I like double albums – the scope and the epicness and the gatefold cover and the ten minute filler tracks. But Elton John? Not so much. I’m not really a fan of his stuff, particularly of the extremes – the overdramatic Disney themed ballads and the unconvincing attempts at “rocking” like “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.” Or stuff like this:
But Goodbye Yellow Brick is a double album, so I feel like it’s worth some attention nonetheless. It’s certainly no Exile, or Uncle Meat, or Daydream Nation, or Blonde On Blonde, or Zen Arcade, et al – but it’s not bad. In fact, if you’re going to buy one Elton John album – don’t. Buy a Black Flag or Frank Zappa reissue instead. Or get a new lamp or something. But if you’re going to download one Elton John album or you happen to find some old vinyl copy for a few bucks like I did, then go for it.
Side One starts with the prog jam thing “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” It’s overwritten, overwrought, and overlong, but as an expression of 70’s rock self-indulgence, I kind of like it. The first half of the track is more of the band’s spotlight, with some Ronson-like Ziggy guitar work, before Elton comes in to do his thing. More of a showcase than a song, this is a still an appropriately audacious way to kick off this sort of album. Then comes “Candle In The Wind” and I can’t get to the needle fast enough to cut it off. This awful, cloying song was a massive hit single not once but twice, twenty years apart. It sounds to me like a bad theme for a Hallmark commercial, or maybe some brand of herbal tea. Sorry Elton, Bernie, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Charles Manson, whoever – I hate that song. It destroys any momentum this album might have had, and it should have been placed at the end where it could have been more easily skipped. And then comes “Bennie And The Jets” – I saw the Beastie Boys bring out Biz Markie to sing this one live and it was a tremendous, fitting tribute. It’s just a fun song, full of 70’s decadence and production tricks. But it’s like the Red Cross flying in provisions to some war torn country after the atrocities of “Candle In The Wind.” Too little, too late.
And that’s Side One. After that, my attention starts to wane. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” reminds me of Bowie (although not as much as “Rocket Man” does) and it has a cool, spacey chord progression. It’s also one of those faux farewells to the music business that just happen to be released on a massive selling album. The kind of thing the Smashing Pumpkins would have done with some strobe lit video with light bulbs swinging from drippy basement ceilings. I’m sure I’m not the first to compare this album to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, although at least this one is kind of fun and has a few good melodies. But both albums seem to have lots of drama with not much substance.
“Sweet Painted Lady” is the sort of subtle balladeering I prefer from Elton John, the kind of song that would have fit on Tumbleweed Connection or one of his earlier, more listenable albums. “Dirty Little Girl” is a strange one, veering between creepy misogyny and what comes off as actual hygiene advice: “I bet she hasn’t had a bath in years.” It’s just odd. And some of this stuff is plain awful. A reggae song? No thanks. Side Four in particular is pretty vomitous, with the aforementioned embarrassment “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” along with a “tribute” song to “Roy Rogers” (why?), another sub-Tumbleweed country thing “Social Disease,” and “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n Roll),” which is every bit as bad as that title sounds. By the time I get to the final track “Harmony,” yet another dramatic ballad, I’m just so sick of Elton John’s nonsense that I don’t ever want to see this album again. This is really a double album that should have been trimmed down, leaving the big singles and a few of the better album tracks, cutting away the crap, and putting “Candle In The Wind” at the end where it belongs. “Candle In The Wind” stinks.