Monday, October 1, 2012

"Madman across the Water" by Elton John (1971)

View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl.

"The words she knows, the tune she hums."

Key Tracks: Tiny Dancer, Levon and Indian Sunset are all well worth rehearing (or checking out for the first time)

My Overall Rating of the Tracks Separately:
Recommended Listening (3/4 stars)

In my opinion, "Almost Famous" ties for the best movie ever about the undying love some of us have for music.  (The other is "High Fidelity.")  My favorite scene in "Almost Famous" hinges on the lead track to "Madman across the Water."  You can CLICK HERE to view it.  If you're not a clicker, I'll break it down for you.  A group of people who just went through an incredibly stressful and devisive series of events reconnect through the song Tiny Dancer.  It is brillant and kicks you square in the chest and pretty much sums up the entire move in under two and a half minutes.  It speaks to the way way that music cuts across every presumption and prejudice we may have and unites us as human beings.  Yeah, I'm going there.  I know it sounds immensely hammy, but I deeply believe this to be a rare (if not the only) absolute truth.

If that's too heady for you, CLICK HERE to see a hilarious scene from the sitcom "Friends" involving a misinterpretation of Tiny Dancer's lyrics.

Like Paul McCartney, Elton John is an expert at discorvering universal melodies - those tunes that you can't help but latch on to and hum along with the first time you hear them.  That is powerful mojo.  To produce something that is instantly hooky and alluring should be the goal of all pop art.  To do it repeatedly seems to consistently take an Englishman with a piano.

But also like Paul McCartney, Elton John finds these hooks by being immensely prolific.  "Madman across the Water" came out during the E.J. onslaught of 1970-1974 that usually saw at least two new LPs each year.  I will say that "Madman" lands on the high end of that spectrum.  It's much more cohesive and self-aware than some of Elton's other output during the time.  (CLICK HERE to see my review of "Don't Shoot Me, I'm only the Piano Player.")

So, is it an album?  Yes.  On "Madman across the Water," Bernie Taupin seems to be fixated with painting complicated pictures, and his acumen for characterization has never been sharper.  And both the lyricist and the scorer are particularly vulnerable this time around, which makes for a much heavier trip.

Up next, "Stay Awhile" by The Bells.

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