How many people here reading this have seen Friends? If you have, then you'll know it's a load of cobblers. If not, well, you know now that it is. The things is, do you need to see the film for the soundtrack album to work. Eh, no. In fact not seeing it makes it work even better. I've only seen the film once, a few years ago thank God. I shan't be watching again. However the soundtrack album in one that I regular spin as it's one of the greatest undervalued Elton albums in the catalogue.
Simply put, I love this album. The mix of innocence, both in lyrics and melodies is offset by the edginess of the production by Gus and those who play on it. Neither is dominant nor tries to outshine the other. Much credit has to be given to Paul Buckmaster for his work. The guy is a genius, a favourite of this blog. I don't think, nay I'm certain, he hasn't done one wrong move in his work with Elton. Everything he touched was magic. And his magic is all over this one. The title song is one of the greatest EJ/BT songs ever. Pure simplicity, songwriting at it's finest. You can be damn sure this one was of no effort to write. The opening chords progress naturally and effortlessly. The wonderful arrangement is like the wide open fields we often see in the film. Lush and full. The bass played by Alan Weighill with the plectrum gives that slight edge to scare away any sappiness. Michelle's Song's is hypnotic in it's feel, just like looking at water with the ripples spreading out from the cast pebble. Lyric, melody...all as one. One of Buckmaster's devices, the harp and acoustic guitar in tandem are in evidence here. The perfect lilt to strum along.
Like I said earlier, it's the mixing up of mood that's key to the albums appeal. The transitions are superb. The wonderful variations Buckmaster does, the reworking of Elton's main themes to flesh out the soundtrack are stunning. If anyone...those who like walls with the padded feel...was in doubt to Elton's mastery of composing just listen to what they sound like played by an orchestra. Any gaps would be exposed in an instant in this medium. Buckmaster's use of the woodwinds, an often overlooked part of his repertoire, on the variations and reprise's are pure gold. Mixed with his overall arrangements, they are neither flashy or gung-ho. One of the most dramatic transitions on any Elton must be when we are almost lullabyed to a dream with the Variation On Michelle's Song to be suddenly snapped out of it with Caleb Quaye's effects laden Fender. It moves across the spectrum, with the many overdubs with unique accents. The lead line has a distinctive twang, the perfect break in the run of orchestral overtures. Nigel and Dee are simply superb on this...show me a moment where they weren't...probably the nearest we've ever had to their live 70-71 3-piece excitement with Elton cut in the studio. Raw, uncompromising and in your face. With Caleb's guitar wrapped around Elton piano so expertly, the result is fireworks with a box of matches let off under it. Not that anyone knew it then, but we even hear the rhythm riff off Bite Your Lip as it frequently appears during the outro. Wasn't that clever! Nigel's drumming is the perfect counterpoint to Barry Morgan's on the other two songs to require such a instrument. Morgan's playing is measured, precise and full. As the music requires it to be. Honey Roll may come across as a song written to order...which essentially it was...but there's no run of the mill stuff here. A funky piano line from Elton with funky vocals from those effervescent trio of Bell, Duncan and Strike.
Buckmasters major piece, the 4 Moods sees him at varying stages being moody in his approach. The baroque influence, the harpsichord with it's regal overtones, all make major statements. The waves of the strings, soft one minute then aggressive the next with intermediate moments of sedateness. These quieter moments again incorporate cameo appearances from Elton's main melodies, Buckmaster's clever use of intertwining them with his own compositions shows that both Royal Academy men had been instilled with a common DNA. A triumph for all concerned.The spoken word segment...when it appears...sounds like another radio station has cut in. Obviously taken from the film, it was only when I saw it I got the context of it. So maybe you need to see the film after all!!