22 September 2013

Elton John - The Diving Board

Some artists never know when to stop, take a rest and reflect on the fruits of their labours. For Elton John, his career has been nothing short of illustrious and extremely productive and countless singers, songwriters and composers can credit him as being a major influence. However, not all of this work has turned to gold. The 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is widely regarded as being his crowning glory but Reg Strikes Back wasn't one of his best, critically it wasn't too well received in the press. I did hear a couple of tracks on the album and on first impressions I thought it was a bit of a hit-and-miss affair.

The 1980s didn't see EJ at his best in all, the previous decade he showed some of his best work, but in more recent times, like the finest Chablis wine he just got better with maturity. His previous work from 2008 included a good remix album Good Morning To The Night, and a slightly unusual collaboration with country star Leon Russell culminating in The Union, which I enjoyed very much (Eddie Carter's currently reviewing it, so I'll update this blog and include the link in due course).

So, onto studio album number (wait for it) thirty one, and this he says is his most piano rock orientated work to date. Once again Mr John has called on the lyrical services of Bernie Taupin as by his own admission he struggles to fit the words in himself, but they still keep the title of the best songwriting partnership since Lennon/McCartney. Though it took EJ only a month to record The Diving Board, he wasn't happy with it as a finished article, so he went to record more songs with intention of adding them to his project. Seems like it turned into a labour of love, but at a cost of 12 months. Question is, has the delay been worthwhile? Well, for a start, BBC Radio 2 recently listed it as the album of the week where a number of select tracks are broadcast, so far so good.

Proceedings kick off with the reminiscences of Your Song influenced Oceans Away, it's a simpleton affair but memorable. Nice way to start although Oscar Wilde Gets Out is a warts-and-all narrative and sometimes rather haunting. Fortunately the mood becomes uplifting with the Gospel/Bob Dylan influenced A Town Called Jubilee as well as Take This Dirty Water. However, the album is divided up with Dream #1, Dream #2 and Dream #3 which are all brief instrumentals. Any real need for them? Actually, I think absolutely as there are 13 other tracks and obviously a lot to digest. The Ballad Of Blind Tom suggests that Mr John has called upon some of his experiences in The Union with traces of the Deep South in the song.

Very intriguing and airy Can't Stay Alone Tonight, it suggests EJ has itchy feet and trying to fill in his time positively while Voyeur is another track that stays with me. It just feels so whimsical and then we have his single release Home Again, it may lack percussion but there's solid harmonies and a distant horn arrangement although the instrumental reminds me a little of Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word. More influences of The Big Easy are evident in Mexican Vacation (Kids In The Candlelight) while the title track calls on some slight jazzy overtones and Candlelit Bedroom feels like EJ had written it with Lennon in mind.

It's a waste of time if you're looking for any differences in his work compared to his previous offerings because you'll just be straining your ears for nothing. Elton John has gone for his tried and trusted format of piano orientated rock and sold-on-song and it works well. I'm not saying for one minute that this is better than Goodbye Yellow Brick Road as it will always be his zenith, but The Diving Board's a respectable album, and I don't think I can give a more befitting title.

9 out of ten. Almost perfect....almost.

Listen to The Diving Board here on Deezer
Buy the album here on Amazon
Click on here for Elton John's Official Website

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