Sir Elton John is more than a music icon—he’s some sort of meteor that rocketed to earth in a sparkly blazer and chunky glasses destined to impact the Earth’s surface and forever change the music industry. His voice resonates in the marrow of bones, making every song your song. His fingers fly over the piano keys like little rocket men. He’ll never go breaking your heart. His 31 albums will hold you close and turn you into a tiny dancer.
John’s 32nd studio album, “Wonderful Crazy Night,” released on Feb. 5, is a testament to his enduring greatness. It recalls some of his earliest and best work produced in the early 1970s. He animates the lyrics of his longtime songwriter Bernie Taupin with trademark vocal enthusiasm and rolling, glittering, gospel style piano.
“Some things you don’t forget/ Some things just take hold,” he sings on the album’s title track, an old school rock n’ roll song in which John reminiscences on a boozy night and love at first sight. “Wonderful Crazy Night” is in the same vein as songs like “Honky Cat” and “Crocodile Rock,” both of which feature the same rolling piano and lively lyrics as “Wonderful,” though John’s voice is working at a noticeably lower register in the song relative to his earlier work.
Songs like “In the Name of You,” “Clawhammer” and “Good Heart” help the album recall some of John’s early classic albums like “Tumbleweed Connection” and “Honky Chateau,” both of which feature some of the artist’s best work. While “Wonderful” may not have a “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” or a “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to be a Long Long Time)” (both of which premiered on “Honky Chateau,” making it one of the best albums of all time) it has the same feel as these early works.
The album is the latest in a series of albums designed as a sort of comeback for the legendary performer. Working with co-producer T-Bone Burnett, John has put together “The Union,” which was a collaboration with another legend of rock, Leon Russell, and “The Diving Board.” While “Union” was a tribute to Guy Babylon (John’s longtime keyboarder, who died a year before the release of the album) and “Diving Board” contained a lot of heavy balladry, “Wonderful” is a relatively light album. John croons about good times gone by, the blessings of the present and the enjoyment of life’s little pleasures.
“Free and Easy” is the album’s best song and it recalls more than just John’s early work. Its opening is reminiscent of the Beatles’ classic, “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Its lyrics drift between a chaotic past and a peaceful present, thus inciting feelings of contentedness and serenity.
“But I’m free now, free and easy/ Freedom’s a breeze, freedom’s a time/ I’m rolling over and over/ And I want to be where you are tonight/ Where you are tonight,” John croons on the chorus of the song. It is an exaltation of the present and the easy melody matches the track’s sentiment perfectly. “Free and Easy” sounds like it could have come right off of “Magical Mystery Tour,” and that is a very good thing.
“Every breath is a prayer of some kind,” begins “Blue Wonderful,” a song that describes the beauty of a lover’s eyes. The entire album is encompassed in that line, given that every song on the album feels like a prayer bubbling up out of the past, from somewhere in the 1970s when Sir Elton John introduced himself to the world.
There is a mature, classic quality to “Wonderful” that makes this one of John’s best albums. While it is missing those high notes folks have come to expect from the aging singer, the album makes up for it with an energy and jauntiness that have been missing from his work in the last decade. Here’s to hoping this album is a taste of what’s to come.
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