Published: February 18, 2016
Elton John releases his newest studio album “Wonderful Crazy Night” this month, and its infectious positivity offers a sharp break from the majority of his catalog.
The album presents a rejuvenated John who unapologetically focuses on the present without sacrificing his legendary musicality.
Beginning with the upbeat title track, John showcases his mastery of combining a deeper vocal range with an upbeat tempo.
The third track, “Claw Hammer,” highlights John’s aptitude for creating powerful hooks.
In a video released on his YouTube channel, John cites the musical style of Peter Gabriel as a major influence on the song.
In the song, the band transitions from a gentle opening to a rock beat as guitarist Davey Johnstone plays a piano-inspired riff.
Besides these stylistic hooks, in “Claw Hammer,” John indulgently offers instrumental intros and outros that feature Johnstone’s six-string guitar and Nigel Olsson’s drums.
Another strong piece in “Wonderful Crazy Night” is the song “I’ve Got 2 Wings.”
In it, John adds “the Elder Utah Smith” to his list of individuals eulogized in his songs. Smith joins the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Blind Tom, Matthew Shepard, Oscar Wilde and the fictional Danny Bailey, as John recounts the life of the Louisiana guitarist/preacher known for donning two wings.
Lyricist Bernie Taupin draws upon his well-established love for the American South that has had a major influence on John’s songs since the 1970 album “Tumbleweed Connection.”
Although slower and more wistful than most of the album, the overall tone gives the impression of optimism.
The final lines of the chorus “I was here and I was gone / Just a heartbeat from the past / But I went from paper wings / To the real thing at last” resonate with his outlook on life.
Taupin draws further from Southern inspiration on the standard release’s final two tracks “Tambourine” and “The Open Chord.”
As the song’s title suggests, “Tambourine” feels as if it could have been recorded for “Peachtree Road,” John’s 2004 album, but percussion from longtime collaborator Ray Cooper livens the track.
“The Open Chord” meanwhile describes contentedness with one’s life that gives a sense of satisfaction for fans of his older catalog.
In contrast to his songs from the late 1970s and 1980s that feel manic and his more recent releases that offer a darker introspection, “The Open Chord” has a euphonious quality.
“The Open Chord” also shows John’s stunning self-awareness. “Wonderful Crazy Night” builds from the strengths of his most recent album “The Diving Board” while managing to present songs that are of a completely different mood.
“The Diving Board” featured a dark, somber outlook, with songs such as “Voyeur” describing “a broken-hearted lover simply looking for relief that’s temporary from a dirty little war.”
In the new album “Wonderful Crazy Night,” John croons about how he is “clipping off the horns that the devil used to make [him] wear all day.”
The joyful attitude of the entire album matches John’s own ease with his life. After a frenzied lifestyle at the peak of stardom, two-and-a-half decades of sobriety has given John’s music a new life.
John is married, raising two kids at the age of 68 with the spunk of a 20 year old.
To a new listener, “Wonderful Crazy Night” stands alone as a beautiful display of John’s musical abilities, and to the seasoned fan, the album is a hallmark of his vitality and ability to create music that is simply joyous.
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