Classic Rock Review

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Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)

Elton-John-Goodbye-Yellow-Brick-RoadFrom classicrockreview.com

We’ve been down this road before of critiquing double albums which would have worked better as a single album. See our recent review of Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones or stayed tuned for our look at The Beatles’ White Album later this year. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the 1973 double-length album by Elton John may also fit this mold. The album starts extremely strong, with deeply produced and thoughtful compositions through the first side and a half, but then the bottom falls out with a barrage of trite filler before a slight recovery towards the end of side four. The album comes at the end of an incredibly prolific, four and a half year span for John and lyricist Bernie Taupin. In that span which began in mid-1969, the pair had composed and recorded a live album, a film soundtrack, and six studio albums before this double seventh album.

After a failed attempt to record in Jamaica, the album was recorded in a 18th century castle outside Paris, France called the Château d’Hérouville, where Elton John had recorded his previous two albums, Honky Château in 1972 and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player earlier in 1973. Taupin reportedly wrote all the lyrics to the album’s 17 songs in two and a half weeks while John composed most of the music in three days while in Jamaica.

The album was produced by Gus Dudgeon, who was not initially expecting to produce a two-record collection. However, John and Taupin had composed 22 tracks for the album and ended up recording 18 of these (two of which were fused together for the opening medley). This diverse double album recapped many of the styles (for good and bad) which John explored through his first four years in the spotlight and even added a bit of prog rock with the epic opener “Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)”. This eleven minute epic starts with a long, multi-part instrumental with doomy organs accented by synths performed by engineer David Hentschel, and of course plenty of piano, all meant to replicate the type of music John envisioned played at his own funeral. When the song proper finally kicks in, it is riff-driven and melodic with a backing vocal chorus and a very active guitar by Davey Johnstone.

The ballad “Candle In the Wind” was a recurring theme throughout Elton John’s career, with three separate versions released as singles and reaching the pop charts in 1974, 1988, and 1997. This original version has the most rock “decor” with a strongly distorted guitar above the piano melody and more great harmonies, fitting the epic theme of this album. It’s lyrics pay homage to Marilyn Monroe, with the actual phrase “candle in the wind” first used in tribute to Janis Joplin.

“Bennie and the Jets” is a choppy piano song with glam overtones about a fictional band (much like David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust). It would go on to become one of John’s most popular songs, but the artist was against releasing it as a single in the first place because original version in its first carnation was too “dry”. Some live effects were added by Dudgeon to give the song some atmosphere, which livened it up enough for John to capitulate.

The title song “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is the finest composition on the album. It was written by Taupin, playing homage to the first movie he even saw as a child, The Wizard of Oz, and facing the realities of life as he had now grown up. John performs a signature vocal part in an extraordinarily high register, which Dudgeon claims is totally natural and completely improvised by John in the studio. The slowly-building arrangement reaches a full orchestral climax that leaves the listener wanting for more.

Side two has a couple of more fine tunes, the piano folk “This Song Has No Title” with light flute and soaring vocal melodies, and the upbeat “Grey Seal”, with a driving bass by Dee Murray to complement John’s boogie piano, with a definite 70s pre-disco sound. Then the album reaches its first song to not feel cohesive nor epic, like a bad joke in a serious drama, called “Jamaica Jerk Off”, a dreadful mock-reggae. “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” finishes the side in an attempt at another mellow classic that doesn’t quite measure up to the brilliance of “Rocket Man” or “Tiny Dancer”.

The album’s third side is, by far, the most forgettable, “Sweet Painted Lady” is a “shock” song about a prostitute where Taupin uses explicit and cheap lyrics (“getting paid for being laid, I guess that’s the name of the game”) in a lame attempt to add some sleaze to the act. “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909–34)” has a slight “The Night Chicago Died” or “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” quality, but is otherwise very forgettable. “Dirty Little Girl” is essentially “Bennie and the Jets” reformed in both music and melody to present a screed against a promiscuous woman. The only somewhat interesting song on the side is “All the Girls Love Alice”, about a young groupie with lesbian appeal, that musically returns to the higher quality.

The final side starts with “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll)”, a totally retro tune right down to the bad Sha-Na-Na-style harmonies, with the only really interesting element being John’s Farfisa organ lead during the bridge. A much more convincing rocker is “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, a straight-up hard rock song with drummer Nigel Olsson shining brightest along with the driving, riff-driven electric guitar of Johnstone. The song was a surprise hit single, reaching the top 10 in the UK and the top 20 in the US, despite being banned on many radio stations fearing that the title would incite violence.

