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Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of an Elton John fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Elton John fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.
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Where and when was the last time you saw the Gran Maestro Of Cheesy Mainstream Adult Pop? Was it giving a lukewarm performance at the one hundred and ninety second beneficiary concert for the sakes of Timbuctu illiterates? Maybe working at a soundtrack to yet another million-making, brain-washing pseudo-Disney cartoon threatening to throw Titanic off the shop racks? No, I know - probably singing 'Candle In The Wind, take two' at Princess Di's funeral. Whatever choice you prefer (and the selection is fairly limited at best), I bet you all wrinkle your nose in disgust and are ready to echo the immortal words of Keith Richards: 'the only talent he's got is writing songs about dead blondes' (sorry if I didn't get the quotation right).Nowadays, Elton John (...errr... excuse me... Sir Elton John...) is a really, really grand person. He's entered the honourable 'Royal Albert Hall Club', gleefully sharing the role of 'reverend old fart' with Sir Paul McCartney and mostly performing in the company of such old washed-up bags as Phil Collins, Sting, Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton (sorry Eric, but this is the sad truth). The strangest thing is that all of these guys used to be good! Funny how time works for some old rockers who manage to age gracefully (the Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Pete Townshend) and condemns others. Ever heard that last Clapton album or some of Knopfler's solo work? Atrocious! And I didn't even mention Phil Collins, but wait, it's Elton John we're talking about. The sad truth is that Reginald Kenneth Dwight used to be good. Not just good - he used to be a genius, frigging great genius. In the early Seventies, along with David Bowie, Elton was probably the best stuff glam rock (or 'glam pop', I don't give a damn 'bout this stupid terminology) ever had to offer. But where Bowie was thoroughly insincere, not always funny, and sometimes downright disgusting, Elton always had something much more distinguishable and artistically valuable about him. He started out as a simple piano rocker, following in the path of Jerry Lee Lewis, and his earliest stuff is raunchy, hard-hitting and hot - if you haven't heard 'Take Me To The Pilot', you'd be missing a great deal in Elton's development. Not to mention the lyrics - Bernie Taupin, Elton's constant partner, may not be a great poet, but he usually knows what he means, and at least he rarely provided Elton with banal thematics - misogyny and homosexualism occupy a far vaster part of Bernie's mind than love ballads. Somewhere around 1971-1972, however, Elton metamorphosed into a pretentious, almost 'intellectual' philosopher taking interest in a vast bag of musical styles and theater-show elements, creating some of the best albums of the epoch. Luckily, these immaculate hits are still played on the radio, and not everybody knows Elton as the author to the Lion King soundtrack. Later on, though, Elton started to mellow out. The process was not immediate - his mid-Seventies and late Seventies albums still show traces of greatness, but he was finally ruined by the 'modernizing' tendencies, which actually meant setting most of his songs to dull synth patterns and drum machine beats, and when he got out of the pit at the end of the Eighties he was basically spent. Since then, all of Elton's career has been directed at rehashing the old classics and trying to recapture at least some of the ancient magic. Some of these efforts are more or less successful (Made In England), others horrendous (The One). But the main thing is, I simply have no interest at all to review his vast Eighties/Nineties catalog - I know what I like, and I don't like what I know! My advice to everybody who's interested in Elton's career: grab all the early albums, but think carefully and decide where to stop. My personal place where I definitely get off the train is 1978's A Single Man, probably the last consistently decent album Elton ever made. Everything from 1979's Victim Of Love (an awful load of disco shit) should be dismissed, or, at least, approached with a heavy degree of scepticism. Well, nearly everything - I wouldn't want to make a statement that since 1978 Elton hasn't penned a single good song. Some of the later hits are good, and 'I'm Still Standing', 'I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues' and especially 'Sad Songs' are among my favourite Elton tunes. But they're mostly small, temporary speckles in a sea of trash, and I don't see any reason, except for completism, why I should prefer miriads of hogwash-filled 'albums' to a trusty old hits collection. I guess I'll have to plunge in his later period 'pool of dreck' eventually, though. That said, there's not too much offensive stuff I could pour on Elton for his first ten years' output. The big problem is that some of his tunes conceal a significant lack of melody under a barrage of incoherent piano chords, and an even bigger problem is that 'dem all sound da same', right? But there you are - you're warned and you simply have to get over it, because that's part of Elton's schtick. At least he had a unique style. And voice - people tend to neglect his singing abilities, but tell me who on the white scene could oversing that glass-eyed shortie around 1971? And he could play damn well, too! Here are the reviews then.
Listenability: 3/5. The
early years are great and consistent; the latter years feature so much
dreck that they just pull it down and down and down.
Resonance: 3/5. Elton's style veers too much towards trashy posturing - you can't really trust this guy that often. And, of course, as good as some of the late-period ballads might be, they're still hopelessly phoney.
Originality: 2/5. Give him his due for his unique piano style, but don't give him anything else.
Adequacy: 3/5. See 'listenability' and 'resonance'. As long as you don't idolize the guy, he's okay, but it's hard to keep on guard...
Diversity: 3/5. He's tried most of everything during his career... not that he ain't always recognizable anyway.
Overall: 2.8 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Probably Elton's most rocking album ever - although it's not a compliment, rather just a statement of fact.Best song: WESTERN FORD GATEWAY
Track listing: 1) Empty Sky; 2) Val-Hala; 3) Western Ford Gateway; 4) Hymn 2000; 5) Lady What's Tomorrow; 6) Sails; 7) The Scaffold; 8) Skyline Pigeon; 9) Gulliver/Hay Chewed/Reprise.
It's a difficult question to say whether this debut album, that passed totally unnoticed back in 1969 and is even now known only to hardcore Elton fans (for most people his career only began with Elton John a year later), already represents Elton in his trademark form or if he's only trying to find his style. I lean towards the first answer. Yes, the percent of filler on this album is rather large - but let's face it, few Elton John albums can pass without filler, even the best ones included. More important is the fact that all the key elements of the classic Elton John musical style are already firmly established: his swinging piano chords that dominate most of the songs, his magnificent, high-pitched singing voice, Bernie Taupin's pretentious, but not entirely meaningless lyrics, and even guitarist Caleb Quaye, Elton's best and most significant musical partner for most of the glory years. Add to this the youthful exuberancy, the urgent wish to be loved by the listeners (you can practically feel Elton screaming 'Look at me! Just LOOK at me!' all the way through the album), and the sharp, clear and intelligent production (courtesy of Gus Dudgeon, who really did an outstanding job for such a petty shrimp - at least, back in 1969 Elton really was nothing but a petty shrimp), and the record will prove to be much more interesting than you could suppose it was.Actually, the first side is nearly all prime stuff - if you're familiar with classic early Seventies material, you won't find any terrible surprises, but you'll find some pleasant stuff. The title track is a great head-banging rocker (of course, you must always make the correction that Elton rockers are mostly piano-driven, which is not what everybody usually expects of rockers) that turns itself into a moody, ominous jam halfway through. You might detest the jam, but it sounds really fresh and captivating, and Elton's impression of a Mick Jagger doing 'Midnight Rambler' near the end is dang funny! Good song. Then there's 'Val-Hala', a pretty, almost beautiful echoey Viking-style ballad performed in Elton's epic style that was so goddamn entertaining and innovative at that time and that began to sound unbearable in the Eighties and horrendous in the Nineties. Here, it's okay. (Of course, if you can't tolerate it and think that Elton was a pompous ass right from the beginning, you're well advised to stay away and not read further). 'Western Ford Gateway' is the most rockin' song on the album - well, 'Sails' is also a tough rocker, but it's kinda stupid, while 'Gateway' is a really clever song. Elton delivers his vocals with such a ferocity you'd think he was pulling a John Lennon (which he probably was), and if you can get the refrain out of your head within a couple of hours after you've taken a good listen, get up and go get some Led Zeppelin or at least some ELP instead because your conscience is not adapted for an Elton John treatment. Indeed, I'd say that this album is primarily notorious for the vocals - there's a strong tendency of the song being good when Elton delivers the 'articulation goods' right and vice versa. Thus, 'Hymn 2000' that closes the first side is good because Elton cares, and the refrain about collecting submarine numbers is downright funny. However, the big problems start on the second side - just when you thought Elton can really do no wrong, he strikes you with a series of three very unimaginative and frankly boring songs. 'Lady What's Tomorrow' is an unmemorable attempt at a pseudo-love ballad, punctuated by strangely clumsy lyrics (something about a missing clover, if I remember right) and nothing else. 'Sails', on the other hand, tries to rock out, but fails, unlike the superior attempts on the first side. Despite having the biggest share of rhythm/lead electric guitar on it (and Caleb Quaye is good), its beat is so banal and unimpressive that it's certainly a far cry from the invigoration of 'Saturday Night's Alright'. Finally, 'The Scaffold' is an almost confusingly weak folkish shuffle, totally pointless and out of place on an album like that - after all, even in 1969 you couldn't mistake Elton for a folkie at any distance. Thankfully, some steam is regained on the breathtaking ballad 'Skyline Pigeon', the first in an unending series of Elton's gut-wrenching, radio-friendly popsters that's hit-oriented and artistically valid at the same time. Its mood is similar to the one of 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road': pseudo-sincere, but emotionally hard-hitting pomposity without being bogged down in one's own ambitions (whoah, how did I end up with a formula like this one?), anyway, I raise my thumbs up. And of course, there's the ridiculously weird lengthy ending track that begins as another boring ballad ('Gulliver'), then goes on as an unexplainable jazz/bebop instrumental ('Hay Chewed') and finally turns into 'Reprise' where you get to hear short fragments of all the preceding songs on the album fading into each other. I don't quite get the aim of this idea. My best bet is that, in the view of high hopes that Elton had for this record, it is a wise trick that should make you take the record off your turntable with all the songs activated in your memory. If this is indeed so, he really hits the mark - some of the more forgettable numbers really get refreshed that way. The problem is that if a number is weak it'll always be weak, regardless of how many times you repeat it! All the same, here's an important trivium for you - the first revolutionary element that Elton John introduced into rock music. Heh heh. Get this album. I know, it's no great shakes, and it doesn't deserve more than a 'good, but flawed' rating, but if you ever wanted, but never dared to buy this because you were told it sucked, well I reassure you that it doesn't. And the 'rocking' efforts could please you even if your hair stands on end each time you hear the word combination 'Elton John' or the first sounds of 'Suckrifice' or 'Diana Scandal In The Wind' on the radio. That was another Elton John. You probably don't even know that guy.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970Record rating = 8
This is the 'trademark classic Elton' established - loads of quasi-filler and certain romantic/rockin' gems mixed in.Best song: YOUR SONG
Track listing: 1) Your Song; 2) I Need You To Turn To; 3) Take Me To The Pilot; 4) No Shoe Strings On Louise; 5) First Episode At Hienton; 6) Sixty Years On; 7) Border Song; 8) The Greatest Discovery; 9) The Cage; 10) The King Must Die; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) Bad Side Of The Moon; 12) Grey Seal; 13) Rock'n'Roll Madonna.
