Everything about this album, from the gaudy cover and liner note art to the 11-minute long symphonic rocker that opens it, screams "Look at me! I'm massive!" And a lot of the time, it works. That opening track, "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" represents Elton and his band at a righteous fever pitch, and still sounds amazing all these years on. "Bennie And The Jets" is another big-star moment that resonates still, with the fake audience applause and the false start from the band that still gives me a chill when I hear it on the radio. Elton's falsetto was never in better form.
There are other great songs on this album, especially the title track but also "Grey Seal," "I've Seen That Movie Too," and the beautiful closing ballad, "Harmony," and the temptation is to recommend this to anyone unreservedly for those alone.
But yet... People say "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" was Elton's absolute peak, but the truth is it wasn't. He wrote some fine songs, but these 17 tracks include misses, too, more duffers than Elton had on his previous two albums put together. "Dirty Little Girl" and "Jamaica Jerk-Off" are the nadirs, but some other songs lose their less ample charms after a mere handful of listens. I'm thinking "Danny Bailey," "All The Girls Love Alice," "Your Sister Can't Twist," and "Social Disease." Other songs are good filler but nothing to get excited about.
Then there's two songs that really annoy me, not because they're bad, just way overplayed and too popular for their own good. "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" comes off as limp and flailing, an overbaked tempo tantrum with Taupin's lyrics forcing Elton to claim common cause with a type of mean-street yahoo that would have turned him into a rhinestone-studded stain on the road in a East London minute. And "Candle In The Wind" is just maudlin, working up the whole tired "Marilyn died for our sins" angle of one of pop culture's most overblown icons with a sophomoric melody and lyrics that cry desperation: "I would have liked to known you/but I was just a kid." About all that can be said for it is it's less bad than the version he did on "Live In Australia," and much less bad than the version he sang at the Clinton impeachment trial or some other late-90s calamityfest.
They don't stink, just give people the wrong idea, like Elton was a bit of a poser with bad lyrics and a bottom-line bank account mentality. He did great music before "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and great music after. He even did some great music in "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." I wanted to give this three stars, bah-bah-bah-but one of the songs made me realize it deserves four. Too many good songs to denigrate it, but too much information for the casual fan. If you are going to buy your first Elton studio album, you will like this, but you will like "Honky Chateau," "Don't Shoot Me," "Tumbleweed Connection," and "Capt. Fantastic" more.
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