Saturday, April 12, 2014

'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition) - Review'

First off, sorry for the delay in this latest post. I had some horrendous internet connection issues over the last while that I ran out of men with spanners to send in to fix it. Thankfully though, one of them must have got to the root of the problem and twiddled the right nut so all is now well.

Not only was this update delayed, but so was the release of this 40th anniversary release. So I'm in good company! Pushed back no doubt to due to The Diving Board having it's own delays. Was it worth it...I'll leave that for you to decide. One of my first posts here detailed a wish list for what should have been on this one off version. If you read what I wrote back then and in tandem with what was done on in terms of interviews, etc then I wasn't far off the mark. Or the powers that be weren't either. I'm going to review the super de-luxe edition, I don't collect vinyl due to cost and space issues. The Palace is heaving enough as it is...

The discs come in those digipak style cardboard sleeves. They are as near to possible in this digital age to a vinyl type cover but due to their small size they can be a bit fragile. The covers are bold in colour with strong vivid imagery of Elton from that period. The outer box is what you'd expect, the album cover in it's full glory. 

No need for me to review's been done to death. With the same conclusion. Apart from the fact it's obviously one of Elton's finest works, it's one of rock's finest moments too. So much written at the time, since then and recently about it. When you consider the turn around in time in terms of writing it and then putting it onto tape it's mind boggling. With no discernible deviation in quality on both counts. Elton and Bernie were sucking diesel as they say, the corridor between the two rooms must have been like a strip under a drag race. Smokin'! 

But not only that, the band and of course Gus gave the music the full range of their talents. I've said this elsewhere, sonically GYBR is unlike any other album of 1973. Pick any of the top sellers of that era and compare the 'sound' of them and there's no comparison. Nigel's drums have an incredible huge sound that retains tightness and precision. Dee's bass is mixed so tactifully all of it's amazing melodic elements are to the fore. Davey, well what can we say, the master of layers. His harmonizing of instruments have a wonderful opposing effect when you listen to the way they play off the various accents he adds. As per usual he balances the acoustic and electric elements like the scales of justice. Del Newman's arrangements have a terrifically widescreen delivery. David Hentschel on the ARP synth gives in that contemporary sound that stands the test. The way Gus recorded the entire effort is again way ahead of the competition. It was trendsetting and ground breaking. Again contrary to recent belief, the piano is clear and audible. And up front. He spared nothing in terms of adding something to the album if it needed it. No shackles of restraint for creativity.

As regards the latest remastering, I can't detect any change from the original from normal listening. I've played both it and the Gus remaster several times and they both sound great. I'm sure the tech people will have some more info on that, but that's a bit out of my area of expertise. If anyone has more details on the remastering, please add it to the comments section under this post.

So much more to say about this album but time is precious so I gotta move on to the rest of the package. One final thing I will say, the impact of this album in 2014 can't be underestimated. If you want a barometer for that fact, look at the setlists for the recent tour. That says it all.

The original film by Bryan Forbes was one of the most traded DVD's in the unofficial market over the last 15 years or so. It's been on YouTube for a while too so it's doubtful if nobody has seen all of it or at least some clips from it. The Classic Albums episode of GYBR from 2001 used extensive footage from it. It mixed Elton from the era in all the arena's that showcase his talents. At the piano composing, in the studio recording and on stage performing. Interwoven with interviews from himself and those around him who helped keep the juggernaut rolling. However, all is not well with this DVD.

The picture hasn't been cleaned up, it still has the dirt marks of the broadcast version. But more alarming is the removal of interview segments with certain individuals, the disappearance of footage where another person is featured prominently has also been deleted. We can speculate as to why the John Reid, Maxine Taupin, Elton's mum and the Dick James' parts have been removed. I'm sure those reading this can draw their own conclusions. But I will say this, The Beatles Anthology featured references to Allan Klein. The Eagles History documentary recently featured Don Felder. So to omit these parts from the DVD release doesn't do the documentary any service. It's an amazing insight of Elton at the time, it's not about what has since transpired. It's still great to have it 'officially', but we need all of it.

Anyone reading this may remember the 35th anniversary tribute show Broadway did for the album in 2008. Not to dwell too much on it, it is the worst tribute by any group of alleged artists ever to try an Elton creation. It was lazy, amateurish, embarrassing and ultimately downright offensive. How on earth such a concept ever left the depths of someones awful imagination is beyond comprehension. Nothing that has gone before or since can match it for crimes against Elton's music. If there was a courtroom in The Hague for such matters, all they would be doing is deciding the length of sentence.

The initial idea of the covers disc gave me flashbacks of hearing a similar massacre unfold. But I had to step back and see what transpired from spinning the disc. Some surprised...some didn't. I'm not familiar with the vast majority of the artists featured. Most are today's hip young things, I'm afraid this blog isn't the place to keep up with such happenings. Might be a good thing, might not be. They avoided established acts in order for Elton to indulge in his passion from promoting new talent. So with that guilt trip hanging over us, how could we disagree. But disagree I do. 

Candle In The Wind/Ed Sheeran - An inoffensive sort of effort, the faux country style doesn't really add anything, nor does the tempo increase. Bland in the extreme.

Bennie And The Jets/Miguel - This is as bad as the aforementioned 2008 tribute. I'm not into rap or any style of music like that, the song is totally and utterly destroyed. If they tried to make it any more of a disaster that it is, then dousing it in petrol might have helped. the plague.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road/Hunter Hayes - Again, an unremarkable effort. Don't know what else to say.

