Who still buys Elton John albums? His latest, Wonderful Crazy Night has, as anyone who spends much time on the tube in London will attest, been marketed to shit, so you could be forgiven for thinking this is a major release. But it’s now almost 15 years since Songs from the West Coast: his last record that, if we’re being really generous, would actually improve your record collection (not counting his greatest hits compilations).
It’s fair to say that few music critics – and even fewer DiS readers – had Wonderful Crazy Night on their list of albums to look forward to this year. When you think of fans of Elton John 2016 you’re picturing someone who maybe buys four or five albums a year, normally in Tesco. You’re thinking of someone who would see him live on a summer’s afternoon, perhaps in the grounds of a stately home in the south of England, or a cricket ground, or a provincial town hall. They listen to Radio 2, their MP is probably a Tory and they probably voted for them and told themselves it was to keep Ukip out. I’m sorry if I just described your parents.
Elton John is a curious one. Of the seven artists to have sold more than 250m records, he has garnered the least critical acclaim. In 47 years of releasing records he has built an enormous following through writing some utterly majestic pop albums but, unlike the Beatles, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Pink Floyd and even Led Zeppelin, he is rarely associated with innovation or originality.
All of which is absolutely fine. The guy has worked tirelessly for almost five decades and his modern audience should be grateful that he’s still making music for them. For the rest of us to expect anything more would be horribly entitled.
My first thought was that Wonderful Crazy Night isn’t going to surprise anybody, but that’s not quite right. The main thing is that this album is nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. It’s aimed squarely at the aforementioned provincial Radio 2 listener but it caters to them absolutely perfectly, while also being perfectly enjoyable for anyone who ends up listening to it by mistake (dunno how that would happen).
As you might guess from the title, this is a HAPPY record. The melodies are relentlessly jaunty and upbeat. The lyrics are all about love and happiness and how great Elton John’s life is; this isn’t a criticism, merely an observation that it’s what you’d expect from someone happily married with a young family and who has earned far more money than you or I could possibly imagine. Bernie Taupin’s lyrics have a tendency to veer into the trite as they’re wont to do at this stage of his career – ‘Blue Wonderful’ opens with John sounding like a character from a lavish musical as he sings “Every breath is a prayer of some kind / I breathe in, I breathe out, I just breathe” – but eh, what did you think you were going to get?
Everything about Wonderful Crazy Night is utterly predictable, from its subject matter to its comprising 100% mid-tempo ballads, be they boogie-woogie piano (‘Looking Up’, ‘England and America’) or acoustic guitar lighter than a Peter Kay show (‘I’ve Got 2 Wings’, ‘Tambourine’). But despite this – and perhaps in no small part thanks to T Bone Burnett adding a lovely warm country tinge in the production – none of it grates. Indeed this is perhaps a glimpse at the reason for Elton John’s success: even when he’s putting out fluff like this, he does it well enough to make it likeable.
6Dan Lucas's Score