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29 Sept 2013

The Master Expertises (V): David Sigler

The Diving Board: Four Stars Out Of Five

By David Sigler

Long time Elton fans like myself, know the list of great songs from albums that have gotten overshadowed by the big hits. A lot of those songs aren’t necessarily radio friendly either, which is why they weren’t chosen as singles in the first place. So, in the case of The Diving Board, we have an album that presents itself with a “damn the radio singles” attitude and instead, are treated to songs that both Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin simply want to write. Of course, after 40 some years and 30 plus albums of writing classic pop songs, Elton can’t help to still write catchy melodies but on this album, only a couple stand out to me as potential radio hits.

And that is a very good thing. Because, now, with this album, we’re seeing a return to some of the songwriting style that established Elton and Bernie in the very early 1970s. The Diving Board shares a lot of history with those early Elton John albums in style, mood and piano playing but also brings something very new and unique to the Elton John catalog. For instance, the lead off song, Taupin’s lyric about World War Two veterans, Ocean’s Away, reads like a poem set to music:

Call ‘em up, dust ‘em off, let ‘em shine
The ones who hold onto, the ones they had to leave behind
Those that flew, those that fell, the ones that had to stay
Beneath a little wooden cross oceans away

With only Elton’s piano on Ocean’s Away, and his wonderful arrangement, from the start, you know this album is going to be different. Oscar Wilde Gets Out, is yet another fitting tribute song that Elton and Bernie have done so well. Taupin’s tale of the literary giant’s fall from grace for committing a “love that dare not speak it’s name”, is right up there with previous classics, such as the 1973 Marilyn Monroe ode Candle In The Wind, and the John Lennon dedication, Empty Garden from 1982.

Other highlights include the joyous A Town Called Jubilee, which has some fine slide guitar work (of which the guitar reminds me a bit of 5th Avenue Heartache by the Wallflowers) and could have easily been included on 2004s Peachtree Road. On The Ballad Of Blind Tom, for me, is Taupin at his best. The story about a slave who can play piano, is worthy of anything Elton and Bernie have recorded. Elton has delivered an incredibly haunting, edgy melody that has a real element of suspense.

Voyeur, another stand out track, features Elton providing more interesting and challenging chord changes that keeps you guessing. That’s not to say their isn’t a chorus, but the way the song shifts and drops you back into the chorus is quite entertaining. And the ending features some eerie piano riffs that remind me of the Mike Oldfield classic, Tubular Bells from the film, The Exorcist. While, Home Again, is a wonderfully touching song about leaving something to only discover what you’d lost and subsequently, desire to have it back.

Want a little of that old school, bluesy piano playing by Elton? Well, you’ll get your fill on Can’t Stay Alone Tonight, a cross between 1983s hit, I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues and a song from the 1989 album, Sleeping With The Past (I Never Knew Her Name). Mexican Vacation (Kids In The Candlelight) and Take This Dirty Water further that great tradition of blues and gospel influenced piano playing that Elton does so well.

The Diving Board isn’t perfect however. Some songs feel a little like outtakes from some of Elton’s Broadway shows. My Quicksand for instance, reminds me of something from 2005s Lestat musical. My Quicksand is my least favorite track, but the song has a very unexpected jazzy piano interlude, similar to 1976s song Idol from Blue Moves, minus the saxophone. New Fever Waltz, sways gently back and forward, as the title would suggest and seems like it could be from the 2008 musical, Billy Elliott. This isn’t necessary a bad thing either but it does sound very familiar. Melody wise, this album is a blend of his most recent albums with a dash of theatrical staging that sometimes seem over reaching (take the title track, a cabaret style song that goes over the top with Elton straining over such lines as “the planets ahhhh-light, thoooooose dizzy heiiiiiiights” -my emphasis).

Piano interludes (Dream #1, #2 and #3), solely written by Elton, are unexpected as they give Elton a chance to expand his piano playing finesse. Speaking of the piano, this album is one of the best illustrations of showcasing Elton’s piano playing upfront. You’ll hear every note!

The Diving Board has a consistent sound about it and thanks must be given to producer T. Bone Burnett. Burnett also produced the album, The Union from 2010 (in which Elton teamed up with his idol, Leon Russell). Here, Burnett assembled just a small trio of musicians (basically, drums, bass and piano), with the occasional guitar or organ in the background, to great effect. For further proof of how in sync everyone is on this album, be sure to check out the three outtakes, available on some deluxe editions. 5th Avenue, Guaguin Goes Hollywood and Candlelit Bedroom – all three are equally as strong as anything on the album and should have been on the album.

The Diving Board is determined to make you pay attention to the songwriting craft of Elton and Bernie. Now, four decades in, it’s still great to have them and producing quality work. Sure, Elton’s voice is deeper and sometimes his enunciations aren’t as clear as they used to be, but he has delivered again. Along with Taupin’s incredible short stories, masquerading as brilliant lyrics, The Diving Board will earn it’s proper place in the canon of classic Elton John albums.

David Sigler, host

Two Rooms: Celebrating The Music Of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Every Sunday at midnight on WOMR

A year round Provincetown resident, David Sigler‘s passion and knowledge for Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s music makes him a renowned fan in the Elton die-hard circles. Ever since he heard Bennie and the Jets in 1974, a special bond was formed. “Next to Lennon and McCartney, John and Taupin are among the most talented, prolific, and diverse songwriters in pop music,” he proudly states. David is thrilled to host, Two Rooms: Celebrating The Music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, to enlighten listeners of their respective work together and independently. David originally hails from Maryland and is a lifelong Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Ravens fan (though he cheers on the Patriots too!) In addition to Two Rooms, he enjoys hosting a show called Pop Life: Top 40 Hits from 1970-2000, when the need arises.

