Ah, the original insider review Such a firestorm brewed amongst us diehard fans here and elsewhere over one person's opinion which may, or may not, have even had an influence on key changes made in the tracklisting that eventually ended up on this new record. Anyway, controversy aside - I just thought it'd be both fun and maybe a little educational to look back on it and see what still rings true (and what doesn't) now that we've all had time to hear WCN for ourselves, so here it goes...
August 23, 2015:
So you were fortunate enough to hear it in advance. That's great news. First off, were you excited you that you were gonna hear it?
Of course I'm excited to have heard it twice. But it's a release that will be forgotten about a week after release. I mean, I wish I could be more positive about it. There were 4-5 songs I really enjoyed listening to, but none are hits or "A" material. The rest are completely forgettable. The lyrics are Bernie's worst by a long shot. The production and band sound great -- they do rock a bit -- but the songs aren't there.
That doesn't sound promising. Safe to say that you liked The Diving Board more then?
Yeah but in retrospect, my main concern with TDB was that there were no songs to support the minimalist concept of piano, bass & drums. This one is a more enjoyable listen, I think, but the lyrics are a lot worse and most of the songs go nowhere. Not one "chills" moment for me.
So 4-5 fun songs with good production that aren't great, but if you don't analyze them -- are enjoyable.
I gather it's on a par with Breaking Hearts or Reg Strikes Back then? A release with a few good songs but ultimately disposable?
Breaking Hearts had "In Neon" and "Burning Buildings"... nothing close to those on the new album.
RSB may be a better comparison, very colorless songs.
That's too bad. I was really looking forward to a modern rock record here. At least one last one, with a lasting substance.
This album has great production though, and the band hasn't sounded looser and as a rock band in years. There are a couple of rock tracks and the guitars blister as they haven't since Rock of the Westies.
So not one song stood out to you as a hit single?
Only one song had single potential and, quite frankly, it's not a hit (referring to "Blue Wonderful" at the time). It's just a very good song that is the best on the album, unfortunately, when it would be the 5th best song on a better album.
Like on TDB, we get a lot instrumentally that's exciting (in a much different way), but the lyrics are beyond awful -- beyond awful, I stress -- and the melodies are often complete bores that go nowhere.
Bernie dropped the ball then? What happened... too positive?
Bernie? Even the good songs have the most boring unimaginative lyrics you can imagine.
The album is so much better when ignoring the lyrics. And I'm a HUGE Taupin fan, by the way.
They are all love songs, I guess, with no emotional quality to them. The opposite of heartfelt. Like a 10 year old kid wrote them, or a robot or computer program with every cliche in the book.
I'm disappointed to hear this, you can imagine. Though I do quite CSAT...
I do too! And you'll like 4-5 songs I think... but nothing is better than CSAT. There's not a whiff of a classic to be found.
That's amazing to hear. I guess the well has finally dried up then... a shame.
Yeah, the melodies are long gone. And Bernie's lyrics... you'd think it was a prank.
Oh brother. Sounds like I wish they were. I can't imagine.
I guess the label holding it back till next year then is due to its quality and not some kind of promotional buildup?
Don't know why the label pushed it back but hard to believe they even know what to do with this.
How many times did you listen to it?
I heard it twice and read along to it one of those times. The second listen was a lot better than the first though, so who knows.
Okay, so the songs don't seem to measure up by your standards, but are there still things to look forward to? And how many songs are there on the album?
The band and the production and even Elton's vocals and piano playing do shine at moments throughout though.
10 songs total with four bonus tracks, only one of which is any decent and should have probably been on the main album.
Are the lyrics on a par then with those that can be found on The Big Picture?
The lyrics are worse than on TBP. The first single will most likely be midtempo, by the way (referring to "Blue Wonderful at the time).
The album is much better produced and played than Peachtree Road. It's probably better due to its tempo diversity and the fact that the couple of rockers on it do rock.
The album has a great, full sound. It's crisp and clear, not muddied at all. Elton sounds good too. The songwriting, though, is just really uninspired and at least half of the album I never have to hear again; completely disposable.
The lyrics are probably the worst, as a whole, of any Elton album.
Yet the songs themselves aren't as good, I gather. I don't really like Peachtree Road. If I'm not mistaken, you don't either. A big step back from Songs from the West Coast.
Huge step back from SFTWC.
The melodies (on the new album) aren't awful, they just have no magic. I think The Union and TDB have melodies similar to what you'll find here, but hitting the peaks of those albums less.
On a grading scale, would it be fair to say this album is a D? Or using the star system - I think I'm generous in giving PTR 3 stars, whereas SFTWC was 4 1/2, TCATK 3 1/2, The Union 4, and TDB 4. So where do you think this one would rank in comparison?
I'd say this is a 2.5 star record based on that scale.
There are some 3.5 to 4 songs. But there are also a handful of 1-2 star songs and definitely no 5 star songs.
That makes it out to be worse than Peachtree though.
Peachtree is probably a better album both lyrically and melodically, though it falls far short in production and the band and maybe even vocals (definitely back up vocals, of which there are solid ones on the new album).
But there's no "Weight of the World", or "Freaks in Love", or "Turn the Lights Out..." on this album as far as melody goes.
There is one rocker on this album (referring to "England and America" at the time) that's as fun or even more so than "Made in England", but it's Meatloaf 80's rock, derivative and more of a guilty pleasure... though I will play it on repeat
I had TBP pegged as a 2 1/2 star effort, by the way.
Production aside, The Big Picture has better melodies and lyrics too. There's no "Live Like Horses" or "Long Way from Happiness", I assure you.
But the other good qualities may pull it up to 2 1/2.
Diehard fans will really like about 4-5 songs, and casual fans will probably have none register.
