Album review: Elton John, ‘Wonderful Crazy Night’
There is something irresistible about Elton John’s unbridled joy on his 33rd studio album, “Wonderful Crazy Night.” If some of the songs aren’t as robust creatively as the British pop-rock legend’s enthusiasm for them, you can certainly hear and feel him giving his all in a way that is typical of his rollicking live performances.
Reuniting with co-producer T Bone Burnett — who worked with John on his 2010 collaboration with Leon Russell, “The Union,” and his darker-hued 2013 album, “The Diving Board” — and bringing members of his veteran touring band back into the studio for a fast and loose recording session had a measurable effect on the songs’ energy. The playing throughout is dynamic, mad genius Ray Cooper’s inventive percussion flourishes in particular, and John approaches his piano with a clear pep in his step, both tempo-wise and in some of the more mellifluous interludes.
Where the proceedings tend to break down, when they do, is in longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin’s lyrics. “Blue Wonderful,” for instance, features some of the most lilting musical sounds on the 10-track collection (12 if you shell out for the deluxe edition). But as John rhapsodizes about the pools of a lover’s eyes, lines like “I dive in, I dive deep, I just swim” feel clunky and corny.
Taupin is stronger and more in his element with one of the album’s peaks, “I’ve Got 2 Wings,” an ambling, countrified narrative about a Southern preacher finding his “sonic church.” Everything great about the John/Taupin partnership can be found in this gem of a song, which harks back to their early ’70s work as they build a character with words and chords. They mine that rootsy territory again on the warm, sentimental closer, “The Open Chord,” and in the surge and swing of “In the Name of You.”
Elsewhere, John is up and rocking on the opening title track, which recalls a wilder time not with nostalgic wistfulness but with a kind of buoyant musical laughter. The fast-talking, Billy Joel-esque “Claw Hammer” finds John in a playful mood, as Taupin writes of breaking down the walls of a button-downed soul.
John and Taupin have long passed the point of having anything to prove, and if “Wonderful Crazy Night” doesn’t offer much in the way of instantly gratifying pop hit-making, it’s got craft and joie de vivre to spare — which for artists of their vintage is admirable in its own right.
ESSENTIAL “I’ve Got 2 Wings”