Tuesday, April 17, 2018

'Vamping It Up To Restore'

Benny shortly before he left for his hammer

Like Benny from Crossroads returning with his hammer (but longer than the six month's it took him) JW&AT is now again ready to hit things. And rather than just tap, we're going to thump.

I just want to lay out some groundwork before we examine these two releases. I'm sure most readers will have heard Elton's interview with Nihal last week on the radio. The main point to be extracted was the lamentation of the end of proper songwriting. And why should that be a surprise? The best stuff has already been done, Elton should know, he's contributed a large swathe of it. Look at the sheer volume of material released since the mid 50's till the turn of the century when a steady decline that already been in evidence for a few years before that became an almost vertical drop.

If the base material is lacking then the conduits for it have also suffered a drastic reduction in quality. Singing, in terms of the forms that developed as we knew them in the 20th Century, is now a dying art. It's now a more speech based exercise. Rather than making lyrics expressive they've been reduced to something more akin to spoken prose with modest melodic effect. 

I think we're at a '1962' moment in music history. 1962 was the year of the crooner, the first wave of rock and roll was dying out and desperately needed an new direction. An audition at EMI that year solved that issue. But I feel now we're going to end up in a continuous loop of being stuck in 1962. 

If the best stuff has already been written then the best people have already sang it. Or have they? Not exactly true, there are some hiding out in the suburbs that haven't quite got a full line through to downtown. And that's what we're going to find on these two discs. The tagline 'Reimagining' can carry many meanings but as we'll see not always the right one's come to the forefront, either through lack of thought or too much mind matter being put in to it. 

I tried to steer clear of a number of things; first off comparing the originals to these 'covers'. But that's still a hard thing to do, unlistening to decades of Elton is like having your brain bleached from the inside out. Nor will I list out who I thought should have been on the discs. There's been some excellent students of Elton over the years that have done their bit, too many to mention, but George Michael, the Wilson sisters, Axl Rose to name just some I'd put right up their on the plinth reserved for worthy covers. I won't even go back as far Two Rooms, we're were all younger then. And maybe less wiser. We can only work with what we've been dealt, they stuck their necks out. We'll decide who needs chopping. Or tickling.


1. Bennie and the Jets - Elton John, Pink and Logic

When I scanned down the artist list my blood ran backwards with some of them. Pink wasn't one of them that caused fluid reversal but I expected much more from her on this one. A diabolical computer production (a curse throughout the album at times) with some pointless rap section parachuted in at the last minute it seems kills the thing stone dead. The thought processes to conjure this one up is beyond me. 


2. We All Fall in Love Sometimes - Coldplay

If there's one thing and only one thing to be gleaned from this track it's the dirth of competent, never mind those influenced by Elton, keyboard players. Playing an Elton song on any keyboard will expose you to your peers. Again, how can a well known mega artist deliver such a pancake flat version. The main melody line goes off in several (unwarranted) tangents (another curse on this album, I'm afraid). A medieval sounding bridge to the chorus gives the impression somebody was at the mixing desk for a short period of time but then left, a temporary heartbeat revives things before the flat lining rings out again. Chris Martin's vocals would have been vastly improved if a keyboard player of note were in the house. Does Rick Wakeman still do Watchdog? 


3. I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues - Alessia Cara

With a mid tempo song there's only two ways to go (a third if you want to do nothing) if you want to spruce things up. I  have no idea who this girl is but thank goodness she turned up when she did. So far this album was beginning to do a uber-Titanic and be vertical before anyone had even stood on it's bow, arms aloft and akimbo. Full of musical tonnage, she make a significant displacement. Heavy rhythm section (who remembers drums and bass guitars?) flows outwards. This is good. Wurlitzer played by Jeff Ross who I once saw playing with John Jorgenson and  Charlie Morgan many, many years ago shows why proper keyboard players are needed in some shape or form on this project. Her vocals are mannered, measured with a nice nod at the end to the bands original backing vocals. 


4. Candle in the Wind - Ed Sheeran

I like Ed Sheeran as a person. Anybody with odd hair and wears glasses who can get all those Instagram honey's swooning over him has to be respected in my book. However his music isn't for me, so I can't really say anything about this track as he does nothing that I can take from it, good or bad, to warrant further comment. 