The big breakthrough happened here, but if you ask me, well, it's not a major improvement over Empty Sky. By this time, however, Elton was already clever enough to know what were the things he managed to do well and what kind of crap he'd better stay away from. The first thing to abandon were guitar-based rockers (like 'Sails'). Next, from now on the golden rule would be always putting his piano sound upfront and overshadowing everything else. And finally, the album sees the introduction of a most significant component of the 'classic Elton' songs: masterful string arrangements by Paul Buckmaster. It goes without saying that pepping rock or pop songs with strings is quite a risky process, to say the least; however, Paul manages to do so without falling into banality and even with traces of originality - check out the stunning arrangements on 'Sixty Years On', for instance, where the strings add depth, majesty and stunning grandeur to what otherwise would be a passable nostalgic ballad.Musically, the album's about equally full of great ideas and boring, uninspired musings that mostly sound the same. Basically, for every great or good number you get yourself a duffer - but the duffer isn't worse than on Empty Sky, and the great material is really, truly great. It can be clearly seen that Elton suffered the same problems as Procol Harum: the worst flaw of his songwriting is that he had to write music to lyrics previously written by Bernie Taupin - a poet, not a composer. This means that Taupin's verse structure and rhythms often predefine the song itself, and this, taken together with the fact that these songs are based on piano and not guitar melodies, doesn't account for the songs' memorability. It is good when Elton is wise enough to insert some hooks - quite often, he doesn't bother at all, like on the stately borefests of 'First Episode At Hienton' and 'The Great Discovery' - two songs that go on forever without doing anything at all. Moreover, Taupin is no Keith Reid: his lyrics are just not as inspiring or image-filled, and while they are definitely complex and sometimes even make sense (that's a compliment), I personally get lost in his psychological traumas and philosophical remarks. So there's really nothing to save the worst filler material, like the country-western send-up 'No Shoe Strings On Louise' where even Elton sounds like a jerk. However, the best stuff sure does make up for all the problems. There's a couple magnificent, almost funky rockers - 'Take Me To The Pilot' will have you singing along in no time, with its adrenaline-filled enthusiasm and Elton's intoxicating keyboard-bashing, and 'The Cage' is hardly worse, with that magnificent 'aa-uu, aa-uu, oo-uu-aa' chorus (sorry for the inadequacy of the transcription). While they're not as funny or 'rock'n'rolley' as, say, Jerry Lee Lewis' material (and Jerry seems to have been one of Elton's main influences), they add a whole new dimension to piano-based rock, improving it in the same way that the Beatles, for instance, improved Chuck Berry's guitar-based rock: making it a trifle more complex, a trifle more varied and just a trifle more serious, while preserving the same level of energy and youthful anger. In fact, this is undoubtedly the kind of music that is Elton's main accomplishment - he'd written quite a few gorgeous ballads, but it's his style of piano 'cabaret' rock that I'll always love him for. What a shame that this is exactly the style that he had to completely lose over the years... Nevertheless, there's a lot of splendid balladeering on the album as well. 'Your Song', of course, was the biggest hit, and I must agree that it's probably the best cut on the record still, overplayed or not - the atmosphere is moody, slightly depressing and optimistic at the same time, and the chorus is catchy as hell. Catchy as hell, you hear? Don't you go letting off your dogs on this one. But then there's also the soul-drenched 'Border Song', later vulgarized by Aretha Franklin (have I told you lately how much I dislike generic soul music?) Here, though, it works, again due to the power of Elton's voice - the guy sounds just terrific on that one, and I don't care whether he really gets what he's singing about (probably not). Holy Moses, have I really been deceived? Indeed, the power of his voice even makes a couple of filler songs come to life. 'First Episode At Hienton' is too feeble for me, but the desperate, complaintive 'I Need You To Turn To' for me works as one of the best love pleads in rock; and the album closing tune, the pompous, overblown 'The King Must Die' has a certain magic of its own that's missing on most 'progressive' albums of the epoch - basically, it says in a few simple words the message of so many progressive suites and symphonies! A bit too long, for sure, but don't dismiss it on first listen as just another tinkling piano-filled, yawnfest-inducing bog: it definitely has much more to it. Note that the recent CD re-release makes your acquisition even more worthwhile with two bonus tracks (the third, an early version of 'Grey Seal', is dismissable): the single 'Bad Side Of The Moon' is another fearless rocker, quite similar in mood to 'Take Me To The Pilot', but even more funky and raunchy. And what's they singin' in the chorus? Is it really 'losing my life, losing my life' or do I have a spoilt ear? Anyway, cool number. And then there's the live recording of 'Rock'n'Roll Madonna' - now here's a real impersonation of Jerry Lee Lewis for you, in fact, you could have easily mistaken this for the real thing, especially during the mesmerizing instrumental break. Whoa yeah. All right, now that it's time to say goodbye, I'll just leave you with this: the record might not be one of his best, but if you utterly hate and/or despise it, Elton John's a closed subject for discussing with you, because this album captures him like nothing else - everything he had in the early Seventies, all the good and bad sides. Thus, it's a unique record in some way, and well worth owning for any rock collector.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970Record rating = 10
Easily the best Old West concept album written by a pair of British wankers.Best song: BURN DOWN THE MISSION
Track listing: 1) Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun; 2) Come Down In Time; 3) Country Comfort; 4) Son Of Your Father; 5) My Father's Gun; 6) Where To Now St Peter?; 7) Love Song; 8) Amoreena; 9) Talking Old Soldiers; 10) Burn Down The Mission; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) Into The Old Man's Shoes; 12) Madman Across The Water (original version).
No epochal hit single from this album, which is why it's usually unjustly forgotten in compilations. As it turns out, it's one of Elton's absolute best, with nary a filler song among the multiple gems that, at this point, seemed to be just rolling from under his fingers - the record was the first indication of that absolutely mad creative rush that would characterize the man's work for the next five years. (It's even more amazing to realize how many of those twelve or so albums released in just six years time were really, really good - easily making up for the endless run-of-the-mill boring dreck of years to come).Elton and Bernie tried to make the record somewhat more coherent this time; it's sort of a very loose concept album dedicated to the topics of the Old Wild West, with more than half of the songs dealing with outlaws, confederates, missions (Indian ones?), and so on. I guess Bernie was really hot on Western flicks in his childhood, and maybe Elton was, too. Musically, though, Tumbleweed Connection is not that much removed from its predecessor - piano ballads and piano rockers with a strong guitar presence, but on certain tracks there's definitely a strong American roots-rock influence, such as the steel guitar and fiddle on 'Country Comfort', for instance. Amazingly, it all works, and that pudgy little spectacle-eyed dude (who hasn't even started promoting his ego with outrageous outfits yet!) just about totally wins out on every track. Hooks? Plenty, on every track. Conviction? I don't know whether he really means it on 'Talking Old Soldiers', but it's about ten times as moving and emotionally pleasing as something as perfunctory as 'Candle In The Wind'. Arrangements? A bit thin at times, but for the most part, everything is in its right place, with Paul Buckmaster contributing more fabulous orchestrated passages and Caleb Quaye delivering some of the most hard-rocking lead lines of his lifetime (and I don't necessarily mean "distorted" or "loud" - I mean "hard-rocking", brother). It's even pretty hard to choose any favourites out of the songs. It's one of those "very even" albums, where not a single track really soars up high in the sky leaving the others lagging somewhere behind - I kind of understand why no singles were pulled off of it, because the hooks on Tumbleweed Connection require your attention, they're not jumping out by themselves. But maybe, in that case, the honour of "best song" should fall to the two side-closing epics. 'My Father's Gun' is definitely marred by Taupin's naive South-celebrating lyrics ('I laid his broken body down below the southern land, it wouldn't do to bury him where any Yankee stands' - yeah right, Bernie, just how many times have you watched Gone With The Wind?), but that doesn't mean the prolonged ending, with the chorus repeated over and over, isn't overwhelmingly majestic, with the gospel background vocals, lilting piano runs, and Elton's own soulful delivery combining in a heavenly manner - thus initiating the string of "anthemic codas" that would grace his next albums. Even better, well, somewhat better, in my opinion, is the album closer, 'Burn Down The Mission'. I'd say the definitive performance of the song, with its fast passages extended into a rock'n'roll medley, is to be found on 11-17-70, but then again there are live versions and there are studio originals, and we're not dealing with live versions here. We're just dealing with a song that takes another youthful, naive, and somewhat clumsy Taupin lyric and turns it into an inspired hymn for survival and escape - and the way Elton incorporates the fast rocking sections right inside the slow ballad parts so that they don't show any seams is a marvel. And "inspired" is the word here: I feel it hard to come up with a better example of how Elton can be so tremendously uplifting than his angelic crooning of the 'it's our only chance of living, take all you need to live inside...' line. And he's being humane and passionate all the time on here. 'Talking Old Soldiers'? Whoever thought Elton John, of all people, would be able to capture all the sadness and gloominess of growing old and forgotten better than almost anybody else? If there's a song in his catalog to drive you to tears, it will be this deeply depressing "dialog", set to nothing but a requiem-esque bare-bones piano melody (somewhat similar to McCartney's almost equally depressing arrangement of 'Dear Friend' at about the same time). 'Where To Now St Peter?' begins as a pleasant enough little ballad punctuated by psychedelic wah-wah guitar phrasing and watery organ, but the catharsis occurs when the song speeds up for the refrain, as Elton implores 'where to now St Peter? if it's true I'm in your hands, I may not be a Christian, but I've done all one man can...' and, again, captures the desired effect perfectly - the desired effect of a guy suffering from uncertainty and lack of self-determination, and possibly hampered by personal tragedies as well. Did I yet mention how well this album rocks out when it wants to? 'Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun' and 'Son Of Your Father' both blow my hat off in a way that only 'Take Me To The Pilot' on the previous album could. Caleb Quaye's guitar is minimalistic, but funky and well-placed, and Elton can make his piano rock the house down when he wants as well. 'Son Of Your Father' is a particular highlight in that respect, with the funky chugga-chugga rhythm complemented by the wild harmonica rhythm that somehow not only tries to emulate what Caleb is playing, but at the same time battles with it - and then the brass section steps in for the chorus and completes the picture. Who needs Led Zeppelin after these songs? (Okay, that was a joke). Did I yet mention the pretty ballads? The Lesley Duncan duet 'Love Song', for instance? Okay, so it blatantly steals its acoustic melody from 'Dear Prudence' (not Elton's fault anyway, the song is credited to Lesley Duncan altogether), but it's a beautiful stripped-down performance all the same, as humble and unpretentious as Lennon's 'Love' of the same year - and kudos to Elton for holding off the orchestration for the tune, which could drag it down to bad James Taylor level. 'Come Down In Time' and 'Amoreena' are also hooky and charming, and the album's most countryesque tune, appropriately titled 'Country Comfort', is a fine example to demonstrate Elton's uniqueness - had the Eagles been doing that song, they probably wouldn't have thought of inserting that magnificent pause in between the third and fourth lines of the chorus, which makes a crucial difference. So, not one weak link among the ten songs (for some reason, 'Come Down In Time' doesn't do a whole lot for me, but it's got hooks all the same), and all the more amazing it is considering that the album was, in fact, more or less rushed after the debut. And seeing as how it doesn't contain any overplayed "hits", I'm pretty sure this is the right place to start with Elton if you're sick and tired of 'Crocodile Rock', 'Candle In The Wind', and 'Bennie And The Jets' on the radio.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
TONS OF FUN! This record should hold the 1971 number one for Most Energetic Rock Album of the year.Best song: BURN DOWN THE MISSION
Track listing: 1) Take Me To The Pilot; 2) Honky Tonk Women; 3) Sixty Years On; 4) Can I Put You On; 5) Bad Side Of The Moon; 6) Burn Down The Mission.
