Manafonistas

on life, music etc beyond mainstream

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(34) The One (1992) ***

A new start. New hair (transplanted). A very silly cover designed by Gianni Versace (who then also designed costumes and lightning for the tour, released on the VHS/DVD Live in Barcelona). Bernie’s lyrics are pretty good, but The One is not yet the beginning of a „mature period“, rather a solid mid-career album. Unfortunately Chris Thomas‘ production leaves it still a bit stuck in the 80s.

Standout tracks: The few exciting songs are the energetic Runaway Train with Eric Clapton on vocals and guitar, and the ambitious Sweat it out with very good piano soloing (if only the production was without that terrible glossy, almost plastic, sound, it could be such a great song). The 6-minute title song was a top 10 hit, and The Last Song is rather moving. Mostly solid, but the sound is anything but great.

(35) Rare Masters (1992) ***

A 2-cd, 37-track compilation of 1970’s b-sides, non-LP singles, alternate versions and rare tracks, including the complete Friends soundtrack album and everything previously released on Lady Samantha twelve years prior. Some nice discoveries for fans in this collection.

(36) Duets (1993) **

Just like Frank Sinatra did that same year, Elton recorded an album of 15 duets (plus one new solo) with a broad variety of people. Whereas Sinatra did not perform together with his duet partners in the same studios, Elton’s Duets are real collaborations, some new songs by Taupin/John (a duet with Little Richard fro example), a few from his own back catalogue, some old hits by other performers (Teardrops with k.d.lang, True Love with Kiki Dee, Love Letters with Bonnie Raitt etc). Lots of famous people (and less famous ones), but hardly anything worth listening to.

Best of all: A mesmerizing appearance by Leonard Cohen, Born to loose.

(37) The Lion King (1994) **¼

Yes, the most successful animation film ever. Elton’s Song Can you feel the Love tonight won an Academy Award and initiated another comeback. Half of the music is songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, the other half is score by Hans Zimmer.

Zach Boecker says: „The absolute best soundtrack to a musical ever. Runs the gamut of powerful and quiet, joyous and poignant, comical and serious thanks to the master class abilities of Hans Zimmer and Elton John.“

Standout track: Hakuna Matata, sung by a meerkat and a warthog. 

(38) Made in England (1995) ***½

A better comeback album than The One, though commercially a less successful one. A more organic sound (the rare studio album between 1980 and 2001 not produced by Chris Thomas), more memorable songs, more personal songs, not too many keyboards, finally back to the grand piano, mature performances. Ray Cooper and Paul Buckmaster (with four string arrangements) are back as well, after many years. Best album in 20 years.

Standout tracks: Belfast, Latitude, Please – primarily an album for fans, though.

(39) Love Songs (1995) **½

A Kuschelrock compilation, relying heavily on songs from 80s and 90s radio (only six sections from the 70s included). Most likely a result of new success with The Lion King. Some versions contain a new song. This CD is the place to go if you’re looking for one disc to have all the songs you’ve heard way too often on the radio. Only Rocket Man is missing; doesn’t count as a love song, I guess.

Standout: I guess that’s why they call it the Blues (feat. Stevie Wonder).

 

 

(40) The Big Picture (1997) **

This time it’s not Versace but Julian Schnabel who was invited to make the album cover art. Unfortunately, everything else is quite similar to The One, only more dull. Slick 90s sound. It’s a boring album. I never liked it.

Standout track: Long Way from Happiness (if only the production wasn’t such a terribly uninspired plastic sound)

(41) Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida (1998) *

As he did not want to compose songs for another animated Disney movie, Elton composed music for a stage version of Aida. This album is not the stage version, but a various artists album with lots of mediocre songs and performances, among them Boyz II Men, Janet Jackson, Sly & Robbie with Sting, Lenny Kravitz, Shania Twain, Tina Turner & Angelique Kidjo, the Spice Girls and James Taylor. I disliked it so much I couldn’t even listen to the CD from beginning to end once. It’s bad. I advise you not to listen to it.

Nothing notable here.

(42) The Muse (1999) **

As he did neither want to work on another Disney animation nor on another Broadway show, Elton composed the score for Albert Brook’s Sharon Stone comedy The Muse. Nice.

(43) One Night only – The Greatest Hits (2000) **

The Greatest Hits live in concert at Madison Square Garden. Unnecessary live album without any particular reason of existence. Oh, I almost forgot: There are some guests on stage: Bryan Adams, Mary J. Blige and Kiki Dee. I never owned this album. Can’t even remember ever having listened to it.

(44) The Road to El Dorado (2000) **

As Elton did not want to compose songs for another animated Disney movie (but had his biggest success in the 1990s with that animated lion), he and Tim Rice decided to compose songs for an animated DreamWorks movie. Though the music is not as specific in the film’s context as it was the case with The Lion King, it’s more of a cohesive EJ album that that previous effort which included Hans Zimmer’s score sections as well. And hey, Randy Newman is here! I remember the album as being pretty boring, so I haven’t listened to it more than a couple of times, many years go.

Standouts: I don’t remember. None, I guess. 

[continued here]  // previously: part 1 ,  part 2 ,  part 3

 

 

(24) Too Low For Zero (May 1983) ***½

Frequently hailed as a return to form (I’m still standing) — and to the top of the charts, for that matter. However, in retrospect one has to admit that Too Low for Zero is far from being an imitation of the successes of the 1970s; there are hardly any similarities with albums of the preceding decade, even though the band is mostly the same as during that creatively most successful period, and Bernie Taupin was finally back on board 100%. This is totally 80s rock and pop, with an outright streamlined sound (It was the one EJ album my parents had in their collection.), a few synth-heavy tracks, some well produced guitars and a good portion of self-reflecting lyrics, which Elton turned into very strong songs for the charts.

