Friday, July 5, 2013

Home Again with Elton John

After posting the Front Row interview where Elton criticizes television-made psuedo stardom, my FB buddy Matt Curry asked me if 1) was Elton eating during the interview? and 2) had I heard "Home Again" ? The advance release single is apparently meeting great interest on YouTube, and deservedly so. Arrangement wise, it's much like Elton of the past twenty years, removed from the pop/ rock stage, more daring in emotional honesty than innovative, more reliant on classical playing skills matched with soul vocals than the rock or dance styles (for danceable Elton, there's always last year's Euro smash mash up Elton John vs. P'nau). He knows he has nothing to prove, and as his live piano & voice solo tours of the late 70's suggests (and he often plays benefits that simple way, today), he benefits from directness as a performer. As much as critics laud the carefully produced output of the first six records, I think comfortably sitting down and pounding out a few numbers for T. Bone Burnett feels honest, and makes it that much simpler to go home to Elijah and Zachary at the end of the day.

Those boys are part of his universal appeal in "Home Again," which he described on Front Row as reflecting any travelling business person's concerns. I like the estimation of the song, on Ultimate Class Rock forum, as a return to inspiration, which is that ephemeral spot in space and time where every artist feels renewed. Click here for our homegrown cover duo!

I was struck by his description of his song writing as essentially unchanged. The half-hour and done approach is where the songs that "work" originate. He still takes a stack of Bernie's lyrics and just sits down and sees what he feels like. He knows those keys and tones well enough to respond with a mood, and the song happens then or doesn't! It reminds me of the moment caught on film where he sits down with "Tiny Dancer" and starts analyzing it with the documentarist (though it's almost certainly not when he actually wrote the tune; it's part of a Goodbye Yellow Brick Road "making of" documentary on YouTube.)

I'm glad! I do like the track...great writing again. It looks like another chart success; I was surprised by his big Euro number one's with Australia's P'nau last year, the electronica re-mix of 70's actually carried some emotional ballast for me that made it part of the time, sweet, intimations of things that weren't to be, but very deep feelings, which I don't associate normally with techno.

I think Home Again may become another of those "I was there then" tracks, which impresses me, that he's still vital. But live, we concentrate on his first six albums, songs way out of his present vocal range--and Anj covers "Sad Songs" and "Your Song" for us and I throw in "I'm Still Standing"---heck, we even learned a couple of his lost 70's soul era tunes! Re-discovering Capt. Fantastic last year changed my song writing a lot, as Elton uses many more chords than guitar players usually do, and paints a rich harmonic canvas in which to explore and interpret the lyrics, particularly on that early run. It's rewarding to have a twenty year old mouthing "Rocket Man" or "Bennie and the Jets" as we play!!!!

He just might not be invited back for "American Idol" and similar shows after his honest remarks ---The Voice, he feels, is about the judges, and the poor contestants are only as good as the next song (Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and Clay Aiken, probably, oh, who's that guy with the mascara, I can picture him...shit! Adam Lambert. But what's he sing?) Too bad, because "Idol" had some performances of "Take Me To the Pilot" I was surprised to discover; at least the catalog's just too good to pass up.

But, sod it, he's Sir Elton Hercules John. The guy who confesses he can only come up with dirty lyrics and moons people from yachts and writes books about AIDS and saves countless lives through humanitarian work. He lived to see civil unions acknowledged in his homeland and will live to see gay marriage across America, in the often out-of -the way towns he prefers to tour these days. No one around me gave a toss about Elton when I found his music, including Elton (except my English teacher, God bless you for letting me write about him, what was your name, Coach's blond wife?), but I knew solid song writing when I heard it. After researching some crowd-pleasers on the charts for 2013, I have to say he's still got something to teach about craft, and just maybe, as was not always the case, about feeling, and honesty.

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