A forgotten live masterpiece - and it didn't cost Elton no extra efforts to release it, because this is a live recording of a radio concert played, sure enough, on the 17th of November, 1970. Forget all about the Lion King and 'I believe in love' and 'this is no sacrifice' - if you haven't heard this record, you have no idea of that Elton John - the reckless, debauchery rocker who took his inspiration from Jerry Lee Lewis rather than from Mantovani or Frank Sinatra. This album rocks, and it manages to rock with no guitar at all - for the concert, Elton employed only the trusty rhythm section of Dee Murray on bass and Nigel Olsson on drums. This also means that there are no strings, so if you happen to be the one guy that doesn't give a damn about Paul Buckmaster's arrangements, this might be just for you. The emphasis is just solely on Elton - his singing and his playing, and it's a blast: his voice is in magnificent form, and the piano chops that he gives out blow away everything he did before or since - whether it be the plaintive balladeering of 'Sixty Years On' or the defiant boogie-woogie of the 'Burn Down The Mission' jam. Not to mention the excellent quality of the sound - not that surprising, of course, considering that radio concerts always sound better than standard ones, but still a pleasant feature of the album.Another plus is that, since the show was played at a stage when Elton wasn't yet the mega-hit wonder he'd soon become and had but two decently selling albums behind his back, the setlist is constituted of relatively obscure (but all good) numbers that you might not even readily hear on the radio: in other words, there's no 'Your Song' or 'Border Song' here. Instead, he concentrates on rockin' numbers - 'Take Me To The Pilot' is a real treat, with the energy level flowing at the brim and Elton giving it all: basically, he 'jumps out of his chair to grab your attention' - a brilliant remark by John Alroy that really summarizes everything what this album is about. He's also having tremendous fun himself, and it shows: you're just bound to get going; the best thing is that at this early stage, when Elton wasn't yet heavily indulging in his glam habits, he was completely concentrating on the music and noise-making, and this makes 11-17-70 his best live record par excellence. Quite often, Elton and the backing guys get into such a rage that it's hard to believe there's but three guys making all this crazyass racket; Elton himself doesn't display any particularly stunning piano technique, but he plays hisstrument with so much gusto and devotion that sometimes it seems he grows himself an extra pair of hands or something. And the 'quiet-down - rave-up' contrasts are absolutely thrilling, as he goes from ultra-silent to a complete crash-boom-bang. Then there's also a superior version of 'Bad Side Of The Moon', and a shake-down-the-barrel rendition of 'Can I Put You On' from Friends. But the biggest surprise is John singing 'Honky Tonk Women' - his fiery, screaching intonations put Mick Jagger to shame, and the blistering keyboard work would make a fine supplement to Richards' guitarwork (in fact, it's possible that the recent addition of a keyboard solo part to 'Honky Tonk Women' at Stones' concerts might have been inspired by relistening to this dusty old treat!) Anyway, could you imagine Sir Elton John push away the chair and rant through 'Honky Tonk Women' any day now at the Royal Albert Hall? Man, those were the days - the really good days... The ballads (or at least, their quota on this record) are reduced to a sole 'Sixty Years On', but it almost burns the house down as well. Remember the stunning strings on the original? Anybody else would have probably just skipped the intro and proceeded to perform a note-for-note copy of the original, but then Elton is not just anybody else: instead, he locks himself together with the rhythm section into a frenetic monster and substitutes the string work with a monumental keyboard/bass intro that's just as grandiose and maybe more. And his singing is so much more heartfelt and sincere that you can't help but think he really was on an up that evening. The central point of the show, of course, is the lengthy piano jam that starts as an excellent version of 'Burn Down The Mission' (also from Tumbleweed Connection), but then goes on to bore you for aeons until it suddenly transforms into a short snippet of 'My Baby Left Me' and then even into a tongue-in-cheek version of the Beatles' 'Get Back'. I admit that there are moments during the jam when it really bogs you down, but these are short moments, and even then the piano work is outstanding - and the audience seems to be completely enthralled and ready to join in at any given second. And if you're willing to take your time, check out some of Dee Murray's bass lines on the fast sections to admire his tasteful finger-flashing. Actually, Elton's rendition of 'My Baby Left Me' is far more energetic and entertaining than the original, sorry Elvis. Not really a weak cut on the whole record. Together with Empty Sky, it's the most underrated product in the whole catalogue, and even Empty Sky had its fair share of mediocrity. Yeah, I'll agree that these versions do not necessarily overshadow their studio counterparts, but I can't find an inferior one. And no studio album of Elton's (nor any later live one, for that matter) can raise your adrenaline level to such a high point as this one. I easily give it a 'simply excellent' rating just for the fun factor. So should you, after an obligatory purchase of this record - the one and only proof of how great a live performer Elton once was.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Although the pomp still sometimes overshadows the substance, this is by no means a crass 'glam' album. Serious stuff.Best song: LEVON
Track listing: 1) Tiny Dancer; 2) Levon; 3) Razor Face; 4) Madman Across The Water; 5) Indian Sunset; 6) Holiday Inn; 7) Rotten Peaches; 8) All The Nasties; 9) Goodbye.
Wow, it's sometimes hard to really imagine that it was the same raunchy, reckless kid that reveled in his Jerry Lee impersonation on 11-17-70 the same year who actually put down the recordings for this record. It's so dang creepy and pathetic! The only tune at all that can be seen to contain at least a tiny bit of humour is probably 'Razor Face', and it ain't even one of the best on the record. Not a bit of boogie, either: everything is midtempo and extremely monotonous, with pretty much the same brand of arrangement running through the whole record: piano, subdued electric guitar, Buckmeister's trademark wall-of-orchestration, and just an occasional touch of mandolin or pedal steel on a couple of tunes. And yet, I still consider this record as one of Elton's best, probably just a couple notches below Honky Chateau, which beats it only by being a bit more diverse, arrangement-wise, and by adding a saving touch of humour and occasional lightweightness, in the good sense of the word; Madman just weighs a bit too hard on your neck.It's just that the record almost perfectly matches its pretentiousness. It's easy to see that around this time Elton was trying to build up his reputation as that of a 'real serious' artist, not just another goofy glam doll with impressive sunglasses, and you can see the album as a successful attempt to compete with the ever-growing ambitions of people like David Bowie, as well as with selected prog-rock stars. So the tunes stretch and stretch out, crashing four- and five-minute barriers easily; Bernie's lyrics get more witty than ever, with layers of hardly comprehensible, but impressive imagery ('Levon'; title track) complemented by overblown heroic epics that border on ridiculous but don't really get there ('Indian Sunset'); and the actual melodies being far less catchy than it usually was before. But somehow, they manage to pull it off, despite all the objections. The best stuff on the album is all grouped on the first side that includes three of the most breathtaking tunes Elton ever vented out of his system. 'Tiny Dancer' is a gorgeous ballad, a little in the 'Your Song'/'The King Has Lost His Crown' vein, but actually better, as the vocal melody far surpasses both of these songs. The steel guitar makes a very nice addition to the delicious tinkly piano sound, and the falsetto chorus ('hold me closely tiny dancer...') is positively amazing, a brilliant statement of love and passion if there ever was one. 'Levon', on the other hand, branches out from the romantic into the anthemic; at least, the song is structured as an anthem, although God knows I really can't guess who the hell 'Levon' is and why the heck his son is named Jesus. The way I see it, though, the song could well be about generation conflicts, so let it stay like that. In any case, the most impressive thing about the song is the mastodontic string section - arguably the best example of Buckmeister's unsurpassed orchestrating skills. The number should really be played loud - like you usually play heavy metal, just to let you feel all the strength and power of the number. Finally, the title track is really something special for Elton, the kind of song that he very rarely wrote. I still sometimes tend to consider this the best track on the album, as it simply stands out from everything else like a complete white crow. This is clear progressive rock, and of the highest quality: an incredibly (for Elton) complicated tune, with several different vocal and instrumental sections, and a very equal functioning of all the instruments - this is the only song on the album that's not completely dominated by pianos. A scary, disturbing acoustic riff, lately dubbed by a similar electric one, sets the scene, with Elton adding intelligent electric piano parts, and the very first line ('I can see... very well... there's a boat on the riff with a broken back...') somehow manages to send real shivers down your back. The touches of orchestration are, once again, poignant and hard-hitting, and the balance between all the elements of the song is very well held - I never even notice that it clocks in under six minutes. Boy, now that's one scary masterpiece. So the only tune that's somewhat below par on the first side is the pedestrian pop rocker 'Razor Face'; I mean, it does have some cool vocal harmonies and a nice guitar solo, but it just doesn't feel right edged in between these other flashes of genius. Probably would have been a definite highlight on any of Elton's Eighties' albums, though. And the same pretty much goes for the entire second side - none of the songs there are bad, but all are vastly inferior as compared to the previously discussed masterpieces. 'Indian Sunset' is an interesting, but not superb suite that should hold the title 'One More Imaginary Day From An Imaginary Indian's Imaginary Life', as Taupin stupidly combines Indian realities with medieval sentiments. 'Holiday Inn' is 'Razor Face Vol. 2', although the mandolin part is nice, and 'All The Nasties' is a rather foolish attempt to emulate 'Hey Jude', with its repetitive anthemic coda; problem is, it never comes out as convincing and majestic as the original. So my main bet here is on the slightly more rocking, bouncy ditty 'Rotten Peaches', with by far the best lyrics on the second side and a totally enthralling 'JEEESUS I'm the one' line that'll never get out of your head unless you've been suddenly attacked by a deafness fit while playing the song and missed it completely. And the closing short snatch of sadness ('Goodbye') is a perfect ending to such a 'serious' listening experience - one of the most tragic-sounding melodies ever, ending with a hopeless 'I'll waste away, I'll waste away...' that nearly kills me - it's so depressing I have to go and put on some Chuck Berry the very next minute, or I'll feel completely depressed and morally destroyed for the rest of the day. Overall, though, even the second side feels great if you listen to the album in one sitting - it's actually an easy demonstration of Elton's greatness at the time that he could record a couple of totally emotionally devastating tunes and make the impression last so that even the weaker efforts would be taken with a lot more good will than when listened to on their own. Truthfully, there ain't a really weak song on here: it's only when you start to analyse the whole deal that you notice there are some masterpieces and some merely okay tunes. But who cares? This is still a brilliant display of the man's talents at a time when he could get away with producing an album of immense pretention and not end up sounding way too preachy or banal, as is the usual case today.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13
The best. 'Rocket Man' beats the hell out of David Bowie and all the space rockers out there.Best song: HONKY CAT
Track listing: 1) Honky Cat; 2) Mellow; 3) I Think I'm Going To Kill Myself; 4) Susie (Dramas); 5) Rocket Man; 6) Salvation; 7) Slave; 8) Amy; 9) Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters; 10) Hercules.
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.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
The cheese factor gets higher - and the production values get lower. Some gems, but some schlock as well.Best song: CROCODILE ROCK
Track listing: 1) Daniel; 2) Teacher I Need You; 3) Elderberry Wine; 4) Blues For My Baby And Me; 5) Midnight Creeper; 6) Have Mercy On The Criminal; 7) I'm Gonna Be A Teenage Idol; 8) Texan Love Song; 9) Crocodile Rock; 10) High Flying Bird; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) Screw You (Young Man's Blues); 12) Jack Rabbit; 13) Whenever You're Ready (We'll Go Steady Again); 14) Skyline Pigeon (piano version).
