What’s this! An Elton John album that isn’t Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Tumbleweed Connection or yon Captain Fantastic thingy!? Surely not! Well, friends, I am looking at this and I can confirm that it is indeed Elton John’s self-titled second album. I picked this one up for £1 at the Record Fayre a good while back. Can’t exactly remember why, but there was something that drew me to it. I think it was the colour, the cover, and the intriguing dimpled texture of the gatefold – who goes releasing records packaged in such an odd card? Additionally, it features Your Song. That just happens to be one of those songs that gets me. Not quite sure why, but I would hazard a guess that it was thanks to Rod Stewart’s version back in the early 90s (not sure it was on an album, but there was certainly a single).
Anyway, my opinion of Elton John was formed in the early 90s. Not from any albums of his, but from a couple of songs that I had heard thanks to those electronic boxes that broadcast sound and, sometimes, moving pictures (namely I Can’t Stand It, Sacrifice, the duets with George Michael, Kiki Dee, RuPaul, and, of course, The Circle of Life). So, it’s no surprise that I never sought out anything else despite hearing bits and bobs of early Elton John over the years since. However, a couple of years back, I got chatting with a bunch of friends about great albums and Elton John’s name cropped up. More than once, too. I explained that I’ve never been inclined to listen to the guy. Besides, his album covers were just way too ‘soft rock’. Complete with pastel colours and self portraits, etc. Well, turns out that when you removed the 80s output, there’s a pretty solid catalogue. Who’d have thunk it!
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah … I quite like this one. It’s not brilliant, but John and Taupin have a vision and it’s a fairly ambitious one at that! Despite some lyrical dips and pedestrian arrangements, it’s a very coherent piece of work with some really pretty nice diversions and grand lush string arrangements to get swept up in. Those lush arrangements come courtesy of one Paul Buckmaster (who has done work for everyone from Harry Nilsson, Bowie, The Stones and Miles Davis to Taylor Swift, Ben Folds and even Guns N’ Roses!). Seriously good stuff – grand but never schmaltzy, dramatic but not overly sentimental.
The album kicks off with Your Song and man, is it such a great song. The words, playing and the timing are all just perfect. “It may be quite simple”, but it’s wonderful – a ballad for the ages, this one. Those strings I was talking about? Man – so good. It’s followed by the more wanting I Need You to Turn To. There’s some medieval vibes happening in this one, but they’re soon discarded when the jaunty Take Me to the Pilot kicks in. Elton hits something of a swagger here and again, Buckmaster’s strings are perfect. The side is rounded off with the ‘Rolling Stones country’ tinged No Shoe Strings on Louise (even Elton’s phrasing is similar to Jagger’s at times – “All those city women want to make us poor men and this land’s got the worse for the worrying”) and the melodramatic First Episode at Hienton which comes complete with some strange (and out of place) spacey synth sounds.
Side two starts with a nice swell of Hitchcockian strings; but Sixty Years On sounds more like the sketch of a song rather than a song. Border Song, though, that’s a goody and one of the album’s highlights. All gospel tinged and suchlike. Besides, any song that starts with “Holy Moses” (and features it prominently within the chorus – “Holy Moses, I have been deceived”) is a winner in my book (plus, there’s a wee bit of piano that reminds me of Black Sabbath’s Changes). That’s followed by the pedestrian The Greatest Discovery, before The Cage finds Elton recovering his swagger. Again, there’s that mad space synth lingering around (think late 80s / early 90s video game end boss stuff). Things are brought to a close with The King Must Die; a track originally penned for Shirley Bassey, I would imagine. Mnah.