the distance at the end of a scene in a movie.

That quality is present through the best songs on this album, such as “Intruder,” “Darkness” and “The Rhythm Of The Heat” (which is as dynamic in its own way as the original from his fourth album).  Others, like “Solsbury Hill,” don’t quite work as well, but are still converted quite nicely to a symphonic presentation.  This is where New Blood succeeds where something like Symphonicities fails: the latter merely sets exiting music to string arrangements (sometimes clumsily), whereas New Blood almost re-composes the songs into something new while still retaining the feel of the originals.  “Wallflower” is a good example of how well Gabriel’s concept works: the emotion and cinematic scope of the original is preserved, even accentuated, thanks to the new presentation.

For a digital recording, it has transferred well to vinyl.  The mastering is quite nice, and the sound is full bodied and dynamic, the vinyl adding some subtle warmth to the proceedings.  There is almost no background noise from the vinyl, although there are some clicks and crackle throughout that sound like a bit of dirt remaining in the grooves.  The 7″ picture disc does not fare as well–it has the same sound, but has a constant “shhh” background noise thanks to the vinyl.  It’s a clever disc for sure, but I would have preferred to keep it on quieter black vinyl.

This one is a winner if you can find it on vinyl…and be sure to “cash in” the enclosed card to download the high-resolution version of the album online, as it’s only good for a year.