Elton John – [Album]

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Elton John returns to basics on The Diving Board, his new CD. Most of the songs are just a trio of drums, bass and piano. It almost sounds like the Elton John of forty-plus years ago, of Honky Chateau and Tumbleweed Connection.  That sense is heightened by the fact that Bernie Taupin is writing lyrics for him again.

The album is excellently produced by T-Bone Burnett, perhaps the king of roots rock and Americana in today’s music business. He creates a very full sound out of the limited elements, without ever sounding flashy or overdone. It brings the actual music to the forefront.

Burnett is said to have encouraged the move to a more basic sound. It also seems likely that another factor was working on last year’s The Union, John’s album with Leon Russell (also produced by Burnett). Russell never abandoned blues based roots rock, and it is more than likely that working with him inspired John to return to his own roots.

I also have to wonder whether this is John’s own reaction to the lavish production of his recent Vegas shows. Although his current Million Dollar Piano show is, apparently, much less extravagant than his previous show, The Red Piano, it still involves a piano with embedded video screens (not to mention a steady stream of his hits). Maybe he just wanted to escape all that for this album.

The result is certainly his strongest album in years. Actually, I have no right to say that. I stopped listening to John with any regularity after Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. So let me put it this way: I really like this album, much more than I expected to. Even the Union dragged in its second half, but this remains enjoyable all the way through.

Okay, maybe “enjoyable” is somewhat tepid praise, but the fact is, this is not 1972 any more. And The Diving Board, pleasant as it is, doesn’t grab the ear. There is nothing like “Honky Cat” or “Your Song” or even “Tiny Dancer” here. This is much more of a grow-on-you-slowly album. Over time, “Ballad of Blind Tom,” “New Fever Waltz,” “Mexican Vacation,” and  the title song reveal themselves to be powerful songs, more than just pleasant. But it does take repeated listens.

I’ve never doubted Elton John’s songwriting powers. They just needed the right context to bring me back to them.



The Diving Board
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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