Not bad, but this is probably the first album that hints at Elton's decline - a couple numbers are almost undistinguishable from some of his routine Eighties/Nineties crap, and that's a big surprise, considering the unquestionably high quality of Honky Chateau. I'll take a wild guess and suppose that popularity was finally getting to Elton's head, and his idea probably was to make the next record even more accessible for the public and adjusted to the mainstream. So it's not just that there are some totally uninteresting, bland adult pop compositions here, like the lyrically stupid 'Teacher I Need You'; much too often Elton adopts a high-standing, grandiose pose that's supposed to elevate him from his usual glam rock level to some new spiritual heights, but in fact it's a bummer. I, for one, felt much more at home with the cozy, home-brewed melodies of Chateau, where I did not have to endure endless overblown epics like 'Have Mercy On The Criminal'. Now these songs are finally becoming the main course of the day, a fault that mars his later good records and destructs his later bad ones.He wasn't washed-up, though - not yet, at least. Like Chateau, this record features two of his best-known and totally overplayed hits that even a person who spends his pastime by throwing darts at a Kenneth Dwight photo probably knows by heart. Yet right they are, because they're the best. 'Crocodile Rock' has never stopped ruling, with the only things that stray away from its nostalgic atmosphere, beat and lyrics being that nagging synthesizer line and the ridiculous, but fascinating falsetto singing (or wait, maybe the falsetto singing is nostalgic as well?) Call me crazy, childish and tasteless (I myself blush when somebody catches me listening to the song), but I adore the melody - and if you're able to sit through it just one time and manage to get away from the tune restlessly pursuing your mind all the rest of the day, you're most certainly deaf and have to go see a specialist. The other hit, the soddy ballad 'Daniel' (..err, excuse me, then again it does feature the lines 'Daniel my brother', so it must not be soddy after all. Apologies given) is fantastic as well, with the romantic Mellotron accompanying Elton's warm soulful singing all time and giving the song an almost medieval feel. Apart from the hits, though, there's little to laud about the record. For the most part, the rockers of Elton John and the tasty country stylings of Honky Chateau and Tumbleweed Connection have all but died down - the only song with a little distorted guitar and a fast enough tempo is the completely forgettable 'Midnight Creeper', and the only country excourse is the pointless redneck anthem 'Texan Love Song' (actually, 'Middle Class Hate Song') where Bernie suddenly comes up with a strange set of lyrics that condemn the counterculture. It's supposed to be ironic, of course, but is it really so? Oh well, I guess otherwise he wouldn't put that 'negro blues' line in the song... 'I'm Gonna Be A Teenage Idol' is also supposed to be ironic, but I guess that here Elton was lying to himself - he was mighty pleased to be a teenage idol (even if, seriously, he never really was one). Anyway, the song is bland, like so many others... Perhaps the biggest problem of the record is the production. On all the past records, whatever content and style they were based on, the main emphasis always was on Elton's singing and piano playing - his voice was always high in the mix, straining to hit as many notes as possible, screaming and sprawling, testing its own limits in order to chain the listener's attention. Here, though, Elton no longer feels the need to struggle - he knows that the record will be bought in any case. So the production is much too instrument-heavy: echo effects, multi-layered guitars, synthesizers, string arrangements that by now are becoming rather banal (there's nothing even closely similar to the incredible strings on 'Sixty Years On', for instance), and all this ruins songs that would be perfectly acceptable otherwise - like the closing ballad 'High Flying Bird', with its good, but alas, much too conventional melody, or the totally pedestrian 'Blues For My Baby And Me'. Which leaves me with just two more songs that I enjoy freely - the misogynistic, frustrated fast pop of 'Elderberry Wine' and the grandstanding pose of 'Have Mercy On The Criminal': yes, it's overlong and not always pleasant to listen to if you're in a rockin' mood, but at least the song has enough effort put into it to justify the grandeur: the strings are lush, Elton's singing is heartfelt and upfront, and Taupin's lyrics (too long to retell, but basically they match the title of the song) are for once free of both ununderstandable allusions and women-bashing pamphletisms. Still, neither of the numbers are good enough to rank level with Elton's best material, and the album in general becomes an absolute throwaway - a classic example of fame getting to an artist's head. There are several bonus tracks on the CD re-release, and since they mostly come from single B-sides that are supposed to be obscure and non-hit-oriented, it's no wonder that most of them are superior to the average album track: 'Screw You (Young Man's Blues)' goes up smoothly, with enough passion and genuine frustration to justify its title; 'Jack Rabbit' is a real country send-up with some beautiful slide guitar and hilarious lyrics; and 'Whenever You're Ready (We'll Go Steady Again)' just makes you wanna get up and dance in that crazyass old boogie-woogie tradition. All are throwaways, of course, but at this stage it goes to show that I'd rather prefer a decent throwaway than a mass-oriented pop ballad. Need some proof? Take the last of the bonus tracks, a new version of 1969's 'Skyline Pigeon' (from Empty Sky), re-recorded in the same grandiose, soft-pop, 'adult contemporary' style without the harpsichord and with echoey vocals, and tell me which one's the winner. Now go and buy a greatest hits collection, because it is sure to have 'Crocodile Rock' and 'Daniel' on it...
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Elton's well-oiled Museum of Glam Pop - find everything from the gorgeous to the outrageous.Best song: BENNIE AND THE JETS
Track listing: 1) Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding); 2) Candle In The Wind; 3) Bennie And The Jets; 4) Goodbye Yellow Brick Road; 5) This Song Has No Title; 6) Grey Seal; 7) Jamaica Jerk-Off; 8) I've Seen That Movie Too; 9) Sweet Painted Lady; 10) The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-34); 11) Dirty Little Girl; 12) All The Girls Love Alice; 13) Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock'n'Roll); 14) Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting; 15) Roy Rogers; 16) Social Disease; 17) Harmony.
Some claim this album to be the pinnacle of Elton's work, and in a certain sense they're right - never again would he come out with such a grandiose effort: a double album packed to the brim with a vast panorama of songs that seem to go off everywhere - he makes a brave stab at everything, from prog rock to glam pop to ska to heavy metal to orchestrated pop balladeering to boogie woogie. In this way, GYBR is unquestionably Elton's White Album, and those who complain about his lack of diversity and find it hard to sit through an Elton album in one sitting should probably begin here. The question, though, is: does it work? Answer: well, often. The best material on this album ranks with his best ever, and demonstrates that his songwriting skills certainly have not started to decline - yet. In his struggle for a multi-coloured, many-layered range of songs, he managed to step over the limits that he'd imposed on himself on Don't Shoot Me, and although this is certainly no longer the homely, 'comfortable' Elton John that last appeared on Honky Chateau, but rather the pretentious, ambitious Elton John of the Glam Era, the songs are just so many-faced and different from each other in both genre and mood that you simply do not pay attention to the changes.On the other side, there are so many obvious missteps and bad moves on the album that it is obviously impossible to give it the highest rating. In fact, I initially wanted to award it a record rating of 7, but the good songs are so incredible that I had no choice but to push the rating up a little. Still, it is always a bit of a pain for me to get through the whole album - I find it hard to endure the filler, and this is further aggravated by the fact that, for no obvious reason, most of the outstanding material is grouped on the first disc, and most of the filler is placed on the second. Here I'll make a forced attempt at splitting the album in two - the first half, dubbed 'masterpiece', shall consist of all the best on the album, and the other half, called 'duffer', shall highlight all the worst. Masterpiece. The opening eleven-minute medley, at least, its first part is certainly one of the most intriguing and unusual compositions recorded by Elton. The instrumental 'Funeral For A Friend' could be easily dubbed as 'prog', with its deadly serious synth lines and emotionally resonant piano passages - but essentially, it's a requiem, and one of a highest quality, a fantastic, tear-inducing composition; and 'Love Lies Bleeding' which it metamorphoses into is a superb pop rocker, highlighted by some tasty guitarwork from Davey Johnstone. 'Candle In The Wind' might have been utterly vulgarized by being recently turned into a necrologue pattern for dead blondes (not to mention that the very fact that its revised Princess Di version has become the bestselling single of all times only highlights the general public's total lack of taste), but do not make the mistake of letting that turn you away from the original composition's merits: after all, this is an utterly beautiful ballad, certainly one of Elton's most convincing and heartfelt ones. It remains a complete mystery to me, though, as to why Taupin felt the necessity to write an appraisal anthem for Marilyn Monroe when he'd be spending the rest of the album bashing 'dirty little girls', one of which Marilyn certainly was regardless of her artistic talents. Then, of course, the absolute high peak of the album - the proverbial Glam Pop anthem 'Bennie And The Jets', a song that summarizes the whole movement as well as 'All The Young Dudes' summarizes Glam Rock. With its simple, marching structure, breathtaking interplay between Elton's piano and Nigel Olsson's drums, Elton's fiery vocals that from time to time turn into his beautiful falsetto, and especially the brilliant idea of overdubbing bits of applause now and then - what is Glam Pop without an out-of-their-heads audience, after all? - the song catches you immediately and remains the most instantly memorable and effective on the album. No wonder it was one of Elton's most successful singles ever. And, just as it finishes, it leads you off into the title track - another magnificent anthem with not quite understandable but beautiful lyrics (maybe Taupin's best ever, in my opinion). 'Goodbye yellow brick road/Where the hounds of society howl/You can't plant me in my penthouse/I'm going back to my plough' - a great statement of artistic independency, all the more hard-hitting after the show-off-ey, ironic verses of 'Bennie'. And the vocal harmonies here are so beautiful, too... This is, however, the place where the filler slowly starts invading the album. Out of the rest of the songs, let us pick 'Sweet Painted Lady', a sweet, nostalgic ballad sung in Elton's most romantic tone but underpinned by Taupin's vicious anti-prostitution lyrics ('Getting paid for being laid/Guess that's the name of the game'); the funny countryish 'Social Disease'; the pretty 'Harmony' that closes the album. Well, in a certain way 'Grey Seal' (a re-worked, fastened and actually pop-diluted version of an early 1970 single), and the pompous, orchestrated 'I've Seen That Movie Too' that works along the lines of 'Have Mercy On The Criminal' can also qualify, although they never really move me in a way that the best material can. And yet, that's it, and that's only half of the album - the half that easily gets a full 10 from me. Duffer. Oh yeah. It would be all right if there were just some forgettable, but not unpleasant or offensive tunes on the album - like the short piano toss-off, appropriately named 'This Song Has No Title' (and no sense either), or the generic cowboy anthem 'Roy Rogers', or the deadly dull and primitive human rights anthem 'The Ballad Of Danny Bailey'. Unfortunately, that's not the case. First of all, there is a nearly-horrendous, murky parody on ska ('Jamaica Jerk-Off') where Elton sounds like a complete idiot. Then there's a sequence of two songs with passable, but not very original melodies and some of Taupin's most hatefully misogynic, atrocious, garbage-like lyrics ever. Sorry, I don't mind misogynic lyrics as a rule, but 'Dirty Little Girl' outbitches everything Mick Jagger and Frank Zappa ever tried to do with lines like 'Someone grab that bitch by the ears/Rub her down scrub her back/And turn her inside out/'cause I bet she hasn't had a bath in years'. Add to this Elton's ultra-angry and very sincere-sounding tone on the song, and you get yourself something which I'd probably censor on the radio with no remorse if I had the power to. And if that isn't enough, next comes 'All The Girls Love Alice', a cheery account of a Lesbian who's happy to give it to all her classmates. Now just don't get me wrong - I know that such things often go off as mockingly provocative, and were used by both Jagger and Zappa for their special purposes: the first one needed to stress his sexual image, the second one just wanted to tickle the nerves of the censor-minded public. But Taupin is deadly serious about that - he actually hated (probably still hates) women, and this is a serious anti-female statement that has no place among true art. And this is probably his misogynic peak - this is the only record where he states his position in such an open and vicious way. Geez, Bernie, don't you have anything better to do? And how come you managed to stuff some of your best lyrical efforts (title track) on the same record with this tripe? Finally, near the end of the record Elton suddenly remembers that he still hasn't demonstrated his rockin' talents, and he quickly tosses off a couple of 'rockers' - one light, one heavy. While 'Your Sister Can't Twist' is a funny, although overdone parody on boogie-woogie, I have very mixed feeling about 'Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting': sometimes, when I'm in the mood, I can thoroughly enjoy the song's fast rhythm and Johnstone's ridiculous metallic licks, but much more often I just hate the song because it's actually nothing more than a 'pop metal' tune with some more idiotic lyrics and unjustified pretensions - this is not the true Elton John rockin' style, for that one, check out 'Take Me To The Pilot', or, well, almost any selected tune on 11-17-70. So what? You decide, of course, but for me the question is resolved: just like so many other more and less talented artists, Elton blew it when it came to recording a definite double album. Maybe it was a necessary move at the time, revealing all the man's (and Taupin's) merits and faults at once, and, after all, further double albums were worse (Blue Moves, for instance); but in retrospect, the move doesn't seem that necessary at all, especially since Elton had such a hard time with filling even a single album with great songs. My advice to you is not to buy the album until you've had all of his better albums from 1970-72 (Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, Honky Chateau, maybe even 11-17-70): hey, I betcha you already know the hits by heart, and why bother about the filler? It should be noted, though, that the double album has been squeezed onto a single CD, and that might easily seduce you to make it the first buy. In which case I wash my hands.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Some low corny-commercial points on here, but let's not forget about the HIGH points either.Best song: DON'T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON ME
Track listing: 1) The Bitch Is Back; 2) Pinky; 3) Grimsby; 4) Dixie Lily; 5) Solar Prestige A Gammon; 6) You're So Static; 7) I've Seen The Saucers; 8) Stinker; 9) Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me; 10) Ticking; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) Pinball Wizard; 12) Sick City; 13) Cold Highway; 14) Step Into Christmas.
