Leather Jackets (Elton John) – Album Review

"Leather Jackets" Was Issued In 1986, And It Is Regarded As One Of Elton John's Biggest Failures. It Was The First Album Since "Tumbleweed Connection" To Yield No Top 40 Singles.

"Leather Jackets" Was Issued In 1986, And It Is Regarded As One Of Elton John's Biggest Failures. It Was The First Album Since "Tumbleweed Connection" To Yield No Top 40 Singles.

It is generally accepted that the ’80s were spotty years for the vast majority of artists that had careers which had commenced in the previous decade (or decades). The other day I was talking with a fan of Bowie that made some of the most venomous comments I had ever heard in my life about anybody regarding Ziggy Stardust and his output during that decade. And from an entirely objective viewpoint, I can’t speak much better about my favorite bands – The Who released only two albums back then, and they are traditionally considered artistic dead ends in themselves. Although I am fond of “Face Dances” (and quite fond of it at that), if you were to look at it objectively the disc is just an intermittent reminder of what used to be, whereas “It’s Hard” is inexcusable. For its part, even XTC (a band that is characterized for not stepping out of line) missed the boat with the release of “The Big Express”. And there is Elton John.

The decade had started on the wrong foot with the release of the “Victim Of Love” album, and it was to be a bumpy ride from that point until he (sort of) reinvented himself in the ’90s as an adult entertainer. Some of his worst-selling albums ever came during the ’80s, and while some of these discs weren’t really that bad (The Fox), some deserved all the stick they got. And this is one of these.

“Leather Jackets” is the kind of album that can only be listened to with one finger on the fast-forward button. It produced no hit singles at a time in which Elton was known for churning them out quite easily, and Elton was later to disown the album completely. The album was also the last Gus Dudgeon would helm for Elton – he was given a second chance after “Ice On Fire”. Sadly, the soft rock approach he applied just buried the bits that could have been interesting (like Davey Johnstone’s guitar), driving another definitive nail in the coffin and ending a truly memorable partnership in an unnecessarily low note. Continue reading

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John) – Album Review

A Two-record Set, "Goodbye Yello Brick Road" Was Released In 1973 To Great Success

A Two-record Set, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" Was Released In 1973. It Is Now Regarded As The One Album That Marked Elton's Highest Commercial Point.

This is the quintessential Elton John album. It has some pop masterpieces, some filler, some embarrassments, some songs whose lyrics wouldn’t work anywhere else but here, a couple of songs that have inexcusable words, and (on the whole) songs that scream out “this guy sure plays and sings with gusto”.

The cuts that work obviously include the larger-than-life hits “Bennie & The Jets”, “Candle In The Wind” and the title track. Personally, I find it impossible to assimilate that these songs stand as part of a bigger work and not as isolated pieces that are played on the radio every five seconds, and that can sit next to anything. These songs are likewise the ones where Bernie does its job correctly, and even more than that on the perennial “Candle In The Wind”. The album also has the live favorite “Saturday’s Night Alright For Fighting” – it was actually the first single, and it hit higher in the UK than in the US, which was something unusual for Elton at this point. The song also was covered by The Who for the John/Taupin tribute “Two Rooms”, and their version (with Who archivist Jon Astley on drums) can be found on the “30 Years Of Maximum R & B” boxed set as well. It is certainly a “British” song – it deals with Bernie’s early years on the countryside (Lincolnshire), and the images of boys and girls preparing for a long night out surely factored heavily in its success. Continue reading

Nonsuch (XTC) – Album Review

Nonsuch Was First Issued In 1992

Nonsuch Was First Issued In 1992

Nonsuch is a quintessential XTC album in all the good and bad aspects. It is an elegant and refined collection that engages our brains and lifts shadows off our dreams (IE the good aspects), and it is also an album that fared abysmally when released (IE the bad aspect). The good aspects are a merit of the band, and the bad aspect that was mentioned is attributable to the buying public and its limited sight. What makes it all the more aggravating is that the album is nothing short of masterful, and its mastery is nothing short of awe-inspiring. John Alroy cites Andy’s poetic skills, and it is hard to disagree with that. But it must be mentioned that Colin does not necessarily lag behind here – alright, a song like “The Smartest Monkey” could do with a better lyric, but the rest are up there with his best work: “My Bird Performs” is a great “happy with my lot” song, and “Bungalow” is amazing in the way it grows. While my favorite songs of his are the ones found within “Oranges & Lemons“, you can count Nonsuch as the second best.

Andy’s best moments here include “Rook” (a song he has defined as his most personal ever), the gorgeous “Wrapped In Grey” (a fitting epitaph for the band in hindsight) and “Then She Appeared”, a composition that employ an alliterative title to excellent effect.

The album opens with the MTV-popular “The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead”, a song that some of you might also be familiar with since it was covered by the Crash Test Dummies for the movie “Dumb & Dumber”. They did it satisfactorily enough, and in case you are yet to sample XTC’s version here is the video:

Besides, the CD includes the mildly-successful “Dear Madam Barnum” (yet another character sketch, and yet another compelling one) and “The Disappointed” (which was chosen as a single). “The Disappointed” in particular is a very refined song, and if the album did not include “Wrapped In Grey” it would be the record’s definitive lyrical high point.

The album’s closer is “Books Are Burning”. The song is not necessarily hailed as one of Andy’s best moments on record. I think the problem arises from the stellar company that it has in Nonsuch, and from the somehow plain sentiment it conveys – “books are burning/and you know where they burn books people are next”. Personally, I find it a good idea to paint with more colors than one. A song like “The Disappointed” is great, but if you were to apply the same approach time after time it would end up being grating. A direct outlook is more thought-provoking than the long way around when it comes to most people, and I am sure Andy knew that. Continue reading

Elton John – Album Review (Part 2)

(This is part 2 of the review. It discusses the remastered version. The original LP is dealt with in Part 1.)

All the “classic” Elton John albums were re-released in the mid 90s, remastered and with some bonus tracks to offer fans an incentive that would justify the purchase, as well as giving both fans and newcomers a sort of parallel overview of the songs that were released concomitantly yet left off each particular album.

The “Elton John” album is considered one of the best bonus-tracked releases along with the “Captain Fantastic” reissue. It includes three additional tracks: the b-side to “Border Song”, and a single of its own (Rock & Roll Madonna/Grey Seal). Of course, the name Grey Seal rings an immediate bell as the song was to be recorded anew with Elton’s classic band for the successful “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album in 1973. The consensus is that the later-day version is more cohesive, yet this early take has historic value since it stands as Elton’s recorded debut on electric piano. Continue reading

Elton John – Album Review (Part 1)

A Somehow Enigmatic Cover, Don't You Think?

A Somehow Enigmatic Cover, Don't You Think?

Elton’s rise to fame was not that immediate as many often think. He had been covering other people’s songs for some time, not to mention being a paid songwriter along with Bernie for longer than was fulfilling. His first solo album went unheeded, despite oozing enthusiasm from every fiber.

If anything, his career was a matter of different pieces falling into position – his lyricist, his producer, his arranger and finally his classic band. On this, his second album (and the one that broke the commercial apathy) we see the addition of two of these figures, namely producer Gus Dudgeon and orchestral arranger Paul Buckmaster. They all had some heavy names on their resumes such as David Bowie and Eric Clapton, and the moment they agreed to work with Elton anything he would put out was to be digested differently, because their experience was to be felt in the final product . Continue reading