20 Sept 2013

The Master Expertises (IV): Jim Turano

“The Diving Board”: A Risky, Worthy Leap

By James Turano

On many levels, Elton John’s latest studio album, “The Diving Board” requires a major leap of faith.
A leap of faith to fully appreciate the bold musical and artistic vision Elton and his creative team here – lyricist Bernie Taupin and producer T Bone Burnett – are striving to put forward.
A leap of faith to fully embrace many of the songs which, simultaneously, are refreshingly different and frustratingly difficult, consistently derivative and familiar, and yet somehow appealingly comfortable and reassuring within Elton’s long-established, style.
And ultimately, a leap of faith for both longtime fans, and the casual listeners to realize – for better or worse –“The Diving Board” is the most challenging album Elton and Taupin have created in their 46-year career.
To use the term “challenge” isn’t necessarily a negative. But it’s not a resounding positive. Challenge is good. It forces to you work, to invest your time, and to seek. It keeps your interest and makes you care.
I’m grateful that after more than 40 years, Elton and Bernie are still able to challenge me, to keep my interest, to make me care about their music and their talent.
“The Diving Board” benefits from a patience most of Elton John’s other 29 studio albums never had the luxury of experiencing. Written and recorded during two separate sessions in 2012 and 2013, the finished product is appreciably bolstered by the extra time for consideration and addition.
The original version of “The Diving Board,” recorded in early 2012 and slated for release later that year, contained just 10 songs, mostly ballads with lyrics acutely esoteric and tragic. The final version now boasts 12 full songs plus three short instrumentals.
And thankfully, this strategic idea of delaying and re-visiting the project occurred, because most of the best songs on the album, including, “Oceans Away,” “Home Again,” “Voyeur,” and “Take This Dirty Water,” all were written during the second recording session.
These new songs inject a much-needed punch to the album, and without them, “The Diving Board” would have been a very different album indeed, and woefully lacking in comparison.
One can only imagine with whetted delight if Elton had taken more time between albums during his heyday of the 1970s. Those albums are considered among his best, but because of tight contract obligations, they were hurriedly written and recorded within days and released sometimes with only six months intervals.
Given the talents of Elton John, Bernie Taupin, producer Gus Dudgeon, and Elton’s excellent original band, who knows if classic albums like “Tumbleweed Connection,” “Madman Across the Water,” “Honky Chateau,” “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player,” “Caribou” or even “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” could have been even better with more time to consider and create. But that’s another discussion.
At the outset, it must be said; “The Diving Board” is a substantial, worthy, rewarding album -- musically, lyrically, and production-wise -- with much to like and engage the listener. The previously mentioned songs, “Oceans Away,” “Home Again,” “Take This Dirty Water,” the best of the entire collection, “Voyeur,” (which the album was temporarily re-tilted) and the title track are all new extensions to the venerable “Elton John sound,” and yet convey those absorbing intangibles of Elton’s music that inextricably elevate it and keep us coming back for more.
Regardless of the virtues of specific songs, or of the album as a whole, “The Diving Board” is the best presentation on record of Elton’s two inherent and unique talents; singing and piano playing. Musically and vocally, Elton sounds invigorated and determined.
He sings and plays piano here like he means it. Like he’s out to prove himself.
Elton performs here as if he is not pop’s conquering Captain Fantastic, but rather, Pinner’s prodigy Reg Dwight striving and driven to be noticed.
And that’s what this album is attempting to do: be different, be noticed, and make a definitive statement about not who they were for the past 43 years, but who Elton John and Bernie Taupin are in 2013 and beyond.
Elton and Taupin’s opus, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” was released 40 years ago in October, and is still regarded by most as their “masterpiece.” On that album, a 23-year-old protesting Taupin ranted “where we fight our parents out in the street to find whose right and who’s wrong.” Four decades later, a 63-year-old respectful Taupin offers an elegy to the elderly, by admitting, “I hung out with the old folks, in the hope that I’d get wise.”
This shift in creative perspective permeates “The Diving Board,” and on the eve of the 40th anniversary of one of their greatest albums of the past, the “Tin Pan Alley Twins” return in the present with new, mature music and a rejuvenated spirit. It’s captivating to hear a legend Like Elton John, with nothing to prove, sound so raw, eager, and fresh.
On “The Diving Board,” Elton John is heard as he should be heard on a record, and exactly how longtime fans have been patiently waiting decades to hear him.
However, and this where the challenge emerges, the album’s appeal isn’t immediate or thorough. For all the impressive moments, and there are many, there are other key components that fall just short.
For this reason, “The Diving Board” conflicts me. Conflicts me in a way that I’ve never experienced after listening to and digesting an Elton John album.
I’m naturally drawn to it; especially because of the prominence and pristine recording of Elton’s vocals and piano that dominates it on the whole. But at the same time, many of the songs initially seemed to simply pass by me, gliding along and failing to grab me with much emotion or excitement.
With time, however, I did feel and hear some of the music and lyrics come to life. But even in its best moments now, it still hasn’t seized me, refusing to go. I’m still grappling with a number of songs, engaged in an audio wrestling match by being extremely impressed with certain aspects – mostly Elton’s unprecedented piano playing at various times within an individual song – but never fully and willingly surrendering to the entire composition or album as a whole.
One of the main obstacles, and perhaps this is borne of knowing Elton and Taupin’s entire musical catalogue too well (albums, B-sides, bonus tracks, and all the rest), is many songs conjure familiar ghosts of Elton and Taupin’s past -- melodic or lyrical passages that tempt us with this similarity, but leave us with an unfulfilled feeling of having been there before.
At times, “The Diving Board” hints at several Elton projects of the last two decades or more, featuring flashbacks of songs from “Made In England,” “The Road To El Dorado,” “Peachtree Road,” “The Captain And The Kid,” “The Union” and Broadway musicals “Billy Elliot” and “Lestat.”
Granted it’s understandable and proven that after 46 years, any artist inevitably will repeat. And for longtime fans, occasional nods to the past are duly recognized and appreciated. For example, Taupin’s subtle lyrical allusions to their past throughout “The Captain And The Kid” added to the album’s nostalgic theme and charm. Similarly, this sequel album’s title track also featured a musical introduction reminiscent of the original’s title track, rightly bonding both “Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy” and “The Captain And The Kid” as individual songs and autobiographical albums.
But on “The Diving Board,” the similarities aren’t intended. True, many of the previous songs that share a sound or lyric with the current ones aren’t major hits or well-known (“Belfast,” “Keep It A Mystery,” “Without Question,” ”Never Knew Her Name” “Turn The Lights Out When You Leave,” to name a few) to the casual listener, so perhaps few will notice.
Regardless, the similarities are there, they are readily apparent to those who are able to recognize them, and are repeated enough throughout the album to make a difference and detract from the album’s complete effect for the serious fan looking for more from Elton and Taupin than sleeping with their past.
Additionally, Burnett’s trademarks – rootsy, retro sounds and production, and a regular stable of studio musicians -- often- creates sameness on the album. Burnett infuses the entire affair with a heavy, undeniable influence of gospel, blues, honky tonk and a New Orleans funeral march.
While it’s great to hear Elton enveloped in this organic sound – as it plays to his natural musical instincts and Taupin’s penchant for Americana and image-laden storytelling -- a sparse musical foundation of just piano, drums and bass, mostly slow or mid-tempo songs, and the same musicians on every track, restricts the album from venturing too far from its core sound or creating too many lasting thrills.
Perhaps this is an area where using some of Elton’s current or recent band members – most obviously, current band drummer Nigel Olsson, and at least during the first sessions in 2012, the now deceased bassist Bob Birch – on even one of the songs might have broken the album’s unvaried pace and generated some chill-inspiring moments.
Given that “The Diving Board” was originally envisioned as returning to Elton’s early sound, first achieved in 1970 as a touring trio with drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray, it seems a no-brainer to have Olsson involved in some role, as well as Birch, who in concert regularly channeled the ear-turning bass parts of Murray in his own imaginative playing. Birch’s inclusion, sadly, also would have served as a fitting final tribute to the late musician, who took his life in August, 2012.
The conflicts and challenges of “The Diving Board” are two-fold: there isn’t an undisputed, bona fide new “classic” on the album; and perhaps the most glaring disappointment of all is the absence of the one key ingredient to every Elton John album.
The “fun.”
Rock ‘n’roll fun.
Where’s the fun?
Understandably, with Elton and Taupin now both sixty years on, most of the songs on “The Diving Board” have a questioning, introspective, regretful, and sometimes downright depressing lyrical tone, which dictates slow melodies to match these somber tones.
There’s nothing wrong with this, as many of Elton’s best songs are his yearning, tortured ballads. But even the most serious Elton albums always have their moments of pure rock and energy.
Whether it’s ballsy rockers like “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” or “Streets Kids,” jumpy pop gems like “Crocodile Rock” or “Hercules,” edgy, hard- drivers like “All The Girls Love Alice” or “One Horse Town,” or pounding thumpers like “Bennie And The Jets” or the recent “Hey Ahab,” amid all the masterful melancholy and purple prose, on most Elton John albums there always are a few no holds barred rockers to boost the pulse.
And anyone who has seen Elton perform in concert knows that despite his 66 years, the guy can still rock, and rock hard when necessary. So why isn’t there any on “The Diving Board”? We know Elton can play them. We know Bernie can write them. And based on Burnett’s history, both as a performer and a producer, he knows how to rock for sure, as evidenced by his work with Elvis Costello, John Mellencamp, Los Lobos, The BoDeans, and many others.
Just one or two up-tempo rockers on “The Diving Board” could have tipped the scales on the overall force of an album deliberately designed to embolden Elton to tap into his musical DNA by eliminating the embellishments and bravely showcasing the best of his talents in their purest essence and strength.
Still, producer Burnett must be endlessly praised for finally placing Elton’s rich voice at the very top of mix, only matched by his equally expert and lively piano playing. In these two respects, this is as “naked” and real as Elton’s voice and piano have ever sounded on a studio record.
And so, even on songs some that sound patently familiar (“A Town Called Jubilee” for example, could easily be an outtake from 2004’s “Peachtree Road”), they are heartily rescued and brought to life by some amazing, enthralling piano playing in many styles, and much of it sounding free-form, improvised, and instinctual.
Elton repeatedly offers tasty and addictive piano fills, vamps, touches, flourishes, poundings, chord progressions, and catchy trills and solos that delight, bewilder, and enchant. Even somewhat lesser songs, including “The Ballad Of Blind Tom” or “Mexican Vacation (Kids In The Candlelight)” are imbued with a vintage Elton John energy and zest.
From the first notes and quiet chords of the first track, “Oceans Away,” – starkly featuring just Elton’s voice and piano – it’s clear “The Diving Board” will a be a logical continuation in mission and purpose established by Burnett on 2010’s impressive Elton-Taupin-Leon Russell collaboration, “The Union.”
In fact, the prominent piano/vocal production and reflective lyric of “Oceans Away” hints at the sound and mood of “Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes” the first “Elton-only” song on “The Union.” Depending on your perspective, this either could be a good portent, offering potent, promising signs of a continued creative growth, or a huge, raging disappointment. Because from the get-go, this is not your grandfather’s Elton John album. And that’s the challenge.
“The Diving Board” is such a challenge that the only way to best discuss it is to explain the first reaction to it after one or two listens, then share thoughts about the album’s ultimate merit based on many consecutive, repeated listens.
It’s challenging, mainly, because on first blush many of the instantly intoxicating components that have come to define a characteristic Elton John album simply do not seem to exist. Or are they there? Perhaps, those “instant classics” I’m somehow missing are simply not presented in their usual form.
Is then “The Diving Board,” a decided departure from the usual formula? Is it a fully realized album that does offer the best aspects of the John/Taupin songwriting synergy?
It’s these and other nagging questions that linger at first and delay the album’s initial reactions and make it a challenge -- a challenge whose demanding effort is thankfully and happily, worthwhile.
The view here is the conscious decision to not just phone it in and not make just another “usual Elton John album” should be applauded and encouraged. After all, Elton John now is steadily veering into a career chapter that must be focused on lasting legacies for the ages, not fleeting record chart positions.
But this shift can be unsettling for those whom, after several decades, still crave a certain feeling, experience, and relationship to the songs after listening to an Elton John album.
Truth be told, my initial reaction scared me.
Yes, scared me. Here’s how. Admittedly, after the first listen of “The Diving Board” from top to bottom, I was left feeling…nothing.
Numb and perplexed.
Why wasn’t I immediately connecting with any of this new Elton John music as I have been for the last 40 years? I mean, I even found a few things to like on “Leather Jackets” for God’s sake!
As I first listened to the music and read the lyrics to all the songs on “The Diving Board,” I was anxiously awaiting – as I have when listening to any new Elton John album for the first time -- for that “Ah-ha” moment when that song or songs burst from the speakers and instantly carried me away.
Like the first time I heard “Come Down In Time,” or “High Flying Bird,” or “Crazy Water,” or “Sacrifice,” or “Original Sin,” or “Pinky” or “The One,” or “Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy,” or “Chloe” or “In Neon,” or “Blue Avenue,” or most recently, “Mandalay Again” or “When Love Is Dying” and so, so many more.
But I didn’t hear it. I didn’t feel it. And it scared me. As time went on and I listened to the album over and over, more intensely, many of these fears were eventually calmed and some dispensed. However, there was a good while there when I was ambivalent. And I didn’t remember feeling so detached from a new Elton John album.
I was shocked and scared.
The album’s first single, “Home Again,” released in the summer, was a logical but deceptive first reveal of the album. Of all the songs on “The Diving Board,” “Home Again” is the most “Elton-ish.” The sound, feel, and story is pure Elton -- with its tender piano opening; crisp, longing vocal; and sentimental, reflective lyric by Taupin. The memorable hummable chorus quickly sticks in your head.
“Home Again” was a make-good on the exciting initial promise “The Diving Board” would be a stripped-down, bare bones sound as offered on the increasingly appreciated live album, “11-17-70,” featuring Elton on piano, Olsson on drums and Murray on bass.
But months later, finally listening to the complete album in running order, the immediate sweep and hold of “Home Again” wasn’t as pronounced and consistent.
As the album progressed from the first track, “Oceans Away” through to the sixth, “My Quicksand,” (including the first of three musical interludes, “Dream #1”) the songs just weren’t registering. And after hearing the ballad, “5th Ave.,” which was included on the working 2012 version of the album, but later dropped, it’s a shame this moving song didn’t replace either “The Ballad Of Blind Tom” or “My Quicksand” at the front of the final released album to give it some needed genuine emotion.
