Release Date: Feb 5, 2016
Record label: Island
Who still buys Elton John albums? His latest, Wonderful Crazy Night has, as anyone who spends much time on the tube in London will attest, been marketed to shit, so you could be forgiven for thinking this is a major release. But it’s now almost 15 years since Songs from the West Coast: his last record that, if we’re being really generous, would actually improve your record collection (not counting his greatest hits compilations). It’s fair to say that few music critics – and even fewer DiS readers – had Wonderful Crazy Night on their list of albums to look forward to this year.
Elton John opens his 32nd studio album by looking back in delight. "Some things you don't forget/Some things just take a hold," he sings with relish in the title song, a jaunty recollection of lasting love at first sight. The music framing that glee – "Loose clothes and a cool, cool drink/A greasy breeze from the chicken stand," conjured by John's lifelong lyric partner, Bernie Taupin – is retrospective too.
Elton John’s 2010 album with Leon Russell, The Union, signalled a new determination to reconnect with the magic of his early-70s albums that established him as the world’s biggest-selling artist and are still revered by connoisseurs. You’d have to say that on Wonderful Crazy Night he succeeds in recreating the rootsy Americana of his youth, with help from his touring band, co-producer T-Bone Burnett and, of course, long-standing lyricist Bernie Taupin. It sounds like they’re having a blast.
“Don’t you know I’m still standing, better than I ever did / looking like a true survivor / feeling like a little kid.” Yep. Well, okay, maybe not “better than I ever did”, but in a year that has already seen so many musical legends leave us too soon, Elton John’s upbeat new album Wonderful Crazy Night brings a much-needed injection of good cheer and sunny optimism. It’s an album about living and loving and wringing everything you can out of each moment, all set to jaunty piano-rock very much reminiscent of Elton’s ‘70s classics.
Sir Captain Fantastic wings in for album No.32. Reanimated by 2010’s The Union, his fine collaborative effort with Leon Russell, Elton John declared he was only interested in making honest and personal records from now on. Follow-up The Diving Board (2013) was certainly a striking return to the piano-centric economy of his early days. ADVERTISINGinRead invented by Teads .
At the age of 68, Elton John has given us his unadulterated party album. There’s not a hint of ‘the bitch’ – he’s resolutely upbeat and quite clearly having a ball. Even the cover shows him arms open and grinning from ear to ear. The themes and musical proclivities of his 32nd studio album are laid out for all and sundry in the title track Wonderful Crazy Night.
Thirty-two albums in, you probably know where you stand on Elton. The fan’s need-to-know is that songs like the title track, Looking Up and Guilty Pleasure find John and band rolling in jaunty, vintage mood. But even Elton-sceptics can take solace in how producer T-Bone Burnett continues to improve the veteran piano man by filling the interstices of his work with detail, rendering songs such as the rather good Claw Hammer at least 43% more nuanced.
Elton John gives away his game with not just the title of Wonderful Crazy Night but its artwork. Our hero stands against a garish, colorful backdrop, sporting a grin a mile wide, signaling that he's once again ready to have fun. The measured melancholy of The Diving Board aside, Elton hasn't precisely avoided fun since returning to making records for himself, not the charts, with 2001's Songs from the West Coast, but a certain sobriety crept into the proceedings, particularly when he joined forces with producer T-Bone Burnett for The Union, the 2010 duet album with Leon Russell.
This is a pleasant surprise; since he started hooking up with T-Bone Burnett, Elton John seems to have rediscovered his good taste button. The rootsy approach of The Diving Board is improved upon here with a set of songs that manage to introduce New Orleans swing to Rickenbacker licks that are artfully set to Byrds-like chime. Wonderful Crazy Night (wonderful crazy Knight, geddit?) is unashamedly retro but surely that’s no crime.
If used correctly, positivity can allow a song to get by solely on vibe. Nothing off Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet is lyrically profound or even lyrically that good, but because the guitars are so metallic, because the drums are so committed to their boneheaded momentum, and because the gang vocals have so much conviction, you actually root for Andrew Wilkes-Krier when he repeats something as stupid as “Party hard” or “She is beautiful” over and over. When the arrangement and delivery are so invigorating, it doesn’t matter what the lyrics are, as long as they’re optimistic.
There is something irresistible about Elton John’s unbridled joy on his 33rd studio album, “Wonderful Crazy Night. ” If some of the songs aren’t as robust creatively as the British pop-rock legend’s enthusiasm for them, you can certainly hear and feel him giving his all in a way that is typical of his rollicking live performances. Reuniting with co-producer T Bone Burnett — who worked with John on his 2010 collaboration with Leon Russell, “The Union,” and his darker-hued 2013 album, “The Diving Board” — and bringing members of his veteran touring band back into the studio for a fast and loose recording session had a measurable effect on the songs’ energy.