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ARTIST OF THE MONTH: ELTON JOHN

We run down the colossal and breathtaking works by the genuinely excellent artist Elton John as he is our Artist Of The Month. Collaborating with lyricist Bernie Taupin since 1967, John is one of the most successful artists of all time, having sold over 300 million records in a six-decade career in music. We will run down four albums every post and go through his incredible catalogue. Enjoy!


The Big Picture (1997)

1997's "The Big Picture" finds Elton in solid form, turning in another great set of, by now, predictable collection of ballads and pop songs designed to appeal to the adult contemporary audience. "The Big Picture" retains that large-scale production feel, but it takes a much more stripped-down approach when it comes to the music, unlike the overblown predecessor "Made in England," which really brings out the beauty of the songs and their theatricality. There may be nothing new on "The Big Picture," but it's well-crafted professional pop, demonstrating John's knack for catchy pop hooks and his way with a ballad. As with any latter-day John album, hits like "Something About the Way You Look Tonight" are balanced out by some filler. Still, the key to the album is how album tracks like "Recover Your Soul," "If the River Can Bend," and "The Big Picture" carry emotional and melodic weight. It's a solid effort from one of pop's most reliable artists.


Songs From The West Coast (2001)

It was easy to think that Elton wasn't interested in writing like 2001's "Songs From the West Coast" anymore, given his continued success and the ease with which he was crafting pleasant adult contemporary records. There are still elements of that on "Songs From the West Coast" -- a few of the ballads are a little too even-handed, and since this is a modern recording, it lacks the resonant warmth of such classics as "Honky Chateau" and "Tumbleweed Connection." Still, this is the richest, best record he's released in a long time, an album where it feels like a hit single is secondary to the sheer pleasure of craft, whether it's crafting a song or an album. And this is an album that flows easily and naturally, setting the mood with the story sketch "The Emperor's New Clothes" and then heading in several scenic directions. "American Triangle," his elegy for Matthew Shepard, will likely receive the most attention. Still, the most interesting are songs like the bluesy "The Wasteland," "Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes," which recalls the Tumbleweed epics, the neo-Captain Fantastic tune "Dark Diamond," the soulful closer "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore," and "Birds," a terrific, spare, rolling country-rocker. His songwriting hasn't been this diverse or consistent since the early '80s, and he hasn't made a record better than this in years.


Peachtree Road (2004)

2004's "Peachtree Road" enforces that Elton is back to making good, solid albums that are focused on songs, not hits; the way he did at the outset of his career, building upon the shift he had made back into his classic sound with previous album "Songs From the West Coast." Since this is an album by a veteran, not an artist on the rise, it doesn't have the sense of discovery, or the hunger, that the early records still retain and the production. This means "Peachtree Road" is about craft, both in the writing and recording, which also means that it's a grower, with each song sounding stronger and better with each spin. While the record's sound is bright and polished, this album makes few concessions to radio: this is undoubtedly adult pop, but it never panders to adult contemporary radio. The music is a little too rugged and sturdy to fit alongside the stubbornly sweet sounds of 21st century MOR. This is precisely the point: Elton has consciously returned to the reflective singer/songwriter template of the early '70s, both in his writing and production. Peachtree Road is full of beautiful tracks that really throw us back to the years of classic Elton; "Weight of the World," "Porch Swing in Tupelo," "Answer in the Sky," "Turn the Lights Off When You Leave," "My Elusive Drug," "They Call Her The Cat," and "All That I'm Allowed."


The Captain And The Kid (2006)

Elton was indeed making music for himself, and he proved that time and time again since 2001's "Songs From The West Coast" and 2006's "The Captain and the Kid" were perfect models of this bold statement. It takes courage for any major artist to acknowledge that their latter-day work simply is not up to scratch compared to their greatest works, but minimal attempt to resurrect those glory years and different eras in modern pop and recording. Elton pulls it off immaculately. "The Captain and the Kid" were intended as somewhat of a sequel piece to 1975's autobiographical "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy;" this album harnesses the same energy that made the former so timeless and conveys it into some of the most mature and energized songs in Elton's repertoire, as well as some of the most emotionally and politically, informed lyrics ever penned by Bernie. Each and every track is a wonderful page to an already legendary career; every track is beautifully structured and performed wonderfully.