As I listened, drummer Jay Bellerose’s signature deep, thumping beats, though effective and interesting in small doses, began to dominate and drone. At times, when bassist Raphael Saadiq was featured, his bass sound did impress, but didn’t seem to appear enough for it to be memorable.
And while I like the idea of the three “Dream” musical interludes that act as tasteful palate cleansers between certain songs or moods shifts, they are too short and remind one of the various impromptu piano introductions Elton plays live before he performs “Take Me To The Pilot.” Maybe one full instrumental, which used to be a staple on many of Elton’s albums in the ‘70s and ‘80s, would have been a better option.
As I listened more intensely, I found myself slowly gravitating to the last half of the album, beginning my listening at Track 7, the rather pedestrian but undeniably likable, “Can’t Stand Alone Tonight,” and then heading into the more adventurous (“Voyeur”), hypnotic (“The New Fever Waltz”), piano-pounding (“Take This Dirty Water” and “Mexican Vacation (Kids In The Candlelight”), and beguiling (“The Diving Board”) songs on the album.
If this was a vinyl LP from the ‘70s, I might just regularly skip Side One and just play Side Two every time.
Lyrically too, I was a bit unsettled at first. Taupin’s words seemed long-winded (“Down around these parts if it was me I’d have hopped a westbound stage”), dense (“Insurance of protection from immediate collapse”), and oddly forced (“It’s sure enough the favored nations aided their decline”). The lyrics Taupin gave Elton also didn’t seem varied in tone to offer much leeway in composing diverse melodies.
Most of the songs demanded slow or mid-tempo melodies, setting the stage for a more sedate overall album. And in some cases Elton sounded like he was straining to fit all of Taupin’s lyrics within his melodic passages.
For example, the second track, “Oscar Wilde Gets Out” felt lyrically weighed down by history and the wordy exposition needed to tell its story. Only after several listens did the song finally feel robust, but only due to the pressing piano chords and melodic detour Elton applies to the bridge verse, helping to create a heightened sense of fear and despair when singing of Wilde’s imprisonment and ultimate freedom.
The gospel-flavored “A Town Called Jubilee,” was another wordy, complex story song inhabited by several characters and consequences that despite its energetic stomp and uplifting choir felt very ordinary lyrically, but is saved, again, by several nifty, honky tonk Elton piano riffs that give it some punch, but not enough for an impressive knockout.
Similarly, “The Ballad Of Blind Tom” (and do we really need another “Ballad Of…” song at this point?) is a topic that may fit on Taupin’s roots music radio program, but it didn’t belong here. And “My Quicksand” plays like an anguished “Lestat” outtake that embarks on a never-ending search of a melody or time signature.
Especially overt are Taupin’s ever-increasing use of Western imagery as metaphors that have gradually crept into his writing for more than 20 years, ever since he sequestered himself on a California ranch. Maybe “The Brown Dirt Cowboy” needs to spend some time at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City for a spell once in a while.
He also uses some previous phrases such as “Like the belt around Orion” in “Oceans Away,” a phrase also used in “Goodbye Marlon Brando” from 1988’s “Reg Strikes Back.” And “…you’re built to last” from “Take This Dirty Water,” appeared prominently in the title song from “Made In England.”
This is not to say that Taupin doesn’t deliver. He does. With time, I found these are just different types of songs than he’s supplied to Elton in the past. Again, this isn’t a bad thing. Just different. Just challenging.
For example, when the country-fried “Can’t Stay Alone Tonight” kept trotting at a restrained pace lyrically and musically, Taupin impresses by describing a shaky relationship with the lines, “You’re the last chance on the highway/I’m that open stretch of road/You’re the diner in my rear-view/A cup of coffee getting cold.”
In “Take This Dirty Water,” he confidently exclaims, “If you take the breaks you’re given, you get to make the rules.” Later in the song he fondly recalls days of unbound youth with, “Search out days that never end/If it’s only for the chance to feel just like a child again.”
In “Voyeur,” he creates one of his vintage, visual lyrics that’s just a joy to hear Elton sing, “And in every secret rendezvous where illicit lovers park.” It’s a beautifully crafted line of poetry that immediately takes you to a place in time and of timelessness.
So, despite the deadened hesitancy after first hearing “The Diving Board,” and the eventual discovery and appreciation of elemental aspects of the album – Elton’s vocals and piano playing, many of Taupin’s lyrics, Burnett’s warm, “Elton-centric” production – how does the album rate? Here’s a song-by-song rundown that may best demonstrate the challenge and conflict that hovers over “The Diving Board.”
“Oceans Away”: An excellent choice to begin, as Elton’s bare piano and vocal takes center stage and sets the tone for the entire album. Taupin’s lyric of respect and mourning also represents the introspective agenda he’ll put forth throughout. Though the song references war veterans and a decaying generation, it’s more a cautionary tale of enrichment and appreciation of our personal aging loved ones before they’re gone. When he directs us to “Call ‘em up,” am I the only one who believes Taupin may be sending Elton a subtle message to contact his own mum after several years of unfortunate estrangement?
“Oscar Wilde Gets Out”: On “The Union” Taupin extolled music legend Jimmie Rodgers, this time he sets his pen on poet Oscar Wilde’s wild professional and personal odyssey. Surely, Wilde is worthy of such an homage, but unlike other cultural icons Taupin has tackled in song, including Marilyn Monroe, Roy Rogers, and Lady Diana, Wilde’s legend isn’t as readily known, and thus the song must rely more on a litany of hard facts than emotionally-charged universal imagery to tell its compelling story. The lyric never lifts us or its subject, and it feels more like a reading assignment than a song to get lost in. Only Elton’s urgent piano playing during the bridge enables this to raise the stakes and exude the passion to take some hold.
“A Town Called Jubilee”: Yet another throwback in a long line over the years to the detailed, homespun Americana storytelling of “Tumbleweed Connection” and its recent quasi-companion, “Peachtree Road.” The story here though, isn’t as dramatic as “My Father’s Gun,” desperate as “Burn Down The Mission” or endearing as “Country Comfort,” from “Tumbleweed,” and is only heightened and rescued from monotony by Elton meticulous, scrumptiously funky polo solos.
“The Ballad Of Blind Tom”: This is a glorified B-side at best, telling the obscure story about a gifted piano-playing savant of American’s 19th Century slave era. The effort is noble, the is message worthy, but like the earlier Oscar Wilde tribute, its wordiness and exposition make it a tough slog and its interest is niche at best. Elton’s chugging “Keep It A Mystery” piano lead is the only saving grace from a track I now routinely skip past.
“Dream #1”: I like the idea of these brief musical moments to change the mood and segue into a new song, but even though this gentle and grave interlude is effective, it’s just too short to stand on its own and easily could have been the next song’s official introduction.
“My Quicksand”: I didn’t “get” this one on the first listen, and after many, many (too many, in fact) repeated listens and an excruciating effort to find something here, it still leaves me empty and distant. It sounds like a discarded demo in which Elton is trudging in vain to find a melody for Taupin’s tormented treatise. The song serpentines musically, never finding a secure destination because this brooding, poet’s lament is just cryptic, creative confusion (“I went to Paris once/ I thought I had a plan/I woke up with an accent”) put to paper. Elton’s flowing, jazz-tinged piano solo does bend the ear enough to suggest perhaps the lyric could have been scrapped all together and this could have had promise as a full-length piano instrumental. As it is, it’s suffocating and sinks fast.
“Can’t Stay Alone Tonight”: It’s impossible not to tap your toe to this confessional love song’s instantly appealing beat, and it gives the album some much-needed pep at its mid-point. But Elton basically resurrects another Jim Reeves-inspired country melody for a mostly average lovesick lyric that becomes almost a throwaway, sounding like Elton could have written it in a minute, and has on several occasions. This might have had a chance to be more with a faster tempo and committed vocal, but Elton’s singing is more obligatory than soaring, and it’s like hearing “Turn The Lights Out When You Leave” without the bite and venom, or “I Never Knew Her Name” without the blasting horns and attitude.
“Voyeur”: My favorite song on the album because it’s just so different (although there is a moment of “Without Question” in the breaks) and daring from anything else here, or anything Elton and Bernie have written in decades. Its mysterious title is supported by a shadowy, sneaky piano lead and sinister bass line that heightens its stalking motives. At times it reminds me of “Where To Now, St. Peter?” in its melody and taut lyrical web. The song effortlessly moves and shifts in tempo and meaning, and the song majestically builds in hope, paranoia, and desperation, ending appropriately with Elton bellowing a haunting final plea and declaration, as an exquisitely twisting piano solo plays the song out on an ethereal, unforgettable and addictive high note. More songs like this and this album’s challenges would have been stimulating rather than angst-filled.
“Home Again”: As close as the album gets to launching another John-Taupin classic in the “Elton John sound” tradition. It’s all here, the melody, the piano, the memorable chorus, vocal performance, the production and musical accompaniment (Bellerose’s muted pounding and the delicate use of horns adds the quiet drama). The song’s grieving, guilty longing for a return to places of your past is pure Taupin, who has frequently written of his conflicted emotions of leaving his simple rural roots for the bright lights and yellow brick roads of fame. At this stage of his life Taupin isn’t looking back with regret, but rather, is celebrating his liberation because it was integral to a new acknowledgement and awareness for where he came from. Elton too is a vagabond, who constantly travels and owns several homes around the world, so he too can relate. When he sings, “If I’d never left, I’d never have known,” you can feel his honesty and connection to the lyric and the sentiment. So, if it’s got it all, then why isn’t it a classic? While it has all the needed ingredients of an Elton John classic, it feels like it purposely doesn’t want to go for broke and unleash the innate drama and stirring pathos necessary to transcend and lift the listener like “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” “Harmony” or even “When Love Is Dying” does. Maybe in Burnett’s over-riding goal to be different on this album, he did not want it to be over the top. But that decision prevents it becoming something extra special. “Home Again” never reaches the swelling crescendo needed to make it a classic.
“Take This Dirty Water”: A jaunty, rollicking number steeped in gospel/rock that ascends to the heavens, again, mostly because of Elton’s surging piano that deceptively flows under the most fully realized musical assistance on the album of drums, guitar, bass, choir and handclaps. You can hear this one sung in a Southern church on any given Sunday, with its proudly proclaiming lyric seeking personal redemption and rebirth. Sadly, though, for all its gusto, this song is mostly a repeated catchy chorus, which dulls its ultimate power. This is another example of a song failing to fully flourish. Rather than building in intensity, it quickly finds its high point and never attempts to surpass this level. Throughout it feels like it desperately wants to break its restraints and charge toward its end in a glorious “hallelujah moment,” but instead, it concludes with quiet resolve. This is one where Nigel Olsson and Bob Birch may have been able to help elevate it to the natural heights it could have reached.
“Dream #2”: Another pretty piano pause to change the mood, this one is somewhat more evolved, but again, fades fast to serve its purpose rather than hanging on to find its own way.
“The New Fever Waltz”: The title gives it away. Naturally, this swan song of war-time weariness and uncertainty is a standard waltz. Musically, its similarity to “Belfast” from “Made In England” is evident from the outset, which is a distraction as it proceeds. It’s a waltz, so how can it NOT make you lean, bend and sway? And its chorus does stay with you. But the song doesn’t reveal any surprises, and like many songs on the album, it finds its course early and stays there. But Elton’s vocal is especially sensitive and affecting, and his piano and accompanying strings add necessary color. It’s pleasing and seductive like most waltzes. No wonder why the Viennese love Strauss.
"Mexican Vacation (Kids In The Candlelight)": This song of social revolution and freedom may have been influenced in part by 2011’s Arab Spring that occurred in many repressed Middle East countries. However, two years later, the optimism of these revolutions has dimmed, and countries like Egypt today are mired in chaos and unrest, and Syria has killed its own rebels and civilians with chemical weapons. So the celebratory tone of this song seems to have lost its luster. However, Elton’s piano playing is so large, lively, and committed, the lyrics are almost an afterthought. To hear Elton play piano with such effortless abandon and showy confidence is a treat we see and hear regularly in concert, but don’t regularly get on record. So here it is, soak it in. It’s one of many songs on the album that is better for its parts rather than its whole.
“Dream #3”: Finally, a musical intermission offering some real substance. With additional accompaniment on drums, Elton gleefully lets his fingers do the taking, utilizing the entire keyboard, and mixing in charging chords, flighty single notes, frantic trills and anything else he can find for his fingers to play. He saved the best instrumental for last, too bad it couldn’t last more than 1:37.
The Diving Board,”: The title track on this most personal of albums is a deliciously hidden homage to Elton himself, a show business legend who has “seen it all, from up there on the diving board.” Elton may claim it’s about current pop culture lost souls Lindsay Lohan or Justin Bieber, but this has Elton John all over it. Taupin relishes leaving the fame game, but with admiration, love, and concern he traces Elton’s rise to stardom, his consumption of it, and its risky implications. He tells how Elton “fell in love with all/The planets alight/Those dizzy heights,” how he’d “free fall into the ether above the people/Out on a limb fragile and adored,” how he “took the grand prize” and escaped “the reach of their fangs and their claws” of show business parasites, and describes him lovingly as “Such a pale little thing/In your lily-white skin.” Elton unfolds this showbiz saga in a jazzy, trippy melody, and Burnett drapes it with a lush, velvety surrounding of muted horns and drum brushes. But what really sells this is Elton’s sassy, poignant vocal, which drips of Nina Simone. Sure, at times it sounds a bit like “My Elusive Drug,” but Taupin’s lyric is so cleverly deceptive yet on the mark, and Elton sings it like his personal anthem. This album is in many ways about Elton, and so it’s fitting for the album to end on such a personal note. It’s a quiet, hazy note, but nonetheless a strong, revealing, and classy one.
So, after all that, do I hate it? No.
Do I love it? No.
I’m still conflicted, I’m but more than willing to keep listening, and keep being challenged by it.
What I do know, is, I respect it. And I respect Elton and Bernie making for it. In T Bone Burnett, Elton and Taupin have found a producer whom they fully trust and respect. Instead of wavering from their initial goal and ultimately making a more commercially palatable and fan-friendly album, Burnett kept them on a course aimed to take some chances and turn some heads.
Perhaps this album was meant to be a challenge.
A challenge for both Elton and Taupin – individually and together – to escape their comfort zone and stretch their talents, abilities and possibilities. A challenge for their fans (me included) to put aside their lofty, safe expectations and accept new songs that purposely don’t fit the usual mold. A challenge to make their fans and the public in general hear songs that may not instantly please, but in the long run, may more ultimately satisfy.
I’m not sure where “The Diving Board” will take me in the next days, months, or even years. But I’m intrigued enough keep taking this leap to a new place where Elton John’s music may now reside and continue to challenge.
After all, if I never left, I’d never have known.

