Saturday, 28 July 2018
Elton John - Sleeping With The Past (1989)
Released April 1989
Recorded at PUK recording studios, Denmark
The 1980s were a strange period for Elton John, each higher quality album seemed to be floored by a patchier one. There are some highlights - the "Too Low For Zero", "Ice On Fire" and "Reg Strikes Back" albums, but for long periods of the decade he was involved in length legal proceedings against the UK's "Sun' newspaper for defamation (which he won). So, by 1989, a weight seemed lifted from his often troubled shoulders and he returned with one of his most successful albums. He seemed to have straddled the generations well, and now had the respect of the younger generation. indeed, the forthcoming decade was the one that would see him elevated to the somewhat ludicrous, media-created and perpuated position of "national treasure". He seemed to enjoy that sort of thing, though, despite his battles with the media, and the old creativity came rushing back.
Back with Bernie Taupin once again for this album, having re-united for the previous year's "Reg Strikes Back" there was some great, often upbeat material. There was a bit of unfortunate late eighties synthesised influence on the percussion at times, but you just have to accept that from this era. Everything was awash with synthesisers.
1. Durban Deep
2. Healing Hands
4. Club At The end Of The Street
5. Sleeping With The Past
6. Stone's Throw From Hurtin'
8. I Never Knew Her Name
9. It Amazes Me
10. Blue Avenue
The opener, "Durban Deep" is a rocking song about South African miners, strangely. It is a good one, with Elton on fine vocal form. His voice sounding strong and confident. "Healing Hands" is even more lively and captivating, with an instantly singable chorus and a pounding beat. The tempo drops for the melodic, delicate "Whispers". The synthesised percussion is a bit off-putting on this one, but it has a soulful hook that rescues it. The good-time, toe-tapping beat returns with the atmospheric and effervescent "Club At The End Of Street", with its addictive sixties soul feel and lyrical references to Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye. This is my favourite song on the album. It never fails to lift the spirits.
The title track is a pumping, bluesy (as far as late eighties music could be bluesy) metronomic rocker. Elton's vocal attack on it is enthusiastic and strident. He sounds as if he is enjoying himself. "Stone's Throw From Hurtin'" is another rumbling rocker with even more of a deep, swamp rock, bassy feel than the previous track. Both of these tracks are not the instantly recognisable ones from the album, but they are well worth checking out. It is a shame songs like these just get forgotten, even by Elton himself, who does not play them live.
The sombre but tuneful "Sacrifice" was actually his first number one (apart from "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" with Kiki Dee). It is tender and attractive, staying in the mind as soon as you hear it. Elton's voice is clearly ageing, even at this point, but has an attractive lisping slur to it, that it still has. This was never there in the seventies. His voice throughout the album has lowered in timbre from the one we were used to previously. It has been lower ever since. "I Never Knew Her Name" is a big, booming, horn-driven upbeat number. "It Amazes Me" is a gospelly, Southern states-style bluesy ballad in the typical eighties/nineties Elton style. "Blue Avenue" is a gentle number to end what is a pleasant and stimulating album. There is some delicious trumpet/French horn? on the backing to this one. This album probably just makes in to Elton's top ten albums, just. Or maybe not. There and thereabouts though.