My Record Collection 98

Elton – The Eighties

1983 saw the release of Elton’s 17th studio album, the quite excellent Too Low For Zero.   After a string of middling albums Elton and Bernie were fully re-united, and together with his original backing band worked hard on composing a new set of songs.  And the album is really good; not quite in the league of those Seventies classics but pretty good all the same.  A cracking hit single ‘I’m Still Standing’ which was almost a personal statement – and a great video too.  Other favourites ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’ and ‘Kiss The Bride’.  A welcome return to form, which continued with the follow-up Breaking Hearts (1984).    Well, almost – a handful of very good songs ‘Passengers’, ‘Burning Buildings’ and ‘Sad Songs Say So Much’; but an almost lacklustre feel to some of the other songs’ as if he was just going through the motions.  And maybe he was.  The band was breaking up again and the next run of albums were truly disappointing.  1985’s Ice on Fire; again his regular sidesmen quit and Elton resorted to session players, the album sounds weak and unexciting.  It is almost saved by the brilliant ‘Nikita’ but little else really hits the sweet spot.  Leather Jackets the following year is even worse.  This was at the height of Elton’s Coke habit and both he and producer Gus Dudgeon later declared it the worst of all his records.  No songs seem to redeem a real turkey.   ’87 saw a live album Live In Australia, which was a concert with a fill orchestra, which should have been quite something – and yet, Elton sounded a bit desperate; his voice too shouty and a bit rough.  I suppose I just preferred the studio versions.  Saying that, it was nice to hear some of the earlier songs again, especially ‘The Greatest Discovery’ and ‘Carla Etude’ and of course ‘Tiny Dancer’, which since then has become a staple of his live performances.  So, as so often re-listening again I realise that some of these albums which I thought I didn’t love are like old treasures, left in a loft, and uncovered again.  And looking on Wikipedia I discover that shortly after recording this concert Elton underwent throat surgery.  He didn’t then tour again for 18 months and his range changed too.  1988 and Elton released Reg Strikes Back (his real name being Reg Dwight – hardly a rock name).  This was supposed to be his big comeback album after a string of (relative) flops.  The cover featured many of his famous and outrageous stage costumes which he was putting up for auction – another sign of a new beginning.  So, the album.  Well, at the time I wasn’t so impressed really – I was buying his new albums out of a sense of hope rather than experience, but re-visiting it really is not so bad.    But then again it isn’t that good either.  Trying too hard, might be my final appraisal.   A few half-decent songs – ‘Japanese Hands’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Go on With You like That’ but the worst crime of all was to title a song ‘Mona Lisa’s and Mad hatter – part 2’.  What a travesty, and this rubbish has absolutely nothing to do with the classic song it is titled for.  So, what next?  Another re-appraisal of course, and this time it seems to have paid off.  Trying to write a cohesive album based on their mutual love of early 60’s Motown and Stax records Elton and Bernie wrote a classic album, Sleeping With The Past, deliberately basing lyrics and music on Soul classics.  The album went to number 1 in America and in the UK, the first for over a decade.  Number 1 single ‘Sacrifice’ was Elton’s first and well deserved.  But the whole album is warm and feels, at last, as though Elton is happy. Other great songs – well, really they all are, but if I must choose – ‘Club at the end of the street’, ‘Healing Hands’ and ‘Blue Avenue’ stand out, just, from a splendid crop of songs.  A real triumph, which makes it’s follow-up, while good on it’s own terms, seem a slight disappointment. The One (1990) is okay, but nowhere as good as its predecessor.  Of course, it must be incredibly hard to keep writing great songs, but Elton does seem to drift into excess and sublimity with almost every new album.   Best songs, the title and ‘Understanding Women’.  So, a strange decade – but then many great artists suffered in the Eighties – Dylan was a drift, McCartney patchy and Joni sliding into obscurity.  Maybe it was the changing production techniques, or the invasion of young pretenders.  Oh Well