The final three songs on the album gains back some of the credibility built up earlier. “Roy Rogers” is a lazy country waltz with guitar pedal effects meant to replicate a steel guitar. “Social Disease” is also country-tinged with barking dogs and inclusion of banjo and twangy guitars by Johnstone above the choppy piano of John. “Harmony” closes the record finely with acoustic guitar, thoughtful, melodic progressions, and (of course) fine vocal harmonies. The song was considered as a fourth single, but by then it was too close to Elton John’s eighth album, 1974′s Caribou.

In all, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was a very good album (filler and all) and was the climax of Elton John’s early, artistically lucrative, peak years. His output is terms of quality and quantity began to thin out through the late 1970s, but he would come back strong in the 1980s with another successful phase in his career.

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May 18, 2013 Posted by | Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road | | Leave a comment

Elton John Honky Chateau (1972)

Elton%20John%20-%20Honky%20Chateau%20-%20FrontFrom starling.rinet.ru

Yeah, to me this is the peak, although I always have a hard time choosing between this and Tumbleweed Connection. You take your Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Captain Fantastic – I’ll stick to Honky Chateau, many thanks. GYBR can be quite a bit long, and Captain can be quite a bit preachy and somewhat too self-elevating. They’re good records, but they’re also all of that. Not so with this one, the most solid and irridescent collection of gems in Kenneth Dwight’s career. Somehow everything seems to have come up exactly right on this album – the songwriting, the playing, the singing, the lyrics, the atmosphere, well, everything. Maybe some of the songs do sound the same (isn’t ‘Amy’ just an electrified take on ‘Honky Cat’, for instance?), but this isn’t the Beatles we’re speaking of, right? That’s why I gave the man a rating of three, dammit!

Of course, everybody knows the two biggest hits from the record, and without a doubt both have been mightily overplayed on classic rock radio. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t great songs! First of all, what better opener can there be for a record like this than ‘Honky Cat’, with its cheerful tinkling piano, utterly hilarious brass section in the choruses and lyrics about ‘drinking whiskey from a bottle of wine’ as Elton narrates the psychological trauma of a tramp? None – and that’s it. My favourite Elton John song of all time, it’s probably the last (and best) example of his lightweight, stomp-that-boot-on-the-keyboard style that he would soon abandon in favour of preachiness and pretension.

And, of course, there’s ‘Rocket Man’, arguably Elton’s best known song of all times – except for ‘Candle In The Wind’, of course (blush). Bernie had provided the melody with a beautiful set of lyrics that completely debunk the astral mythology – yeah, I know David Bowie did it earlier with ‘Space Oddity’, but his was a playful, artificial tune (did Bowie really do anything sincere in his life?), while Elton really manages to sound convincing. The song is beautiful, with a fantastic guitar part and swooping harmonies in the choruses, while occasional ‘astral noises’ and some subdued synthesizer lines really give it an otherworldly feel. Romantic, touching and bitterly ironic at the same time, it is still the definite Elton classic and will always be.

But don’t you dare to think that this album’s greatness is limited to the two hits. No, splendid as they might be, they just don’t manage to overshadow the rest of the material. For the most part, Elton sticks to the same mid-tempo, slow shuffles that he’d used on Madman Across The Water a year ago, but they are neither overdone (the songs have mostly standard running times) nor hookless – almost every tune has something to offer.

Among the best I would first name two gorgeous ballads – ‘Mellow’ has a fantastic, sweeping chorus (the one where he goes ‘oooooh you make me mellow’), and ‘Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters’ are primarily interesting lyricswise – Taupin’s ode to New York and New Yorkers, though a little obscure, is still one of the most intriguing pieces of poetry devoted to the Big Apple. You can’t even really understand whether his assessments are positive or negative – it makes me wonder… The atmosphere of the song in general is very close to the one in ‘Candle In The Wind’, but where ‘Candle’ was a late and not very appropriate tribute to Marilyn Monroe, here Elton goes for something more actual and on-the-spot, if you know what I mean.

As for those who prefer to always regard Elton as a typical product of the mainstream – well, why don’t you go and listen to ‘I Think I’m Going To Kill Myself’, the grooviest and most sardonic little piece he’d ever played? ‘I’m gonna kill myself/Get a little headline news/I’d like to see what the papers say/On the state of teenage blues’. Pretty cool, eh? And the way the song sometimes flows from its cute little jazzy riff into something resembling a funeral march is almost shocking – not to mention the obscene reference to Brigitte Bardot. I wonder if there were actual plans to involve her in the saving of Elton’s life? Then again, she was probably much too old at the time, so the reference is kinda obsolete…

Otherwise, the record is full of tunes that could easily be qualified as ‘country’ – some of them are even banjo-based – if not for Elton’s piano and singing that still tend to drift towards soul. Out of these, the grand ‘Salvation’ is probably my least favourite song here, and the vamp-bashing ‘Amy’ really is too much of a clone of ‘Honky Cat’ for me; yet it is still saved – this time, by Jean-Luc Ponty’s virtuoso electric violin playing.

