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Music Reviews

Popular Music - Part 40 - March, 2001

Graham Vine

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Ratings:
Extraordinary
Good
Acceptable
Mediocre
Poor

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"Open Your Eyes"

Susan Renee

Cardinal 62K-911266-341-D23

Performance: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)
Audio: Star (605 bytes)

This album is a shoddy piece of work. That it targets the Christian faith does neither of them any favors. In these reviews I am open to all religious sects, and none. I shall address the music, which must justify its release in the same way as any other. And track 1 made quite a promising start, with its thumping beat and catchy chorus. Not enough interest to form the makings of a single though, just a nice start to what one hopes will be a pleasant listen. But track 2 soon puts us right on that count. It sounds like it was recorded on a cheap cassette machine, with its wow on the piano and bad distortion on the vocals. On top of all that, the level is about 8 dB lower than on track 1. Bringing up the level on a recording is the simplest operation with even the most rudimentary of digital audio processing tools and yet no-one bothered with this one. Several of the other tracks are also way down at about this level. A pity, because the song has quite a decent ballad structure. But then again, the bad key change in it made matters worse, especially as the song doesn't need livening up at this point.

The actual pressing would not play on one of my machines. At the risk of a little anthropomorphism, that particular player doesn't usually display such taste! The song "Right Right Now" has one of the best lyrics, and well delivered too. I've have never before heard a guitar so out of tune on a CD as this one, though. On any other record I would assume it had been done for effect, but here it just fits in with the low quality of most of the other tracks. There is a highlight in the song: in the phrase "It's easy to give up, but I'd rather overcome", I rather like the way Susan semi-sings 'come' as if to stress the point.

The best song is probably the last (oh, blessed relief!). It is a '60s type of Phil Spector kind of thing, but with some synths making up the wall of sound. A pity the sound is marred by such a bad buzz. Another track which suffers from poor recording is number 7, sounding very wooley indeed, and what an incredibly naff key-change in there, too. Quality in recordings being as bad as on these tracks is only really acceptable in an 'anthology' type of collection. As a homage or appeal to others to improve themselves, this record gives the genre a bad name.

For reference, complete track listing:

1. Chain Reaction
2. In God's Eyes
3. Do Unto Others
4. It's All About
5. I Do Believe
6. Right Right Now
7. Use Your Faith
8. Your Love Came 
9. Open Your Eyes


- GV -

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"Flashback"

Electric Light Orchestra

Epic/Legacy 5009312000

Performance: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)
Audio: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)

Not yet another ELO compilation, surely? Actually, no, not just another compilation. This 3 CD set must be the definitive career retrospective for one of the most successful and ground-breaking bands of the 1970s and '80s. Here we find all the major hits and some of the most notable album tracks - all digitally remastered to the highest standards by ELO main-man Jeff Lynne himself. Apart from a couple of Greatest Hits compilations, the chief comparison would be with the Afterglow triple-set from a few years ago. Whereas that release has been criticized by some for its sound quality, Flashback's is crystal clear. I was astounded by the crispness of the audio, with the drums and bass improvement being most noticeable over my hi-fi system.

The track sequence is roughly chronological, allowing the listener to follow the evolution of ELO through its various phases. Initially it was a progressive art-rock combo experimenting with the concept of introducing orchestral instruments as an integral part of the band. Then, they moved on to display development and growth, and with some of the rough edges of the early work honed to perfection. Later, they showed a welcoming of more synth-based parts. At every stage it is evident that the genius of Jeff Lynne is at work. He has the knack of being able to turn a single idea into a fully-worked track. Then again, he is not averse to using dozens of creative ideas on a single track.

Interestingly, the album holds seven previously unreleased items. Rather than list all the tracks on the album - you could derive most of the list from any pop reference work covering 1970 to 1986 - I'll just list the new ones. Most of these were laid down during earlier sessions. Some of the comprehensive liner notes describe how it is only recently (year 2000) that computer-based techniques have allowed these to be finished. The "Indian Queen" demo is left in a very rough form and I, frankly, would have preferred to wait until Jeff had found time to put together the finished track. "Who's That" is a bit of a 'fun' track, consisting mainly of Jeff blowing raspberries (at the Establishment, perhaps?). "Grieg's Piano Concerto" is rockier than the B. Bumble & The Stingers version. "Xanadu" has Jeff on vocals and a lighter backing than Olivier Newton-John's #1 hit. Nice, but I wish the structure of the harmonies hadn't been changed. "Tears In Your Life", "Love Changes All", and "Helpless" would have fitted in the style of any of ELO's later albums but, as fellow Traveling Wilbury Tom Petty might say, "I don't hear a single", so not particularly outstanding.

My one hope for "Flashback" is that the sampling of tracks will encourage a new audience to revisit the original albums because the songs sound far better when taken in their true context. Then when the new ELO album "Zoom" arrives in the shops in spring 2001, appreciative buyers will show that this high-quality music still has a market. Meanwhile, these new tracks give me plenty of input for my occasional radio series, 'The Jeff Lynne Connection'!


- GV -

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"Apartment D"

Pushcar

Tarantism Records 628D0

Performance: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)
Audio: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)

I couldn't wait to try out my new speaker system, so in went Pushcar's CD, and into the armchair went me. The very revealing nature of the speakers helped establish for me that some high-quality music making had been going on in "Apartment D". That said, there is a contrast between instrumentation and vocal which crops up again and again, from track to track.

The instrumentation has a character all of its own, including some swirling rhythms mixed with interesting guitar-work. I'd swear they made up their own chords, and all the better it is for such inventive construction. There is the occasional use of signal generators and similar oscillators. The break-up of the flow by stopping and starting again gives a fresh impetus whenever it is used. So, there are good marks for the backing tracks.

The sleeve-notes list Chris Farrell, Jim Saunders, Robert Gregorio, and Stephanie Saunders as being responsible for vocals. In my capacity as reviewer, I would have found it useful to be given more detail as to which singer did what on respective tracks. Because in trying to make constructive comments I am unable to pin-point the problems without laboriously listing the passages which do not come up to scratch. Suffice to say that I would have preferred rather better pitch accuracy on some tracks. In general, the most successful tracks were those with a husky or growling vocal. In contrast, however, the Beach Boys style penultimate song "Limbo" has gorgeous harmonies and good intonation.

"Apartment D" certainly has its moments, and with a little development and extra concentration on those vocals, Pushcar's originality and innovation could carve them out quite a niche in the current rock scene.

For reference, complete track listing:

1. Out Here In The Sun
2. Sixfingers Tony
3. No Waste Of Space
4. Defiant Song
5. A Perfect Periwinkle Blue
6. Wise Beyond Denial
7. Myself To Bits
8. Manic Depressive (Without The Manic)
9. Wasted Again
10. Halo Effect
11. Limbo
12. Garliguy


   - GV -

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Copyright 2001 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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