40’s Insights – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Preconceived Notions:   I admit I perused your reviews before embarking on this one.  I have heard most of this album at one time or another and have always had mixed feelings on Sir Elton.  I was surprised at some of the venom thrown his way, but hey that’s what makes RC….RC. Time to take a good listen and see how this sorts out…

After Listening:  Elton’s early work sort of always raises that Pop vs Rock war.  I think if you asked most of his fans they would probably have the same dilemma with what to do with this album. Bills itself as rock, but many of the songs are packaged so neatly – pop springs to mind 1stly.  There’s little doubt the man can flat out play, there’s some piano work here – subtle touches, that frame emotions perfectly.  I could always take or leave the man’s voice, but it’s usually spot on for whatever mood he’s trying to convey.   I struggle with the claims/issues of pretentiousness, you do hear some over the top things on this record, but to me they seem consistent with the musical identity of the person as proven over the remainder of his long career.  If you’re being true to you, is it pretension? There’s a lot to just skip on this record however, mostly the nameless filler “non hits”….they seem to be a collection of antiseptic “clean rock.”  Repetition on this album can be a killer…you know an Elton John piano riff when you hear one, and on this album as a whole there are too many tracks using his most basic piano formulas. But this isn’t to say that all of Elton’s musical arrangements are without merit – just when you think it’s going to be more formulaic “rock” – you get a slight reminder like the wah pedal at the end  of “Grey Seal”, or the drum hits on “Danny Bailey” that this album can be unexpectedly gritty in moments.   The guitar and bass work on this record is much better than I remember – although I guess it can be asserted maybe the reason they shine so, is because they aren’t asked to carry the weight of arrangements.

Favorite Tracks:  “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies”  – actually some fairly raw guitar in it among the dramatic piano, before it gives way to the more guitar lines of Love lies bleeding.  Part of it near the end with the synth actually sounds a little like the “Reading rainbow” intro, so it’s a nice nostalgic moment.
“Candle in the Wind” – the bass and guitar arrangements are sparse and perfect.  The backing chorus is something that newer covers never get right and usually don’t include at all.
“Social Disease” – The piano parts actually take a backseat to some poppy bass and a healthy dose of banjo.  If Elton is going to poppy and silly, this is the way it should be done.  The lyrics are excellent

“And the ladies are all getting wrinkles
And they’re falling apart at the seams
Well I just get high on tequila
And see visions of vineyards in my dreams”

Least Favorite:  “I’ve seen the Movie Too” – A perfect example of the forgettable tracks on this album.  Somehow Elton misses the sad tone his lyrics seem to be aiming for, instead we get about 6mins of airy nothing.  Most of the music on it sounds like a rough draft, or a level check…
“Dirty Little Girl” – Mostly I hate this one b/c I hear the potential. There are gritty guitar lines with well executed rests and trade offs, there are lyrics giving an interesting character development…but as Elton is want to do, sort of uses a very dominating and prominent consonant piano section that ruins any of the interesting stuff.  In short, he musically cleans up Dirty Little Girl, before it can get interesting.
“Your sister Can’t twist” – This is just terrible.  You don’t need to parody 50’s rock…it already parodies itself.  To me this is the worst part of Elton John’s style – namely that he tries to tie himself into the most generic elements of rock to prove he can rock…the 50’s are an obvious target for such clichés.

Overall:  3.78  Elton musically has forged himself a definite signature, and so at various moments in my life my opinions of him may hit higher or lower than average.  Whether it’s singing “Bennie and the (m)Jets” at the old Shea Stadium”,  hearing some bar band stumble through “Saturday Night’s All For Fighting”…..or having some cheesy tv montage put up “Candle in the Wind” for a fallen “star”…..the point is, you hear Elton you know it’s Elton.  He invades your consciousness at some point in your life.  It’s unavoidable.   On the one hand Elton has chops, on the otherhand Elton loves clichés – about the best you can do is relate to what you can, and pay him respect for what he does manage to get right.

40 (45 Posts)

40 has had training enough in classical theory to know roughly what he's talking about. As for talent, he considers himself a crappy guitar player. He has a BA in Audio & Sound Recording BA, so not only does music creation intrigue him, but also music production. He believes that expression takes all forms, and it has to be remembered that music is an art form and is ultimately about connection, communication, experimentation, creativity, freedom, emotion, and 100’s of other things.

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