Tuesday, August 20, 2013

'Always There In The Thick Of Things'

Unfortunately Chris Thomas doesn't get the credit in the Elton world that his peers get. Seven and a half studio and one soundtrack albums. Some of which are considered classics at this stage. The detractors will always mention The Big Picture as his being his Waterloo, but as Bernie suggested about the album polishing some things just doesn't work sometimes. Even Gus Dudgeon had that problem in the mid 80's...Chris Thomas had an ear. An ear that knew what made an Elton album and what didn't. Coinciding with the classic band lineup reuniting in 1982 he was able to record Too Low For Zero, the album which announced and solididfied Elton's second coming in one fell swoop. Elton recording in Montserrat in a 'Chateau' type environment wiht just the band paid dividends. He was able to maintain the classic Elton sound including the backing vocals sound for instance, whilst at the same time made the sound relevant for the era with a polish that wasn't overpowering. Otherwise Elton could have ended up sounding like Bowie did in the 80's. Persish the thought...the 80's was the synths moment...like it or loathe it. But he placed them as part of the sound, but not making it the sound. Working outwards from Elton's piano (or synth as he played too on Too Low and BH) and layering on the guiatrs, additional keyboards, percussion etc, he kept it relatively simple whilst ticking the familiar boxes. Elton's piano is there, not as prominent as earlier albums but that was Elton's way of going with the times. He embraced the new technology, he knew it's place and Chris was able to blend the old with the new. The subtle use of electronic percussion again gave Elton that contemporary feel. I don't think Too Low For Zero (title track) would have had the same vibe with real drums. His clever use Dee Murray's Steinberger bass in the mix filled a position that became an extension of the rhythm line. On Spiteful Child it's almost the dominant sound we hear, he knew witha melodic bassline like that it was crucial to push it up in the mix. 

When he wasn't available to produce what ended up being Ice On Fire because of commitments to INXS, he turned to Gus Unfortunately the material at the time meant the best was never going to eminate from the renewed collaboration. So when he was available again, Reg Strikes Back was the result. Even though Nigel and Dee were no longer part of the band, he still knew they were essential elements, so much so that he had the freedom to be able to bring them in to put down vocal parts. He had trust in the guys in the band, he knew that they had the nouse to put the right thing down on a track. Sleeping With The Past is one of my favourite albums...how Elton at such a low ebb came up with it is another matter. But it's not without it's retrospsective failings...in attempting to recreate the classic soul and motor city sound, it was synth heavy. But not considered a faux pas at the time, because that was the thing then. The idea of using real strings and brass just never entered the thought processes, in hindsight it seems bizzare...but that the 80's folks! But the songs still have clearness and edginess, essential traits on an Elton album.  The One again sounds dated, certainly within a couple of years of release it had become so because the back to basics a la Made In England had been decided upon. But there's still layers to the sound that make the album unique...we won't be hearing anymore like that for sure. Which means it still has it's place, it distinctive soundwise and is another branch of the Elton tree. Of which there are many...The Big Picture was discussed here recently so I'll not go there again. Overall, Elton may not have been in a writing purple patch as he was the previous decade, but he still produced enough killer tracks and was consistent in the charts. 

No comments:

Post a Comment