Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Elton John - Too Low For Zero (1983)


 

Released May 1983

Recorded in Montserrat and Hollywood

After several years in the (comparative) wilderness, people were beginning to wonder if Elton John was still relevant or whether he now was just another washed up has-been. There was a convincing argument to say that he hadn't put out a decent album since 1975's "Captain Fantastic". Some occasional moments of brilliance, but not too much more, let's be brutally honest. Punk and its rages had been and gone, new wave too, even New Romanticism was getting passe. It had all morphed into pop - synthesised, often electronic, drum machine pop. Elton John could actually find his place back in this milieu - as a grand old queen, loved by the old, middle-aged and young alike. He reunited his Bernie Taupin (not before time), got together his old band and released this album that got close to recapturing the feeling of those halcyon days. Not quite though, the album was still somewhat blighted by the excesses of eighties production to be another "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road".

TRACK LISTING

1. Cold As Christmas
2. I'm Still Standing
3. Too Low For Zero
4. Religion
5. I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues
6. Crystal
7. Kiss The Bride
8. Whipping Boy
9. Saint
10. One More Arrow

Let's concentrate on the good points though. The opener, "Cold As Christmas" was a melodic, but quite bleak and poignant piano-driven ballad to begin the album on a laid-back note. "I'm Still Standing" changed that - a perfect eighties upbeat pounding pop song, that would suit both the clubs and the mainstream radio. The title track was catchy and tuneful, but with a bit too much eighties percussion for my liking and grand synthesiser sweeps. There is still room for some classic Elton piano work, however. "Religion" was a chugging rocker with some Stonesy guitar in the background and a wry lyric about evangelism. It is ok, but Elton's voice sounds far weaker than it did ten years earlier and that whole bluesy rock groove the band used to have had disappeared to be replaced by a much slicker, polished sound, but one that, for me had lost its grit and soul. There is something a bit muffled about the sound on this album. Play this track, or "I'm Still Standing" and then play something from "Don't Shoot Me" or "Caribou" and I guarantee you will notice the difference.

"I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" suffers in the same way from a half-baked production, but even that can't detract from what was a classic Elton John single. Soulful, catchy and instant. No arguments to this song's classic status. "Crystal", however,  is far too "synth pop" for my liking. A bit of a throwaway this one. It begins with foreboding wind sounds, like "Funeral For A Friend" and then goes all Euro Pop, electronic keyboards and all. Shame.

For many people, though, this album was the first Elton John album they bought and it consequently means a lot to them and they think it's great. For me, I find it quite a disheartening experience listening to this having just listened to "Madman Across The Water", "Honky Chateau" and "Don't Shoot Me". Also, later albums like the excellent "Peachtree Road" are vastly superior to this, in my opinion. Not just in terms of the quality of the songs, but in the sound quality too. Give me "Peachtree Road" over this any day.

"Kiss The Bride" was a single and a punchy, singalong rocker it was too (although, once again, strangely muffled) and "Whipping Boy" is similar, although much faster, and played at a fair old pace. Elton almost falls off the edge. Again, both of them are acceptable, but I can't get too far beyond the lifeless sound. I really miss the bluesy Elton on albums like this. It is far too pop for my taste. "Saint" is another track that I feel could have been produced better. There is also something about Elton's voice during this period that I just found too high in pitch. It had lost its bluesy growl of the seventies and had yet to get to the warm depth of the late nineties and beyond.

The closer, the grand piano and strings ballad "One More Arrow" again has a high voiced Elton grating somewhat on what is not a bad song. It could have been one of those great album closers, Like "Curtains" or "High Flying Bird". However, it doesn't actually even sound like Elton. As I said, I know many, many people love this album, but it is not one of my favourites, and I own every album he has released. I understand the album's appeal, but like mid-eighties music in general, it wasn't quite to my taste.

C

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