The critics hated it at the time (and most of them hate it still), but I actually think they were so annoyed at the virtual impossibility of saying something bad about Elton's near-immaculate (in basic critical terms) string of six or seven albums in a row they were only too glad to take a chance when he finally gave them the slip. Almost everything on this record, from the gloopy mock-Italian parody 'Solar Prestige A Gammon' to the flashy Vegasy rockers to the album cover seems to shout "CRASS!" out at ya. The album cover the most, though, I guess. It's easily Elton's worst album cover so far. It's almost inviting you to bash it - see me, once having possessed the deep penetrating look of an intellectual, clothed in plain jackets and T-shirts like your average guy, now revel with a hairy open chest protruding from under a corny tigerskin jacket, with a dumb cocaine-induced smile on my otherwise expressionless face. Campy as could only be in the century's campiest decade. How could the music on this album, obviously following the pattern of the "duffer" half of Yellow Brick Road, actually be good?Well it's not too good. But it's definitely not such a tuneless tasteless monster as it is sometimes called, either. It just sounds as if it was comprised of the leftovers and outtakes from Yellow Brick Road, and that maybe Elton was just having way too much partying fun in 1974 (not altogether untrue - a large part of it was spent boozing with John Lennon in L.A.) to get his act together and spend enough time working on the record in question. There are a couple innovations on the record anyway. First, John engaged the Tower of Power horn section to add extra punch to his rockers, and while at times they might be called overproduced, they're still pretty damn fine - maybe a bit too Vegasy for Elton's "classic" act, but I'd take Vegasy Elton John over the heavy metal Elton John of 'Saturday Night' anyway. 'The Bitch Is Back' is, after all, universally acclaimed as one of his best rockers ever - and however much the production might annoy anybody, it's still a classic, with a tremendous chuggin' riff from Davey Johnstone and backing vocals from Dusty Springfield (among others). And, of course, if anything, lyrically 'The Bitch Is Back' is poking fun at the very image projected on the front cover of Caribou, telling us to take it tongue-in-cheek if we can. Oh no, that sure ain't no excuse for Elton protruding his campy side for all to see (and to buy - could the album make it to #1 as all the others without that album cover? so much of the times!), but at least we get to see that he's vaguely conscious about it. But 'stone cold sober as a matter of fact'? That might be taking it a bit too far, Bernie. Elton is not that ideal. Other solid rockers, although, granted, not as memorable as 'Bitch', include the paranoia-tinged 'You're So Static' whose main feature is that fantastic swirling processed organ sound (check out particularly the head-spinning production gimmick which puts that organ completely "over the top" at the end of each chorus, so that it sounds almost as if the instrument is jumping out of the speakers), and the less impressive 'Stinker', which is too dependent on the generic bluesy beat to deliver anything particularly interesting, but at least has a decent enough punch to it. I'm actually more worried by the ballads, because stuff like 'Pinky' and 'Dixie Lily' seems to have been written absolutely pro forma - the kind of stuff Elton can probably write in two minutes flat, without bothering at all about hooks or other useless stuff like that. A particular offender, and the bleakest spot on the album, is 'Ticking', which has the nerve to last for eight minutes with only a bare thread of a melody, and at the same time a lot of boring preachy straightforward lyrics from Bernie, to go for it. If anything, it's a clear indication that Elton was running out of songs - his previous ballads never usually ran that long, and the ones that did had one of those 'Hey Jude'-like majestic codas that justified the length. Nothing justifies the length of the obviously minimalistic 'Ticking' - except for the fact that it was stretched out to fill space on an album with too few melodic ideas. However, let us not forget either that this is the album with 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me' on it. Elton's got so many top-notch ballads in his catalog it can be overlooked, but I daresay it should definitely be placed in the Top 10 anyway. It sort of takes forever to get to the grand climactic chorus, with these soft, slow, sluggish verses and instruments kinda scrambling together in an incoherent, messy way (a guitar ping here, an organ splash there...), but when it DOES arrive, it's a moment of beauty and resonance like few others in the Elton catalog. Elton himself probably understood he'd hit upon perfection here, so in order to put a final touch on it, he summoned the Beach Boys in the studio to sing backing vocals - and their work on the song is admirable. In between the inspiring highlights and the boring lowlights, there's also the really cheesy stuff, like the "joke riff" of the light-rocker 'Grimsby' or, more important, the total goofiness of the mock-Italian send-up 'Solar Prestige A Gammon'. In the end, I think, your attitude towards the record depends on whether you're able to tolerate these typical Seventies excesses or not. I, personally, happen to think that 'Solar Prestige A Gammon' is funnier and more interesting than stuff like 'Jamaica Jerk-Off', but this might be purely subjective. Add to this the equally wobbly quality of the bonus tracks on the CD reissue (on one hand, you have a great rocker in 'Sick City' and Elton's excellent arrangement of 'Pinball Wizard', used in the Tommy movie where he played the Wizard himself, on the other hand, you have a totally uninspired blues-rocker in 'Cold Highway' and the perfunctory 'Step Into Christmas'), and you got yourself a record whose balance can be tipped on either side depending fully on your attitude towards Elton in general. If you're willing to be forgiving towards the guy, you'll tolerate this record and probably even listen to it once in a while. If your attitude is more like "well, I like some of the earliest stuff and I grudgingly acknowledge the staying power of the hits", you'll probably want to steer clear of Caribou. One thing in Elton's defense, though - the album's critical dismissal caused him to entirely drop that particular image. It was never to return again. He might have had worse images in the future, but that one would be gone once and for all.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
A concept album about the hardship and toil of our little gay friends. Some really warm and gentle feelings here, among all.Best song: SOMEONE SAVED MY LIFE TONIGHT
Track listing: 1) Captain Fantastic And The Dirt Brown Cowboy; 2) Tower Of Babel; 3) Bitter Fingers; 4) Tell Me When The Whistle Blows; 5) Someone Saved My Life Tonight; 6) (Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket; 7) Better Off Dead; 8) Writing; 9) We All Fall In Love Sometimes; 10) Curtains; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds; 12) One Day At A Time; 13) Philadelphia Freedom.
Out of all the 'decent' Elton John albums, this one's the hardest to get into - but it's worth the while, because it might as well be the last gasp of brilliancy before the start of the slump. What's particularly hard is to tell where the album's hidden charm really lies: it has no obvious hooks like the best stuff on Honky Chateau, and it's nowhere near as diverse as Yellow Brick Road. On here, Elton goes for a rather uniform, monotonous sound that he's stuck to ever since: slow, at their best mid-tempo piano ballads with nary a rocker in sight ('Gotta Get A Meal Ticket' is the sole exception), complicated, often hardly existent verse and chord structures, and his usual brand of echoey, production-marred vocals. Don't even try to get down to this one if you still haven't managed to swallow down Chateau: this bite is much more difficult to make.And yet, after about the fifth or sixth listen, I got it. This album's brilliant. This is a rare case when Elton sticks to his schlocky style - and yet doesn't make it either banal or ultra-pretentious. The lyrics are very well crafted, with no real hints at misogyny (well, 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight' that tells the story of Elton's break-up with his fiancee could be deemed misogynistic, but it could as well be just deemed autobiographic), but stuffed with brilliant lines like 'Jesus don't save the guys in the tower of Babel'. And the songs really make you feel at home: from the opening acoustic chords of the title track to the grandiose fade-out on 'Curtains', there's that quiet, relaxed, introspective feel with no falling into cheap sentimentality or lounge-style false emotions. If anything, this is Elton & Bernie's class paper on philosophy - and, if I may permit myself the audacity, they get an excellent mark from me. It's no big surprise, that, even if the record was a massive hit for Elton and, as far as I know, was the first record in pop music history to debut in the charts under # 1, there are practically no known classics on here. All right, 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight' was a major hit and is always included on compilations and all, but it's usually not the thing that you readily associate with the name 'Elton John'. A pity, that, because the song is better than quite a few other radio standards: for one, it has the most breathtaking, mesmerizing vocal harmonies you'd ever meet on an Elton record ('Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me' comes close, but this is still better), and the melody is no slouch, either: for a song whose message reads 'get out of my life', it's pretty monumental. But apart from that one, you hardly know anything else if you're not seriously into Elton. For my money, there's not a single bad cut on the whole album: just a few weak ones, scattered among the solid, complicated gems. The title track might seem to break all the rules of melody to you, but it's interesting to watch it grow and develop from a folkie acoustic ditty to a full-fledged rockin' anthem. 'Tower Of Babel', then, is the forgotten gem on here: the song's depressed, pessimistic feel is paired with a wonderfully 'hooked' chorus ('Jesus don't save the guys...'), and once you've figured what the song is about, it'll probably move you to tears. 'Bitter Fingers' is a strangely joyful, upbeat pop rocker a little reminiscent of stuff like 'Elderberry Wine' but better, due to a more careful production. 'Tell Me When The Whistle Blows' isn't my piece of cake: it's essentially a country rocker whose original country feel has been substituted by swooping (or sweeping, if you like that one better) orchestration that works much better on 'Philadelphia Freedom'. And '(Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket' works where 'Saturday Night' failed: a heavy rocker, err, well, maybe not exactly heavy, but it does have quite a bit of distorted guitarwork and a funky, blood-heating bassline. The excellent solo in the middle is way less generic and more exciting than on 'Saturday Night' as well, and the lyrics? Hoo boy, now don't get me started about 'Saturday Night' again; 'Meal Ticket' has a far more interesting message to offer. Then there's the strange, stuttering beat of the march-ey 'Better Off Dead' - be sure to check out that ridiculous drumming. 'Waiting' is a slight letdown, a cute but tossed-off ballad; and then, yet another highlight - the gorgeous 'We All Fall In Love Sometimes'. It's very McCartney-esque, in fact, it recalls me of some later days Paul ballads like 'Twice In A Lifetime' (and it also served as a blueprint for the inferior 'Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word'); but never mind Paul - every aspect of this song is wonderful: the gentle piano chords, the magnificent twists in Elton's voice, the soft, contemplative, depressing guitar solo, and that falsetto in the refrain - 'w-e-e-e-e all fa-a-a-all in love...' Finally, the album closes with 'Curtains' where Elton again uses the trick he'd already essayed on 'All The Nasties' - an overlong, pompous, 'Hey Jude'-esque coda. But while it didn't seem to work on 'Nasties', here he seems to have striken gold: a beautiful, even if a little lethargic, symphonic sound, complete with bells and perfect vocal harmonies, and a decent 'curtain' for the record. I don't really know why I spent so much time describing every song to you - what the heck of a difference does it make? In fact, you might as well just get away with the first two sentences! Wasting time and web space, that's what I'm doing. But I have an excuse: I just wanted to let you see that I really, really, really enjoy this album, primarily because it's so far from being 'generic' and routine. If you're in a good mood for lots of slow songs, go ahead. And do not forget that the new CD release also features three worthy bonus tracks. Elton's version of 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds', recorded together with Lennon himself, is painfully overlong (it about doubles the length of the original), but still a good laugh, and I especially enjoy the silly reggae interpretation of the chorus in the middle. By the way, John himself admitted to liking Elton's cover better than the original - a darn good tooter he was, wasn't he? Then there's Elton's cover of Lennon's solo number 'One Day At A Time', this time definitely better than the original (see here for the reasons), and yet another hit single - the orchestrated, upbeat 'Philadelphia Freedom' that used to be my favourite Elton John song. Well, it isn't any more, but it's still better than McDonalds. I don't know if I would be that free in Philadelphia, but if the song were to be composed two and a quarter centuries ago, there's no doubt about it becoming the American anthem. And see how Elton was obsessed with more or less the same gimmicks at the time? The orchestration of 'Tell Me When The Whistle Blows' gets reprised in 'Freedom', and the bells in 'Lucy' seem to be taken directly from 'Curtains'! What's that, Elton finally running out of creative ideas?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Elton's most rocking album ever, although there's hardly any classic tracks on here.Best song: YELL HELP
Track listing: 1) Yell Help/Wednesday Night/Ugly; 2) Dan Dare (Pilot Of The Future); 3) Island Girl; 4) Grow Some Funk Of Your Own; 5) I Feel Like A Bullet (In The Gun Of Robert Ford); 6) Street Kids; 7) Hard Luck Story; 8) Feed Me; 9) Billy Bones And The White Bird.
