Thursday, October 22, 2015

'Looking Up - New Single Review'

How odd can things be. For my next update I had planned to do a piece about a single from long ago...but out of the blue (thanks Ed!) the Elton world tilted on its axis a bit this week and the invisible fields of electricity above us have shifted. It's not true to say a brave new world has been revealed...more like an old world has been found under the ruins of the old one. Looking Up at us...Back to the day late.

When The Diving Board was released one of the many problems I had with it was the fact the band weren't on it. If you don't know why I had that problem, read back or row off. Not having the band involved was a major mistake. One that has since proved to be folly. I was right and all that. So the powers that be listened to the fans...and the response back is incredible. Not to put too fine a point on it, after one listen I know that the axis is now back on its proper level. Yep, that's right. All is now right again in the Elton world.

Elton's latter day recorded material had been a bag of old curates’ eggs and sold pups. I've not had that 'moment' with any new releases since Methuselah was almost a nipper. Plus it's been nearly ten years since I last had the luxury of hearing the band on a proper studio recording. A lot of water under the bridge since then... a lot of folks no longer with us. But we've got new lads in place. Or newish I suppose at this time. I'm taking a huge leap of faith here when I imagine everybody reading this has seen Elton sometime in the last few years. So you know what I'm talking about when I mention the energy, the verve and the guile the band bring to proceedings. Capturing that is like dueling with lightning, seizing it by the throat and bottling it. But that's what's happened here. Lightning is full of heat, light and power. The new song has all that. 

Starting with a flash and ending with bang is the ideal description of lightning. Looking Up has that all the way through. Electric (of course) piano, with a mean and dirty tuning to it, acts like a pre-emptive flash before the actual bright light of the acoustic piano announces itself. Listen to Nigel's drums as they kick in. Full wide sound, the toms spread out as far the ears can hear. Proper Nigel sound, and of course he can rock. The introduction to the riff is incredibly simple here; uncomplicated its effect hangs like the aftershock of a strike. When it does explode into something more intriguing its power further lights up with the layered guitars of Davey. More on those later. Authentic Hammond from Kim emerges from the dust of the explosion, like sirens calling out for listeners. I'm listening, so should you. The culmination of the bridge with its slight piano extension at the end steadies itself before nasty guttural guitars disrupt the ions and then set about destroying the remaining EMF. Davey's solo like a cross between his best work on Made In England, Dead Ringer and Rock of the Westies. The fade of the carefully managed piano chord at the end almost on a par with how we came in, rattly percussion from John full of electric tingle. Spiky hairs all round...

What have we learned? Where do I start? Imagine not having your favourite dinner...or favourite partner...for a while. In my case it's been a long time...for this type of Elton music. The last dinner was hot and so was she...I've been waiting for this day to come and was sort of anxious as to what it would sound like. Hence I avoided any speculation, some of the reports I've read emanating from the vaults have been off the mark; now I've had the luxury of hearing this wonderful single. As a first release this is as devastating a statement of intent Elton has had made in a generation. One of the reasons is the fact he's finally released an uptempo number. We know he's capable of delivering said style, Joe and Josephine Public are kind of oblivious to such a notion. So they'll be dusting the cobwebs for a while yet. We've seen Elton on stage, especially since 2010, really up the ante in terms of delivery and consistency. But more importantly take the hard edge and make it front and forward with everything else four square behind. Now it's on disc. The live sound of the band (point to be made here, there's no such thing as studio band or touring band, it is the EJ Band) has been crystallized in over 4 minutes. Bit like that warning we grew up with in the old days...its driving bass with subtle melodic hints by Matt regularly striking through isn't clichéd or recycled. Because Elton has strayed away for this style a lot in recent years he has plenty of room to play with in this field. It's a huge park and Elton and the band has knocked it right out with first pitch as they say over there. Over here I'm saying we have a whole album of belters to be batted!!

I know I've been hard on Mr. Bone but with good reason. He ignored the band on two occasions. It was too ludicrous for words, the absence on TDB made no sense when they had to be taught the songs to play live. So baffling a concept even a blind man could see it coming, even old Tom. This time that folly has been routed. He's let the band in, without much direction I suspect (old dogs, new tricks and all that) and just let them get on with it. No fool acting around with styles and moods, just plug and play. Plus he's opted out of his normal muddy style of mixing and production. It's as if an engineer with clarity of ear twiddled the faders and let the music be expressed cleanly and clearly through the mics. The drums sound like Nigel's as only his can. The snare is purposeful with minimum of delay. Elton's acoustic piano and Davey's guitar are routinely never at odds with each other, they step and dance around, occasionally meeting but never colliding. The rhythm guitar is strong too, the continual appearance all the way through makes it's an authentic 'rock' track. 