Jim Turano

James Turano is a graduate with honors from Elmhurst College, graduated from St. Bartholomew Grade School in Chicago, and is the creator and benefactor of an annual writing scholarship at the high school. Turano, a self-professed “entertainment junkie and pop culture guru” has worked in the Chicago media and arts as a newspaper and magazine writer, columnist, reporter and editor, radio talk show host, an executive with the international public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton, and as an actor, with various theater groups in Chicago and its suburbs. He has interviewed many important players in Elton’s career including Bernie Taupin. He also wrote the liner notes for the award-winning 1998 album release, “Crop Circles,” by Johnstone and John Jorgenson, and contributed 40 album reviews to “The Elton John Scrapbook.” Known as "Elton" Jim as part of "The Garry Meier Show" radio program on WGN Radio AM 720 in Chicago, daily from 3-7 pm. Turano's Ron Santo impersonation is one of the best bits the show has going.

The Master Expertises (III): Liz Rosenthal


By Elizabeth J. Rosenthal

The Diving Board is not Elton John’s “first record” since The Captain and the Kid in 2006.  He released a CD called The Union with Leon Russell  - produced by T Bone Burnett – just three years ago. Although it was not a “solo” Elton John effort, it was as much an Elton John album as anything else he’s released in his career, even if he shared top billing with his hero and mentor of 40-plus years ago. EJ co-wrote and played piano on almost all of the songs, and sang lead or backing vocals on all but one track.

As for The Diving Board, it was controversial before anyone had heard a note.  Some fans were apoplectic that Elton’s excellent and versatile touring band, headed by longtime EJ guitarist Davey Johnstone, was left off the new work.  Fans furiously pointed fingers at T Bone Burnett, the producer on this, his second project with the Rocket Man.  “Burnett is a musical tyrant!” protested some Elton John devotees on social media sites.  “He is a bad, bad man who doesn’t understand Elton’s music!”  I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

The truth is that T Bone Burnett deserves a medal for drawing out the real Elton John on this recording.  Burnett told Elton before they started that he’d like to see the Pinner native go back to basics. Not just back to basic rock, or back to organic music without synths and click-tracks, but a piano-bass-drums set-up, like Elton’s touring band of 1970-71, which featured Nigel Olsson on drums and Dee Murray on bass.  Burnett attended one of Elton’s historic Troubadour concerts in Los Angeles the week of August 25, 1970, the series of shows which made EJ a star, as they say, overnight.  As Elton enthusiasts know, his trio flooredjaded, music industry heavies.  Elton, with his voice and piano in the forefront, amazed his audience without special effects or gimmicks.  He didn’t even dress up (much) for this gig. With Nigel and Dee, he simply brought his songs to life through ingenious musicianship, and the sort of breast-beating vigor he still summons today, at age 66.

