Well done to Elton on getting to #3 on the UK album charts and to #14 on the same chart here. This update is to coincide with the album being released in the US...all 5,673 versions of it. The reviews over there range from wildfire to wildly off the mark. Somebody needs to put sense back into consensus. This update is the final word on the album, an overview if you wish. Where we are now compared to where we were. One footnote before I make my remarks, this is to remind people who keep reminding me as if I have an information deficit. I know the why's, where's, who's, what's and when's of the album. Quoting me back the press release is not news to me, thanks all the same.
First off Elton's vocals and piano are excellent. As if they wouldn't be. Like I said on my original review, the album started good but in the middle started to sag and by the end had collapsed into a MOR nightmare. Voyeur has sort of improved for me but still lacks the finished article aspect. I wonder why. For me the better songs on it have stayed strong. The re-invention of the wheel was cited for this project. To me, round has always worked. But it seems not very desirable in 2013. I would have thought that when the band got hold of the songs they would have improved them. In the case of Home Again, Mexican Vacation and Oscar Wilde Gets Out this is proved to be true. However Can't Stay Alone Tonight is still bland, a poor DNA relative of Turn The Lights Out When You Leave. Which begs the question if the band had played on it would the album have been better. Moot point now, I think.
I still give the album 3 stars, only because of the strength of the better songs and for Elton's piano and vocal. But those great elements are let down by the poor songs, some of which are too awful for words at this stage. Dull, uninspired songwriting with some boring melodies. With elements of previous more successful adventures. Most unlike Elton I have to say, there's always one or two passengers on an album but I think a lot of stowaways hid on Board...and didn't Dive off. And in doing so threw some legitimate passengers over board. Candlelit Bedroom and 5th Avenue should have been on the album. See my post below on those songs for further details. Whoever made that decision, I suspect we can all guess who, didn't do the album any favours. The fans have been strong in their opinion that one or both of those songs should have been there. The view of this blog is that maybe Elton should have performed some songs live since January 2012 (when the initial batch were recorded) to gauge public mood and reaction. If a fan doesn't know, who does.
Now for the controversial bit. Or as some would call it, a personal opinion. It's this blogs view that the producer has now served his remit. He delivered The Union and The Diving Board as per Elton's wishes. He has tried to turn Elton into something he's not, an artist who you can pigeon hole and bracket. Elton is Elton, you can't pin him down exactly what it is he does. In trying to recreate this 3 - piece idea, we kept getting referred back to Tumbleweed and Madman, not to to mention of course 17-11-70. But we were told of course it was supposed to be a different album. So whilst it tried sit on two stools, it has dived between the two. What Elton needs to do now is tell the current producer that the band must be on the next album, in order for the producer to have a challenge. The challenge being to get a proper sounding Elton album out of them all again. If the current producer wants to do it, I'll back him 100%. If not, then thanks for the memories and lets move on. And find a producer, like a Greg Penny or a Pat Leonard or a Matt Still that know their Elton onions and can pinpoint in the dark what and who goes where on an Elton album. I've exhausted my views on the current producer, unless he and Elton can get the band back into the studio, the albums are always going to fall short. That's the opinion of this blog and will remain so.
Elton's 'Englishness' in his music and Bernie's 'Americaness' in his lyrics was the first thing that the US heard and instantly wrecked their heads. Reviews at the time described at them as 'that weird hybrid of Brit blues rock groove-meets-American twang on Tumbleweed Connection' and Madman as the 'English strings meets American steel guitars'. But now due to time and geography, Elton has become to all intents and purposes an 'American' artist. But in doing so I feel his roots have been lost so some extent also. The album lacks the 'fun' factor. The Union, not one of my favourites, has that much needed wittiness to divert the mood and feel. Leon brought that to the mix and no mistake, Hearts Have Turned To Stone being the obvious example.
Whatever spin you put on Elton being 66 is up to you. 66 is not old today, look at poor Roger Pope. Gone too soon. Elton onstage sings and plays with the swashbuckling swagger of 26 year old, but on some of the songs on the album he sounds 106. Maybe some of the older fans like this, as it makes their own aging process run concurrent with Elton's. Not my cup of tea, I'm afraid. If you listen to any recent live show, the review of The Bestvial CD's on this blog will stand good testament to that, you'll know how full of rocking energy he still has. None of which is on this album. To me that's a great shame that his vitality onstage is not being channeled in the studio. The 17-11-70 analogy was a joke if truth be-known, listen to the full performance of that night and you'll hear slightly accentuated manic playing with softer moments mixed in. We got the softer parts, in droves, but the uptempo excitement bit got mislaid. I don't expect him to rock out the whole way through, the lyrics here wouldn't allow that in the first place, but surely the producer, if he's as good as we are told he is, surely must be able to come up with that little extra bite to give that edge. Elton albums have always had a good mix. When they didn't like on Peachtree Road, where there wasn't a whole tonne of rock out moments, but still had plenty of drive and verve to make the listen distinctly more enjoyable than this one. A whole lot better...
