Goodbye Yellow Brick Road needs no introduction as it is arguably Elton John's greatest commercial achievement. Although, I remain hesitant to call it his greatest recording as I feel that undermines the other incredible recordings he has made throughout his career. It also arbitrarily limits his musical influence to a particular era. Nevertheless, it is one of the greatest albums ever recorded and while I love the 2014 vinyl re-issue, I'm going to be using Greg Penny’s astonishingly good 5.1 Surround Sound DTS-HD Master Audio 24/96kHz edition for this review. The stereo versions of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, are incredible, but they simply can't compare and sound flat by comparison to the surround sound options. My advice is that if you have a good surround sound setup, consider purchasing either the SACD or Blu-ray Audio (High Fidelity Pure Audio – HFPA) release. You won’t regret it!
Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding has to be one of the greatest lead-in songs of any album ever recorded. I absolutely love it and from a surround sound perspective, I’m enveloped in the atmosphere that introduces the song. Exceptional! The soundstage completely surrounds you and each beat is felt with every aspect of your soul. The band is certainly present with you in the room, with John front and center. You will probably get tired of hearing me praise the surround sound mix, but you’ve really never experienced Goodbye Yellow Brick Road until you've been able to listen to it in surround sound. A bold statement, yes, but a true indication of how exceptional this recording and Greg Penny's surround mix is.
Candle In The Wind is pure gold. That piano, that drum beat, that vocal – it leaves me speechless! Even the 1997 version, altered lyrically for Princess Diana's funeral, is beyond reproach. It is a song made in heaven by two extremely talented men. Thank you, Elton and Bernie!
Bennie And The Jets is an awesome song, but I’ve never enjoyed the faux live audience element. However, it is less apparent in the surround sound mix as the audience noise is better positioned, slightly outside the soundstage and in the distance.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is sensational regardless of how you listen to it. The surround sound mix has a significant boost in the drums, resulting in an atmosphere where you can visualise the exact drum or cymbal being hit in the soundstage. In fact, all musical elements are perfectly placed in the soundstage. Pure perfection!
This Song Has No Title follows Goodbye Yellow Brick Road beautifully. It’s a rather raw recording, with no noticeable fanfare, but when you have a vocalist like John, sometimes you don't need much more than a piano and a minor musical accompaniment.
Grey Seal has a fantastic introduction, but I must confess that I’ve never really enjoyed the song. I find it is too shrill and it’s a little all-over-the-place from a composition standpoint.
Similarly, I've never developed a liking for Jamaica Jerk-Off. I won't skip the song, as the album wouldn't be the same without it, I just don't feel reggae and John go well together. Jamaica Jerk-Off sounds as though it was left over from another recording session, rather than being part of the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road sessions. Unfortunately, it doesn't grow on me the more I listen to it either.
I've Seen That Movie Too is a welcome change and depicts the style and tonality that I identify as being the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album. It's a beautiful ballad, with an incredible soundstage, that thankfully isn't filled with unnecessary elements.
Sweet Painted Lady is a lovely song!
The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-34) isn't my favourite song on the album, but I especially like it in surround sound as it sounds less sonically compressed, allowing the musical elements space to breathe. It has a great rhythm, but on vinyl, or even the high-res stereo mix, it doesn’t work for me. I only mention this as I find it to be an interesting variance that while I can explain my thoughts, I can’t fully comprehend how it is significantly different enough to allow me to appreciate the song.
Dirty Little Girl is an excellent rock song. As I’m listening, I keep thinking how I'd love to hear the Foo Fighters cover this song.
All The Girls Love Alice is a killer rock tune. Maybe the Foo should cover this one! Regardless, it is one of the best songs on the album and one of John’s best.
Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n Roll) is a fun little tune and leads the listener beautifully into one of the greatest songs in rock and roll history; Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.
Roy Rogers slows the album down again and sounds as though it would have been perfectly suited to Tumbleweed Connection. However, it doesn't sound out-of-place on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road as it’s a lovely song that relaxes you following the intense pace of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.
Social Disease is a great pop/rock song with an incredible country music twang. I love it!
Harmony closes the album beautifully, ensuring I’m still interested in listening to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road again. However, with a runtime exceeding 70 minutes, this double album, like all doubles, is difficult to listen to again in quick succession. Honestly, I think the 33.3rpm vinyl record got it right with a total runtime in the vicinity of 44 minutes. Long enough to enjoy, but not too long to tire of.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road deserves the praise it gets, although I maintain that it shouldn’t be singled out as John's major success for his greatness exceeds a single album.
By now, I'm sure stereo aficionados have plenty to say, but having listened to this album in stereo for years, in various formats, the surround sound version is the one that trumps all others. That isn't to say the stereo mix isn't extraordinary, just that the multichannel mix takes the album to another level of appreciation.
Some purists may even question if the artist intended for it to be heard in surround sound. From my perspective, that matters less than the fact that I enjoy the album more due to the multichannel mix. That said, there are times when I much prefer to listen on headphones and the stereo mix is perfectly immersive during those times.
For reference, the stereo mix I prefer on the High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) Blu-ray release is the DTS-HD Master Audio 24/96kHz. The reason for this preference over the Linear PCM (LPCM 24/96kHz) option is due to the fuller low end that is often associated with DTS. However, if I listen to the PCM version, it’s transparent with the vinyl reissue. Both are from the same 2014 remastering sessions, so it is good to see the only core difference is the slight shift in noise between the digital and analogue formats.
The 24/96kHz DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is, however, from the 2003 mastering sessions, making it of course different. While I certainly prefer this mix, as I believe it is the best rendition of the album I have ever heard, don't let that deter your interest in the stereo mixes. Honestly, if I had never purchased the HFPA Blu-ray edition, I would have been extremely happy with my vinyl copy.
While the artwork is beautifully replicated on the HFPA Blu-ray release, it is nothing like holding that trifold release in your hands. I often find myself telling my significant other that I’ll likely sell the vinyl as I prefer the Blu-ray release, but I'm lying to both of us as the artwork is equally important and I can't imagine parting with it.
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