So T Bone Burnett now gives us the real Elton, the unadorned Elton, the barely accompanied Elton, the Elton who has not an unmusical cell in his body. His lyricist of 46 years, Bernie Taupin (who now prefers to be known as a “storyteller”), once remarked, “Elton is the most musical person I’ve ever met.  It vibrates from him.”  And those vibrations sent tremors that shook the recording studio; T Bone welcomed them, nurtured them, captured them – in analog – and now it is our privilege to let them settle into our generally unmusical lives, bringing us joy, tears and plenty of tingly moments.

Elton has played piano on all of his albums, with the exception of the Complete Thom Bell Sessions (released in 1989 but dating from 1977) and the unfortunate 1979 disco release, Victim of Love. He has titillated us, made us laugh, got us dancing, or made us mourn with that piano.  But compared to The Diving Board, Elton’s other albums seem almost devoid of piano, seem like aural adaptations of the “Where’s Waldo” game: “Where’s Elton?”

Past producers, including, occasionally, Elton himself, have more often than not treated his piano as just part of the band.  An electric guitar or saxophone solo was perhaps likelier than a piano interlude in the middle of any given recording.  Sometimes, even when you knew the piano was there, it was barely audible.

Elton chose noted bass guitarist Raphael Saadiq for the Diving Board sessions. Jay Bellerose on drums, who played on The Union, completes the trio.  Other instruments enter the recording unobtrusively, like a garnish or brush of color.  Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, the two members of 2Cellos, who have toured with Elton as well as on their own, make their strings purr in spots.  For a couple of songs, the twang of a pedal steel hovers shyly in the air.  Horns slide in warmly a few times.  Backing vocalists join here and there.  Otherwise, it’s just Elton and the keys.

It’s evident on The Diving Board that T Bone pushed or encouraged Elton to be, in the recording studio, what he is onstage – a master of keyboard improvisation, a vocal powerhouse.  Burnett gives us the Elton of the deep, lower register, that sexy lower register heard only sparingly on latter-day recordings.  On The Diving Board, it dominates, especially on “Oscar Wilde Gets Out,” “My Quicksand,” “Home Again” and the title track, “The Diving Board.” 

Taupin has come through with possibly the most exciting set of lyrics – or stories – he’s handed Elton in many years, if not ever.  There is a knowingness in Taupin’s words, from having actually lived life, that is missing from much of his most famous word-paintings, since, as a young man, he was largely writing not from life, but from books and his mind’s eye. With his increased insight come lines and imagery of special elegance.

Peeling away the layers that have hidden Elton’s genius in varying degrees for far too long, T Bone gives us the complete music man, as close to unvarnished as possible, as Captain Fantastic animates Taupin’s words in an Elton John album like no other, the least commercial of his career, and the most daring.

Now we turn to the songs.

Oceans Away:  This track, a gorgeously elegiac album-opener, featuring just piano and voice, is a vastly superior update of Tumbleweed Connection’s “Talking Old Soldiers” (1971). In “Oceans Away,” Taupin seems to have spent real time with nonagenarian World War Two vets reminiscing about “those that flew, those that fell, the ones that had to stay, beneath a little wooden cross, oceans away.”

Oscar Wilde Gets Out:  The noted 19th century Irish writer – his most familiar work being The Picture of Dorian Grey – who was imprisoned in England for being gay and, just a few years after his release, died in Paris, young (only 46), miserable and destitute, comes alive in this dramatic track.  Elton’s music takes several gut-wrenching turns, leaving the listener emotionally spent by the end. On this and several other tracks, Funk Brother Jack Ashford’s percussion block, most famously heard in Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” comes through, as lonely and haunting as the echoing clank of a prisoner’s ball and chain.

A Town Called Jubilee: What is this song about? A farm family made homeless by foreclosure, moving to a better place, a new town serving as their “jubilee”? Or have they passed to the Great Beyond? It’s hard to say. But the rustic setting, a junk-filled yard, auctioneers playing cards, and an old black dogare gently swept along in Elton’s pleasing tide of jazzy, gospel chord progressions, with a bit of bluegrass guitar politely asserting itself in the background.

The Ballad of Blind Tom:  This tells the true story of Blind Tom Wiggins, a sightless, autistic African-American, first a slave and then barely free, who brought fame to himself and fortune to his one-time owner as a piano-playing wizard, entertaining VIPs across America and Europe.  “I may be an idiot/I may be a savant/I didn’t choose this life for me/But it’s somethin’ that I want.”  Elton’s driving, classically-tinged playing suggests a performance by Blind Tom himself.

Dream # 1:  The first of three brief, piano-only instrumentals, which Elton improvised in one take, this serves, wittingly or not, as the perfect outro to “Blind Tom,” with its clever integration of antebellum melodicism and Jim Crow-era ragtime.

My Quicksand: An unlucky person laments getting sucked into a life-draining relationship.  “My quicksand/Welcome to my final stand/I went to Paris once/I thought I had a plan/I woke up with an accent/I went up in quicksand.”  Elton sings theatrically, but in a 1950s torch song sort of way. He is wry, regretful, a nearly-willing victim. A smoky, jazz piano break, caressed by Jay Bellerose’s intimate drum brush, is the romantic slow dance.  But descending chords emulate the fatal scene in which the protagonist is swallowed whole.

Can’t Stay Alone Tonight: This is the best country song the John/Taupin songwriting team has ever composed. In its witty sophistication and friendly, down-home imagery, it outdoes ‘em all:  “Country Comfort,”  “Texan Love Song,”  “Dixie Lily,”  “Turn the Lights Out When You Leave.”  They are all plebeian efforts next to this one.  Toby Keith, George Strait, take note. You could learn a thing or two. “Can’t Stay Alone Tonight” makes you want to get out your cowboy boots and ten-gallon hat, even if you don’t have any, and find the nearest country dance hall, even if you don’t live near one.  “Things have to change/And they might,” Elton sings brightly over his rollicking country piano licks.  And you believe it.

Voyeur:  This is the cream of a very abundant crop, the song worth the CD purchase price all by itself.  You wouldn’t think that a mid-tempo ballad about voyeurism would literally grab you by the collar, shake you up and leave you sprawling in a strangely seductive back alley, but that’s what this song does. Is it about a pervert who gets his jollies sneaking glimpses of embracing lovers through a keyhole or from behind a curtain? Is it about government spying? Either way, you’ll love every minute of it, every titillating melodic turn.  Have a warm compress handy if you need calming afterward.

Home Again:  The moving first radio single from the album, it is a mini-epic, a five-minute cinematic, anguished longing for home, for the past, for whatever it is that makes one feel that need to return to one’s roots.  It’s sad – thus, bluesy – and Elton’s sweeping piano chords wash the song in symphonic tones.  “We all dream of leaving/But wind up in the end/Spending all our time trying to get back home again.”

Take This Dirty Water:  The simplest song of the bunch, it’s an infectious, straight-up African-American gospel ditty with cheerful, staccato expressions on the blacks-and-whites, a churchy, muscle-flexing lead vocal and a mischievous back-up chorus of oo-hoos, all of which put a broad smile on your face well before the end.

Dream # 2:  Elton’s second instrumental, slightly longer than the first, full of classical introspection, forms the perfect introduction to the next song.

The New Fever Waltz: Some may notice a faint resemblance here to “Grandma’s Song” in Elton’s West End theatrical smash, Billy Elliot: The Musical, but it’s really a gripping update of “Where To Now, St. Peter?” the fan favorite from Tumbleweed Connection.  Instead of taking a “blue canoe” to the world beyond this mortal coil, as do the U.S. Civil War dead in “St. Peter,” we join a World War One cavalry soldier, dying from the flu or some other untreatable infection in that pre-penicillin age (“I was shaking with a fever/When the last horse went down”).  He glides from this life in graceful waltz steps (“Shaking with a fever/Before the white flag flew/And the ballroom opened up to us and the dancers danced on through.”)  It’s impossible not to tear up.

Mexican Vacation (Kids in the Candlelight):  After the consummated tragedy of “The New Fever Waltz,” one gladly joins Elton on a fierce, blues-inflected boogie-woogie kick through a pending societal shift.  Whether referring to young, would-be beneficiaries of the DREAM Act (the U.S. immigration bill languishing in Congress), or Occupy Wall Street activists, or a procession of Wide-Awakes during the 1860 presidential campaign, “Mexican Vacation” gives EJ a chance to showcase some of the rockingest chops and bluesiest growling ever to reverberate off the walls of a recording studio.

Dream # 3:  This is the longest of the three instrumentals, and the most illuminating, as EJ veers into Keith Jarrett territory.  Elton isn’t known for playing abstract jazz, but listen to this and you’ll think that’s what he’s been doing all of his life.  Drummer Jay Bellerose taps a clever counterpoint to EJ’s spontaneous musings.

The Diving Board:  This is some song, this title track, bursting with feeling, a misty mix-up of jazz, blues and country, and somewhat of a “prequel” to the 1976 John/Taupin jazz ballad, “Idol,” from Blue Moves.  In interviews, Elton has said that “The Diving Board” is about young stars – like Justin Bieber and Lindsay Lohan – who struggle with newfound, mind-boggling fame.  “Sink or swim/I can’t recall who said that to me/When I was 16 and full of the world and its noise.”  Elton’s powerful vocal, a bit Tony Bennett, a bit Frank Sinatra, tops anything else he’s ever recorded in his very long, very accomplished career.

So there you have it.  My album rating:  at least 10 stars!