Standout tracks: Whipping Boy, Kiss the Bride, Too Low for Zero (very untypical, very 80s).

(25) Breaking Hearts (July 1984) **½

A lesser version of Too Low For Zero. Sad Songs (say so much) was a top 5 single, but it’s just as arbitrary as the album title.

Standout track: I always enjoyed Passengers, because it’s pretty weird for a hit single. But it’s really an album for fans.

(26) Ice on Fire (November 1985) ***

With album titles becoming more even more arbitrary, Ice on Fire offers some decent soul-pop songs with swing, boogie, doo-wop and dashing trumpet and saxophone arrangements, plus a very glossy 80s production. Nik Kershaw played electric guitar on Nikita, if there’s anything of interest you’d like to know. (I’m not 100% sure, but this may be the first album I bought.)

Standouts: Tell me what the Papers say, Soul Glove.

(27) Leather Jackets (1986) *½

Don’t bother. This album is so poor (and did hardly sell any copies) it wasn’t even included in the re-release series of Elton’s whole back catalogue, so I wonder if anyone still knows or even cares about it. Cliff Richard and Kiki Dee are here for duets, Cher co-wrote a song (you wouldn’t recognize it, though), and even 50% of Queen guested on a song on this album. Btw: the cover is not by Andy Warhol but simply pretending to. Anyway, have a look at this incredibly inappropriate band photo:

 

 

Standouts: (…standing out of what?)

(28) Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (1987) ***½

It may be „just“ a concert album (the second one in 20 years), furthermore, one with an 88-piece symphony orchestra (in addition to his 13-piece live band) and Elton dressing up in a Mozart costume every night for 27 nights in late 1986 – but this album is quite an emotionally charged one, with EJ having been in a bad shape mentally, plus shortly before a „severe mental breakdown“ (resulting from too much cocaine and alcohol, among other issues, for way too many years) and a vocal chord operation. Each night first presented half a show with the rock band – and then, after a break, a second half with the band and the orchestra, but only (most of) the second part of the shows has been released on disc, unfortunately.

The 14 songs on this double album all date back to the early years (half of the second album is here), with songs from 1970 through 1976. A great selection, and the combination with orchestra still sounds very good, in parts intimate, moving and personal (I need you to turn to, Sixty Years on, The Greatest Discovery), in other parts „classically campy“ (Candle in the Wind, released a single again, going on to top the charts), in parts showman-like „big“, while still entertaining (Have Mercy on the Criminal).

Other standouts: The King must die, Madman across the Water.

(29) Reg Strikes Back (June 1988) **½

Since EJ was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, this title implies a return to a more personal album. That’s not the case, however. A mix of very 80s top 20 singles (I don’t wanna go on with you like that, Town of Plenty), a few glossy standard ballads, a hint of latin influence (A Word in Spanish) which must have been en vogue then (see also: Pet Shop Boys), the occasional good tune and some funny lyrics (Goodbye Marlon Brando).

Standout track: Heavy Traffic.

(30) Sleeping with the Past (1989) ***½

A more personal and cohesive album, the beginning of coming to terms with lots of things, stylistically a return to a darker, a lot more soulful sound, influenced by Motown, The Drifters (Elton’s first group, Bluesology, had been the backing band for The Drifters in England in 1966), Aretha Franklin etc. – a good share of gospel and blues music here. The overall sound would be a lot better if it were less streamlined and glossy, then again it was still the 80s… It sounds a bit better than any other studio album of the decade, still misses some edginess. I never understood why the very mediocre composition Sacrifice went to number 1 and remains a big radio hit. It’s the one song on this album I reliably skipped.

Standout tracks: Healing Hands, Amazes me, Blue Avenue, I never knew her Name.

(31) The Very Best of / To Be Continued… / EPs (1990) ***½

Two discs rounding up EJ’s career, chapters 1 and 2. Also setting an end to the cocaine and alcohol decades, leading to a new start in life. Notable for the inclusion of several non-album singles, such as the no.1 Don’t go breaking my Heart, Lucy in the Sky, Pinball Wizard, Philadelphia Freedom and two new songs, which are pretty good. / To Be Continued collects hits and rarities and previously unreleased stuff on 4 discs; lots of nice things to find here, such Elton’s debut single with Bluesology from 1967, a French duet with France Gall from 1980, a song for a Cartier commercial, an aggressively rocking duet with Millie Jackson, an absurd interpretation of Give Peace a Chance – and others. / The EPs are worth mentioning, because they actually make up half a new album, which isn’t bad, mostly because of the gospely You gotta love someone, which, listening to it today, I can still value as a very good and soulful song. Furthermore, there is a collaboration with Adamski, which also very good.

(32) MTV Unplugged (May 1990) ***

This concert, the second or third show in MTV’s then new Unplugged series, has actually never been released on CD, LP or VHS – so it’s officially not an album. However, it should have been. It’s the rare chance to hear Elton play a solo show on grand piano only. And he’s very entertaining at that, has been a fairly good improviser, too. The only other option to hear similar intimate performances is the rarely available VHS To Russia with Elton from 1979, documenting a Russia tour with only him and percussionist Ray Cooper. It’s very unfortunate than none of the many duo tours Elton and Ray did during the past 30 years, including lots of lesser known songs, not one has ever resulted in a live album.