But ‘Slave’, a genuine country excourse (there’s even no piano work at all on that one) with Civil War-based lyrics that could have easily made it a Tumbleweed Connection outtake, is first-rate, again, mostly due to the strength and catchiness of the chorus, and ‘Susie (Dramas)’, well, that one is simply as raunchy and catchy as could ever be – playful and artistic. Finally, ‘Hercules’ that closes the album is one more country rocker about… a cat (the true legacy to Pink Floyd’s ‘Lucifer Sam’, eh?): not the best here, but not bad either.

I don’t really know why I prefer this album to the others. I’m not sure whether 1972 was really the peak of Elton’s creativity – this record’s attractiveness could just as well have been incidental. Then again, maybe he was really trying to pull out his best due to the moderate critical backlash in the end of 1971. Maybe not. But I do know one thing – this is the last Elton record where his lightheartedness and joyful enthusiasm isn’t yet overshadowed by pomposity and rigidness. Rather they combine in proper portions to make the perfect cocktail – some good clean fun and some blistering serious tunes.

Actually, the two hits do just that – they accent the two ends of the pole: ‘Honky Cat’ encapsulates all that’s funny and ‘Rocket Man’ encapsulates all that’s serious. And both rule.

May 18, 2013 Posted by | Elton John Honky Chateau | | Leave a comment

Elton John Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975)

elton_john-captain_fantastic_and_the_brown_dirt_cowboy-frontalFrom donignacio.com

When I first reviewed Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, it caught me off guard. I hadn’t actually listened to it prior to reviewing it, and I was utterly shocked by how quickly I fell head-over-heels in love with it.

I liked it so much that it was immediately thrust right into my Top 10. I praised it endlessly as being a complete masterpiece from beginning to end as well as being one of the grandest pop statements ever recorded. Sometimes the danger of making such broad generalizations of an album I’m new to is overrating it. Sure, after cooling down a bit, I could learn I was just caught in the heat of the moment. But almost five years had gone by, and my high opinion of it hadn’t even once been called into question. This is still my favorite Elton John album!

Truth be told, my extremely high opinion of Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is one that isn’t shared by any other reviewer that I know of. So, the chances that you, o unsuspecting reader, will think as highly of it as I do are pretty slim. And I’ll even go right out and say that I can understand why some critics don’t have such a high opinion of it. This is clearly part of the uber-polished era of his career, and it’s lacking that raw, earthy feel exhibited in his earlier works. And critics who judge music based on the radio hits were also let down by this album. The only well-known song on here is “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” a ballad that is still not as famous as plenty of his others. Most critics respect this album, but I still hold a bit of a deviant opinion here.

To answer the concerns of the first set of critics, since they raise the most valid points, I agree that Captain Fantastic is a heavily processed album ……… but, then again, so was Abbey Road. The production values are one of the reasons I like this album so much. It doesn’t get any better than those crunchy drums melding with bass guitar as clear as a bell along with nicely strummed acoustic guitar and Elton John’s classy piano chords. Oh man!!! This album is slick and perfectly refined. It’s like a very good table varnish, or something. (OK, that’s a terrible metaphor. I don’t feel like changing it.)

Since you already think I’m overrating this album, I’d might as well rant and rave about some of these excellent songs without restraint. (I don’t have much room left to talk about them individually in this review body, so I’ll have to direct you to my detailed track reviews.) Most of these songs squeezed A+’s out of me. The ones that didn’t probably could have, but I was trying my best to not go too “overboard.” The enormously endearing title track begins the album on a remarkably sweet note. It’s not a flashy song, but more of a subtle, gorgeous one that’s a bit like snuggling in a warm blanket. And even though it’s fairly reserved, it has those pangs of excitement interspersed throughout. Really, this is a splendid way to open the album!