Elizabeth J. Rosenthal's first book, His Song: the Musical Journey of Elton John, was published in fall 2001 by Billboard Books. It's the first Elton John biography to be sold in Russia. After graduating magna cum laude with a journalism degree in 1982, Liz attended Rutgers-Camden School of Law, from which she graduated With Honors in 1985. She has been a civil servant, writing regulations for New Jersey state government. In 2002, she became bewitched by birds, since then reading everything about them that she could get her hands on and going on field trips whenever possible. Her last book, Birdwatcher: the Life of Roger Tory Peterson, is publicized on her web site:

The Master Expertises (I): Claude Bernardin

Piano Man, He Makes His Stand: - Review by , Claude W. Bernardin, ( Co-Author of “Rocket Man: The Music Of Elton John A to Z”, 9/15/13.) 

At the start of this new studio album, Elton John said: “I had to go back and listen to all the old albums. Because in order to go forward, I have to go back…” These days we have a dilemma with any new Elton John studio album. We find ourselves caught in a game of let’s compare. Let’s face it, the guy’s output in the early 1970’s was simply staggering. So inevitably someone will say, “Well compared to – Madman, or Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, or Captain…”, Yeah, yeah, yeah… been there, done that myself, but was it ever fair? Every rock star/musician is entitled to have their peak moment, once! And so what’s it to you that it happened to be in his young years? I have been a fan since the moment I heard “Border Song” off the Elton John album in September of 1970. It’s been a hell of a road….remaining a fan, 1976, “Blue Moves”, The revelations in the press of his Bi-sexuality, His music being banned on radio in 1977, “Ego” and Tom Bell, The incredibly ill-fated “Victim Of Love”, The return to form on stage with Ray Cooper in 1979, “Little Jeannie” recapturing the charts, The mishandling of “the Fox”, The Tremendously Commercial re-emergence of the David Geffen years of the Mid-1980’s starting with “Blue Eyes”, “Empty Garden”, “I’m Still Standing”, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”. Then came the darker career abandonment, of the late 1980’s….His obvious addictions getting in the way, the slow slide to mediocre musical product like 1985’s “Ice On Fire” and 1986’s, “Leather Jackets”. Up and Down he’d go…one minute crash landing, the next picking up the pieces, dusting himself off, still standing tall. Don’t get me wrong, each album had its fair share of pop fluff, and sometimes a gem or two….”Cold As Christmas”, “Nikita”, “Cry To Heaven”, “Paris”, “The One”, “Something About The Way You Looked Tonight”. And of course His third career coming in 1994 with a whole new Generation, we like to call “The Lion King Kids”. It has been an amazing career to witness, full of drama, pit falls and dizzy, glittering heights. 

So back to our original dilemma, how does one compare New Product from Elton with his back catalog…easy, one just doesn’t! You can’t take music from one generation and balance it against another almost four decades later. That’s just absurd. They are different men, different musicians, different thinkers, even their writing styles have changed. And I will make the case, all for the better. It’s not that I wish to diminish the Past, as much as I think it’s time we put it to rest. Yes, that was lovely, the 1970’s music was brilliant, it was glittery, it was special, it was a “Purple Period”, ( and for those who were alive and along for that Meteoric rise to The Halls of Kings… was “OURS”. But times change, years fly by, things happen, people change. I believe Elton has matured, and yet I wonder have his fans? We want him to be happy and swinging a walking stick singing in a high falsetto, “I’m still standing…looking better than I ever did…” or singing, “La, La La La La La…” forever. But a true Artist must grow. 

What we have today is something altogether new, yet certainly friendly and familiar, like being reunited with an old high school buddy. Perhaps a little older, a little road weary, a little jaded, but anyone alive in 1971, can easily see the chrome and shine behind all that lovely tarnish. The Elton John of today is a survivor, a talent to be reckoned with, and a golden Icon dulled with scars and years of patina. But the music lives on, and it is glorious! 

So let’s get the Grade out of the way for the fan who hates wading through my superlatives and tedious murmurings….This album is a solid A. 4 ½ to 5 star affair. Is it Yellow Brick Road? Nope…’s something “DIFFERENT” and different is ok, in-fact different is beautiful, creative….sensitive and sophisticated. Is it perfect? Nope, let’s get the criticism out of the way: Missing is a track as tough as nails ballsy as “Amoreena”. Missing in action: A country-hayseed up-tempo “Wake Up Wendy” meets “Birds" meets Leon Russell track. Missing : An 8 minute Epic track in the vein of Funeral/Love Lies Bleeding or Have Mercy On The Criminal or Ticking. IF and I do say IF I was a talking fly on the wall at this session I’d have burned T-Bones Ear big time about it ! But those are “Fans” needs. What did Elton need during this session? We have that answer in our hands. 

A Caution to the fans, You had to have lived this life from August/September 1970 – now to completely understand The Big Picture, otherwise it’s kind of like walking in to a movie when it’s half over and at the end saying: “I didn’t like it…I didn’t get it..” , Exactly!!!!!!!!! 

This album is a Career milestone. A Bench mark. As Taupin has so aptly said: “One for the ages…”. There was another in his earlier career, and in fact to be fair there were several….Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across The Water, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Captain Fantastic. Ooops hold on! Hold on! Stop the typing…..wasn’t there another, more subtle work, way ahead of its time, that fans and critics alike dismissed as Slow, boring, noncommercial, yet ten and twenty years later, those same people were hailing as a masterpiece? Yes, I am referring to 1976’s “Blue Moves”. Look if you claim to be an Elton John fan and you can’t accept nor recognize “Tonight”, “Sorry Seems To Be…”, “Cage the Songbird”, “Someone’s Final Song”, “Crazy water” and “Chameleon” as brilliant Elton John tracks, well then maybe you should try David Bowie or James Taylor. 

Now, Yellow Brick Road was brilliant…but so was Blue Moves. In-fact I am one who feels it’s perfect, all bumps, bruises, scars, heights and valleys. I love what it is, and what that is ….is pure Artistic Freedom and expression. Just words and a tune….but GOOD words, and Good tunes. And that my friend is exactly what “The Diving Board” is today. It is not a bookend to 1971….it IS a bookend to 1976! The moment Both lyricist and Musician, walked away from the screams and halls of Rock N Roll Fame, off into some deep dark recess of personal angst, pain and regrets. A lot of crap piled far too high for far too many years, and once the dust settled back down….many important changes and decisions had to be made. To expect after such an Historic Career, that these same two individuals would ever rise back up from those ashes to still prove they are on their A Game, was a task I sometimes had to ask my own self as a fan, “was it possible?” I knew my answer…..”Yes! If there was anyone ANYONE in Rock Music capable, it would be these two guys…!!!! But it would take Monstrous Effort, and Elton’s determination and passion to do it. By the mid to late 90’s, as a fan, I began to question and doubt this would ever be possible. The Music and words were just too erratic in their quality. For me the moment of change was “Made In England”. But the next album took us into an abyss of a slide back downward. “The Big Picture” ( for me ) was one of the coldest sounding, lack luster studio efforts I had ever heard. It had it’s gems, ( “Wicked Dreams”, the title cut, “Loves got a lot to answer for” and more ), but over all lacking Piano, lacking energy. Lacking fire. ) 

Thank God both climbed back up from the rubble, when that house fell down, and caught a thundering train heading to the West Coast. In 2001, John and Taupin’s careers seemed to have a renewed gusto, a new passion for all things songwriting. From the Brilliant “Songs From The West Coast” through “Peach Tree Rd. “ and “The Captain And The Kid” and “The Union”….they have stayed the course…..has the machine faltered or sputtered on the tracks? Yes, a few times along the way, but mostly, the quality has been solid, the effort its equal. And all this hard work, eventually paired them with their own Idol Leon Russell for a return to the top of the Pop charts in 2009/2010 with “The Union.” In my honest estimation, I was convinced this would be the end, they’d done it, we got there at least….be proud for them….and accept the end will come for us. But still, there was that little twinkle of hope….fluttering down inside of me….”Wait!!! Did he just say…..I honestly don’t know what the fans are all so excited about, I can write better songs!!!”? I heard it, during a Union interview….I heard it….and I was saying to myself and anyone who’d listen…did you hear that? He said…..and then I’d add, “Ya gotta love him…..he’s just possibly gifted and bull headed enough to believe himself! LOL” Well, I heard it, but put the notion aside. 

Another point I took note of, we shared an utter fascination for the reemergence of Bob Dylan in his Epic release, Modern Times. I recall posting about this, myself and another fan Richard Georgeou. If it had not been for Richard’s astute musical tastes I’d have probably missed the Dylan record completely. So 2006/2007 I filled my head and Internet with the thoughts of …”Why…Oh, why Can’t our Dear Elton John see the light? Why can’t he do something this creative and artistically deep? Why must it always be Springsteen, Young, Clapton or Dylan….Why? Why?” And then every now and again as the years progressed, I’d still hear Elton saying in interviews for each consecutive album….”Well it all started with that amazing Bob Dylan album…Modern Times…I thought if he could do it, why can’t Elton ? “ 

Well, Great works of Art…true Masterpieces…..can sometimes take awhile. And so I’m happy to announce : “You Did It Elton and Bernie !” Congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!

So can we compare the past with the present?, no – not really, but what we can do is be fair….and recognize that yes, a career CAN have its pitfalls, road stops, bumps and bruises, and one day just maybe one day, all those dings and dents can be re-evaulated and blended into something new. In 1976 Elton John and Bernie Taupin stepped off of land, and fell into a great ocean of self-doubts, musical plundering, and terrible personal obstacles. But like a great prize-fighter, they had the nerve NOT to fall down at the bell. They continued standing, sometimes faltering, and now, now after 37 years, they have returned to the exact spot they left off, musically, lyrically, emotionally. On 1976’s “Blue Moves” there is a wonderful Gus Dudgeon Produced masterpiece of a song called “Crazywater”, it perfectly describes what this songwriting team must have been facing, and had to wade through for the next 3 decades. 