(33) Two Rooms (1991) **½

If you’d like to hear the (rest of the) Beach Boys perform Crocodile Rock, Kate Bush become the Rocket Man, The Who closely trace Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, as well as everyone from Phil Collins, Tina Turner, Rod Stewart to Joe Cocker, George Michael and Wilson Phillips say hi, this double album is the place to go. 

Standouts: not too many, most interpretations are simply too uninspired, but Sting’s intimate Come down in Time (accompanied only by Elton on piano, his only appearance on this release) is excellent [a good place to start for you, Michael ;-) ], and Sinead O’Connor turns the very underwhelming Sacrifice into a haunting piece of songwriting; Eric Clapton hands in a moving interpretation of the Border Song. Another highlight is the colourful piano performance on Bruce Hornsby’s version of Madman across the Water. 

continued here; previously: part 1part 2

2017 12 Mrz

Elton John’s discography, part 2

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(12) Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (May 1975) ****½

Not much more to note than that Captain Fantastic is Elton’s first „mature“ album, often regarded as his best. An autobiographical suite of well-crafted and complex pop songs by Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin, about their years before they became famous. Funnily enough, the extravagant, surreal cover in Goodbye Yellow Brick Road meets Dalì style doesn’t do justice to the music.

Standout tracks: works best as a suite, less as individual tracks, but how about the title song or Tower of Babel?

(13) Rock of the Westies (Oct 1975) **** (or maybe more)

Often disregarded as an uninspired and blunt hard-rock album, which I think is a bit unjust. Yes, it’s very different from all preceding albums, rocking a lot harder, sometimes in a bluesy or dancey manner, in parts even aggressively, thanks to two guitar players (don’t expect Led Zeppelin, of course), but the arrangements are never shallow or banal, quite the opposite, and also rhythmically (and structurally) varied, thanks to Ray Cooper’s multifaceted nature. An almost completely new band was involved in these recordings, right after Captain Fantastic, including, notably, 24-year old James Newton-Howard on electric piano, synthesizers, clavinet and mellotron (he remained a member of Elton’s band until the late 80s and went on to become an immensely successful film composer). There’s only one ballad, the one hit single and number one hit Island Girl is arguably the weakest song on the album (which might explain why it was not even part of the extensive The Very Best of Elton John double album), and yes, Bernie’s lyrics are kind of a mixed bag as well.

It may not leave a very subtle impression, but the spontaneity and dark vigor of the album are the reasons why I think Rock of the Westies is a very good one. It’s one I have always enjoyed coming back to a lot. [Side note: After several extravagantly colourful album covers, this one indicates a return to a less eclectic pop music collection, back to a more basic, unpretentious approach, like Honky Château.]

 

 

Standout tracks: Billy Bones and the White Bird, Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future), Street Kids.

 –

(14) Here and There (recorded 1974, released May 1976) ***½

Aka contractual obligation album. Elton’s first real concert album. The original version was only one LP with ten tracks, its title reflecting on success in England and America, hence „here“ is the UK concert recording from London in May 1974, and „there“ is the American side, recorded in New York City six months later. However, the double CD release (1995, 160 minutes) adds an immense amount of value and helps to make this Elton’s definitive live album of the seventies (actually, there are no others, except for a couple of very limited edition concert releases).

The album is also notable for containing John Lennon’s final live appearance (three songs), including a relevant story around it: Elton had recorded Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds with Lennon’s help (as well as his One Day at a Time on the flipside) and appeared on his single Whatever gets you thru the Night, about which Elton surmised it would become a number one hit. To which Lennon joked if that would happen, he’d perform on stage at Madison Square Garden with Elton. And so they did. Plus, after 18 months of separation, John and Yoko met again backstage of the concert — and less than a year later Sean was born. Then John pledged to disappear from the public eye for five years to the good father he had missed to be to Julian. AllMusicGuide: „This should be considered essential listening for enthusiasts as well as curious music historians.“

Standout tracks: Whatever gets you thru the Night, I saw her standing there, Bad Side of the Moon, Honky Cat, Love Song, Take me to the Pilot, You’re so static.

(15) Blue Moves (Oct 1976) ****

EJ’s second double album is actually his longest studio album. (NB: The first CD release omitted three songs to make it fit onto one disc.) A fascinating mix of gospel, unusual country songs, some orchestra arrangements, the Brecker Bros. (Randy and Michael) with Barry Rogers and David Sanborn as brass section, James Newton-Howard is back as well, on synths and organs (and this time even as co-writer on a couple of songs), two guitar players, the always fantastic percussionist Ray Cooper, Crosby & Nash as backing vocalists, and then there’s even a gospel choir.  Funnily enough, the only hit single was the quiet Sorry seems to be the hardest Word, which is the only song on the album anyone might know today.

Though all that may sound like a pompous production (and it allegedly took many months of production), Blue Moves is actually a very underrated album, almost as good as Captain Fantastic, an abundance of strong songs in a diverse variety of styles and lots of interesting musical ideas. The beautiful simple song Idol has been my favorite unknown song by Elton John for a very long time, and even though the album leaves a rather serious general impression, loaded with lyrics about God, remorse and finality, there is so much to enjoy here, including some instrumentals.

Standout tracks: Where’s the Shoorah? (a beautiful gospel), Idol (lost classic), Cage the Songbird (for Edith Piaf), Bit your Lip (Get Up and Dance) (a seemingly endless semi-hard rock jam with a Baptist choir and a string section conducted by James Newton-Howard), Tonight, Crazy Water, Chameleon.