Elton's vocals are clear and blow away the canard of Elton's uptempo vocals being a pig ears at times. He brought home bacon here...he gauges himself around Bernie's words (lyrically analysis another day) without any hint of them running nose into rear. Subtle uses of one of Elton's many tools in his box, his harmonising, interjects with fresh regularity

Make no mistake here. Elton has made a latter career-redefining moment on disc. The stereotype and cliché which manifested itself from TDB has been crushed. Forever. Dullness is now light, slowness is now running and oil lamps binned with switches set to ON. If you read my reviews of TDB everything I said that Elton and the band could do on disc has been accomplished. In other words, the powerful energy and knowing ability that very few musicians walking this Earth have in terms of dealing with his music have been utilised. That's not some sort of brainwave from the boffins, that's common sense. It's a shame it's taken so long for the penny to drop but we're quids in with the amount that have fallen today. I think this may be, nay will be, the career-defining latter day Elton album. TDB may have had dreams of that but it's been put to bed. In a catacomb deep in a crypt. Like I said earlier, one listen and I was hooked. Not always a yardstick but look at it this way: when he does these songs live the unknowing crowd will be zapped in their seats.  The songs will sound exactly as they did on disc. No loss of quality in delivery terms or authenticity. That's why the 'live' life of the new album will, I suspect, be a major focal point of the 2016 and beyond setlists. 

This song sounds fun, the live shows are fun. Elton is awake. The band is awake. And this fan is WIDE AWAKE!!


  1. I just heard the song, and agree with most of your review. As for his vocals being clear, not so sure. I have a hard time understanding the words he sings. The music however is such a great treat compared to the moody Dividing Board :-) If you should find the lyrics please e-mail a link to

  2. Fantastic words, as usual Paul... I hope the Band read it ... One thing we Fans are is Loyal to EJ AND the Band.. Bravo Paul... Cant wait to hear this album :-)

  3. After multiple listens I now understand all the words! With a little help from another site...But I really like the song, to me it has a litte ZZ Top - LaGrange in it, and just a hint of Jackson Browne's "Doctor My Eyes" at the beginning. Someone else said "Spirit in the Sky"....all great songs.

  4. I disagree with you wholeheartedly regarding TDB. It's a masterful album that simply outshines everything Elton and Bernie have done in 40 years. With all due respect to the band whom I love so much and Dee is so missed, Elton is more than the band. T Bone has brought out the best of EJ not since The late great Gus D. The piano riffs on TDB are amazing. The lyrics and music are so emotional and intense original sounding. Have you ever heard a song like Oscar Wilde? Or new fever waltz? lWish it had garnered more radio play here in the states. I'm glad the new album has a different feel, but thats Elton! That why I love him so much!

  5. Just one last comment, TDB is not an album, it's an experience!

  6. I’ve been a huge Elton John fan all the way back to Madman Across the Water, and saw him in concert in 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1976. However, for all the publicity and hype, for me The Diving Board was a huge disappointment. T-Bone Burnett may be a fine producer, but I don't believe he knows how to produce Elton John. His style and production values are far too stark and sterile. 2001’s Songs from the West Coast saw Elton once again approach his potential. Why? Awesome production by Patrick Leonard, the only producer since the late Gus Dudgeon who knew how to produce Elton John in the studio. It’s not about trying to recapture the magic of 1970s, it’s about understanding a sound, a sound that is the essence of an Elton John record.

    Elton has said that he’s not the type of artist that will ever again be played on the radio and, compared to his popularity in the 1970s, he’s correct; that will never happen again. But the potential for a hit album and single is still there. Bernie Taupin’s lyrics are as good as ever. Elton’s voice, while lowered by age and altered as a result of surgery to remove polyps on his vocal cords in the late 1980s, is still recognizable and a force to be reckoned with. If you listen to some of the his early (pre-Honky Chateau) albums, his voice is actually very similar to today; deeper and warmer. Whether that was the result of acoustics in the old Trident Studios or a conscious effort on his part, it’s comparable. And I think it is his natural voice; throughout his career he’s ‘reverted’ back to it. Think songs as chronologically diverse as Your Song, Candle in the Wind, Blue Eyes, Cold as Christmas (in the middle of the year) and Home Again. Yet, for some reason, and often on the same album, he has recorded songs in a much higher pitch, such as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and The Bitch is Back.

    The ’70s are history but, as Songs from the West Coast showed, the sound and magic doesn’t have to be. The key is in the production. It seems as though Mr. Burnett may have taken more of a back seat on Wonderful Crazy Night, and let old friends reconnect in the studio and do what they do best. I hope so.