5. Tiny Dancer - Florence and the Machine

The first thing that hits you a millisecond in is the piano. Maybe not played brilliantly but it's the first track so far that is brave and uses it front and centre to good effect. The sound of it is eerily like the original, either in model or tuning. As does the rhythm section evoke similar thoughts in the same vein. As is the want with the sound of Flo and her Machinists the harp does most of the carrying one would expect from an acoustic guitar for additional rhythm. Her distinctive vocals are multitracked ina manner to be as effectual as possible but never to an over bearing level. The orchestral arrangement steers clear of Buckmaster's take on it; it veers off the main melody and only on occasions moves from the background to stick its head in. The final chorus uses the vocal layers to maximum deliverance of increased natural volume; in fact the fullness of it reminds one of the brass James Newton Howard added to original arrangement, for the Tour De Force in 1986. 

So far the best thing on the album.  


6. Someone Saved My Life Tonight - Mumford & Sons

Suffering cats, somebody put out an APB for the entire Mumford family. They've killed a song. This is truly woeful, not one element of the songs basis or it's signature statements are left alive. It's as if a 'MUMified' (see what I did there?) corpse, white of face and red of eye is propped up for one more rendition. It's a lazy execution, slow and painful. No song should suffer that indignation. 


7. Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word - Mary J. Blige

Mary J. Blige has done Elton before, singing that is, so she should know better than deliver this trashy mechanically robotic dirge. Whether it be a deliberate or accidental diversion from any remnants of the original melody it can't be forgiven. Going out of your way to be intentionally obtuse might be a sense of achievement for those responsible but it's the listener who ends up confused at the start and raging by the end. Why couldn't she have got somebody like a David Foster to do herself and the song justice?

Rewriting a song is not clever or not funny. We've had too many trying that so far. Stop. Now.


8. Don't Go Breaking My Heart - Q-Tip and Demi Lovato

Now we're starting to circle the drain. This is the third one in a row that needs rescuing by musical social services. Demi Lovato is a good pop singer (not that you would know it here), in another era her material legacy would be greater than some of the stuff she's appeared on.  But Q-TIP (no, me neither) and her both sound like something recorded on an ancient mobile phone for a Youtube uploading at the the lowest DPI possible. Modern music folks it seems can neither be trusted to write new songs properly or worse still, as we can hear, be trusted with an old song.  

I think names should start to be taken at this stage.


9. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters - The Killers

At least the rot has stopped for now, though I'd have preferred The Killers to have done an uptempo, slightly electronic/rock track from the back catalogue. Leather Jackets had plenty to offer them. A bit of work maybe but could have been more fulfilling. Its an ok attempt, they didn't make too much of a mess nor found something on it we've not envisaged before. 


10. Daniel - Sam Smith

Like Ed I have no concept of his music, though his voice at times displeases me every time I have the misfortune to hear it. I only got as far as the part where he started singing, which is almost as soon as it starts. It's like a castrato. Mid procedure. Regretting it. I can do nothing nor will I try with this one either. 


11. Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me - Miley Cyrus

This one surprised me. A lot. We all know Miley has a reputation as being a bit of a...anyways, she does have singing talent, no doubt here. The lesser spotted piano player comes in to view. It's lavished with a country rock edge, human beings playing instruments. Who knew. A welcome relief of almost Mafeking proportions, after a seemingly endless slew of flicking through current music channel offerings. There's nods and bows to Nigel, Dee and Davey throughout that cannot and will not be ignored. It's a confident vocal delivery, timed and managed with care. 


12. Your Song

I know a lot of Elton fans like Gaga so I'll have to pick my words carefully. I know there's a lot of hype around her but to me she's bit of a head the ball, 'original' to anyone born after 1990, not nearly as good a singer as the chattering classes would have you believe either. In examining this version I found her delivery to be harsh, no sense of panache or sense of the required fragility that is required at certain (though not all) times throughout the song to make it work as being something that is sincere. It's as if her words were recorded individually and then spliced together to give it a monotonal dictation. The arrangement, whilst trying to be a bit more understanding, doesn't make her case any more credible. 

Elton fan's are now calling for my execution after I've slaughterd a sacred cow. But didn't she sing once about killing cows and making burgers...


13. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Queens of the Stone Age

I think the Foo Fighters would have been a better choice for the 'heavy rock' participant. Rock Of The Westies would have been a tasty menu for them to choose a rock out closer. Instead we get QTSA who make a passable attempt but a heavier go at it may have been more interesting. It's middling at best. 



1. Rocket Man - Little Big Town

With a group known for their harmonies you'd have expected they would be front and centre. After all the original song is dripping with them. Incredibly though some of the production gimmicks present on the other disc have escaped and look as if they're going infect this one. It tries to be too clever for its own good and ends up being bit of a mess in places. Not until the outro do we hear what what we should have heard in the main body of the song. A shame this one, considering they showed in patches what could have been achieved. 


2. Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters - Maren Morris

So they're having another go at this one, this an artist I'm not familiar with. I said I wouldn't compare too much with the originals but comparing covers with other covers is beyond the remit of this blog at this time. This take is in more of a downstairs music club style, which suits all parties. Performer and song. The emotions are caught deftly, a thoughtful tempo with a restrained production all add up to something worthy. 


3. Sacrifice - Don Henley & Vince Gill

I was never a fan of the original so my expectations were a bit low. However it does surprise at times, the tempo changes from verse to chorus were welcome to break up unwelcome monotony. The switches too in lead vocals also added some needed variation. They don't do any serious dents to the song and treated it with care. No complaints here so. 


4. Take Me To The Pilot - Brothers Osborne

This is a functional effort, another act I'm not familiar with either. Whether that helps or not for me to judge those who I know or not is a moot point. I can only start and finish with the song. They did what they did with it apart from that there's no more to be said. 


5. My Father's Gun - Miranda Lambert

We've got a fine rendition here, a terrific gritty country rock edge encased by classic female country vocals are a perfect entwining. Hearing is believing, the concept of the album is fully realised on this track. 


6. I Want Love - Chris Stapleton

Unlike current songstress, Dua Lipa, I'm starting breaking my own rules. Elements of the original are plastered all over, Nigel's big drum sound for instance is present and correct. But what is the most unexpected, and most pleasing guest, is a 'new' Buckmaster arrangement. Was it an unused leftover from SFTWC or one of his final acts on this Earth? Whatever the case it puts an exquisite finishing touch, this version may not stray too far from the original (its very commercial in fact) but the added orchestral element by somebody who knew their way around an Elton song better than most, if not everyone, will mean it has a legacy. 


7. Honky Cat - Lee Ann Womack

I think this was the right time for some light relief on the album, there were some (unintentional) laughs on the last one but this time they are well scripted. A stripped back style with some witty production values. Performer and musicians find slightly different places to go whilst still in sight of home. Done their way but still not too far away from what we know. 


8. Roy Rogers - Kacey Musgraves

We've had some good stuff so far on this album but if you don't respect the melody or maybe understand it then it's going to leave you scratching around for the hook line. The necessary peaks and troughs are obscured. It's like skimmed milk, too flat and thin. The slightly advanced tempo makes it feel rushed, the briskness gives an impression that they wanted to be in and out as quickly as possible either without making it obvious or fearful of hanging around any longer might cause more serious damage. 


9. Please - Rhonda Vincent & Dolly Parton

So far we've not had too much to complain about so can we keep it up till the end? So far the women have been keeping me up...if there was ever a contrast between the previous attempt and this one surely a chasm so big has not been measured yet. The song choice (like a lot on this disc) surprises and the delivery delights. As I mentioned earlier on a number of tracks, the tempo changes can kill it or revive it. A careful ear that has good judgement will win through. A steady natural backbeat, the only stick here is for some light percussion rather than of the USB kind. This is proper American trad style music, other producers take note.  The two voices play off each other comfortably, its like a first take after one hearing. At the end of the day this Dolly was never a clone!  


10. The Bitch Is Back - Miley Cyrus

Miley's really been the one on these discs that has surprised me. I don't eat humble pie because I came in with a blank canvas and commented on what I've found. If an artist makes me change my mind, they've done it for me.  For me anyway the litmus test of any great singer is whether they can do the ballads and rockers as if they're on a busman's holiday either way. There's no doubt she caught the flavour of the two Caribou tracks, her band and producer carefully navigated her and themselves through challenging waters. Knowing there wasn't to much wrong with the originals a simple updating and colouring in a bit deeper already vivid shades can work wonders. 


