Musically, this album is good. Very good. Perhaps too good?
The guitars, bass and drums all have a good clean sound, but hey, after so many years in the business, Megadeth and their roadcrew must KNOW a good live sound. The riffs, soloing, leads, fills, and acoustic guitar parts are note perfect. The drums are aggressive, and Jimmy De Grasso shows he was more than just a hired gun, adding extra kick to some of the songs. Dave Ellefson's bass work has oft been ignored, but a good balance on the mix lets many of those fat, tasty bass lines rumble up through the sound. It all sounds good so far, so where's the problem?
It's Megadeth's Achille's heel, Dave Mustaine's vocals, which sound too good. There have been a number of reasons given as to why Mustaine stepped up to the microphone and stayed there. The official line was Megadeth couldn't find a good vocalist. Many other suspect it was Dave Mustaine's ego. Whatever the reason, Megadeth always managed to recruit excellent drummers and second guitarists, but never a singer.
Even loyal Megadeth fans have to admit Mustaine does not have the greatest vocal range in the world. The music has always been written to accommodate his vocals, but sometimes even that is not enough. At times, Mustaine sounds flat, off key, strained, and just downright out of place. “Reckoning Day”, for example, sounds very strained, with the correct notes seemingly just out of reach. He regularly misses the top note on “Devil's Island”. Mustaine sounds his best when he sings with a sneering growl, like on “In My Darkest Hour”, “Hook In Mouth” and “Angry Again”.
Is this a fair indicator of Megadeth live? The answer is no, it isn't. The vocals have been tampered with, tidied up and enhanced in the studio. While they're less than perfect on ‘Rude Awakening’, they're considerably worse on any other Megadeth live recording.
Moving away from the sound debate, this double album collection was never intended to be Megadeth's swansong, but it almost became a fitting tribute to a sparkling career. Dave Mustaine’s arm injury seemingly spelled the end of Megadeth, but as we know now, he recovered.
While some of the later material had a more commercial, slightly bland feel in the studio, dropped in alongside some of the old classics here it fitted flawlessly. “1000 Times Goodbye” sits very comfortably next to “Mechanix” (still superior to Metallica's “Four Horsemen” after all these years!), and the “Hangar 18” story is revisited on “Return To The Hangar”. Perhaps the best indicator of Megadeth's quality is that although this is a double live album, it seems to be over too quickly, but has a very satisfying feel to it.
Um… and does anyone else think the guy in bed falling from the skyscraper on the cover is supposed to be James Hetfield?!