“The Diving Board” now clearly, FIRMLY re-establishes this songwriting team as one of the Greatest Modern achievements of Pop Culture and Rock Music History. Yes, there “WAS” a Lennon and McCartney”, yes, there was a Rogers and Hammerstein, AND yes there will always be a John and Taupin. 

Please do not assume I am throwing words carelessly to the wind as I state all of this. I have listened, I have had chills, I have been stunned, and fallen in love all over again with everything John and Taupin due to the release of this brilliant record. But Great things don’t often taste or smell or sound the same. 

An Ice Cold Coke is not the same as a great chilled, aged bottle of wine straight from the French vineyards, one must mature and expand their tastes to appreciate it. I challenge the fans who do not like this album to listen to other forms of music for awhile. Get away from the Pop and Fizz of “Greatest Hits 1” and “Too Low For Zero”. Kick back and experience the history and earth of a true Legend. 

But to go forward still, we should put to rest a few minor details: 

1. Elton WAS a Pop Music Icon, he doesn’t have to go there anymore 

2. Pop Music was his life and times, but so were many other forms of music and styles. Too often they got neglected for that glittery star of fame and fortune. Pop! Fizzzzzzzz!

3. America has many roots, and it’s musical roots can be found in the songs of the 1800’s by Stephen Foster, or the Honky Tonks of New Orleans, The Classical piano of Blind Tom, the Marching Band Music of John Phillip Sousa, the rasps and howls and hoots and snarls of Ray Charles, the Blues of Willie Horton and the Gospel of Mahaliah Jackson. The country of Hank Snow and Jim Reeves, the Rock of Elvis and Little Richard, the Broadway of George M. Cohan, the Jazz of Louise Armstrong and Dr. John and even the snarls and wisps of Leon Russell. Even the sing song melodies of plaintive Civil War ballads, or the quaint folk ancestral folk tunes of England, Ireland, and many other countries of our immigrant descendants. This is the History of Great American Songwriters and musicians. And this IS the music of “The Diving Board”. 

4. Is Elton John a piano player? Yes, so wasn’t it about time to “FEATURE” that? Had we not had enough “Band” centered albums? I say yes. 

5. Elton is a Pop Star, a Fantastic Live Act, a Musician, a Band Leader, An Aids Activist, An Idol to many, but what he mostly is, when you pull back the curtain and actually peak behind stage, is a Singer/Songwriter. Equal with the likes of his Musical Generation. When this crazy career began in 1970, he landed in LA, California at the Peak and heart of the Golden Age of the singer/songwriter movement. A Guy ( or girl) with a voice, some good words, and an instrument. Dylan was probably the King of this movement, Next perhaps, Lennon or McCartney, and then an amalgamation of talents from Joni Mitchell, James Taylor to Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, David Bowie, Neil Young, Graham Nash, Bruce Springsteen, Harry Chapin, Steve Winwood, Rod Stewart, Leon Russell, Brian Wilson, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, David Ackles, Tom Waits and so many others. These singers, featured their instrument, and featured their lyrics and stories. Usually presented with a vocal performance worthy of the character they were presenting to us. Modern Theatre. Elton John was “THE MOST SUCCESSFUL SINGER SONGWRITER” of that era. But his fame and success was also always his ball and chain. Forced to always stream line his studio albums with pop fluff rather than substance. Forced to have not one, but two or three hit singles. And here’s the funny thing, ALWAYS delivering the goods! When most of his counter parts long ago abandoned the road to success because truthfully it was much too difficult a journey for them. So for me it is very fitting that “Our” road weary warrior has finally…found his way “Back home again….as he so aptly laments in “Home Again”. 

6. Today Elton John is a rock musician, he writes thematically as well. He writes in many styles, The Musical Theatre thing, rock music, pop music, the ballad…country, blues….you should expect it all!

Track by track:
1. Oceans Away – A+, 5 stars A Classic Elton ballad. Lyrically a tribute to the WWII Generation. His Music is the perfect counter balance to a rather dark, sad lyric from Bernie. In the end the two melt into a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to a passing era, and they do it with the utmost class. What some may have failed to notice, it is their Modern Times version of 1970’s “Sixty Years On”. Same sentiments, same sadness, same class. Shades of Old English Folk Tunes, shades of Old Civil War singsongs ballads, shades if immigrant folk tunes from Ireland and the UK….History reads all over the track, and it is ageless. One of the best openers for ANY album in his career. I actually had tears in my eyes reflecting upon my own Grandmother and Father and Uncles, now all passed. All who fought and stood strong for Great Nations and World peace. Every album has a classic Elton Ballad, this is certainly that. And my second favorite song on the album. Taupin in A+ lyrical form, sad but poetic. This is not your Norman Rockwell view of World War Ii, but rather a sobering, heartfelt tribute to Taupin’s own Father and his passing Generation. The title is a play, in words…The phrase was more commonly spelled “Ocean’s Aweigh” but one is reminded of their passing…in the more common use, “Oceans Away”. Elton’s vocal performance is honest and lovely. And the piano? The piano! The piano! Thank you for “The piano!” Love the middle Minor Key bit, in the middle, Classic Elton. Lyrics: A+ ( some of Taupins best ), Piano : A+, Vocal: A+, Melody: A+
2. Oscar Wilde Gets Out – A+, 5 stars A dark mysterious rocker, that shows Bernie Taupin sharing metaphoric images with a mean, nasty Chorus. Elton is always great when he’s sounding a bit pissed off! The chorus is killer on this track. But it’s his piano playing that shines. The “Tubular Bells” theme throughout carries the song through to its chanting end. We haven’t heard this Elton much over the past few years, this is Elton from 1973, Yellow Brick Road days. If you removed “Alice” and inserted this, it would fit perfectly. Mature, fantastic rock, and the 2 cellos add so much to counter the eventually very cool piano riff. A Lovely song that says quite a lot. Apparently the first song written, and recorded for the album. If I had my way, I’d demand the ending become a lengthier dark piano jam out. Who knows maybe it will grow live and become just this. But for me, this song comes VERY close to classic album cut! It’s in my top five on the album. And wonderful to hear again. A stellar performance. Without the lyrics, I am assuming we are pondering what Oscar Wilde must have faced and gone through, and contrasting this to Elton John? Frankly the song is so good I don’t even care what it is about . Vocally some of the best vocals I’ve heard from Elton in decades. His raspy low vocals shine all over the track, but it is in the dark chorus that they blaze. Piano : A+, Vocal – A, Lyric – A, Melody – A+.
3. A Town Called Jubilee In a song called “Tumbleweed” !!! Takes me right back to 1971. Piano is superb. Guitar is efficient and fine as an accent. Overall score : B+/A – Not “Amoreena”, but still very listenable.
4. The Ballad of Blind Tom By track 4, I’m convinced we are on a new ride, one we haven’t been on in decades! The piano kicks in, and I had to stop it, and rerun it ten times! I did the same thing with Bob Dylans brilliant “Thunder On The Mountain” on “Modern Times”. Elton beat the track, it’s JUST AMAZING!!! Only one song comes to mind right away, “The Ballad of Danny Bailey”. The song is slowly growing as my favorite on the album. And how much do I love how Elton says : “Oh, Yea!” in the middle of that cool piano riff? A Solid A+!!!! Classic Elton. Vocal is superb. Melody is outstanding. Piano is Outstanding. Lyrics are outstanding. Another tongue in cheek reference of metaphor…..Elton LIKE Blind Tom, Past repeats itself. The song gives me chills, good chills. I suppose you could say it’s my new fever waltz!
5. Dream #1 A short, pretty, piano musical interlude with classical overtones. Meant as a kind of musical intermission to this new Cinematic Masterpiece. And I love how it leads right into the next track. Very solid way to move the album forward and also to help lead us into a change up style wise. Intelligent pacing and formatting. One small WISH: or is that Dream #4? Why didn’t you include that awesome boogie woogie piano you played on the piano on Leon’s porch in your “Making of the Union Documentary ? You could have used a bit of Honky Tonk on this album. Grade: A. Lovely.
6. My Quicksand Totally new in the arsenal of melody, comes a quirky, but lovely, mysterious track. Some I suppose will feel a letdown or say it slows the album down, that is why we had the interlude before it, mood change coming! I love that the album shifts from what was “Classic Elton John” and slides into a slower, jazz influenced feel. This song grabbed me immediately! It’s haunting. I can’t get the dam melody out of my head. And the middle piano solo? It is lovely, and ok you don’t like the song….name me a solo that’s better from Elton on the last ten studio albums. Did anyone catch the recurring “Home Again” theme throughout? Did anyone catch the classical music referencing of Edvard Grieg’s “Hall Of The Mountain Kings”? And by the way FANS, did anyone recall it was a bow to his past with Ray Cooper. ( See: Moscow, 1979 – during his performance intro – to “Bennie and The Jets”). Lyrically the song is all Taupin, interesting, cerebral, and unsteady. Musically it’s the songs perfect match, I get what Elton was going for…a sort of musical uneasiness, off-balance…as if to suggest the eeriness of not having solid ground to stand firmly on. Just to hear the opening notes of his first true jazz solo ever on record, was an amazing treat for me, and he nails the solo. It’s a stand out track for me…is it a hit? Of course not, thank God! What? You needed another “Daniel”? Totally new ground here….and he proves he was up for the challenge. Is there a bit of Theatrics/Broadway here? Of course, and I think its inclusion enlivens the album. We got Classic Elton earlier, now we have this. Something different. The songs mood has an old 1940’s blues style calling up the darker songs of Billie Holiday ( “Strange Fruit” ). And it is that specific Soulful Echo I find so hauntingly lovely. To hear Elton doing this style, is amazing and wonderful. Is it rock or Pop? Probably not…thank God! But is lovely right down to the last notes he lightly touches on the songs fade out. Vocally: A, Melody: A, Piano : A, Lyrics: B+/A-
7. Can’t Stand Alone Tonight My least favorite song on the album. I get it, it’s the light-hearted Country single, but it truly sounds like a track off of 21 at 33. I’m not a big fan of this style in Elton. He wants a country hit, but I think he needs a more modern country ( Chesney) approach to it. “How’s Tomorrow” from the recent past, works much better in this same format. I do like the line….”Things have to change, and they might”. It’s harmless, but pointless. I’d have dropped it and added “5th Avenue”. Leaving it as a B Side or outtake.
8. The Voyeur My Favorite track on the album! I don’t even know what to say about this song….it’s just absolutely “CLASSIC ELTON JOHN”! A beautiful ballad that harkens back to 1972’s “Mona Lisa’s and Mad Hatters”. It is without a doubt ( for me ) the best song this pair has written since 1976’s “Blue Moves”. If I compare songs, I’m challenged only by the best of the best, ( “The One”, “Empty Garden”, “Cold As Christmas”, “Tonight”, “Someone Saved” good ). Now what is it? It is a combination of “Rocket Man” from his live shows, “Tinderbox” from The Captain and the Kid, “I Wouldn’t have you any other way” from the Captain and the Kid, and 1988’s “Japanese Hands”. Throw it all in a blender and ya got one of the best songs of his career. He hooked me on this track, I’m done …this album is just lovely! The opening verse has Elton presenting his best vocal on an Elton John song since 1976. And that fact isn’t even arguable! And the piano? Holy God!!!!!!!!!! Guys I go to “Your Song” here….I go “Rocket Man”, I go to the best of the best. Love the bass, and tambourine accompany. All you need, nothing more, and the cello arrangement works as well. Love the break in the song, Love the chorus…”and in every secret rendezvous where elicit lovers are!” Piano: A+, Cellos: A+, Vocals : A+, Melody : A+, Lyrics: A+ ( and maybe the best on the album ).
9. Home Again Two In A Row?!!!!! Classic Elton John ballad again! One song comes to mind right away, 2009’s “Gone Shiloh”, but there is another more subtle one. It’s hidden in the background of the cellos, 1970’s “Your Song”. Now let’s go back for a second, “Your Song” and “Gone To Shiloh”? And you question if the song is any good? Please! No wonder it’s already Showing up as an instant concert encore number. The middle part is fantastic. The piano break is classic old 1970’s Elton. The song lyrically refers to the age of the singer songwriter movement of 1969 – 1971. How almost every song back then was about a country road: The Long and Winding Road, Get Back, Homeward Bound, Country Comfort, Country Road, and so on. The title is probably Taupin’s bow to Tumbleweed Connection: “Country Comfort’s any truck that’s going “Back Home”, ( Again! ). And they do it beautifully. Piano: A+, Vocal: A+, Melody: A+, Lyrics : B+/A- ( sometimes they are a bit clunky ) 