11. Sad Songs (Say So Much) - Dierks Bentley

A piano. Yep, you have to give some credit for at least adding that element to the mix but as he's an artist I have no clue of (yet again!) it's almost impossible for me to judge whether he's on form or not. 


12. This Train Don't Stop There Anymore - Rosanne Cash & Emmylou Harris

We've had some great song choices on this disc, that is for sure. Sometimes a minor adjustment is all you need. Referencing back to my tempo point the judgement on that matter here is bang on point. Two artists who are masters in their field deliver a noteworthy rendition, this reviewer can not nor will try and find fault.  

It makes you think if Linda Ronstadt still had her singing powers what she could have brought to this album.


13. Border Song - Willie Nelson

I wasn't sure that Willie was still with us but he's still on terra firma if this rendition is anything to go by. I'm not sure mediums record well. Sounding as he does though like Strother Martin at times it's by far and away the best male vocal on this album and the other one. Backed by musicians who take care and attention to detail as they swim to a fine closer on the album.


If you skipped through the entirety of both albums and didn't read any of the above reportage then this should still make some sense. The Restoration disc is by far and away the best of the two. Bernie got the better end of the deal. Maybe one album of the best performances may have been a much tighter affair but with half a thousand songs to choose from we'd be here till doomsday. 

The best performances covering the two discs are the female vocalists. They are head and shoulders above their male counterparts. I'm not talking either by a head, they were several lengths in front at the finishing post. My earlier point of being stuck in a '1962' moment has been born out, certainly as regards male vocalists. 

There's a fine line between 'reimagining' and 'rewriting' is too close to call really, at times though some of the acts went feet first over to the wrong side. The production on Revamp at times was so bad, or maybe I'm so old, that it's like listening to a new form of sound that I'm neither able to recognise nor respect. Restoration showed too that the back catalogue has life beyond the foothills of the hits. A lesson that hopefully will travel a long way back to hit hill top.

I know the aim of the Revamp effort is try and tune in the young people towards Elton. I suppose the crowd that come after the millennials perhaps (whatever they're called) might be the target groups. But in translating Elton in to their 'language' so much is lost that the message is garbled and unintelligible at times. Which leads to all sort of misunderstandings.  My advice is simple. Learn the language of Elton. It sounds better when you hear it spoken by the teacher and when you speak it back. Like Linguaphone spoken by natives. I wonder if the juxtaposition of a young fan of these pop artists going back to the originals will meet with their approval. After all they'll be hearing things alien to their ears. Guitar solos. Strings and brass battling with keyboards. Vocal harmonies sung by people with no computer to make them sound good. Without any effects thrown in for bad measure. Or having 'featuring' in the titles.

There was a chronic lack of any proper keyboard acts. They don't exist much (where was Alicia Keys for example?)in any mainstream form nowadays so we're at a point of no return as regards seeing such performers again in the future that will be groundbreaking and imaginative on a wide scale. These covers do tell us one important lesson for the uninitiated. And that goes back to the what I said in the last paragraph. By stopping here with these versions you're missing out on what the songs really were all about. The band elements, arrangers, production values, etc. are all missing and painfully so in most cases.

Covers can be wicked things to pin down. But as I head back with my hammer, here's a thought. The best artist to have covered Elton has been Elton himself. His live 'revamping' over the last 50 years had true sincerity and authenticity about it. When he throws out the prepared script and does it his way there was and still is no better person to it. Sometimes by design sometimes by circumstance, he's had to rework, if not rebuild in some cases, many a song for the stage environment. Look at Sixty Years On and the various treatments, hybrid and all, it's had. Tonight on the 1985/86 band tour was so left field of the original it still contained enough base matter that you were always on familiar ground; the reimagining of Davey's guitar replacing the London Symphony Orchestra on paper sounds ludicrous but worked as if it were the first idea. 

First ideas are always best. Elton and Bernie's first ideas were, are and always will be the best.

Monday, February 8, 2016

'Wonderful Crazy Night - Bonus Tracks' - Review

Bonus tracks...or as the marketing people call them tricks used to get us fans to buy multiple editions. Of which I did, of course. As is the case the Far East market seems to get a track or two extra. By the wonders of modern technology and old fashioned generosity I now have them both.