 –

(16) Greatest Hits Vol.2 (Nov 1976) ****

The only reason I’ve included this here to get to 21 albums by May 1980. There are ten mostly very good songs on this LP, including two non-LP singles: Philadelphia Freedom and Pinball Wizard (from The Who’s Tommy, of course). Three singles from Rock of the Westies and two from Madman across the Water, if you bother to know.

Standout tracks: Tiny Dancer, Grow some Funk of your own.

 –

(17) The Thom Bell Sessions (recorded 1977, released 1979, completely released 1989) **½

Basically an unfinished album with Phillysoul producer Thom Bell. Three songs were released as an EP in 1979, the complete sessions (six songs, 35 minutes) ten years later. I think it counts as an album.

Standout tracks: no idea

– 

(18) A Single Man (Oct 1978) ***¼

First album without Bernie Taupin. Gus Dudgeon is back as producer. Backing vocals: The Watford Football Team.

Standout tracks: I don’t care and Madness are cool. Because both of them sound a bit mad. And BJ Cole is back playing pedal steel guitar on the beautiful gospel hymn Georgia. When I was 14-15, my favourite song ever was Part-Time Love. Not anymore.

(19) Victim of Love (1979)  [no stars available]

Even if you don’t like Elton John at all, you couldn’t imagine how bad this album is. Probably the worst album you’ll ever hear. It’s the only one of his studio albums I don’t own any more. A pseudo-disco album on which Elton did neither participate in writing any of the songs nor play any instrument. Sounds like he wasn’t even present during the recording session (was probably an impersonator)… which sounds like it must have been recorded in less than an hour. [I found this comment on Discogs: „Worst album I own? Disco-cocaine-80s dog vomit. Elton WTF?“]

Notable: All songs sound exactly the same. However, the opening song is Johnny B. Goode.

(20) Lady Samantha (1980) ***

A b-sides and rare tracks collection. Pretty good ones, though.

Standout tracks: Bad Side of the Moon, Rock’n’Roll Madonna, Into the Old Man’s Shoes.

(21) 21 at 33 (May 1980) **

…which was Elton John’s 21st album when he was 33 years old. Some rockers, some ballads, but nothing really worthwhile here. On the minor hit single Little Jeannie one can hear Elton’s typical 80’s MOR pop emerging slowly. Ah yes, there are some Eagles singing along (Glenn Frey and Don Henley).

Standout tracks (standing out among very mediocre songs): Take me back, Two Rooms at the End of the World.

(22) The Fox (1981) ***

The Fox is usually considered as one of those albums no-one cares about. And I wouldn’t suggest you should. It’s not that bad, though. The early 80’s synth sound may be dated, and the pop-rockers may appear like painting by numbers — but I still like the album. There’s some unusual stuff to find here: James Newton Howard’s cheesy instrumental Fanfare for example, the strangely inspired Fascist Faces („I’m tired of being linked with the KGB and all that political crap.“ with spoken voice by Rev. James Cleveland), or the personal Elton’s Song with lyrics by Tom Robinson. 

Good tracks: Elton’s Song, Fascist Faces, Just like Belgium.

 –

(23) Jump Up! (1982) **½

One half of the songs are pretty decent. The other half not so much. Don’t bother. Very unimportant note: The song Princess was actually dedicated to the Princess of Wales, Diana Spencer, who had just married the crown prince of England and whom Elton had met for the first time in 1981.

Notable tracks: Ball and Chain features Pete Townshend on acoustic guitar (it’s the rare song without piano or keyboards), while Empty Garden (not a great song, though) is a nice elegy for John Lennon. I am your Robot is as silly as it gets.

[continued here]  //  Part 1

2017 8 Mrz

Birthday Series Part 1

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I am going to contribute something a bit unexpected around here… Inspired by Ian’s entertaining Bowie discography overview in summer 2015, I’d like to present my opinion piece on Elton John’s discography

Some time ago somewhere I read someone stating that of the seven bands or musicians having sold more than 250 million records, Elton John is the only one not to receive as much respect as the other six (The Beatles, Elvis, M. Jackson, Madonna, Led Zep, Pink Floyd) among music critics and music lovers. I think that’s kind of true, considering I’ve been following Mr. Dwight’s aka Mr. John’s body of work consistently and rather closely for almost all my life (which, however, began in 1978, after his creative peak, by the way).

Sure, Elton John put out some stuff which is pretty mediocre — but he’s been around as a recording artist for 50 years and I’d like to pay tribute to him with this little overview to his 70th birthday this month. I’ll try to keep the comments short, since he put out so many albums.

(1) Empty Sky (1969) ***

Notes: An old friend who’d never listen to Elton John received this LP once from another friend – and was surprised he actually liked it. It was not was he’d expected. An ambitious, but uneven mix of influences of the late sixties, from progressive rock to chamber music to psychedelic Sgt. Pepper, with a few nice leftfield pop songs.

Standout tracks: Empty Sky (8½ minutes), Skyline Pigeon (harpsichord version).

(2) [untitled album] or Elton John (August 1970) ****½

First album produced by Gus Dudgeon, with string orchestra arranged and conducted by Paul Buckmaster. Probably his most personal album, rather melancholic and intimate. Some rocking blues, some orchestra pop, some gospel songs.

Standout tracks: Border Song, The Greatest Discovery, I need you to turn to, Your Song.