10. Take This Dirty Water Old Gospel Elton John ( Border Song, Madman, and Pilot ), 1970 era comes to mind immediately. So who is the inspiration for this track? Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Mahalia Jackson for sure, but possibly as well, Laura Nyro, another singer songwriter from the era, who Elton adored, and in-fact visited for the great build up piano of “Burn Down The Mission” on 1971’s Tumbleweed Connection. Her songs “And When I Die” and “Eli’s Coming” were huge influences. Elton recently mentioned this on The Elvis Costello TV show Influences. Each time I hear this song I like it more. It’s that Old bluesy Elton, What “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” wishes it could be. Love the background singers. It could have fit on any album pre-1973. And “Too Low” fans …um “Religion” or this? Not close! Melody: A-, Piano: A, Lyrics: B+, Vocal: A- 

11. Dream #2 The Next musical interlude. Again a perfect, pensive break from the album, time contemplate all moods and sounds, a perfect respite. B+ 

12. New Fever Waltz I’m not big on waltz songs. But this song is lovely! The New Orleans brass just grabs me. The words are classic Image laden Taupin. The cellos, are wonderful. American Waltz originated in Boston in the 1830’s. A romantic, more artistically free style dancing than that of its European form. Today it is still a popular dance at American Country functions. The song seems musically to be a bow to style changes of Bob Dylan’s “Modern Times”. Like Dylan’s album, the songs run the gambit and fly in and out of changes. From ballad to rocker and so on. At first not one of my favorites, it has now been added to my playlist as a pretty track. It’s melody effortlessly glides along Taupin’s lovely words. And Taupin’s lyric evoke an entirely different era of time and place. If any time I want to wonder what the 1890’s felt like musically, I can certainly turn to this number. Will it be a barn-stormer musically in the catalog of Elton John, of course not, but still after getting 3 classic Elton ballads and 2 classic Elton rockers did we need another one of those either? A good change up for me, something different. Piano: A, Brass Arrangement: A+, Lyrics: A, Vocal: A, Melody: B+ - The Chorus is Lovely! The Cellos: A+ 

13. Mexican Vacation Classic New Orleans Blues, and ya gotta love the Snarling Black Vocals Elton applies to it. Ok it’s “Monkey Suit” meets “Wasteland”, but shhh let’s not tell him. It’s grown on me, at first, the live version, did nothing for me for some reason, but the effort here is obvious and it adds a great spark to it. I love the effort on piano at the end! Love it! Piano: A+, Vocal : A+, Lyrics: B+, Melody: A- 

14. Dream # 3 The best of the instrumental interludes, very fun, lovely piano, and it works as a break once again to lead us into the feel of the next switch up. I do love the pace of this album. The interludes really help set your mind in the right place. Anyone hear “Sixty Years On” in his piano on it? I don’t think that was by accident. 

15. The Diving Board Vocally this one threw me for a loop! Two listens later, I couldn’t get the darn melody out of my head, especially…”Those dizzy heights!! And the view from the Diving Board”. It’s just a fantastic track. And Elton’s voice fits this style perfectly. The New Orleans Jazz Band takes me to places I’ve never been with Elton’s music, and places I’ve wanted him to go for decades. Ray Charles would have absolutely loved this song! This is so great to see Elton welcome in such rich American music. I have not had time to digest this track enough, how could I? Too many other great tracks on here. But I can tell you this, it’s moving up the list as one of my favorite songs….on this album. A great album cut. How good is it? Better than “When Love Is Dying” and “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore” and “Blue Eyes” and that just blows me away! Vocal: A+, Piano: A, Brass Arrangement: A+, Melody: A, Lyrics: A+ 

16. 5th Avenue I’ve heard comparisons to “I Want Love” and “Burning Buildings”, yeah, I guess I hear it, but it’s the same guy who wrote those. He’s allowed to borrow from himself…and ever wonder it just might happen unconsciously? I’ve fallen head over heels in love with this song. Love the way it builds up, the chorus is Killer! Classic Elton chorus here. One of my favorite tracks from these sessions. Also love the piano break. For some reason I think of “Love Sick” a song I’ve always been found of. It’s got me back to 1976 or 1977 Elton, and I’m so happy I’m thinking back there musically. Is the song about Bernie visiting New York and reflecting on the loss of John Lennon? I don’t know…I think not due to the line…I saw your old man on the news…who is it? A Mystery to me, but I don’t care, the song works and works well. Vocal: A+, Melody: A+, Lyrics: B+, Piano: A.

17. Candlelit Bedroom Not one of my favorite songs. Glad it was left off. However consider this, originally it was to have been included. And if we had received that initial album, would it have garnered such glowing reviews? I think not. He was wise to go back in and write some more songs. And what a day in the Books of History that must have been, written on one day….Voyeur, Home Again, and Ocean’s Away. WOW!
In summation is it a Band album? No. And far time he went in to a studio JUST for Elton John and his fans. I can get Elton’s songs down to four things, Voice, Melody, Piano and Words. If all four are there, we got all we need. Thank You Elton, so very much for still caring and having the passion. You too Mr. Taupin, you words were astounding on this project. I need a few months to digest it all, I’m still stuck on tracks 1 – 4. In my book, this album is a Masterwork…on par with “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Blue Moves”, and worthy of much debate and much listening before a truly accurate review can be written. One thing can be said: This is music that IS sophisticated, intelligent, and more mature than Rock should be or rarely dares to be. I have yet to hear a singer songwriter out do 1976’s “Tonight” on “Blue Moves”, but if I were to roll the songs up in to one collective whole from this album, You come closest than anyone has dared try, in the last 37 years. Amen to the both of you!
“I Lu-u-uv You…..Yes I do! 

Claude Bernardin attended Great Valley High School and learned his most serious profession there, studying as a young artist under Chester County Watercolorist Lawrence H. Kuzmin. His first major Professional Painting exhibition in 1986, was in Gramercy Park, Manhattan, NY at the Salmagundi Art Club, upon invitation after receiving the President’s Award for his watercolor, “Work Bench”. Claude has had a successful painting career ever since. And has been a High School Art Instructor, on the High School level in the Philadelphian Archdiocese. He teaches Painting, drawing, graphics, photography, film, Pop Culture, The History Of Pop Music, Art History and much more.