Saturday, 28 July 2018

Elton John - Madman Across The Water (1971)


Released November 1971

Recoded at Trident Studios, London


1. Tiny Dancer
2. Levon
3. Razor Face
4. Madman Across The Water
5. Indian Sunset
6. Holiday Inn
7. Rotten Peaches
8. All The Nasties
9. Goodbye

This is very much an understated album. There is nothing remotely commercial about it. Nine extended ballads dominated by immaculately produced strings, powerful drums, clunking piano,  strong and bluesy vocals from Elton. Every now and again a bit of potent guitar comes in. There is no “Crocodile Rock” or anything like that. This is a collection of sombre, reflective songs.
Everyone now knows Bernie Taupin’s paean to his wife in the beautiful, delicate melody of “Tiny Dancer”, a truly lovely song. The catchy “Levon” is lyrically bizarre - “Jesus wants to go to Venus...” And so on, but it has an irresistible, soulful atmosphere to it. Nobody knows what “Levon” was about, neither does it really matter, it sounds good anyway.

“Razor Face” is full of power and some impressive organ flourishes. It is one of those typical early seventies punchy Elton John ballads, full of orchestration and a pounding drum sound. The title track, “Madman Across The Water” is similar - emotive, dramatic and vibrant, yet calming down in places to being subtle and tender. “Indian Sunset” has Taupin in full American West obsessive mode, telling a lengthy narrative tale from a Native American’s point of view. It is marvellously cinematic, but as uncommercial as it was possible to be. This is remarkably mature, adult music and lyrics from two such young men, who were still in their early twenties, it must be remembered. Quite remarkable, in fact. Indeed, it almost makes you wonder had they had not dabbled in all that glam rock, would they have continued putting out quality in this style? Mind you, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” was also seriously good, despite its more commercial moments.

“Holiday Inn” is a melodic, soulful, country-ish rock ballad, with some fetching mandolin backing. Again, Elton’s vocal delivery is strong and confident, that strange twang of his now fully developing, far more, say, than on the “Elton John” album. The backing on this is just wonderful, and the sound quality on the remaster is second to none. “Rotten Peaches” is one of those Leon Russell-Style piano-driven slow rock numbers that Elton just did so well, in the fashion of “Burn Down The Mission” or “Border Song”.

“All The Nasties” is a strange one, building up as a quiet ballad, it ends up as a gospel celebration with a lengthy “oh my soul” ending that lasts a couple of minutes. A bit like the way “Curtains” closed the “Captain Fantastic” album. “Goodbye” is a short, vocal, strings and piano lament to close what was an often overlooked album that conceals hidden depths under its lush, grandiose soundscapes.


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