Saturday, 20 October 2012

Albums for Life: 108: Elton John: Madman Across the Water

I'm doing this count down in synch with David Ashley over on Cathedrals of Sound. Unusually for me, I seem to be getting a bit ahead of the game...

Whenever I hear this album I can smell rotting apples...
Let me explain: Long before the tiaras and tantrums, before he was knighted and became a right royal twat (it's official) Reg could write a tune. On Madman he harnessed Bernie Taupin's sepia tinted lyricism and somehow managed to convince us all that he was rooted in 19th Century Americana. Paul Buckmaster's grandiose strings and the thump and lump of a now regular rhythm section of Dee Murray and Nigel Olson (augmented by new member, guitarist Davey Johnson) provided a focussed yet widescreen sound that suggested something important was happening; maybe even a concept...  And there were guest appearances from stellar players including Rick Wakeman (who knew a thing or two about concepts), Chris Spedding, Herbie Flowers and Terry Cox, plus Robert Kirby (best known for his string arrangements for Nick Drake) directing the Cantores in Ecclesia Choir for some brilliantly misplaced pomp on 'All the Nasties'. 
Elton might have made better albums ('Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' and 'Captain Fantastic' are, for me, his artistic peak) but it was Madman that captivated me; there was an intense, ripe undercurrent of darkness within that never really bore fruit; but what was unrealised was still tantalising enough for this, once spotty, herbert to buy into. The whole thing had an audio panorama that had me sold. I defended its ambition defiantly with my boarding school buddies in the 6th form lounge; they saw it as pretentious tosh. They were right of course, but even now, when I hear Elton warbling about tepeeswarlords and red suns, on the over reaching but well intended babble of 'Indian Sunset', 
I still get the whiff of rotten apples that haunted my freshly stocked wooden tuck box, and remember the excitement of not quite knowing what lay within... 


  1. Ej is one of those where it all falls down because I don't like his voice. Always thought he was a much better songwriter than singer - having said that I don't own anything by him and so havent digged much deeper than the std well know songs

    1. Is it the voice or the affected accent that offends?
      Looking at the two solo videos above it's hard to deny his power as a performer; piano and voice. I suppose he convinced me that he was an auteur/actor, inhabiting those early songs with his early western drawl; on the later poptastic stuff he just strikes me as Blighty's version of Dick Van Dyke (no homophobic pun intended).

  2. I do thikn it is the voice, it even spoiled the kate bush song for me on 50 word for snow - cant deny the power of teh performance on the clips though

  3. Truly a classic. EJ was so prolific and tuneful at the time. What was it, 5 albums in 2 years? My favorite EJ tune is Monalisas & Madhatters, but but Madman easily tops my list of his albums. Maybe the first time when as a lad I listened to an album and said... perfect!
    I've got this much higher on my list.


    PS: Florida house hunt progress: We fell in love with this little beauty which we're renting right now. Owner may sell to us.
    Fingers crossed...