After cranking out 31 albums over 25 years, it's kind of difficult to make another album with a totally new sound.
The first listening of Elton John's 32nd album, "Made in England," makes this writer feel that he's heard a piece of every new song once before. That's not bad. In fact, it's good. I like what I've heard before, and I'm not alone.Most of John's new songs have a similar style to what we heard on his last album, "The One," arguably his best work since the 1970s. John himself says "The One" and "Made in England" are his two best albums since his scorching-hot days when everything he initialed turn to gold and platinum.
John says his last two albums were written in his new clean and sober state. He admittedly overcame a serious drug and alcohol problem three years ago. In an interview on the music network VH-1, John said he personally likes "Made in England" better. He says he hopes fans like it because the music comes from his heart. And right now, his 48-year-old heart is happy with its new and rejuvenated life.
"Believe," the song already playing on the airways, is likely to be a hit and is moving up the song charts fast. John said he tried to put a touch of John Lennon in the tune. Knowing that, listeners will definitely recognize a feel of Lennon in the song.
The title cut, "Made in England," is Bernie Taupin's version of John's lifelong journey to the happiness he now enjoys. We all know that Taupin, who has dropped his first name, has been the lyricist behind John's masterpieces for years. The upbeat song kind of makes fun of those who thought for years that they knew where John was coming from.
"House" definitely sounds like a "The One" leftover - same beat and tempo. "Cold" is another that would fit into one of John's recent albums.
On the other hand, "Pain" has lot of "Caribou" in it. This upbeat song would be a good candidate for John's next single after "Believe" has run its course. When listening to the song you might envision Ray Cooper in the background tapping the tambourine and guitarist Davey Johnstone shaking his blond mop to the beat. This tune has the potential for a great concert song.
The slow-moving "Belfast" would fit right on "Blue Moves" or "Madman Across the Water." A lot of orchestra and a lot of good stuff. "Man" has John's blues touch, similar to much of his work in the late '80s. "Lies" has that bouncy, upbeat style like "Club at the End of the Street."
The next two songs, "Latitude" and "Please," both have a Southern sound similar to "Dixie Lilly" off "Caribou" and "Whitewash County" off "The One." Like "Pain," I think both would be great singles and concert tunes.
In case you haven't noticed, all the songs except the title cut have one-word titles. Your guess is as good as mine as to what this means, but my guess is that we're getting Elton John as simple as he comes.
For you "Lion King" fans, don't expect this album to have that flavor. Overall, I like John's old touch of using an orchestra in many songs and a lot more guitar mixed in with the piano tunes. It might take a few listenings to acquire the taste, but once you've given it a chance you'll probably put it in the same quality class as "The One." But "Made in England" will probably sell a few more copies because John's recent success will cause a few more 10-year-olds to ask Mom to buy it.
RATINGS: four stars (* * * * ), excellent; three stars (* * * ), good; two stars (* * ), fair; one star (* ), poor, with 1/2 representing a higher, intermediate grade.