Crush 40 LIVE!
Crush 40 LIVE!
October 3, 2012
Download at iTunes
For many Sonic the Hedgehog fans, Crush 40 has remained a musically integral element to the franchise’s history. Formed by Sonic composer veteran, Jun Senoue, and Hardline and Axel Rudi Pell vocalist, Johnny Gioeli, Crush 40 has maintained a great following from Sonic fans, despite the series seemingly moving away from its hard rock leanings and into more orchestral arrangements. The Japanese-American band has continued to work on its own original material, releasing an EP in 2012, and recently announcing another EP to be released sometime in the future. Jun and Johnny have also performed several of their songs live at various Sonic fan gatherings across the US and the UK, which eventually culminated in a full blown show in Tokyo in 2012. Fans who have missed said performance now have the chance to experience the show through LIVE! / Crush 40, their most recent album, featuring the majority of their songs, both original and from the Sonic series.
Crush 40, as a studio band, have proven to be great at what they do. Despite having some cheesy lyrics (which fit the Sonic series for the most part), the band has a lot of talent and passion, giving it all they got, whether through Jun Senoue’s outstanding guitar solos, or Johnny Gioeli’s commanding vocal performances. However, translating this onto a live album is a difficult challenge, especially for their first live outing featuring bassist Takeshi Taneda and drummer Toru Kawamura. The good news is that, for the majority of the album’s over-an-hour runtime, the band is on point, nailing their beats perfectly, Some of their more recognizable songs, such as “What I’m Made Of…,” “Never Turn Back,” and “Knight of the Wind,” sound just as good as their studio recorded versions, proving that Crush 40 functions very well as a live band.
The bad news is that the album comes with some disappointing issues, beginning with some of the songs’ lengths. Despite covering the majority of their work, a large portion of the songs are in abridged form, coming in just under the three minute mark, and although still enjoyable, it makes the album feel less definitive overall. A particularly egregious example is “Sonic Heroes,” which although is still a fun and energetic song, has the majority of its verses cut out in favor of jumping to the bridge section very quickly. Even “Open Your Heart,” the main theme of Sonic Adventure, and what many consider to be Crush 40’s signature song, gets hit with a shorter version. However, Jun Senoue averts it from being a disappointment by showing some great guitar shredding, as he performs the song’s complicated guitar solo nearly perfectly. Still though, the abridged versions of the songs, despite being fun to listen to, just don’t feel anywhere near as definitive as their original counterparts.
Another issue that takes the album down a peg is the sound mixing. One of the main draws of having a live album is the excitement and energy of an audience enjoying, and occasionally participating alongside the band. However, the mixing here ends up overpowering the audience, giving it less of a cohesive feeling of a live album. Additionally, the audience’s energy sort of peters in and out throughout the album. Johnny Gioeli, in true classic rock showmanship does his best to keep motivating the audience into having a fun time, but unfortunately this also ends up working against the album, as he gives certain beats for the audience to sing, especially during the choruses. The problem for listeners is that we really can’t hear the audience, giving some awkward spaces of no singing, or worse, allowing us to listen to the backing track. Granted, the backing track is there the whole time, and allows certain instruments to come in that wouldn’t be available to a rock band (for example, the industrial sounds in “I Am…All of Me”) and even ends up giving important cues for the band, but it can still give off sort of an amateurish feel to the whole album. Lastly, though the vocals, guitar, bass, and drums are all mixed rather evenly, I’ve found that the cymbal and hi-hat hits on the drums are mixed just a bit too high, and can be grating to listen to.
Regardless of these complaints, the songs and performances are still compelling to listen to, and a lot of Crush 40’s songs are memorable in their own way. Of particular note are the songs composed for the 2000 SEGA produced NASCAR Arcade game, which still fit with Crush 40’s style and motivating lyrics, despite being about driving cars rather than heroic antics. “Revvin’ Up,” has an exciting guitar riff that wouldn’t be out of place in a Sonic game, while “Watch Me Fly…” on the other hand is a more laidback ballad, a territory that Crush 40 hardly ever covers, but sounds great whether in studio or live. Strangely enough, during the opening of “Into the Wind,” a more up-tempo, anthem-like piece, Gioeli ad-libs the first few lines of Bryan Adam’s “Summer of ’69,” a curious choice that really doesn’t add or detract anything from the song, but more or less highlights the band’s 80’s rock leanings. Crush 40’s original songs also get their chance to shine through with “Sonic Youth,” a rollicking song that is, essentially, one big long shout-out to Crush 40’s fanbase, and “Rise Again,” a fast-paced song, littered with positive anecdotes about never giving up, and keeping your passion burning on. “One of Those Days,” a slower paced song, is the opposite of “Rise Again,” despite still ending on a positive note, it’s not one Crush 40’s more memorable songs.
Of course, despite the band’s attempts to move a little forward and produce original content, they are still best known for their musical contributions to the Sonic series, and it really shows here. Their earlier work not only differs in style, but comes off as bolder, despite the cheesy lyrics. For instance, one of the highlights to this album, and to Crush 40 in general, is Sonic Adventure 2’s “Live and Learn,” a fantastic song that really encapsulates the band’s style as a whole. Their newer Sonic related songs feel much more like they belong in a video game, from the orchestral synths of “Knight of the Wind,” to the electronic backing of “Free.” Their cover of “Sonic Boom,” (made in conjunction with Cash Cash), also stands out as being both modern, and yet contemporary to the, already 80’s sounding original. The live album really highlights all the changes that have really gone into their pieces, however, I find that the band is at their weakest in their darker, edgier songs like “I Am…All of Me”, “All Hail Shadow,” and “With Me,” which are still somewhat memorable, but don’t leave quite the same kind of impact and just sound somewhat off.
One final issue pops up in terms of the physical and digital releases of LIVE!, which are somewhat different. The physical CD includes all the above songs, along with the band’s cover of The Cult’s “Fire Woman,” another 80’s hard rock song, with mildly suggestive lyrics that are somewhat out of place on the album. The digital release, on the other hand, ditches “Fire Woman,” in favor of adding four additional songs. “Un-Gravitify” and “Seven Rings in Hand” are covers of different themes from Sonic games, and are good songs… that are unfortunately cut way too short to leave any impact on this album. “Fight the Knight,” while about as short as its original version from Sonic and the Black Knight features a truly awful and cringe worthy opening, with Johnny jokingly narrating a story as out of place orchestral synths parade in the background, with absolutely no bearing on the actual song when it finally does come on. That leaves, “Song of Hope,” which…really should have been included in the original release. Not only is it another strong power ballad, but it holds some of Crush 40’s most sincere and positive lyrics that can be really inspiring to listeners. Overall, I have to recommend the digital version over the physical CD, if only for the live version of “Song of Hope.”
All said and done, Crush 40 is a great band that still holds a lot of potential in terms of songwriting and performances, and this album only solidifies this statement. Despite my criticisms this is still a good live album, and fans will most likely want to pick this up. That being said, this still somewhat feels like a redundant release, especially compared to Crush 40’s other compilation album, The Best of Crush 40 – Super Sonic Songs, which features almost every single Crush 40 song in complete form, and is available to download at the same price. Though it’s exciting to see the band move into a live context, there really isn’t anything new on offer here and a lot of live songs are simply inferior or shorter to their studio-performed counterparts. However, as a fan, I am genuinely excited to see where the band goes next, and this live album definitely serves as a stepping stone for Crush 40.
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Posted on April 10, 2015 by Julius Acero. Last modified on April 11, 2015.