This Elton John article was written by Ben Duncan-Duggal, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse.
It’s difficult to know why this album was made. Elton John is out of the spotlight, both in terms of sales and attention. His last album to go platinum was recorded 15 years ago, and on metacritic this album has received just five user reviews. By comparison KanyeWest’s ‘The Life Of Pablo’ – released at roughly the same time – has received 816 reviews. What’s more, Elton John himself has acknowledged the fact that his new music will have little impact, saying “It’s Justin Bieber’s time and Rihanna’s time, Drake’s time, let’s just accept it and get on with it, move over. I make an album every year and a half, it’s not an event when I make an album”. By all measures, he’s right.
The obvious answer to this is that Elton John is making music for its own sake, just as millions of other people do, young and old, all around the world. What a thought. And what bollocks – in that same interview John said: “I have leisure, and I have work. And I do enough work. When I get home, the last thing I want to do is play the piano.”
More likely the existence of this album can be explained, like a lot of things in the stratosphere of the businessman/rock idol which John, Jay Z and others inhabit, by commercial demand. Not demand for albums – that doesn’t exist anymore – but by demand for what was last year 107 live shows a year. Perhaps it looks good to be touring with something, rather than an empty handed legacy act.
That something is exactly that – just a something. The album, throughout, feels like it exists only to feel a commercial gap and little more. There is little passion in the album, either in vocal style or the music and its melodies itself. Granted, much of this failure of excitement can be owed to John’s damaged vocal chords following vocal surgery in 1986. But what’s damaging is the fact that this vocal climb-down is similarly reflected in the music, which is frequently so controlled as to often be mindless and so as to semi-ruin the rare moments of brilliance, like the chorus on ‘The Open Chord.’ The metronome feels like the greatest member of this band, and the parts of the songs fit together like blocks rather than blissfully, seamlessly folding into one another.
No better can this be seen by comparing John’s current aimless wonderings to his more serious 1970s output. Where ‘Bennie and The Jets’ feels uncontrived and effortless in its achievement of a feeling a little bit like flight, the new album’s title track feels like it is forced together and then forced down your throat. Where ‘Tiny Dancer’ achieves pathos through the use of both subtle guitar and not-so-subtle vocals, ‘Tambourine’ sounds like ‘Emotion By Numbers’ – i.e. there isn’t any. ‘Rocket Man’ lives up to its name by using texture to power it forward, whereas on not one single track on this album do the instruments sound like they are indistuingashble – there is no real texture, in other words. None of these criticisms, however, really matters next to the absolute and overriding lack of freedom which pervades this album at every turn.
This album does very little for anyone. It certainly won’t engage any new fans or neutrals, and although it is cliché to claim that an album like this will satisfy the fans it’s hard to know why they won’t just listen to the older, similar, better stuff they grew up on instead. This album makes it clear that whilst there’s nothing wrong with being an older musician, there’s something deeply dull about living off your younger self.
‘Wonderful Crazy Night’ is out now via Mercury Records.