Which leads to another controversial moment for some. So if you're one of those fans that has no interest in who appears on stage or on albums with Elton, them look away now. Because another personal opinion is coming this way. The album of course suffers from the band's non-appearance. Read my previous posts below on the matter, they explain this in greater detail. No apologies here for saying that. I mentioned the removal of certain songs from the album, the editing process. Someone to make the right decisions, the tough ones. Same can be said about the qualities and the creative elements that the band bring to the table. When I say band the meant the current band. Not the past, but now. The 2012/13 lineup. Stick to today, if you can. The creative spark they share and the ability to bring it to the studio environs was sadly lacking. But it's Elton's gig, he can do what he pleases. But remember, we buy into it so we are entitled to our tuppence worth. If you read Davey's blog, his words about not being on the album sound painful. I feel his pain. Again, if you're not interested who plays what on an Elton album then that point will go over you head where as it goes to my heart. The appalling labels of 'stage band's and 'studio band's, intentionally or otherwise, is both misleading and insulting. All members of the current band, both with Elton and with other acts, have proved their worth in both environments. So to infer that the current lineup is only fit for doing the same songs over and over, night after night, is wide of the mark. As in you aimed for Earth and hit the moon. The question you have to ask yourself, would the 'studio band' (see, even I'm at it) be capable of doing a large arena tour a la EJ band. Bellerose on drums in a stadium...yeah, right. I'd pity those in the middle rows and further back. Because you wouldn't hear much. The 'stage band' (doing it again) in the studio, hmm, let me see...as Davey mentioned on his blog the other day, he (and Nigel) played on all the big hits. Case closed.
To sum up, does TDB have it's place? Of course it does. It's not a bad album, but it's certainly not the wondermint that some people talk about. It's probably the start of a new era of albums in this vein, for me the last proper EJ album was CATK. I've taken what I can from The Union and from this one. The mantra I keep getting hurled at me like some press release from TASS is that this is something Elton wants to do. Like I explained earlier, I got that t-shirt (not quite, I'm still looking for a TDB tee). More power to his left foot and both hands I say. Long may he continue to go into the studio and whip up some more classics. Because there are a couple on this disc, it's just a pity we had wade through the other stuff to find them. Like wading through Quicksand you could say...but to me in 2013, Elton onstage is still a far better bet now. He's still has that power to enthrall, excite and surprise. Elements that are not on this album I'm afraid to report.
One issue pertaining to my initial review was acceptance of peoples rights to express an opinion of the album. Which I did so here. I consult many Elton fans worldwide, through Facebook, email and in person. All views, all the time. But what some people fail to acknowledge, again whether it be on purpose or neglect of thought, is that they must accept we like something they don't and vice versa. Over the last couple of weeks, my review was frequently misquoted, misrepresented or most likely misunderstood. What motivated those actions, they only know. I had a view about the album before it came out, but another canard that frequently rears it's ugly head is the charge that I stated the album would no use because the band weren't on it. Not the case!! I stated, and you can check back if you wish, that the songs on the disc would not be as good as their live counterparts. Get your facts right!! I stand over that claim now, in fact vindication is mine. A straw poll of live versions over studio versions will kill that argument stone dead.
Last words now, I enjoyed the process of listening to the new album as I always do, a new Elton album is always a treat, though this techno age had kind of sullied the buildup. I've put it to one side now, I will return to it later myself and see what's happening with it. Before I go, I want to alert you to the best 'fan' review I read about the album. If I say the name Jim Turano, that introduction will be enough. His honest, frank and forthright piece is a tale of how many fans (including yours truly) felt when we first heard it. When you read his insight, be warned it's long but well worth the trip, you'll find that even the great and the good in the Elton world have different opinions to the next man or woman. Thanks to my friend Jack Rabbit too for providing Jim with the platform to express his standpoint. As for me, I've said all I'm going to say about the album, Elton likes it so...