And then there’s “Bitter Fingers,” which goes back-and-forth between a twinkly ballad and one of the most infectious dance pieces that Elton ever created. “(Gotta Get a) Meal Ticket” is also an infectious dance-pop number, and when you get a load of that crunchy bass groove, you’ll really begin to appreciate the album’s ultra-sleek production standards. “Tell Me When the Whistle Blows” has such an excellent use of a string section that I’m sure Barry White had a hard time restraining his intense pangs of jealousy! “We All Fall in Love Sometime” is one of his sweetest ballads… It’s not anything like that showy “Candle in the Wind;” there’s a real subtle class to it, and it gets me every time. The bold “Curtains” ends the album with a bang. The ultra repetitive chorus at the end rings of “Hey Jude,” and it’s surprising how close that song is in terms of quality. This is quite a special album! Perhaps one of the best ever created. That’s just my opinion.

Should I talk about the bonus tracks? I guess I should! Elton seemed to be into a sort of Beatles craze. He covers “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and the solo-Lennon song “One Day At a Time.” Both of these renditions keep what was great about the originals, but he treats them as though they were his own babies. I’m not very familiar with “One Day,” but he does things with “Lucy,” like ending it with a joyous chorus, that I would never have thought possible after hearing the original. Geez, this guy knew what he wanted to do! As fantastic as those were, the biggest gem in the bonus tracks is undoubtedly “Philadelphia Freedom.” It’s a song with real spirit, an incredibly infectious melody, and that string section is heaven.

Oh man. This album is just too good. If you don’t think this is the greatest thing in the world, then you should rethink your position. If you thought about it, and you still don’t agree with me, then please just humour me and pretend that you do. I can’t believe I’m the only person in the world who likes Captain Fantastic this much.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Elton John Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy | | Leave a comment

Elton John Rock Of The Westies (1975)

Elton-John-Rock-Of-The-Westies-1975-Front-Cover-34106From donignacio.com

As you probably could have gathered from the title, Rock of the Westies is full of rock songs, and if you read further into the title, you can gather that they apparently came from a place called “Westies.”

That’s right; you won’t find many ballads here. There is only one of them, as a matter of fact, and it’s called “I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford).” It’s a strapping fine song with a nice melody and solid instrumentation, but you’ll probably notice immediately that it isn’t nearly as engaging as his other ballads. But we can forgive that (Right?) because the primary purpose of this album is to rock.

And ROCK, it does just fine. The nice thing about rock ‘n’ roll Elton John is that he’s pretty much always fun at it. Even in the 1980s when his career became stale, his rock ‘n’ roll songs were still enjoyable. They might not have been memorable, but he had a naturally good vocal chops and he generally attracted good musicians to keep them sounding punchy. The exact same thing can be said for Rock of the Westies.

That’s not a good thing, though. Comparing anything to Elton John’s 1980s career is not a compliment! In the 1980s, Elton John existed merely as a zombified shell of his old self where he lost his uncanny sense of melody and harmony, and making it worse, he didn’t seem nearly as keyed-up as he used to. By a large account Rock of the Westies was where that cancerous process had started. You can really begin to suspect something was up by the end of the album when the dull rocker “Hard Luck Story” and the 1970s elevator muzak “Feed Me” comes in. Man, those are flat and lifeless songs.

In fact, you could probably sense that in the other songs, but those were kept alive by a raucous vocal performance, great back-up musicians, and/or unusual “gimmicks.” “Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future)” has a nice tune, but what ends up holding my attention the most are those cartoony guitar and synthesizer tones. So, it makes a good listen, but even then, it isn’t as captivating in that Elton-John-y kind of way. You know what I’m talking about! “Grow Some Funk on Your Own” and “Street Kids” both have cool, gruffy guitar tones, a solid driving beat, and an energetic vocal performance. Songs as spirited as those are impossible to hate — you might even start to love them after awhile — but it’s difficult to deny that they lacks the inspired, infectious quality of his classic stuff.

Even the album’s big hit, “Island Girl,” is a surefire sign that he was declining. Commercially he was doing just fine, though; it hit the No. 1 spot in the charts. I feel great and happy when I’m listening to it, but there really isn’t anything that special about it. Of all his hits, that’s among his least. (I’m saying this even though I gave it an A- … well, it’s still a good song!) Also a good song is the medley that opens the album. It has a fun beat and a nice melody.

But what pushed that over the edge is how he layered the “Yell Help” and “Wednesday Night” sections together toward the end. You wouldn’t think they would go well together, but they did! Nice touch! And the end where the band plays a funky beat as fast as they could is nutty, and that’s another point in its favor. I also enjoyed the ending track “Billy Bones and the White Bird” with that thundering drum beat and that unexpected and beautiful chorus section he worked in. That was the best ending I could have hoped for.

