Anyway, The Thing Is...Elton John's Second Album
Elton John's second album was his first in America and it immediately established him as both a major talent and a star, even if it took a few more albums for him to achieve superstar status. Empty Sky the first album issued in the UK showed the talent but it was only a showcase.
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A young Elton
Elton John's success was hardly overnight and he performed live often, honing his on stage skills.
(Sorry I missed that Sunday show!)
Paul Buckmaster's lush arrangements saturate this sumptuously produced record with rich, woody strings, an occasional harpsichord, synthesizers and horns behind a basic piano driven rock band. Caleb Quaye's funky rhythm guitar parts are also key. So the record has both punch and polish. Elton arrived with a unique, fully formed vocal style capable of wrapping itself effectively around Bernie Taupin's occasionally precious, sometimes campy lyrics. Everything that Elton detractors and lovers love and hate are here in pure form.
The album's audacity starts with the opener, "Your Song," which became a big hit. It's simultaneously precious and daring. Who before Taupin (or since), has included a stream of thought fumbling line in a lyric like "Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean...."? Aw shucks!
Leon Russell's strong influence upon young Elton's melodic sense, his piano playing and his singing too, become apparent throughout this album, but especially on the closing epic "The King Must Die." No wonder Elton felt obliged recently to help Russell in his time of need. Of course, it's easier to hear it now than it was for most young listeners back then, especially since Russell wasn't himself yet a major star.
There are some less than stellar moments, like the throwaway Stones-goes-country-and-western of "No Shoestrings on Louise," and when Bernie writes and Elton sings "For your thighs were the cushions of my love and yours for each other" in "First Episode at Heinton," you just have to wince, or laugh or utter "Barry Manilow" under your breath.
But "Take Me To the Pilot" is a piano-driven, gospely song in which are embedded this foretelling line: "Well I know he's not old, and I'm told he's a virgin, For he may be she, But what I'm told is never for certain" and side two, beginning, with the dramatic, cinematic "Sixty Years On" (which outdoes the string section drama of Days of Future Past ) and the now classic "Border Song" announced the arrival of Elton John, while "The Greatest Discovery" announced a Hallmark card and "The Cage" pointed the way towards Elton's more raucous musical future.
Everything about the record, from the arrangement, to the original's matte-finished fine paper stock gatefold jacket, to the spectacular Trident Studios sound announced the arrival of a new star—and then UNI licensed the title from Dick James Music, got a hold of the tape and artwork and ruined both. The original UNI pressing lops off the original tape's prodigious, deep and I mean deep bass, it's rich, lush strings and sparkling harpsichord as well as its wide dynamic range and incredible vocal transparency. And UNI couldn't spend the money to reproduce the original's tasteful jacket stock and exceptional color reproduction and visual image focus.
If you've ever compared an original UK Dick James Music LP with the UNI you know what I'm talking about.
I could never understand why reissue labels neglected this record. Recently, Classic Reissues a small Canadian company (not related to Classic Records) run by Nelson Poirier, a veteran, former Universal Canada employee, has licensed the title and issued it on 180g vinyl pressed at Pallas. Best of all, the original DJM master tape obtained from Universal UK was the source, cut (from a 96k/24 bit file) at a well-respected German cutting facility (if the SST on the lead out grooves is correct).
The results are superb. The reissue sounds very close to the original, particularly the bottom end weight that will have you laughing during "Take Me to the Pilot"—especially if your system goes all the way down. Everything else about the sound of this reissue is equally true to the original. The gatefold packaging is the album's weak point: it's uninspired and no attempt was made to replicate the original's sumptuous presentation, though the cover photo reproduction is very well done and doesn't have any of that Xeroxed/scanned fuzzy look and bad color registration you often see. Attention was paid there.
What counts of course is the source, the mastering and the pressing quality and those are as good as it gets, so thanks Classic Reissues for not letting this one go unreissued and for doing such a great job with it before one of the phoney reissue labels did so, cut from a CD!
Note: this record is not available for purchase outside of Canada. Please send all inquiries directly to Classic Reissues firstname.lastname@example.org and they will respond promptly.