The live album is a relic in rock music, not quite like 8-tracks and cassettes, but close. There just aren’t many of them made anymore, certainly not many of them made well.
When I think of live albums, “Frampton Comes Alive,” “Cheap Trick at Budokan,” “Kiss Alive I and II” and Rush’s “All The World’s A Stage” come to mind. The most recent of those was released in 1978.
So I waxed a bit nostalgic last week when Black Sabbath and Electric Light Orchestra each released live recordings. OK, well, Electric Light Orchestra is technically Jeff Lynne’s ELO these days, but it’s still ELO to me.
Black Sabbath released “The End (Live),” a recording of the band’s Feb. 4, 2017, performance in its hometown of Birmingham, England, the final show of the band’s farewell tour.
Jeff Lynne’s ELO released “Wembley Or Bust,” recorded in June at London’s Wembley Stadium.
And just as Sabbath and ELO are very different classic rock bands, these live records are both very good in very different ways.
I was able to see Sabbath on the farewell tour, and “The End (Live)” does a fantastic job of capturing the feel and sound of that show, warts and all. Let’s be honest. Some of Sabbath’s music was fantastic, and some of it was a slog. Their live set, and “The End (Live),” are equal parts fantastic and slog.
The classics – “War Pigs,” “Iron Man,” “Children of the Grave,” and “Paranoid” sound as wonderfully raucous as ever. Others, like the sloppy “Hand of Doom” and the tedious “Dirty Woman” are, well, sloppy and tedious.
Ozzy Osbourne’s voice sounds better on this recording than it did when I saw him last year in Tinley Park. But he occasionally falls out of sync with the music – imagine that! – and those misses are kept on “The End (Live).” I love the record for that.
I also love the record for keeping Osbourne’s constant pleas to see the crowd’s hands and hear its shouts. But I could have done without the 8-plus-minute drum solo and clunky bass solo from Geezer Butler.
There’s nothing clunky about Jeff Lynne’s ELO’s “Wembley or Bust.” The music of ELO and Lynne has always been meticulously recorded and performed. And while Lynne will turn 70 in late December, his voice and instrumentation have aged relatively well.
“Living Thing,” “Turn to Stone,” and “Mr. Blue Sky” – some of the prettiest, most perfect rock music every recorded – still sound great on “Wembley or Bust.” Most of this set’s songs come from ELO’s heyday – 1975’s “Face the Music,” 1976’s “A New World Record” and 1978’s “Out of the Blue.” The latter, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated records in rock history.
And it all sounds really good here, pretty true to the recorded versions. It must sound great live!
A couple very minor complaints – the crowd noise fade-out after each song unnecessarily diminishes the live feel of the record; and some of the more meaty older tracks, like “10538 Overture” and “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle,” sound a bit thin in the vocals and musical heft. Still, if you’re an ELO fan (and, I’ll admit, it’s an acquired taste), you’ll love “Wembley or Bust.”
“The End:” (Grade: B)
“Wembley or Bust:” (Grade: A-minus)