Even though I said constantly that this album was the beginning of the end for Elton John, it was a gradual process for him. There’s still enough about Rock of the Westies that is good and holy, and it would be a good album to possess if you really like his earlier stuff. Just make sure and don’t listen to the bonus tracks. They are the worst bonus tracks of all time! One of them is something similar to the title track from Captain Fantastic except it’s stale and entirely forgettable. The second one is a piano ballad ………….. and it’s by far the worst, most tedious piano ballad I ever heard him do.

This all points to Blue Moves, the tedious double-album monster.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Elton John Rock Of The Westies | | Leave a comment

Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)

Elton-John-Goodbye-Yellow-Brick-RoadFrom sfloman.com

This album saw Elton and his crack band at the peak of their popularity, and often at the peak of their collective powers.

By now entrenched as one of the 70’s dominant performers, at this point a supremely confident Elton was willing to try nearly anything, which was both a blessing and a curse. The album is his best known due to its classic hit singles, including four A+ efforts in a row to start the album, but it also includes a fair amount of filler and is one of those “good double albums that could’ve been a great single album.”

Indeed, had Elton taken the best 9 or 10 songs here this would’ve easily been his best album, but his judgement here isn’t always to be trusted, as witnessed by the inclusion of misogynist, mean-spirited rockers such as “Dirty Little Girl” and “All The Girls Love Alice.” Other songs revisit previous styles a tad too closely and not as well (“The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-1934)” and “Roy Rogers” veer unimpressively into Tumbleweed Connection territory, while “Your Sister Can’t Twist” is a fast-paced rock ‘n’ roller a la “Crocodile Rock” only not nearly as good), or are too short (“This Song Has No Title”) or too long (“I’ve Seen That Movie Too,” which is also quite reminiscent of “Have Mercy On The Criminal” come to think of it).

Fortunately, much of the rest of the album is outstanding, and yes I’m including songs that I know I’m not supposed to like such as “Jamaica Jerkoff,” a silly but fun reggae throwaway, and “Social Disease,” which oddly enough combines bluesgrass with Dixieland jazz, but again in a fun way. Still, these are undoubtedly minor efforts on an album that is most definitely about its major efforts. Of those, the mournful 11-minute (!) epic (“Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)”) that begins the proceedings is arguably the best thing Elton ever did.

The first 6-minutes or so, the all-instrumental “Funeral For A Friend” part, is moody and funereal; it’s also almost prog-like in its multi-sectioned ambition, and it’s spectacularly successful in every way. Then the vocals kick in on the “Love Lies Bleeding” part, which is simply one of Elton’s very best rockers, with vocal hooks galore and his band in peak form, especially Johnstone. Though not a hit per se, this is a well-worn album track that subsequently became a radio favourite. The second song, “Candle In The Wind,” a lovingly rendered tribute to Marilyn Monroe, was a U.K. hit in 1974, a top 10 hit when released from a 1987 live album, and of course was revised and sung at Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997; the single released of that version became a worldwide #1 hit.

Now that’s an enduring ballad, and in addition to its excellent melody and moving lyrics I really like Olsson’s drum performance on this original version, as well as the airy backing vocals and Johnstone’s riffs. Next up is another classic single in the campy #1 hit, “Bennie and the Jets,” which is mostly notable for its canned applause, piano hooks, and of course Elton’s fabulous falsetto vocals, which also grace the musically lush, deeply affecting title track, one of Elton’s best ballads and another major hit single. Other impressive album cuts are the previously mentioned (in my Elton John review) “Grey Seal,” and “Sweet Painted Lady,” which overcomes more misogynist lyrics by virtue of Elton’s tender delivery of them plus another pretty melody.

Still, only two of the albums truly classic tracks come on what used to be sides three and four (the album is now a single cd), thereby strengthening the “this should’ve been a single album” argument, but “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” is a terrific, hard charging, rabble rousing party tune that’s simply Elton’s most convincing guitar driven rocker, period. Last but certainly not least is the short but sweet album closer “Harmony,” which is basically the antithesis of the opening track but which is also impressive enough that it became a popular radio track without being released as a single. I’m not surprised how that happened, as the song’s airy harmonized choruses, in direct contract to its sombre deep voiced verses, are almost impossible not to sing along to.

So, long story short (though it’s probably too late for that!), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, on which Del Newman, not Buckmaster, added orchestrations to several songs, could’ve been a masterpiece had it been edited down, but its many high points capture the multi-faceted talents of one of the brightest pop stars of the ‘70s. For all its over ambitious faults, none of his other albums range quite so far or show off so many different styles, and as a result for better and sometimes worse Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is the quintessential Elton John album.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road | | Leave a comment

Elton John Blue Moves (1976)

129601248_raDFKHsL_MUDD182From donignacio.com

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