Elton John has no shortage of classic albums that can be seen as both revolutionary and standing the test of time, but this self-titled second album sees John return to the studio with an even more polished production than was heard on Empty Sky. While I adore Empty Sky, Elton John has that recognisable Elton John sound signature and it is more realised in both sonic and lyrical terms.
Released in April of 1970, Elton John features his breakthrough and likely most recognisable song, Your Song. As the first song on the album, the piano introduction, with the vocal accompaniment, builds into an incredible song that is simply one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded. If you don't feel the need to sing-a-long to this song, you're not listening correctly? It is gorgeous from the first note and I never tire of it.
I Need You To Turn To is an incredible pop ballad. When I hear music this pure, I wonder if John and Taupin, along with the musicians, and the production team, were aware of the incredible music they were creating. Wouldn’t it be a shame if they considered some of these classics as nothing more than B-sides?
On that note, I find it fascinating that producer, Gus Dudgeon, has stated in a 2002 MIX interview that the album was never intended to launch John's career as the aim was to present a series of polished demos for other artists to record. If you’re interested in the evolution of a song, the 2008 Deluxe Edition contains more stripped down piano demos of many of the tracks. It is interesting to listen to these early demos, but I tend to always prefer the final album release.
Take Me To The Pilot has a raw acoustic introduction that I find very appealing. While it’s far from being the best song on the album, it has an addictive rhythm that draws me in every time I listen to the album.
No Shoe Strings On Louise has a nice country music twang to it, but I've never been convinced that style was perfectly suited to John, despite his later successes. I also feel this song is mimicking Mick Jagger’s style a little too much. You would honestly be forgiven if, upon hearing this song on the radio, you assumed it was a Rolling Stones or Mick Jagger solo recording. That said, it is still enjoyable and works well within the structure of the album.
First Episode At Hienton is sonically beautiful. While it is a song you will never sing-a-long to, you will find yourself turning the volume up in order to be enveloped in the immersive soundstage.
Sixty Years On begins with the sonic equivalent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. That shouldn’t be seen as a negative comment as you immediately get the impression that this is going to be a music experience like no other. Musically, Sixty Years On is pure perfection. The classical overtures are most certainly the highlight of the song, but John’s vocal delivery is also off-the-charts.
Border Song is a perfect composition. I simply love every aspect of this song.
The Greatest Discovery is magical!
The Cage has a great groove and rhythm. Think New Orleans Jazz meets Rock and Roll.
The King Must Die has a ridiculously good drum and bass beat throughout. You can feel it in your soul, just as you can picture the piano and John in the room with you as you close your eyes and turn up the volume. It is as close to a personal concert with Elton John as you will ever likely get.
Bad Side Of The Moon isn't a bad song, but it is a B-side. Plus, that little bump in volume towards the end is really annoying. I've come across that before, in other recordings, but I’ve always felt it ultimately detracts from the song. I wonder if it is a technique or a flaw in the original analogue recording? If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear from you.
Grey Seal is a fun tune, although I much prefer the recording of the song that made it on John’s legendary Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
Rock And Roll Madonna is my least favourite song on the album. It certainly doesn't leave me with an overwhelming urge to listen to the album again as I find the composition is overly complex, especially when John's vocal kicks in. There simply isn't enough instrument separation and the song doesn’t have enough room to breathe. The result is an assault on the senses that ultimately would have been better left off the album.
Overall, Elton John is one of the greatest recordings in Rock/Pop history. Yes, we will all point to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road as being John’s pinnacle, but there is much to love about this self-titled release.
When I set out to review this album, I was aware of the various releases and masterings that exist. While I haven't heard the 2004 Multichannel SACD or the SHM SACD from Japan, I’m informed the Japanese release is subtly better. Although, as with everything, better is a subjective term. Subsequently, I based this review on the 24/96 kHz MQA edition streaming on TIDAL Hi-Fi. Yes, I also listened to the remastered 16/44.1 kHz CD edition, also on TIDAL Hi-Fi, and the differences were significant. The standard remastered CD lacked emphasis, soundstage, and felt flat when compared directly to the MQA edition. Hence, I’m intrigued to hear how good the SACD versions are by comparison. One problem, however, is the Japanese release is twice the price of the standard SACD and lacks the multichannel mix. Most normal music fans would say just enjoy the MQA version. Truth be told, the average fan would be content with the standard CD or MP3 equivalent. I wish I could say that I could be satisfied with whichever release comes down the pipeline, but once you have heard how different, different masterings can be, you tend to not settle for a lesser option be it MP3 or high-res, for both can produce substandard results if the mastering was done in haste. Of course, the problem is that I, like most people, don’t have an endless supply of cash and l'm also limited by the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor). I have to be honest, the amount my beloved has allowed me to spend on music is significant and I can't thank her enough for allowing me to partake in this hobby. But, whatever you do dear reader, don't tell her that!
The ultimate truth is that I can be completely content with the MQA version as it is the best rendition of the album I have ever heard. While I still question just how much better the album could be on SACD, or even Vinyl, I’m not left wanting more from the MQA edition.