Elton might seem predictable to some, but a deeper look into his output will show that the development of his career, at least until he fell into a complete MOR lethargy, usually took place in leaps and curbs. Thus, there's the case of the mainstream poppy Don't Shoot Me... in between two of his most introspective and serious records. And, of course, there's the case of Rock Of The Westies, an album absolutely unimaginable when one takes into consideration the fact that it's sandwiched in between a piano-based conceptual album and a piano-based boring pop album.From a historical point of view, Rock Of The Westies is an anomaly and a throwaway. For starters, it's as atypical of Elton as possible: out of the nine songs on the album, only one - ONE - is a piano-based ballad in the traditional style. Most of the other songs are heavily leaning on gruff guitar sound, courtesy of the returning Caleb Quaye, and rock along as mercilessly and sincerely as anything Elton had ever done. Some of these 'rockers' are exaggerated and more or less trashy, in the vein of 'Saturday Night's Alright', but others are really interesting and even memorable - after a couple of listens. But whatever be, if there ever was a record on which Elton arrived and laid claim to the title of 'rocker', it was Rock Of The Westies. Critics usually don't rate Rock particularly high, and it's understood: the record was somewhat rushed out after the obviously superior Captain Fantastic, and in comparison to that record, all the material on here is extremely lightweight and insignificant. The melodies are less intricate, the lyrics far less compelling and often dumb (Taupin probably wrote all of them over one drunken session), and even the cover photo hints at something simplistic and easily accessible - after all, you don't have to spend such a lot of time analyzing Elton's unshaved face as you had to do with Captain's grandiose painting. Indeed, the moment is crucial - starting from Rock Of The Westies, it's hardly possible to take Elton as a Serious Artist. But one can look at it from another side as well: just as the Rolling Stones lost a lot of their grittiness and actuality around the same time, so Elton had equally fizzled out as a creative person with some valid artistic philosophy to share with the listener. On the other hand, this doesn't mean that the music the Stones or Elton went on making was no longer enjoyable: it certainly was, it just never had the same emotional impact on your mind and senses. And this makes me grieve oh so much, because THIS is the direction that Elton could have taken for the rest of his career: the function of a braggard, sloppy, misogynistic entertainer with not a lot of things to say but with at least a lot of sincerity and, you know, the 'genuine' feel about him. Because, whatever you might say, Rock is not a sell-out; Blue Moves, the disaster that followed and that defined his sound for the next twenty-five years, is. If only Elton had stayed closer to this style, he could have survived as a second-rate rock performer, not as a third-rate Cheesy Popmeister... then again, history knows no 'ifs', right? All right, let's quickly run through the songs on here now. The obligatory 'epic ballad' on here is quite nice, but, strange enough, it's the most generic of the performances, sounding more like a cross between 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' and 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight'. So, apart from the hilarious title ('I Feel Like A Bullet (In The Gun Of Robert Ford)') which could easily suit a Mark Prindle song, I think, there's really nothing special about it. Concentrate on the rockier numbers, please, after all, that's what the album title implies. Out of these, 'Island Girl' was the biggest hit single (number one, of course), and it's an interesting, hook-full song with more of Elton's amazing falsetto (I simply can't understand the way the man utilizes his voice - he seems to pick out the ideal combination of notes and tonalities for every number he's doing); but even more interesting are the two songs that open the album. 'Yell Help' is guitar-dominated, with Caleb Quaye kicking off a splendid riff and Elton complementing him with a superb vocal melody. It meanders through several different, complex sections, and the final part of the song, where the band suddenly takes a deep breath and a flashy synth pattern sets the scene for the fast, energetic coda, will have you gasping for breath. And the slightly funkier 'Dan Dare (Pilot Of The Future)' has Elton sporting a ridiculously raunchy, dirty vocal tone that's perfectly matched by the gurgling, Eno-ish synths and Caleb's weird wah-wah tone. The lyrics are absolutely ununderstandable, but maybe it's better that way. The section where Elton roars out 'Dan Dare doesn't know it he doesn't know it he doesn't know it he doesn't know it...' works brilliantly - you can take it as a silly parody on funk, if you wish. Other interesting songs include the metallic magnum opus 'Street Kids', where Taupin tackles the problems of gang warfare, and the album closing 'Billy Bones And The White Bird', a song that takes the most generic and banal thing in the world, namely, the Bo Diddley beat, and proceeds to work wonders with it: Caleb adopts a heavily distorted tone, Roger Pope drums like a powerhouse and Elton (or his sidekick, keyboardist James Newton Howard) adds a solemn synth pattern that completely transforms the Diddley trademark into something original and unheard before. The endless 'check it out, check it out, check it out' in the refrain does sometimes get on my nerves, though. There's just about a couple disappointments on here - I've never liked 'Grow Some Funk Of Your Own', for instance, Elton and Bernie's stupid reply to Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Gimme Three Steps', and also the endless beer-rock pattern gets a bit thin near the end, with 'Hard Luck Story' being more or less in the same vein as 'Street Kids' which it immediately follows and all that stuff. However, this is a record that really grows on you after repeated listenings, and even if there's hardly anything spectacular about all this, after a while even the starchest Elton anti-fan will be won over by these tunes. I s'ppose. I may be wrong. The UK CD re-issue which is the one I have adds only one bonus track - Elton's famous duet with Kiki Dee on the discoish 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart'. I find the song rather cute, not as annoying as some would put it, but it's not as if I really cling on to it or something. Bah. Apparently the US reissue has two more tracks, but that one I don't have. So sorry.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Tonsa fun to be had, but too much professionalism hurts sometimes.Best song: well, that whole Lennon bit is priceless!
Track listing: CD I: 1) Skyline Pigeon; 2) Border Song; 3) Take Me To The Pilot; 4) Country Comfort; 5) Love Song; 6) Bad Side Of The Moon; 7) Burn Down The Mission; 8) Honky Cat; 9) Crocodile Rock; 10) Candle In The Wind; 11) Your Song; 12) Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting).CD II: 1) Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding; 2) Rocket Man; 3) Take Me To The Pilot; 4) Bennie And The Jets; 5) Grey Seal; 6) Daniel; 7) You're So Static; 8) Whatever Gets You Thru The Night; 9) Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds; 10) I Saw Her Standing There; 11) Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me; 12) Your Song; 13) The Bitch Is Back.
Almost warranted a nine from me, but then I realized it's not as treasurable as 11-17-70 anyway, so count this as a Godzilla-level strong eight with nonafying tendencies. Yeah. Anyway, this is one of those (live) albums that have had the fortune to, over time, mutate into a completely different, and much stronger, entity, like Live At Leeds. The 'here' and 'there', both in the original one-LP version and this here remastered 2-CD version, refer to two different concerts that provide the bulk of the recordings: one at the Royal Albert Hall in May '74, a benefit show for the Invalid Children's Aid Society ("here"), and the other one at the Madison Square Garden in November of the same year ("there"). The original LP just had about five songs from each show, and from the looks of the old track listing, looked pretty dull, nothing more than the result of a contractual obligation to Dick James Music.But this new re-issue - yoohoo, now we're talking. Two CDs, each with a seventy minute running time, which more than triple the original's length - something truly unprecedented, I guess, as far as reissues go. I guess that the two shows aren't complete anyway, because there's almost no overlap in the setlists (the only tunes to be performed twice are 'Take Me To The Pilot', which is justifiable due to a radical "harder" rearrangement of the Madison Square version, and 'Your Song', which is not really justifiable, but at least it's a short - and good - number!), but they do feel like complete concerts when you put on the record. Of course, the bad news is that mid-Seventies live Elton John is seriously different from the whizzy whirly adrenaline-bursting piano god of 11-17-70. There's a big backing band (at one point in Madison Square, Elton actually brings in the Muscle Shoals brass section!), which often drowns out the man's singing and playing. There's probably a lot of flamboyance and glam stuff and coloured spectacles going on, which I can't see, but can definitely feel because throughout, Elton is much more reserved than on his previous live album. No jumping out of the chair for any of these songs. Even the fast piano bits have something of an 'academic' flair to 'em. And while he never really hits any bum notes, he doesn't raise half as much excitement as before with his unique voice. The main compensating factor is the hugeness of the setlist - okay, some songs are minor disappointments, others are not. The first concert, in fact, is 'conceptual': it's Elton giving a retrospective performance, kind of like a short "crash course" in Elton John history up to that point. So he begins solo with 'Skyline Pidgeon' and 'Border Song', then has the band slowly joining him in order of their real chronological appearance. Again, the problem is that too many of these early songs were present on 11-17-70, and that hurts: 'Take Me To The Pilot' has too much by-the-book guitar to let us concentrate on the rock'n'roll piano, and the whiny 'take me! take me! take me!' in the coda are pathetic compared to the vocal blasts of yore. It's not like these are bad performances, they're just lacking the necessary flame. Same with 'Bad Side Of The Moon' and 'Burn Down The Mission'. On the positive side, the Lesley Duncan duet on 'Love Song' is charming; 'Honky Cat' vastly benefits from a hilarious Ray Cooper 'duck call' solo, which some might find juvenile and offensive, but hey, if you think nothing juvenile belongs in an Elton John song, you probably choose an incorrect approach towards the guy in the first place; 'Crocodile Rock', on the other hand, tones down the "obnoxiousness" of the falsetto scatting, so you might like it better than the studio version; and 'Saturday Night's Alright' is definitely better than the studio version, kicking some real ass without slick overproduction. The real meat, I think, lies in the Madison Square concert anyway. No better way to kick off the proceedings than with a rip-roaring 'Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding', which just throws the studio original out the window. Davey Johnstone's guitar rocks the roof off the house, and it's obvious that the newer the material is, the more fun Elton has performing it. 'Bennie And The Jets', 'Grey Seal', 'Daniel', 'Rocket Man', and 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me' are done by the book, I guess, but all of these are at least just as enjoyable as the originals. But the best thing of all is the three numbers in the middle of the show where Elton is joined onstage by John Lennon - John's last known live performance ever, actually. For those who are not aware of the legend, John joined Elton because of a lost bet: Elton bet him that 'Whatever Gets You Thru The Night', which they worked on together, would make it to #1, John took the bet and lost it, and thus there he was! They do 'Whatever Gets You Thru The Night', sure enough (great, tremendously inspired version with outstanding brass work from the Muscle Shoals - I was very much afraid they wouldn't be able to, or wouldn't want to try and catch the excitement of the saxophone parts on the studio version, but fortunately I was wrong); then they run through Elton's own slow-moving adaptation of 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds', which is a bit tedious but still exciting in places; and finally, go out with a bang playing 'I Saw Her Standing There', which admittedly is Elton's favourite Beatles song or something. It's a total gas to hear Elton and Lennon duet on that number, I tell you. To recapitulate, this reissue Here And There is primarily enjoyable for its historical importance, but it's not like anything on here is unlistenable. Just lower your expectations a bit - only about a third of these tracks will put you in rock'n'roll heaven. But hey, a third of these tracks is, like, worth a whole LP! So think of it as one great LP (not the lame original LP) and a whole enormous bunch of second-rate, but listenable bonus tracks. There you have it!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8
And dull blue moves at that - a marking-time album which is one step down from everything he did best.Best song: SORRY SEEMS TO BE THE HARDEST WORD
Track listing: 1) Your Starter For; 2) Tonight; 3) One Horse Town; 4) Chameleon; 5) Boogie Pilgrim; 6) Cage The Songbird; 7) Crazy Water; 8) Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word; 9) Between Seventeen And Twenty; 10) Someone's Final Song; 11) Where's The Shoorah?; 12) If There's A God In Heaven (What's He Waiting For?); 13) Idol; 14) Theme From A Non-Existent TV Series; 15) Bite Your Lip (Get Up And Dance!).