A real bright and breezy track here, the percussion is fluffy and feathery. Like something scrubbing. Piano led mostly, Kim's organ line has that hint of occasional accordion (which appears at times on the rest of the album, mixed low but more than detectable) creeping in. Bernie's imagery is very strong here, heartfelt without any hint of cliche.


Lyrically slightly darker at times than the rest of the album, the mood of the lyric changes at the same time as the uplift on the chorus to take us back to the main theme of the project. Melodically very diverse, Elton's piano is more to the fore here. The occasional solo breaks that Elton does with that slow, loose drumming style from Nigel again are a treat as they aren't a common sound on the rest of the album. Another sound here that doesn't appear too often, if at all, is the almost Mellotron synth sound from Kim, orchestral in demeanor. The heavy bass sound of it conjures up visions of cello banks. This song would have sounded amazing with a real full string section. What does sound amazing is the traditional harmony sound to close out the final chorus with Elton's piano and Davey's guitar trading places. The final fade out is slow and lingering as the entire journey through the night has closed up shop.

Certainly No Monsters should have been on the main album for certain, it's a real candidate for the classic list of songs that never got to the main stage. In the old days of singles they would have been more widely available in 'hard copy'. But as well know there are ways and means around that now (not that I'm condoning that behaviour!)


Saturday, February 6, 2016

'Wonderful Crazy Night' - Review

***** (5 stars)

I've had many messages enquiring as to the whereabouts of JW&AT. Battery recharging is essential for any piece of machinery, I'm still refilling my cells as I speak. But the release of the new album has to be attended to, otherwise the momentous moment will be lost. Looking back to the review of TDB when it came out from this standpoint is like looking into a different world. One full of gloom, dread and chronic melancholy. Thankfully all that darkness has had a bright light shone in it's face, the heat has melted it and the light swept away the shade. 

During my 'regeneration' period I've switched off from nearly all internet 'so shall meeja' activity. No bad thing at all...as a consequence I was immune to the steady flow of previews, insider reviews and cat call miaows from the sidelines. I heard the first three songs released officially, still called singles in this non-single day and age, but no more until I heard the album. No live tracks, no snippets. Like the old days...kids today don't have that opportunity unfortunately.

So, how do we take this review. Rather than leaving the punchline till the end...because the sharp ones will have guessed early on (unless they scroll down of course) where I'm going on this one...the album is a masterpiece of modern day expressive rock. Can't put it any simple than that. Starting lyrically outwards, Bernie is often considered never to be firing on all cylinders when it comes to the brighter side of life. However he's had a dose of Redex to get his piston pumping more exuberantly. Whatever their origins by the time we join in we're arriving at a point on the album at where they've matured to a delight. If there is any depth lacking it's more than made up for in vibe and tenor. Sometimes it's how you say it rather than what you actually say.

And this is where Elton sweeps in from across the plains. Because as Bernie's soapbox he is very much in 'This Way Up' position. Up being the operative word...if like me your head is done in with modern muses shifting supermarket trolleys of moany, drippy boring music then WCN is like said Redex being injected undiluted into your open vein. Prepare for billows of smoke coming out your exhaust as you put the pedal to the metal...


If there was ever a case of a standalone track being like a fish out of water it was this one. As an opener it has to be heard here and no where else. Placed at the vanguard of the album it's like a reportage of the album that's yet to be listened to. It's a preview and review all rolled in to one. The acoustic washboard style (skiffly in delivery, like England in America you could say as a later song title reflects). The jaunty out in the open riff has a swing to it that is tight and devoid and any loose swagger. Great opener here, Pink was right. The party has started.


Phew. This is a classic already, the riff may sound familiar but the instrumental breaks are incredible when they kick in. A genuine hook, the chorus has the same accusation held against it. Glassy organ has a crystalline sound to it with no opaqueness. Electric and acoustic guitars switch and glide into one another throughout, classic Elton drops the bridge down a notch before a slightly distorted guitar solo with a hint of sleaze infects proceedings. Brilliant! One of the most original things Elton has done in yonks and yonks.


And the originality keeps flowing. Like an invisble 'Chain', the acoustic licks at the start are underscored with a slight oriental technique. Small cymbals say big things, piano swims low but never disappears as they might say on the Orient. The solo has a Fab Four inclination to it, not the last input from that side of the world either on the album. The opening gambit is used to herald us out but not before a brassy escort speeds up our departure. 


