Classic Rock Review

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Elton John Blue Moves (1976)


This marks the official beginning of Elton John’s endless string of mediocre albums, which he still hadn’t emerged out of. By this time, his muse had lapsed, his energy was spent, and he wasn’t interested in experimenting with other types of music. While on all accounts Blue Moves is a decent album, it’s a lot like the stuff from his back catalog except it’s nowhere near as memorable. So, why listen to Blue Moves when you can just pull out Captain Fantastic again? Making it worse, Blue Moves is a double album—a double album so massive that they couldn’t even fit it all on one CD, which means this costs quite a pretty penny at record stores. Whoa boy.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything worth hearing here. “Tonight” is a fabulous piece. It begins with an incredibly pleasant piano-led classical number that at times is reminiscent of either George Gershwin or Aaron Copeland (…as a complete non-expert in classical music, that is the best I can do). That was quite a bold undertaking for a puny popster like Elton John, and I find it refreshing that he succeeded so well at it. The harmonies might have been borrowed, but they were used well, and it’s a very beautiful experience. The second half of that song is a more traditional Elton John ballad… surprisingly this is where the song starts to get boring. At first, anyway, all he’s doing is singing and playing a very plain piano pattern. That said, the melody is gorgeous, and that melancholic way he sings it makes it quite a heart-wrenching experience. It gets more sweeping as a full orchestra (strings, woodwinds, brass and all) gradually comes into support him… almost nothing could get better than these orchestrations. Cool.

“Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” is the only song from Blue Moves that anybody knows… At the very least, it proved that Elton was still capable of producing famous hits in 1976 even if he was descending from his peak. It’s very similar to the ballad section of “Tonight.” It’s very low-key, very melancholic, and a breathtakingly beautiful experience. Once again, Elton completely nails this vocal performance; he sounds so heartbroken here that he makes most other singers who want a similar effect seem like fakers. There is also a full-orchestra backing him there, and it’s perfectly used. The idea to bring in a harmonium to increase that mellow atmosphere was a stroke of genius, in my opinion.

While it doesn’t measure up to those two previously mentioned giants, “Someone’s Final Song” is another excellent melancholic ballad. It’s also virtually indistinguishable from those two songs, stylistically, except he uses synthesizers instead of a real orchestra. Where that song falls a bit short is the melody and harmonies, while good, it doesn’t quite capture me.

And then there’s the other 15 songs! Erm, where do I start? …Well, I suppose I could talk about all the other low-key ballads. (I suppose now’s the time to mention that one of the problems with Blue Moves is its lack of diversity.) “Chameleon” is nice and seems to specifically recall his Tumbleweed Connection days. The only problem with it is it doesn’t capture that same majesty melodically or harmonically. It just seems a bit stale. But we should give Elton credit for at least singing it like he believes it. I suppose that’s why everybody loves the guy! “Cage the Songbird” is such a stale and boring ballad that it had me wondering if he was covering a John Denver song… Not exactly the dude we want Elton John to turn into. (Nothing against John Denver in particular… I liked him in that George Burns movie.) “Between Seventeen and Twenty” is so forgettable that it’s a wonder I even remembered to write this sentence.

There are an awful lot of instrumentals here. Honestly, what’s the point of an Elton John instrumental? Sure, we can easily fall in love with the beginning of “Tonight” and “Funeral For a Friend” from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, but those were the exceptions. Elton John wasn’t too interested in becoming a piano virtuoso (though I don’t have much doubt that he could), but these instrumentals don’t strive to achieve anything beyond ordinary elevator muzak. “Your Starter For…” has a nice theme and it has rather complex structure, but it’s so freaking cutesy and insubstantial. Bleh. “Out of the Blue” is also an OK instrumental with a nice theme, and this one isn’t so cutesy, but it’s still seems way too polished. When I think about instrumentals, I’d want something that seemed a little more improvised. “Theme From a Non-Existent T.V. Series” on the other hand isn’t worth a whole heck of a lot. It doesn’t even have a memorable theme, which I suppose is why the T.V. series never existed!

Luckily for us, Elton throws in a few dance songs to keep things from becoming too boring. Unfortunately, these parts are pretty lame. “Boogie Pilgrim” sounds as dull as the title suggests… it’s six minutes and it plods along at a most-tedious pace. There’s absolutely no drive to it, and the melody is essentially valueless. Even the horn section brought into give the piece some “zest” seemed empty. “Crazy Water” was an attempt at disco music, and I sort of like the groove he has going, but it also seems empty. It’s as though Elton decided to just write a disco song without figuring out how that sort of music ticks. Where he does do a dance track OK is the final track, the bubbly “Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance).” The rhythm section is more spirited, and so is Elton’s singing. The melody might not be too original (it sounds like a lot of other songs), but it’s solid enough to get the old foot tapping. “One Horse Town” is also a nicely done dance number; that one in particular has great orchestral arrangements with those strings, woodwinds, and brass melding in with the pop-rock guitars and drums more flawlessly than I would have thought possible. (Alas, these factions can go together!)

In the end, there’s enough about Blue Moves to make it worthwhile to some of his fans… Well, at least the ones with the most patience. For the rest of us, listening to this album is a tedious experience with its priceless gems woefully only few and far between.

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Elton John Blue Moves | | Leave a comment