Friday, January 28, 2011

CD Odyssey Disc 232: Elton John

Today, Sheila cleaned up the computer room and it looks great! Consequently I'm typing this review with a serene mind that comes when you declutter a room. It's like a warm bath for my gulliver!

Disc 232 is...Madman Across the Water
Artist: Elton John

Year of Release: 1971

What’s Up With The Cover?: Sometimes simple is better, and this is one of those times. I think this cover is not only self-explanatory, it is positively informative. I even like the colour palate.

How I Came To Know It: Apart from the big AM radio hit, "Tiny Dancer" I didn't know this record. This is another of Sheila's buys when she did a bit of a run on Elton John.

How It Stacks Up: We have four Elton John studio albums, all bought around the same time. I would say that "Madman Across The Water" opened its heart to me first, for which I'm thankful, but as time has gone on it has slipped slightly. I'll put it third.

Rating: 3 stars.

This early Elton John stuff keeps surprising me pleasantly. I often associated Elton John with the stuff he was doing in the eighties (like "I'm Still Standing" and "Sad Songs"). It was a negative association.

By contrast, these early albums are very good. Very folksy pop, that are artfully produced. I very much enjoyed the artful use of string sections - particularly on the timeless hit, "Tiny Dancer" which I used to mock, but I now have to admit into my guilty pleasures list.

Other standouts include "Indian Sunset" and "Holiday Inn" both side two treasures.

"Indian Sunset" is yet another song showing the British fascination for the colonization of North America. When Sheila and I visited there in 1996, I was amazed how often TV would feature some show about First Nations. My very non-researched impression is that North Americans find wild west tales most interesting, whereas British singers prefer early colonial stuff (other examples of this off the top of my head: Iron Maiden's "Run To The Hills", Queen's "White Man" and Mark Knopfler's "Sailing To Philadelphia").

"Indian Sunset" is in this tradition, as a warrior refuses to succumb to the advancing European colonists. It is a beautifully tragic tale. It begins with Elton John singing a capella and it slowly adds instruments, taking its time to arrive at its terrible conclusion as our hero acknowledges the inevitable:

"Now there seems no reason why I should carry on,
In this land that once was my land, I can't find a home.
It's lonely and it's quiet and the horse soldiers are coming
And I think it's time I strung my bow and ceased my senseless running."

At the other end of the narrative spectrum, "Holiday Inn" tells of the incredible boredom that an artist experiences on tour, where the majority of your time is spent sitting around hotel rooms waiting for the show to start, or for a plane to arrive. Taking an experience of loafing around a hotel room and making it interesting is a skill. Then again, when Sheila and I were in Miami recently, we both got sick and spent a pretty entertaining evening loafing about in ours, watching bad US TV and ill-advisedly drinking beers despite being under the weather. But I digress...

Back to the record, which while it has some gems, also delivers some coal. In particular the songs "Razor Face" and "Peaches" have some of the most obtuse and pointless lyrics in music - even after you get what they're about. In an earlier review I had blamed the lack of Bernie Taupin for these atrocities to language, but to my chagrin, the liner notes confirm Taupin was involved. Et tu, Bernie?

In conclusion, despite a couple misses, this is a solid album. I probably wouldn't have bought it on my own, but I like it being in the collection.

Best tracks: Tiny Dancer, Indian Sunset, Holiday Inn, All The Nasties

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