A tremendous compilation could be made of the best songs from Elton John’s albums of the last 30 years. As whole entities, some were stronger than others, but the generally polished and competent affairs rarely demanded full replays. For the last decade or so, John and his criminally undersung lyricist Bernie Taupin have flirted with the sound of their creative ’70s peak. Produced by T Bone Burnett and assisted by a tasteful small combo, “The Diving Board” succeeds where the others did not. It does so by putting John’s piano and voice front and center, offering memorable melodies, and scraping off the production glop to reveal again the musician, the vocalist, the emotional artist still alive under John’s shiny shell of professional fabulousness.
If some of the songs evoke spirits of past glories — as the ambling gospel vibe of “Take This Dirty Water” recalls “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” or the cri de coeur “My Quicksand” evokes the anguished “Tonight” — it’s a pleasant evocation in songs that stand on their own merits. A bittersweet wistfulness courses throughout the lyrics and the warm huskiness of John’s voice, finding its peak in the heartrending “Home Again,” which is just where John and Taupin find themselves on “The Diving Board.” (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “Home Again”
Elton John plays TD Garden Nov. 12.