This is a two listen review, by the way. But my takeaway feeling was "disappointed, but not surprised" knowing the trajectory that Elton's songwriting has been on.
Is that rocker you mentioned a potential single?
I doubt it. It's really, really catchy and a shitload of fun, but it's not contemporary in the least... radio would ignore it.
One track on the album (referring to "Children's Song" at the time) may very well be the most embarrassing one in the John/Taupin canon. Vomit inducing.
That's shocking. Even more so than "Act of War"?
Yeah, I know. Bernie's fault more than anything. Critics will be all over it.
"Act of War" was embarrassing, but this is like Raffi meets bad Cat Stevens. Like a far more sappier, stupider version of "Peter's Song"... it makes "Blessed" sound like a Mozart composition.
How do you think fans are going to react after hearing this? I'm pretty bummed out myself.
It's just one review. Doesn't mean I'm right, and the album will not sell anyway.
I mean, I hope AC gives the first single a chance but... I don't know if it'll make a difference.
It might still chart high that first week out though?
Yeah, it could. The Diving Board got a lot of press and high praise and it didn't sell. What's the press story on this one? Not "Elton's Back" again... they've worn that one out.
And there's not a song that's going to do better than "Home Again"... hopefully as well, but not more.
And it's most definitely not an award winner. That's like expecting Reg Strikes Back or Ice on Fire to have won Album of the Year.
"Fun Elton" is back, maybe? But that would be ignoring the other 5 tracks that are supposedly subpar.
It's lighter Elton, but there's only a couple of tracks that have rock leanings. I'd say it's more of a 'breezy' album than a rocking one... Beatles and Beach Boys in some places.
Look, I'm not a huge Captain & the Kid fan -- but I'd say 8 of those 10 songs would be better than anything here from a songwriting perspective.
So it's an easy, or easier listen, but not in that definitive soft rock sense? It's a hard sell, you're right. I haven't heard the album yet and it seems like there really isn't an angle there.
It's just Elton being Elton without the magic. All the elements are there, but the songs are easy to listen to with no real depth or any lasting impact.
But the production and sound of the band make a huge difference. I'd rather have this on in the background than Peachtree Road but -- song by song, this new one's melodies, and most definitely lyrics, are inferior.
So not as good as any studio album since TBP? I have to wonder how people are going to take that.
This is a bad album. Like Elton spent only 2 days working on it. And Taupin 2 hours. If we weren't Elton fans, we wouldn't be buying it.
Additional comments made in mid September 2015:
I wanted to tell you, for you or public consumption, that I played "Ballad of the Boy..." the other day and I am certain, without a doubt, that no music or lyric comes close in quality to that song on the new album. There's nothing emotionally gripping in any possible way, and that's my biggest criticism.
And what could I tell fans who might think TDB suits your style or preference in music by EJ? For example, how would you rate this one in comparison with his other releases of recent years?
You can say I think Songs from the West Coast was the best, most consistent album he did since at least Too Low for Zero; that Peachtree Road was a major step down; Captain & the Kid had nice melodies, but seemed a little forced/hackneyed at times; and The Union/Diving Board had great concepts but the actual song qualities were questionable.
As far as lyrics, Bernie was a monster on SFTWC, provided mediocre lyrics on PTR, and had interesting, ambitious lyrics on TDB. This new album? Brutal. Worst collection of lyrics by Bernie in memory. They aren't fun, they aren't touching, and they certainly aren't very smart.
My own thoughts in late October 2015, a few days after "Looking Up" was released as a single online:
My source has been a pain to get a hold of in the last month and a half or so; he seems to have taken a hiatus of some sort from giving me any more details about the new album.
At the moment, I can only go by my original discussion with him and the notes I took, which I never posted and chose not to because of personal reasons that I'd rather not get into at the moment.
However, I'll try answering these questions to the best of my ability with what was left over, and sincerely apologize in advance if I can't further elaborate on them:
* "Free and Easy", "Children's Song" (which is the one he thought was arguably the most embarrassing John/Taupin song ever) and "No Monsters" have been relegated to bonus tracks in the time since he heard the album, so apparently better and (generally) more upbeat songs have been put in their place.
* He never mentioned or even listed "I've Got 2 Wings", which would lead me to believe that he never heard it either.
* "In the Name of You" was one song that he did mention briefly but had some difficulty remembering.
* "England and America", which was the Meatloaf/Springsteen/cheesy & fun '80s type song as far as arrangement goes, was said to be one of the more enjoyable songs but has since been moved to a bonus track. Hardest rock song on the standard CD may be "Guilty Pleasure" now because of this move.
* He recalled "Blue Wonderful" being 'Elton at his most sublime', and thought it would be the first song released to radio before the album hits. From what was bantered about - it also has the most distinctive Elton-ish backing vocals arrangement, to answer that question.
* "The Open Chord", "Tambourine", "No Monsters", and "Children's Song" are ballads, but according to what he said only one of them is any good or decent.
* If we're talking the 'best arrangement' here, then knowing him I would think he'd say "England and America" because it goes for that big, '80's rock cheese
* The title track is a stripped down, '50 style rock 'n' roll tune with a 'somewhat bland melody'.
* He thought "Looking Up" had a great sound and production to it, but seemed to 'rip off a lot of things' and was 'not terribly original'. Furthermore, to my knowledge - there's both an album version of it (on YouTube) and a radio edit (played on Ken Bruce's BBC 2 radio show.)
And that's all I can share for now.
In closing, three bonus tracks and a new track replaced 4 of the 10 songs on the proper album that he heard, so a part of me now thinks tweaks were recently made since it's not the same album he listened to. It might even be a slightly better record now... who knows.