(3) Tumbleweed Connection (Oct 1970) *****

I actually bought this album maybe five times, in various editions on LP and CD. A thoroughly beautiful and emotionally intense concept album about the American West, with lots of songs being quite unconventional. It’s actually not what you’d consider as „pop album“ , but rather a cinematic collection of country and western and bluesy folk songs referencing the civil war, among other things. One of the best albums of the 1970s, for sure.

Standout tracks: Amoreena (NB: the fantastic opening song of Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon), Come down in Time, Son of your Father, My Father’s Gun.

(4) Friends (Soundtrack Album, Feb 1971) **½

Haven’t heard it in decades. A soundtrack album to a film no-one knows. Paul Buckmaster wrote some instrumental sections, but a couple of Elton’s rock songs are pretty good.

Standout tracks: Can I put you on, Honey Roll.

(5) 17-11-70 (March 1971) ****

I always enjoyed this rough-sounding live album, recorded on November 17th, 1970, for a New York radio station, a lot; always hoped for Elton John to release another similar intimate acoustic album again. This 52 minute, hard-rocking set (one track was left off of the original LP version) presents Elton’s very spirited core trio of piano, bass (Dee Murray, his bass player until he died in 1992) and drums (Nigel Olsson, after he left Uriah Heep, has been part of Elton’s band from 1970 until today). This absolutely great selection of songs includes no hits, but fine covers versions of My Baby left me, Get back and Honky Tonk Women.

Standout tracks: Amoreena, Take me to the Pilot, Honky Tonk Women.

(6) Madman Across the Water (Nov 1971) ****½

A rather dark, but somewhat cinematic storytelling album, an adequate follow-up to Tumbleweed, strangely enough never received recognition, though there’s not a single mediocre song on the elegiac album, which relies heavily on Buckmaster’s string arrangements and epic character stories such as Levon (a beautiful song covered by, yes, Jon Bon Jovi twenty years later). Tiny Dancer (featuring BJ Cole’s steel guitar) of course became a late hit because of Cameron Crowe’s film Almost Famous. Interesting guest musicians include Rick Wakeman, Herbie Flowers and a choir.

Standout tracks: Madman Across the Water (featuring Rick Wakeman), Indian Sunset, Levon, Razor Face.

(7) Honky Château (May 1972) *****

Finally, Elton’s first „real“ pop album. All killers, no fillers. Soul, blues and rock songs, fantastic piano playing, a tight rock’n’roll band, probably the album responsible for Elton John’s reputation as a great songwriter and rise to big stardom. And yes, there’s Rocket Man – just listen to it disregarding you’ve heard it a million times on mainstream radio. There’s lot of fun on the album, too, just check out Honky Cat (with the cool brass band), Hercules (with Nigel Olsson on „Rhino whistle“) or I think I’m going to kill myself. And there’s Ray Cooper on percussion and congas, Jean-Luc Ponty on electric violin and David Hentschel on A.R.P. synthesizer. Thoroughly fantastic.
Standout tracks (I always loved the rock numbers): Honky Cat, Susie (Dramas), Amy, Hercules.

(8) Don’t shoot my I’m only the Piano Player (Jan 1973) ****

The only reason this is not thoroughly fantastic is probably Honky Château. Even more pop music than in 1972, slightly more eclectic, incorporating influences from all across the past 20 years, including Merle Haggard, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, the Marx Brothers and Speedy Gonzales. All songs are very good to great, but the album is maybe less than the sum of its parts. And, well, here you’ll find Crocodile Rock and Daniel, if you don’t know where to look for them. ;-) (PS: Daniel is not a gay anthem. It’s about a Vietnam veteran.)

Standout tracks: I’m gonna be a Teenage Idol (a tribute to Elton’s friend Marc Bolan, with a brass band), Have Mercy on the Criminal (orchestral blues-rock), Midnight Creeper (another strong brass arrangement, this time with a much darker song), Crocodi— ah forget it…

(9) Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Oct 1973) ****½

People usually say it’s his best album. So what do you expect me to say…? It’s not. However, considering Elton John has become mainstream radio fodder since then, it’s surprising that there are nasty lyrics about a Dirty Little Girl and how All the Girls love Alice, as well as a funny reggae about a Jamaica Jerk-Off or the tongue-in-cheek Social Disease on here, all of which would have required a „parental advisory“ sticker a few years later. Speaking of which, Guns N’Roses paid tribute to the beautiful I’ve seen that Movie too in their huge 1991 hit You could be mine, the „title song“ to Terminator 2.
It’s probably the first openly gay album in mainstream music; with Alice and Bennie and the Jets, which is a self-portrait homage to glam rock and has since been referred to and sampled many times in (American) Black Music, most recently on A Tribe Called Quest’s standout 2016 album We got it from here… Thank you for your Service, where the rappers collaborated with Elton using samples of the song and added new lines. Personally, I think the side 3 of this double album is the best crafted suite of perfect songs in Elton John’s discography: Sweet Painted Lady – The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-34) – Dirty Little Girl – All the Girls Love Alice, a universe of its own.

Other standout tracks, besides the previously mentioned ones: Social Disease, Love Lies Bleeding, This Song has no Title.

(10) Caribou (June 1974) ***½

…is basically a light afterword to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Notable for the nasty live favorite The Bitch is back, inspired (and covered) by Tina Turner, a few absurd and nonsensical songs like Solar Prestige a Gammon and Dixie Lily (mock-country), as well as the seven-and-a-half minute solo piano (with some synth in the last part) epic Ticking about a young school shooter (Elton performed the song on several solo tours, e.g. in Germany after the Erfurt school massacre for that reason).