Yay yay yay, if you're searching for a mediocre Elton John album, go no further. Every note, every crack on this record seems to breathe 'mediocrity' out of every hole: there's little or nothing truly offensive, but are there any high points? Where?Well, I guess I don't need to explain to music lovers how one can find Elton John songs boring: if you're not used to the general style of his piano wanking and rambling, loose balladeering, you'll probably only want to hear a bunch of Elton 'rockers' like 'Saturday Night', 'Crocodile Rock', etc., or, if your tastes are way ahead of this stuff, you'll find comfort in songs like 'Take Me To The Pilot'. Or you just might hate all this stuff without exceptions, like many people do. Now me, I thought I'd outgrown this phase (and yes, I really think Honky Chateau is Elton's best, even if it's one of the slowest), but turns out I was wrong, since this here record is able to bore even me to sleep. It's hard, though, to define the exact flaws it's suffering from. Most of the songs here, when taken individually, have certain merits of their own, and I can't name even one selection that would make me vomit or curse a-loudly. But the way they all cling onto one another, driving you through two whole LP's to the point of absolute exhaustion, really wears on you. Think of this album as a step down from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - like a faithful copy of that one, but without the spectacular quality of the first disc. The whole album is like that picture on the cover - blue, lifeless and totally vague. There are no new creative ideas; no crazy experimentation; no catchy 50's throwbacks (well, 'Idol' is certainly a 50's throwback, but just as certainly not a catchy one); there's not even an eyebrow-raising concept, like that of Captain Fantastic. Essentially, it's just Elton whining about the same problems that he'd always been whining about and endlessly recycling the old melodies. Perhaps one single problem of this album lies in its overall slowness - not just slowness, there's some strange lethargic feeling about most of the tracks. For good measure, he throws in a couple of 'rockers', but they're just as lifeless as everything else. It's strange, because he doesn't overabuse the formula, like he did on 'Saturday Night': 'One Horse Town' boogies along steadily, just like a song about a one horse town should boogie, and the album closing 'Bite Your Lip (Get Up And Dance)', though mercilessly overlong, is certainly a call to do just that and nothing more. But both of them sound pathetic and dull, with energy only being simulated - for comparison, throw on any of the old rockers of yore like 'The Cage' or even 'Empty Sky' and see for yourself. Overproduction? Lack of ideas? Self-repetitiveness? Who knows? This stuff is for diehards only. The mid-tempo numbers, like the highly unmemorable mock-country-western 'Boogie Pilgrim' and the rip-off-ey 'Crazy Water' (yeah, I'm pretty sure he rehashes some older hit, though I can't say exactly which one... aw hell, they all sound alike), don't ascend to much either. So, weird as it is, one has only to find consolation in the ballads. Come to think of it, it's only natural: the album's so lifeless, gray (er, blue, was it?) and melancholy, that the ballads seem to fit the mood nicely, quite unlike the rockers which sound as if made on order. In fact, the first lyrics on the album pretty much define the entire stuff: 'Tonight/ Do we have to fight again/ Tonight/ I just wanna go to sleep'. Elton is tired, tired of life, tired of his music, tired of his little soddy friend and his washed-up gang of musicians - and you can hear it everywhere. 'Tonight' is actually quite pretty; taken without the pretentious and utterly dismissable orchestrated intro, it's one of his best and most poignant ballads of the period. So is 'Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word'; the song might have been overplayed, and it might be considered sappy, pappy, or crappy, but I don't care because it's beautiful either way - one of the simplest and most effective melodies Elton has ever committed to tape, and his singing has never been better. If that wonderful falsetto twist on the last line of the song doesn't melt your heart, you're a dead man and probably always were. A couple more ballads try to approach the level of these two gems, but fail somewhere in the middle - 'Chameleon' sounds nice until you realize you've heard it all before, and the preachy 'If There's A God In Heaven' is probably the only song on the album that has some real force: Elton tries to pull a Stevie Wonder and addresses the Almighty in person with the request to end the world's problems, and despite the completely predictable lyrics (Bernie, Bernie, what were you thinkin' about?), it works - maybe not despite of, but just because of Elton's pissed state. And I'll even go as far as to put up a word of appraisal for the most ridiculous song on the album, the gospelish fodder 'Where's The Shoorah?', just because of the incredible vocal harmonies and a great, unpredictable verse structure. What the hell is a Shoorah anyway? But that's about it. The other songs are absolutely worthless, especially the pointless, late-Jethro-Tull-like instrumentals like 'Theme From A Non-Existent TV Series' and suchlike. And the lame jazz stylization 'Idol', which is supposed to be dedicated to ancient jazz heroes, turns out to be nothing but a self-deprecative complaint: 'He was an idol then, now he's an idol here/But his face has changed, he's not the same no more/And I have to say that I like the way his music sounded before' - c'mon, you want to tell me that these lines are not about Elton John? Ha! Come now, I say! Screw this album if you're not a diehard! Or buy it if you're angry at the whole world or just deeply depressed and need somebody to share his depression with you. Oh, I just forgot to tell you that I have a special edition of this crap - a one-CD version that omits a couple of songs. They might be good, but I doubt it. Anyway, this is not a sufficient reason for me to go and shell out loads of dough for two more songs. Now if only somebody climbed in my window late at night and stole my one-CD version! Can you imagine such an idiot???
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Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9
A few last gaps of brilliance among a sea of lacklustre balladeering and uninspired rockers.Best song: SONG FOR GUY
Track listing: 1) Shine On Through; 2) Return To Paradise; 3) I Don't Care; 4) Big Dipper; 5) It Ain't Gonna Be Easy; 6) Part Time Love; 7) Georgia; 8) Shooting Star; 9) Madness; 10) Reverie; 11) Song For Guy.
Yeeeehaaaaw! Elton's Landmark Big Breakthrough Record... in the Soviet Union. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a little cultural fact: this was one of the first British rock records ever to be released in the USSR somewhere around 1979, and Elton even gave a half-secret concert in Moscow soon afterwards (which my parents were able to visit, believe it or not - don't ask me how the hell it could happen, 'cause I'd bet you anything getting a ticket for an Elton John concert in Moscow in 1979 was about as hard as getting a ticket to New York). Anyway, this record marks the big arrival of Elton John on the Russian scene... nah, let's get serious.Unfortunately, while the album's release here was such a big cultural landmark, back in Elton's homeland and that big protectorate of Britain called the United States of America (ha! ha! a little political provocation once in a while won't hurt anybody!) this record never really made any serious impact, and it's easy to see why. On one hand, there seems to have been huge changes made in between 1976 and 1978. Apparently, Elton realised that his songwriting had gone stale, so he decided a little fresh blood wouldn't be bad - and ended up firing everybody, starting from his trusty backing band, Caleb Quaye and all, and ending right with his faithful songwriter - most of the lyrics on the album are written by outsider Gary Osbourne, and it shows, since they're all pretty straightforward. On the other hand, I just don't really notice any big changes from Blue Moves. Sure, there's a bunch of exceptionally qualified material on here, but there's also plenty of dull filler, and I only raise the rating one point for two reasons: first, there's 'Song For Guy', and second, the album is a single one (although it's still horrendously long - c'mon, over fifty minutes?), which means it's much easier to sit through. Apparently, the problem was not in the backing band and the problem was not in Bernie - the problem was that Elton squeezed out everything he could possibly squeeze out of himself, and virtually emptied the barrel of his style. In fact, the album starts out in a near-disaster that almost predicts another Blue Moves and worse: two deadly boring ballads ('Shine On Through' and 'Return To Paradise') that, once again, add nothing to his legacy. Okay, 'Return To Paradise' has a vague Latino feel, with its South American rhythms, maracas, classical guitar stylings, trumpet, and generic backing vocals, but is it good? It's entirely pro forma. And 'Shine On Through' isn't even pro forma, it's just annoying. Tries to emulate the 'classic' style, but bases itself on about a couple piano chords and oversentimental vocals, no, leave it to rot alone. Actually, there's not a single ballad on this album I'd call enlightening: the stupid Southern anthem 'Georgia' was probably written on purpose before one of Elton's tours through the U.S. south. God bless Georgia, of course, but why do it in such a banal, overblown way? The song might have made a fine anthem for the state during the Civil War, but consequently it's about a hundred and forty years dated. And the romantic, saxophone-drenched 'Shooting Star' is a beautiful precursor to some of Elton's most vicious rubbish in the Eighties; at least, it doesn't boast ultraslick modernistic production, but then again, there was none in 1978. I remember an interview given by Elton somewhere in which he said that he never found trouble in writing songs like 'Your Song', with these large bunches of piano chords thrown together as opposed to the minimalistic approach of guitar-based songs. Well, turns out that A Single Man disproves that remark of his: most of his piano ballads here just don't work anyway, while the more rhythmic, few-chords-based numbers turn out to be relatively strong. The anti-war pathos of 'Madness', for instance, might not be a great thing, but it sounds sincere, and there's enough energy to make this one of his finest rockers of the late Seventies. And it's far less generic than 'Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting', at least. Then there's one of his catchiest pop ditties of the epoch - 'Part Time Love', a silly'n'stupid song about how everybody's got a part time love and the best thing to do is to face the fact with patience. Hmm. Well, it still has a great melody and is easily the second best on here. And there are some nice strings in the song, for sure... by the way, Paul Buckmeister is doing his last job on this album. In a while. What else? Well, there are four more songs here which I really like. The other two 'rockers' are not great, but they're just a lot of harmless, inoffensive fun: 'I Don't Care' is a jolly, memorable pop rocker about Elton having holes in his shoes, while 'Big Dipper' is a smutty mid-tempo jazz shuffle with a light touch of misogyny that seems to borrow the vibe from Elton's earliest period: he intentionally strips down the arrangements and carries his bloozy piano chords and vocals right up to the front - a thing that's always welcome. In fact, substitute the lyrics for something more clever than 'he's got his own big dipper and he won't be needing yours' and the song could have easily fit onto Elton John. Yyyyesss! And finally, we get the overlong, puffed-up unhappy-love anthem in 'It Ain't Gonna Be Easy', a song I ought to be despising but which I love instead. I realize that Elton is just paying a large tribute to Motown on it, but something tells me there's more to it than the standard soul groove. His singing here is the best on the whole record, and the way he carries on the lengthy coda strikes some chords in me that no Motown singer(ine) could ever strike. Which means I'm ready to forgive him this damn lengthy coda. And that's it. Oh. Yes. The record ends in another seven-minute long epic: the beautiful, simply gorgeous 'Reverie/Song For Guy'. Now I don't care if somebody complains that it's much too repetitive and mindnumbing. Yes, I fully realize that it's built on just two or three musical phrases that keep being repeated over and over for ages. But first of all, these phrases are wonderful, one of the simplest, yet most emotionally resonant harmonies Elton ever wrote. And second, it's wrong that they're just repetitive: there's a wonderfully arranged crescendo throughout the song, with percussion, synths and orchestra coming in and going out at just the right minutes. The effect is indeed symphonic, and beyond all description. I can admit that cutting the song by a couple of minutes probably wouldn't hurt, but it wouldn't do much good, either. That's my final and definite opinion. I take this song, with its motto 'Life is a delicate thing', as the logical conclusion to Elton's magnificent musical heritage, as the suitable swan song to his best years, indeed, a swan song that's extremely hard to surpass. He had clearly outlived his style and this, in a certain sense, is his 'Farewell To The First Golden Era'. Now if only he had retired after this album! Boy, things could have been much better. As everybody knows, having outlived his style, Elton got a new one and the first thing he did was to record Victim Of Love - an album I never heard and wouldn't want to because I haven't heard anything about it except that it's a shitty mess of slick, unimaginative disco tunes with no variety or style at all. And from then on, well... Maybe someday I'll get around to reviewing some of his better (maybe even worse) Eighties and Nineties records, but they're not too high on my priorities right now. A Single Man must be taken as the logical conclusion to his recording career, with just a handful of great or decent songs afterwards.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 6
I still don't believe this album exists. It must have been a bad disco dream. Must cut down on Travolta fandom.Best song: JOHNNY B. GOODE
Track listing: 1) Johnny B. Goode; 2) Warm Love Cold World; 3) Born Bad; 4) Thunder In The Night; 5) Spotlight; 6) Street Boogie; 7) Victim Of Love.
