A Single Man (Elton John) – Album Review

For The First Time, Elton Recorded An Album Without The Help Of His Life-long Collaborator Bernie Taupin

For The First Time, Elton Recorded An Album Without The Help Of His Life-long Collaborator Bernie Taupin

A Single Man was issued in 1978, two years after Elton had announced his first retirement.

The title of this album should be taken almost literally – Elton had sacked not only his entire backing band, but also his loyal lyricist Bernie Taupin. For a couple of albums, that crucial chair was to be occupied by Gary Osborne (one former half of Vigrass & Osborne, the duo that came up with the original version of “Forever Autumn”).

Technically, I find Osborne more interesting than Bernie – he has a firmer grasp on complex rhyme schemes (“Madness”), and alliterates purposefully (“Shine On Through”). In terms of content, now, his songs can be even more misguided and clueless than Taupin’s when he is not careful. You have two glaring examples here: the single “Part Time Love” (banned on some territories such as Russia on grounds of condoning underage sex) and the plain silly and puerile “Big Diper”.

On the contrary, the songs in which Osborne bites the bullet and ventures on his own instead of referencing Taupin are mostly tasteful. “Madness” is a good example, and the first truly good song that he and Elton crafted together. An anti-war protest, “Madness” is the sole foot-stomper of the whole album, and one of the songs that sticks for everybody.

The other is the aforementioned “Part Time Love”. Leaving aside the unfortunate lyrics, the song combines one of Elton’s most fluid melodies in years with one of Paul Buckmaster’s most grandiloquent orchestrations. Note that “A Single Man” was to stand as Buckmaster’s final collaboration with Elton for over a decade – they reunited for the “Made In England” album in 1995, when Elton was sold as an adult entertainer on the strength of “The Lion King” OST.

And the album also has some shades of that stylistic diversity that defined the most emblematic works of Elton during the previous decade. There is gospel on “Georgia” and some Latin percussion on “Return To Paradise” (a song which could have been way better – it ends up sounding too saturated for its own good). And “It Ain’t Gonna Be Easy” is a blues number that actually works, although not necessarily owing to Elton’s contribution – it is guitar player Tim Renwick who provides the song’s most memorable passages, aided by another fine arrangement by Buckmaster. 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