Standout tracks: You’re so static (an absurd tango), Ticking, I’ve seen the Saucers.

(11) Greatest Hits (Nov 1974) *****

It’s what it claims it is: A greatest hits collection of the first five years. NB: Candle in the Wind was not on the original LP version.

Standout tracks: Crocodile Rock.

[continued here]

2017 31 Jan

Triplicate

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Bob Dylan macht mit seiner Rod-Stewart-Nummer weiter
 
 
 

 
 
 

Ich frage mich: Fällt dem Nobelpreisträger nichts mehr ein? Ist ihm langweilig? Will er noch schnell ordentlich Geld scheffeln und sich zur Ruhe setzen? Fallen Angels war das erste Dylan-Album, das ich nicht mehr kaufte. Ach nein, da fällt mir ein: Das Weihnachtsalbum habe ich auch nie gehört. (Oder falls doch, habe ich es vergessen.) Zuerst hielt ich es für einen Scherz – vielleicht war es sogar einer?

I miss Bob Dylan.

2017 14 Jan

Apropos Gitarristen

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Die Anekdote, wie Robert Fripp von Eno und Visconti in die Hansa-Studios in Berlin gebeten wurde, um für „Heroes“ ein Solo hinzulegen, ist wohl hinlänglich bekannt. Am Ende nutzte Visconti im Mix einfach alle drei unterschiedlichen Takes gleichzeitig und und gab dem Lied seine Outworldliness.

Ist Fripp wohl auch nicht so der redselige Interviewpartner vor diversen Kameras auf der Suche nach musikhistorischen Geschichten, so ist es vielleicht umso schöner, dass Carlos Alomar, Earl Slick, Gerry Leonard, Nile Rodgers und Gail Ann Dorsey interessante kleine Erinnerungen an die Entstehung verschiedener Songs und aus unterschiedlichen Arbeitsphasen teilen können. Ich stolperte letzte Nacht über dieses schöne kleine Video.

 

Als sympathische Fortsetzung ein Auszug aus einer Doku von BBC Arts von letzter Woche:

David Bowie inspired and challenged his musicians. But what did they think of him? Here, some of the star’s longest-serving players – Earl Slick, Mike Garson, Gerry Leonard, Catherine Russell and Sterling Campbell – get together over a meal to discuss their old boss.

Kleine Hommage zum Siebzigsten (etwas verspätet).

Letzte Nacht habe ich mit der letzten Episode der vierten Staffel die Serie The Killing zu Ende geschaut. Ich bin vor ein paar Wochen eher zufällig drauf gestoßen, als ich bei Media Markt auf dem Sonderangebote-Tisch zahlreiche Serien für 9 Euro pro Box durchsah – und neugierig wurde. Mich interessieren zeitgenössische Geschichten bei weitem mehr als historische – von Mad Men abgesehen (Boardwalk Empire hat irgendwo in der ersten Hälfte der dritten Staffel meine Aufmerksamkeit verloren, Manhattan habe ich sogar, trotz Interesse an New Mexico und der Nuklearenergie-Thematik, nur etwa fünf Folgen lang geschaut).

Außerdem schaue ich äußerst gerne Serien, bei denen der Ort eine tragende Rolle spielt, und häufig bekommt man ja wirklich spannende Einblicke in Ecken, von denen man zwar gehört hat, aber über die man wenig weiß. Ich war vor 17 oder 18 Jahren einmal in Seattle (bei unserer USA-Rundreise 2015 waren wir zwar im Staat Washington, aber nur im Osten und entlang des Columbia River), also hoffte ich, dass The Killing die Stadt in interessanter Weise zum Mit-Protagonisten machen würde.

The Killing ist eine US-Adaption der, wie ich las und hörte, sehr erfolgreichen dänischen Serie, die im deutschen Fernsehen als Kommissarin Lund – Das Verbrechen (Forbrydelsen), ausgestrahlt wurde. Meine Eltern schauen viele, vor allem skandinavische Krimiserien, da fiel der Name dieser Serie immer mal wieder, doch weckte der Titel Kommissarin Lund bei mir eher Assoziationen zu den zahllosen durchschnittlichen deutschen Kommissar- und Polizei-Serien, so dass ich das nicht weiter verfolgte … Vielleicht ein kleines Versäumnis. Dennoch: Sollte es sich wie beim Girl with a Dragon Tattoo verhalten, wurden bei der US-Version womöglich so einige Oberflächlichkeiten und Banalitäten ausgemerzt zugunsten von tieferer Figurenzeichnung. Diesen Eindruck hatte ich zumindest schon in der ersten Staffel von The Killing (13 Episoden à 43 Minuten). Und weil uns die Zeichnung der Figuren und der Lebenswelten so fesselte, kaufte ich schon nach wenigen geschauten Folgen gleich die Box mit allen vier Staffeln, die wir nun recht zügig durchgeschaut haben.

 
 
 

 
 
 

Wenn mich etwas stört bei The Killing, dann ist es, dass die Autoren einen oftmals starken Drang zum Über-Dramatisieren haben, der den Handlungsverlauf immer wieder bis an die Grenzen der Wahrscheinlichkeit strapaziert. Es gab allerdings nur eine Episode (in Staffel 3), in der diese Zuspitzungswut auf Kosten der Figuren geht (ja, das war schade und auch etwas ärgerlich, schmälerte die Freude am gesamten Schauen der Serie jedoch nur marginal). Zumeist leisten die Regisseurinnen und Regisseure der Episoden ausgesprochen sensible und überzeugende Arbeit, was sich sehr häufig darin äußert, dass viele Figuren, sowohl die beiden zentralen Homicide Detectives Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) und Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) als auch die größeren Nebenfiguren (die ersten beiden Staffeln bilden eine Einheit, und die Staffeln 3 und 4 knüpfen ein Jahr später an einen vor bereits drei Jahren abgeschlossenen Fall an) durch diverse Milieus mit einer emotionalen Eindringlichkeit und Authentizität erfahrbar gemacht werden.