Is this a sick joke or something? I mean, it's really hard to believe it wasn't. Throw this record out of the Elton John chronology and you ain't missing one friggin' weak link - it has nothing in common whatsoever with any of his other albums. What happened here is that Elton, maybe after having one too many, dumped all of his usual collaborators, flew off to Munich and there, with the assistance of Pete Bellotte (Donna Summer's [in]famous producer), recorded an album of seven long disco tunes, none of which - get this - were even written by himself, all being Bellotte's creations with the exception of 'Johnny B. Goode'.Not being well-read on the subject, I don't know if it was merely a "fun" experiment by Elton, something of a half-pleasant diversion from his usually serious work, or if he was really treading water in this matter and seeing if he could successfully continue in the same direction. Thankfully, Victim Of Love was an absolute commercial wreck (and I can see why - not many of Elton's enormous fanbase would stoop down to something like this, while for disco fans there was plenty of material available from guys and gals who were better at it), so up to this day it remains as the 'pathetic oddball record' of Elton's career, so unbelievably, so proverbially bad that Elton's reputation seems to have never fully recovered from this blow. The album gets a three and not a one for one reason only - I actually find that goofy version of 'Johnny B. Goode' somewhat of a guilty pleasure. I mean, taking the quintessential rock'n'roll tune and transforming it into a lengthy harmless disco drone is like the ultimate joke or something. You could use the terms "parody" here, or "mockery", or "deconstruction", whatever you like, the fact is, it's very easy to get a good laugh out of it, cheesy saxophone solos and all, even if eight minutes do seem a bit overlong even for me. The hideous thing that you only realize later (and it's better to try not to realize it at all) is that in the context of the album, this 'goof' isn't really meant to be a goof at all. It's like a "reinterpretation" instead. You're still supposed to dance to it, only this time, in the safety and comfort of a sleazy disco hall. If it's a parody - then why are all these other songs so doggone "serious"? And atrocious. They all run together, every one of them, according to the disco rule of "don't stop till you drop" - the only pause is in between the two sides of the record, and they all suck. Now I'm not denying that they have vocal hooks out there, sometimes even solid ones, although I have to question myself if that's not really a false impression, only due to the fact that every chorus gets repeated, like, a million times per song. 'Warm Love In A Cold World' and the title track have particularly, uhm, 'well-written' vocal melodies, and some of the others, I think, could also be salvaged to a degree. But it's not the lack of vocal hooks that keeps annoying me most of all. It's the atmosphere - the atmosphere of typical disco fodder, where everything is supposed to work as long as it has a danceable rhythm. Even trashy, vomit-inducing teen-pop synth-riffs like the one used in 'Thunder In The Night'. And, of course, the realization - the awful realization - that a guy like Elton John, who once had had more personality in any given one song than a swarm of surrounding rock bands, is willingly letting go of his personality in such a trashy way. He doesn't play anything (not that it's important - anybody could play that simplistic keyboard stuff), and his singing is absolutely perfunctory. Well, I mean, he sings, but he doesn't ever bother to modulate his voice in an interesting way. It's like he wasn't really interested in the project in the first place (so why start it at all?), or else he was just convinced that disco only works when you become a faceless slave to it - and so, of his pure will, decided to metamorphose into this faceless slave. And actually, when he is trying to convey a certain kind of 'emotions', it comes off even worse. The title track is supposed to be all complaintive and sad, but it's actually merely dorky and sleazy, so have your bathroom ready before they step into the chorus. 'Born Bad' is pseudo-introspective, but it's in fact just an equal load of bullshit. Look, I'm not even an ardent "white disco"-hater. I dig the Bee Gees and ABBA all right. Their greatest achievements were not in the disco genre, but at the very least, when stepping into disco, they bothered to carve themselves some kid of personality. Nobody could out-stayin'-alive the Bee Gees, just as nobody could out-lay-all-your-love-on-me ABBA. The Bee Gees were flashy, endearing, and sexy; ABBA wrote amazing melodies. Pete Bellotte hardly seems to be writing any melodies, and if there's any flash or sexiness or whatever-else about Elton on this record, lemme hear it. The album cover really says it all: the attitude on the songs is about as plain as Elton's face on it. Then again, I'm not sure I even need to justify my stance on the record - I have yet to meet anyone who appreciates it (well, of course, I can always find some weird guys giving it five stars on Amazon.com, I guess, but they're all clones of Leisure Suit Larry anyway). So just forget it. Toss it out. Pretend it never really happened. Elton sure did.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1981
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9
Typical for late Elton: some gems meshed in with lots of annoying filler.Best song: BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS
Track listing: 1) Breaking Down Barriers; 2) Heart In The Right Place; 3) Just Like Belgium; 4) Nobody Wins; 5) Fascist Faces; 6) Carla; 7) Heels Of The Wind; 8) Elton's Song; 9) The Fox.
Certainly not all that bad for Elton's late period, but not all that memorable, either. Simply put, the album is too long, and the share of material that could supposedly be treasured is too low. But that's the big problem with late Elton, right? Late Elton works far better on compilations... although you'd be hard pressed to find a compilation that would include anything from The Fox, since the album was a commercial flop and Elton's compilations always rely exclusively on the number of copies a particular single sold on release. Heh heh, so much for a commercial orientation.Anyway, The Fox is definitely not up to John's highest standards, but it's miles away from his total decline in the mid-Eighties, either. I was, in fact, surprised when I put it on, expecting more disco and watery ballads and crap like that, but I found nothing of the kind... okay, I found something of the kind, but not much. A couple classics, a bunch of pleasant filler, and a bunch of obnoxious triteness - what Elton diehard wouldn't appreciate that? Considering, though, that I din't have to pay much for the record, I have no reason to complain. Let's see what we got here. First of all, I absolutely love the album opener, the upbeat rocker 'Breaking Down Barriers' (collaboration with Gary Osbourne again). It's obviously a throwback to 'classic era' Elton John rockers, and a good one, with nice vocal hooks and a wonderful optimistic feel to the melody, until towards the end it all comes together in a glorious climax of powerful orchestration background, blistering piano arpeggios and melancholic falsettos and the song suddenly turns head over heels and goes from optimistic to gloomy. This change of mood is not something you'd easily encounter on an Elton John album, right? There you go. Shell out your bucks now. The martial, pompous, stern bombast of 'Fascist Faces' also recalls classic Elton John for a moment, but the tune seems way too drawn out for me - it's not that the melody is particularly great or something, it's just that Elton and Bernie are making a huge social statement and they want us to know it. Well, it's kinda amusing and all, but frankly speaking, I'm not too keen on huge social statements outcoming from Elton John in 1981. Gimme melody or get outta here. Well, so what did I say? He gave me one more groovy upbeat rocker in 'Heels Of The Wind'! Hmm... I wonder... I think it's some kind of self-rip-off... from 'Philadelphia Freedom', mayhaps? Yeah, that's it! Well, it's passable anyway, and it leads into the wonderful, 'confessional' 'Elton's Song', where it's just Elton and his piano and some superficial orchestral arrangements. He does sound a bit tired on that one, but perhaps that's the point. Just one of those innocent little ballads that you don't think much of on first listen, but then they hit you as some kind of formerly lost gem. And hey, it's just three minutes long. Unlike the title track, which is also drawn out but which is also quite good. The echoey Eaglesy harmonica in the beginning sure draws you in ("okay, this is gonna be something sentimental and tear-jerking"), and the song itself seems as if it were almost some kind of long-lost outtake from the Honky Chateau sessions - same kind of mid-tempo upbeat country rocker with great energy and feeling, highlighted by a great (okay, not great... good) vocal delivery. How do you describe an Elton John country rocker, I wonder? Atmospheric? Hope-giving? Uplifting? Cathartic? Spiritual? Geez, the lexicon is so dang limited. I don't have anything in particular to say about the other tracks, though. There's exactly one number on here that makes me irk, and even that one is the corny Eurodisco trash of 'Nobody Wins', a song that's hardly possible to love - yeah, well, I'm pretty sure that somebody in this world thinks it's the greatest song ever written, but then again, some people find pleasure in banging their heads against brick walls, too. Tastes are tastes, so who am I to judge? I won't be condemning a perfectly generic blues number like 'Heart In The Right Place' (granted, it's interesting to hear Elton offer his take on the blues... or maybe not so interesting). I won't be condemning a perfectly generic two-three-chord popper 'Just Like Belgium' with a particular lyrical low for Bernie... isn't it weird that English-speaking people just can't write decent lyrics when it comes 'round to tackling the matters of French-speaking people? Linguistic incompatibility, I guess. Anyway, I won't even be condemning a perfectly generic attempt at penning something classical like 'Carla/Etude', and I won't even be condemning such a perfectly generic ballad as 'Chloe'. I just won't be listening to them that often, now will I? I mean, what the heck - this record should have sold more in 1981. A guy goes into the studio, records a few good songs, buries them among generic, but solidly written multi-genre pap and makes an album that has only one offensive track. And nobody buys it? Noooo, they're too busy buying stuff like Phil Collins' Face Value, I suppose. Oh wait a sec... Face Value is Phil's best solo album (granted, it has its share of absolute shit, but so does All Things Must Pass). Hmm... okay, I won't be blasting down anyone. I guess there were just too many records made in 1981 and nobody needed another generic one. Too bad.
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