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Elton John - Madman Across The Water (Album Review)

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Elton John - Madman Across The Water (Album Review)

Madman Across The Water is an unequivocally exceptional album from start to finish. Having listened to the 24/96kHz MQA edition on TIDAL Hi-Fi, there is only one word that can fully describe the album and that would be immersive. The soundstage, performance, and presence of the band is incredible and you really get a sense of being in the studio while the album was being recorded. I have also listened to the CD-quality FLAC on TIDAL Hi-Fi, but it sounds rather flat and uninspiring by comparison. Yes, the MQA edition is really that good! That said, one must remember that MQA is not a cure and a poor sounding master will still sound poor. Sometimes there is little to no difference as readers would have seen in my review of Kalio’s sensational album A/B. It all depends on how the album was mastered. If the same mastering was used then the difference between a well-mastered CD and MQA, or high-res, is minimal at best. However, there are so many poorly mastered CDs that I dare say MQA looks more appealing as it isn’t based upon the CD master, but the original studio mastering that hopefully, in most cases, is not compressed to hell and back. For more information about MQA, check out MQA.co.uk.

Tiny Dancer is an absolute classic and John's vocals are perfectly placed in the mix. Close your eyes and you will swear John and his band are in the room with you. The timbre of the instruments and John's vocals are simply astounding.

Levon is an incredible performance. The vocal build to the choral climax is to die for. It is sonically beautiful and one of John's greatest recordings.

Razor Face is a solid song, but it isn't anything to write home about.

Madman Across The Water is incredible, but as mentioned in my review of Tumbleweed Connection, I do prefer the original over this re-recording. As this is the version most people would be familiar with, I encourage you to check out the original. You won't regret it!

Indian Sunset has an impressive level of musicality. So good, in fact, that it almost steals the thunder from John's vocal delivery which is astonishing in its own right. I specifically love the near acoustic vocal delivery and the gradual layering of musical components, resulting in a more realised composition that will knock your socks off. Music is seldom this good and while I adore my Elton John compilations, Indian Sunset doesn’t feature on any of them. This song is yet one more point of validation that proves John and Taupin are musical geniuses and a collaborative team like no other.

Holiday Inn feels as though it should have been included on Tumbleweed Connection as it sounds a little disjointed with the rest of the songs on Madman Across The Water. As a song on its own, it has some exceptional musical shifts that I simply adore, but overall the song is somewhat forgettable as I don't feel the lyrical delivery is as polished as it could be. Of course, I could merely have this view because it follows the exceptional Indian Sunset.

Rotten Peaches is a B-side. It flows well within the album tracking, but it is pure filler.

All The Nasties is my favourite song from the album. It astonishes me that this song hasn't made any of his career perspective compilations. Elton John is clearly greater than a single compilation will allow. Thankfully in the modern era of the playlist, the individual listener can compile their own quasi-compilation. By the way, the drum depth throughout this song is pure gold. All The Nasties is truly exceptional and will captivate you from the first note.

Goodbye is short but beautiful. It follows on perfectly from All The Nasties and compels me to listen to the album again and stay within John's catalogue.

Overall, Madman Across The Water is an incredibly recorded, mixed, and mastered performance that is simply unforgettable. While I adore the sonic presentation that the MQA edition delivers, the collector in me is compelled to pick up the SACD release as it contains the 2004 Greg Penny 5.I Surround Sound Mix that can only improve upon the immersion provided by MQA. Interestingly, the surround sound version reportedly contains the external version of Razor Face on the surround sound mix. That said, it wasn't my favourite song on the album so I'm unsure if it’s truly of interest. Nevertheless, it is good to know a variant exists, even if it’s only a longer rendition.

Madman Across The Water is available on Vinyl, SACD, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, you can also listen to Madman Across The Water on Spotify or Apple Music.

Click here to read other Elton John reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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Elton John – Self-Titled (Album Review)

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Elton John – Self-Titled (Album Review)

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.

Elton John is available on Vinyl, SACD (Stereo and Multichannel), SMH-SACD, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered For iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, you can also listen to Elton John on Spotify and Apple Music.

Click here to read other Elton John reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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