Daraus entsteht oftmals eine größere Spannung aus durch die sog. äußere Krimihandlung, die gleichwohl laufend überraschende Wege und Wendungen bereithält, gut durchdacht mit Erwartungshaltungen jonglierend. In den verschiedenen Haupt- und Nebenhandlungen geht es quer durch die Gesellschaft auch um Politik, um einen Gefangenen in der Todeszelle in den Wochen vor der Hinrichtung, um „dessen“ Gefängnisangestellte, um die Interna der Polizeiarbeit, um „Indian Land“, um eine Elitemilitärakademie, um Straßenkids und Mädchen auf dem Strich – und oft um einfache, glaubwürdige Menschen mit existenziellen Erfahrungen und vielschichtigen Lebenslagen. Deshalb passt es gut, dass einmal gesagt wird, die „bad guys“ sind womöglich nicht zu finden, nur das Leben an sich.

Imponiert hat mir auch, dass viele der Figuren (nach konventionellen Drehbuchmaßstäben) mindestens ebenso viele unsympathische, uncharmante Züge haben dürfen wie als „liebenswert“ zu bezeichnende, ähnlich wie es in der ein paar Jahre später entstandenen (kürzeren) Serie True Detective auch gepflegt wurde. Ich weiß, dass das bei Fernsehredakteuren zuverlässig auf Widerstand stößt (und The Killing wurde in Amerika auch im Free TV ausgestrahlt), aber wahrscheinlich war hier der große Erfolg der dänischen Vorlage ein Türöffner. Trotz der wie gesagt immer wieder zur Überspitzung neigenden Drehbücher hat mich The Killing als sehr authentische Polizeiserie beeindruckt und ohne Einschränkung bestens unterhalten. Und ja, von Seattle bekommt man viel zu sehen, ein wenig vergleichbar mit Baltimore in The Wire.

2017 3 Jan

Black Glasses

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Claire Denis has begun work on LES LUNETTES NOIR (Black Glasses), her own adaptation of Roland Barthes’s 1977 book, A Lover’s Discourse. The extra surprise here is that Juliette Binoche and Gérard Depardieu, who feuded for years, have been cast together.

via

2016 6 Dez

2016 Subjektive Top 20+10

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01 David Bowie ★
02 Nick Cave The Skeleton Tree
03 PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project
04 Tord Gustavsen, Simin Tander & Jarle Vespestad What was said
05 Lucinda Williams The Ghosts of Highway 20
06 Ian William Craig Centers
07 A Tribe Called Quest We got it from here … Thank you 4 your Service
08 Eliot Sumner The Information
09 Ayumi Tanaka Trio Memento
10 Anthony Johnson Caribbean Roots

11 Michael Kiwanuka Love & Hate
12 Sturgill Simpson A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
13 Alicia Keys Here
14 Erlend Apneseth Trio Det Andre Rommet
15 Kuedo Slow Knife
16 Kate Tempest Let them eat Chaos
17 Anders Brørby Nihil
18 Bon Iver 22, A Million
19 Exploded View Exploded View
20 Thomas Köner Tiento de la luz

21. Solange A Seat at the Table
22. Kim Myhr Bloom
23. Naqsh Duo (Golfam Khayam & Mona Matbou Riahi) Narrante
24. Jenny Hval Blood Bitch
25. Suede Night Thoughts
26. Andrew Cyrille Quartet The Declaration of Musical Independence
27. Årabrot The Gospel
28. Katie Gately Color
29. Sinikka Langeland The Magical Forest
30. Nicolas Jaar Sirens

Anm.: Einige Alben sind mir noch nicht gut genug vertraut oder liegen mir noch gar nicht vor, die gute Chancen auf eine Top20-Beteiligung haben, vor allem Leonard Cohens You want it darker, das ich mir bislang für eine gute Gelegenheit aufgehoben habe.

Da ich seit Jahren keine solche Bestenliste zum Jahresende geschrieben habe, fiel es mir nicht leicht, eine letztgültige Reihenfolge zu erstellen. Das hat verschiedene Gründe: Alle Alben von PJ Harvey oder Nick Cave könnte ich wahrscheinlich noch in eine Rangliste bringen (ich werde das demnächst mal mit dem einen oder anderen Interpreten hier im Blog versuchen), aber so viele verschiedene Stile und Genres in eine Reihenfolge von 20 Platzierungen zu pressen, finde ich schon deshalb schwierig, weil viele Alben unter unterschiedlichen Stimmungsbedingungen gehört werden. So gesehen weist das Vergleichen von Äpfeln mit Birnen viele Mängel auf — und es scheint mir heikel zu behaupten, dass Nick Caves Album mir wirklich besser gefiele als Lucinda Williams’ oder Michael Kiwanukas… Aber sei’s drum. Dass meine Lieblingsbands Radiohead und Wilco nun gar nicht hier auftauchen, passt so gesehen wiederum gut…