When I heard this first the Drovers Ballad came into my mind instantly. Now I can't listen to either song without hearing the other. This isn't one of my favourites on the album at the moment, it goes a bit twee at times. In saying that it might be one of those 'growers', everything else on the album was almost instantly accessible for me. Oh well, moving swiftly along...


Remember I mentioned originality earlier? We're back on new ground again. The light brush work and Elton humming is a combo we've not heard before, have we? His vocal is dominant at the outset, carrying the entire song at this point as one of Bernie's genuine character's appears for the first time. Heavy drums manifest themselves on the chorus, the heaviest on the album so far, and contrast expertly with the verses. The production here is key, the different movements of the song are clearly demarcated. But behind all this intricacy is something simple. Evocative, slightly upsetting possibly, is the far off guitar lick from Davey. Sounding as if it's in another room or even another level of consciousness it's eeriness is at odds with the concept. Which is a good thing.


The opening is intricate in the extreme, but Nigel's trademark slow drumming at last appearing is like seeing your favourite character in a film come into shot. Proper order for a 'big number', Nigel's moment has arrived. And so has Mr. Burnett's. Finally 'getting' what a big Elton song constitutes and requires he brings his own style to the meal table and it becomes a feast. His brass section of choice starts off understated but grows in stature as progress is made. In spite of the ever gathering weight, Davey's acoustic solo carries all that might four square on his back. But we're not done yet. The final chorus has the French horn prominent; remember the similar moment on DLTS? It's here again and hasn't lost any impact or power of delivery in the intervening years.


See earlier review


Tubthumping handclaps batter the door down, there frantic pace once the door is open never lets up. Like the previous song the vocals are picked and placed like diamonds on an expensive ring. The guitar solo is raucous, brimming with frenzy and multiple layers of personality. The piano is ending is a style akin to Cold going into Pain...


...except this song is unlike the destination of that earlier example from Made In England. If the title hasn't given the hint then you know Ray is all over this one like a rash. 'Rasher' Ray takes the lead on a style that has that West Coast feel, high up in the canyon perhaps. Heavy organ from Kim, really closely recorded here, you can feel and hear the keys depressing and rising up with that slightly clicky sound they make. Bluesy solo from Davey is the perfect foil for the 'strum around the camp fire' undercurrent.


Pluck, you might say. Synth appears with a broad backdrop in a plucking sound, gentle percussion holds it all together. That is until the country infused solo when it beefs itself up. A restful way to end the 'regular' album, but that won't last forever if you're a de-luxer.


More Beatles hints here, the intro goes into a Lane that is styled and paved with Pennies. Harmonies dominate here too at times, the entire song in fact is one of the most Beatles influenced tracks Elton has ever done I think. Some really interesting piano lines appear.


Imagine Elton in the 80's that wasn't the real Elton in the 80's. Big hair (ooops) with an OTT sound. This is what we get here. Though popping his head in every so often is an organ lick that sounds remarkably like it fell off an Elvis Costello song, circa 1979. More than just an Attraction, the whole song is stadium rock brought into your room of choice at home. One of the heaviest sounds ever on an Elton album, driven by a relentless line from Matt, the backbeat is merciless in what it dishes out. Interspaced backing vocals stick their heads into the very few spaces that appear from start to finish. Slick changes abound but the appearance of tubular bells near the end is merely a cue to engage in more head shaking. Careful that big hair doesn't come loose folks...

That's the album, let's look at the main protagonists who appear on it. 

Nigel's drum sound is as near to the 'live' sound as you're likely to get represented on disc. The power is to the forefront but complimenting that is his usual unfussy but distinctive sound. Not to mention the wide and diverse compliments he pays each song.

Matt's bass sound is one of the main constant's throughout; if it were isolated it would tell two stories. One would be of power and might, the heavy side of his hand really drives the rockers into a rarely ventured power zone. On the other hand, so to speak, he throws in licks and melodious lines in the spaces that Elton leaves. Not for show but to give the ear something extra to nibble on during the main courses.

I'm going to link John and Ray here as one, not out of convenience but for a deliberate reason. Anybody who knows there Elton onions will be well able to separate what each of them does on stage at the MDP for instance purely by ear. Same happens here on WCN. Part of the listening experience is picking out who does what and where.