Grey Seal/The Band Perry - Finally, something on this disc that deserves some attention. None of this overproduced, trying to be clever type of reworking. It's a terrific blend of country and rock I believe it used to be called...mixed with Americana to give an edge that Americana always lacks. Banjo's, Dobro's and electric guitars in abundance. They even do a nice nod to Nigel on the drum fills at the end of the final chorus. The lead singer, Kimberly Perry, has a terrific gutsy voice. All round, it's great treatment of the song. Full of lively energy.
Sweet Painted Lady/John Grant - I'm really struggling with some of these songs, this is another dull reworking. Nothing more to say. 

All The Girls Love Alice/Emeli Sande - A few years ago I was stuck on hold to a call centre for a while...quite a while...and this girl sang the same song over and over. You know the one I'm talking about. A big hit I believe. So I kind of got my life's dose of her by to me, I thought she'd become a part of me. So starting from rock bottom, this could only go one way. Or could it? No it couldn't...Ellie Goulding a few years ago thought it was alright to re-arrange the verses on Your Song. That method is again deployed here. So the 'run' of the song has been disrupted. In other words, my ears were sent in the wrong direction. A confusing feeling that was uncalled for. The song takes a more sinister tone too. The arrangement is darkly and foreboding. Which in turn removes the glorious contrast between the verses and the chorus. Uptempo and then the sudden slow down to more contemplative moments. One of the key (among many) elements of the original. This a total failure. In trying to be clever...too clever..they've fallen over themselves in trying establish moods and feelings that have nothing to do with this song (or some of the others).

Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock And Roll)/Imelda May - The best song on the covers disc. End of. Anyone not familiar with Imelda's style, think Brian Setzer in a tight dress with a quiff. Notwithstanding the fact that she's from inside the Pale of Dublin like myself, her style is tailor made for the song. She gauges it perfectly. The 50's vibe is well and truly realised, her vocal has plenty of attitude and the band rock out with equal tenacity. They didn't release a single from this collection, but if they did this surely would have been a great contender. Terrific stuff. If she does live it would bring the house down.

Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting/Fall Out Boy - As great as the previous song is, this is as dumb as you can get. And I mean dumb. It's juvenile delinquency on disc. Unbelievable. It's like a load of kids (no offense kids, in your garage playing) got together and decided to give it a lash. Whatever talent they lack is highlighted in spades here, the number of changes Davey did on the original has caught out many masters in the past, but these guys are well and truly caught in the headlights. Like Jack Rabbit and his's moronic. 

Harmony/Zac Brown Band - Nothing much to hear here...

To sum up, the covers disc only has two songs on it worth bothering about. The rest are either so unremarkable you'd forget I have...or so bad they stick in your mind and you can't forget them. Which some have done, unfortunately. If they had released this album as a standalone piece, it would have been lost forever. Apart from the 2 songs on it I like, that might not have been a bad thing. If some of these versions are meant to be a gateway to Elton's music, then the gate might be swinging back the other way as they retreat with haste.

The was some debate beforehand about whether this show or the Hollywood Bowl show should have been included. But his has more GYBR than the other one, so they added this in by default you could say. The bootleg of it has been around for years, the original BBC Radio broadcast has been rebroadcast in recent years in the US so a very good version already existed. The remastered version from last year is excellent. Is this an improvement? Clear away the smoke and we'll see...
First off, the stereo spectrum is now the right way around.The remaining tape hiss has been cleared away so Elton's minor vocal parts are now more audible. Apart from that, not much else done to it. The sound is brighter and vibrant in fairness. The recent remastered bootleg is very close to this version. This is isn't a Wembley '75 style upgrade, from ark to space shuttle in comparative terms. Royal Festival Hall '72 and Wembley '75 are far better recordings. Not to mention Here And There. The piano is too low key here. Because the concert was broadcast on BBC Radio 1, I suspect they recorded it and that's why it's not as good as the recordings that Elton's people made on those other ones I mentioned.
In saying all that, it's still a terrific show. Elton may have a cold, but his voice still shines through. The airiness of that era's vocal style just a bit more cloudy than usual. The band are on fire, they were really getting into the groove by this stage. As a precursor to the 1974 shows, which had them at the height of Elton's band shows during the 70's, it is another on their long journey together. The raw nakedness of the tracks stripped of the orchestral, synth and other embellishments on disc is a terrific contrast to the recorded piece. But still doesn't leave any holes or spaces. They are expertly filled by everyone stage to give an overflowing performance. If only they had camera's tucked away in the corner..

One complaint about the book. It's too small!! In saying that, due to size constraints it was never going to be any bigger. Good things come in small packages it's been said sometimes. And this is good. There are some great cut away pictures of the costumes of the era with a corresponding picture of Elton wearing said costume onstage. More of this stuff please. Elton's costumes in the 70's and 80's were an essential part of his stage persona. It would be great to have a greater visual document of them all. His glasses are also detailed, various vinyl covers from international markets are highlighted along with other memorabilia. It's a nice little package with everything nicely presented.

Overall, the super de-luxe package is value for money. The covers disc though is really a passenger. The supplementing of that disc with some odd choices (Philadelphia Freedom) does feel like filler. The DVD for those new to it will be a treat, pity it's not all there. The live show for those who aren't into bootlegs will be a welcome addition. Folks like me who had all those elements before, irrespective of quality, will have had no surprises. Oh well, I suppose I'll have to wait to Step Into Christmas for that experience...

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