Kim on keyboards shadowing Elton on paper doesn't sound easy but rather being in the shadow he creates his own light and shade. Being brought up in a home that appreciated the Hammond organ sound I am more than happy to hear in it liberally spread throughout the whole album. Boxes ticked, loads of them on that count.

Anybody seen the new Star Wars film? Or the X Files return? Of course you have...if not, why not. If so you'll know why they work. No spoilers here but the main reason is the original stars are back, theme music and opening titles remain present, correct  and untouched. And the writing is strong. It's as if the gap of years doesn't exist. Same goes for Davey's return. It's not as if he's been away but over the last 10 years you can be damn sure he's had a myriad of idea swimming about just dying to be put down on tape. And now they're cutting loose. There's so many unique sidebars he's added to the album it would be impossible even to timestamp them. What he does do is what he was given free reign to do. Plenty of guitars and plenty more again. The balance between acoustic and electric is wonderfully divergent, as per usual on an Elton album he finds the right voice at the right time. 

I mentioned Bernie at the start because as is the case with these things his bit always comes first. He delivers what he was asked to do, lyrics that when coupled with Elton's melodies really spring to life off the paper. They aren't for reading, they are for listening to. And of course singing along too!

One of the main problems (among many) was the songwriting on TDB. This time however Elton has delved into his magic bag and produced something special. Not just once, not just a few times but all the way through. New hooks and distinctive riffs abound aplenty; there's none of the old rehashing of old melodies. The previous mishaps on the last album are a distant memory, fading quickly thankfully. 

His vocals are finely balanced all the way through, in fact the best of this decade. There's none of the cod dramatics or forced phrasing. Plain and simple is the best policy and it proves a triumph throughout. I read one comment that the album wasn't 'piano pure' enough. I take the other viewpoint, it's 'piano and band pure.'

Mr. Burnett, as long time readers of JW&AT will no doubt be well aware of, hasn't been a great favourite here. But I did say back in 2013, when we were younger...and funnier too as some might say...I would support him if he got the band back in and did a proper EJ/BT album. No faffing about, plain and simple rock and roll. Forget trying to be stylish for the sake of it, just do it naturally. And this is what we get. I'm almost certain, nay I am certain, he's never worked with an ensemble of this caliber. A group of supporting actors who are intrinsic to the end result. Here's why.

The remake of True Grit had Jeff Bridges and that was really it. A great actor but redoing a classic in the place of an icon is hard enough. But not having the same backup to make the main protagonist at ease and therefore free to express themselves is a handicap. John Wayne had Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Jeff Corey, Robert Duvall, Jeremy Slate for instance on the payroll. Not to mention Dennis Hopper, if you please. Part of the attraction that brings you in falls at their feet, once in you realise why they are there.

If proof were needed, not here anyways, but it proves yet again why the band should not have been ignored on the last two albums. Hindsight is a gift that we all possess, insight however is something that few can claim to have. The band have that about Elton's music, WCN delivers that from start to finish. The producer was cany enough to let the band get on with it and get on with it they did. The sound is as full and broad as you're ever likely to hear from any current artist for example. If somebody asks me what are Elton's best albums, I always go for the 'band' albums as a good starting point. WCN fits into that category seamlessly.

So where does WCN fit in to the Elton cannon? It's been fired and the bang has traveled a distance. Is it up to the 70's standard? I'm not going down that silly route, it's not fair to the old albums or this one. Even the albums of the last decade are from another era and have their own place but a lot has changed since then too.  What I can do is look at it in reference to the the T-Bone era. The Union is a side project in my book so we'll skip to The Diving Board. And then we'll skip again. When I started the blog one of the things I said was about perspective. From the standing position of now, the era of WCN, TDB looks even more disastrous. Is that possible, you better believe it. Listen to TDB and WCN back to back, its like seeing a Lada behind a Bentley Continental at the traffic lights. Embarrassing for the Lada driver being in such an old banger in such esteemed company, embarrassing for the Bentley driver sharing the same road as that rust bucket. 

Wonderful Crazy Night is the album that the fans wanted, the fans have got, the fans love. Make no mistake about this. When the dust settles the legacy of this album will have established itself. The big question is, do you leave it at that or go back for more. I'll take the cue from little boy Twist, please Sir Elton, can we have some more?!