Auch deshalb möchte ich als Bonus folgende vier 2016 -Lieblingsalben unabhängig erwähnen:

Sektion „zeitgenössische Musik“: Tõnu Kõrvits The Mirror
Sektion „Klassik“: Andrew Nelsons / Shostakovich 5, 8 & 9  – Under Stalin’s Shadow
Sektion Filmmusik: Jóhann Jóhannsson Arrival
Sektion Re-Release/Remix/Rework: John Cale M:Fans / Music for a New Society

Eben sehe ich, dass bei ARTE in der Mediathek noch bis Mitte Dezember der Film Les Salauds von Claire Denis zu sehen ist. Also nehme ich das als Anlass, ihn hier in der Reihe „die besten Kinofilme des 21. Jahrhunderts“ zu empfehlen, zumal ich Claire Denis ohnehin für die beste lebende Kinoregieperson halte. Über den Film gäbe es unendlich vieles zu sagen, und da ich mich seit Ewigkeiten intensiv mit dem Werk der Autorenfilmerin beschäftigt habe, fällt es mir zusätzlich schwer, ein paar wenige Kommentare zum Film zu liefern.

Ich sah den Film bei der Premiere in Cannes in der Reihe Un Certain Regard (Es war ein offenes Ärgernis, dass der Film nicht im Wettbewerb gezeigt wurde, zumal in dem Jahr die Diskussion ohnehin hochkochte, dass kein Film einer Regisseurin in den Cannes-Wettbewerbs genommen worden war.), und weil ich schon ahnte, dass es schwer sein würde, ihn irgendwann wieder auf der Leinwand erleben zu können (Viele Filme von Claire Denis wurden in Deutschland nie im Kino ausgewertet; ich sah zwar schließlich alle auf der Leinwand, jedoch viele in Retrospektiven und einmaligen Sondervorführungen, wozu Berlin immerhin sehr gute Möglichkeiten bietet.), ging ich tags darauf gleich auch noch in die zweite Vorführung.

Gleichwohl muss man festhalten, dass Les Salauds kein Film ist, den man beim ersten Sehen erfassen kann, vor allem, weil die Handlung zu fragmentarisch und sprunghaft erzählt bleibt. [Weitere Informationen hierzu in den Verweisen in den Kommentaren.] Für mich blieb schon nach der ersten Vorführung in Cannes hängen, dass es sich hier wohl um ein Meisterwerk handelt, und spätere Sichtungen und Gespräche mit anderen Filmemachern und Freunden bekräftigten dies. Doch auch wenn das „Meisterwerk“-Urteil ohnehin streitbar ist, natürlich ist es erst einmal meine individuelle Meinung, und ich möchte nicht unterschlagen, dass ich ohnehin der Meinung bin, dass Claire Denis noch nie einen schlechten oder gar mittelmäßigen Film gemacht hat. So sehr ich ihre klaren, leise und warmherzig poetisch erzählten Filme wie 35 Rhums oder Vendredi Soir schätze, noch stärkere Beziehung baute ich stets zu ihren dunklen, (unter Filmleuten und Zuschauern) umstrittenen, schwerer greifbaren und „offeneren“ (erzählerisch unkonventionellen bis radikalen) Filmen wie Trouble every Day und L’Intrus auf. In diese Reihe passt Les Salauds hervorragend, ist dabei doch vollkommen eigen.

Als ich auf meiner eigenen Webseite noch (kurzzeitig) einen Blog pflegte, schrieb ich zu Claires 60. Geburtstag im April 2008 einen persönlichen Wertschätzungseintrag und Geburtstagsgruß. Wenige Jahre später bekam ich zu Ohren, dass sie für ein Regieseminar an die DFFB (Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin) kommen würde, wo ich zu dem Zeitpunkt zwar noch offiziell studierte, naja, eingeschrieben war, aber längst nichts anderes mehr aktiv machte als Technik für einzelne Projekte zu nutzen, da mein Abschlussfilm sich lange hinzog. Ich schrieb sofort an den Studienleiter, dass ich unbedingt dabei sein wolle, und sei es nur als Zuschauer.

Glücklicherweise sagten mehrere Teilnehmer ab, so dass ich schließlich doch einer der sechs Regiestudenten wurde, die teilnehmen durften. Es war tatsächlich überhaupt das erste Mal, dass Claire ein Seminar für junge Filmemacher gab, und mir ist vor allem ihre Bescheidenheit in Erinnerung geblieben, etwa als sie mir auf mein „Wie toll, dass wir von dir und deiner Jahrzehnte langen Erfahrung lernen können.“ entgegnete: „Ach, Erfahrung bedeutet nichts. Und beibringen kann ich euch sowieso nichts. Das einzige, was ich euch mitgeben kann, ist: Ihr müsst auf euer Bauchgefühl und euer Herz hören. Mehr gibt es nicht zu sagen.“ Sie selbst betonte allerdings, wie wichtig für sie eine extrem gute Vorbereitung sei und dass für sie die stetige kreative Herausforderung wesentlich sei. Und sie weiß natürlich sehr viel über Filmsprache und die Welt, wie ihre Filme bezeugen.

Ansonsten war es für mich natürlich ein Genuss, zwei Wochen lang einfach mit ihr zu sprechen, etwa über ihr Verhältnis zu ihren Mitarbeiter/innen („Jede Zusammenarbeit ist wie eine Beziehung. Man muss sich in die Leute verlieben, mit denen man Filme macht.“ Bin jetzt nicht sicher, ob sie das nur auf die Schauspieler bezogen sagte oder auch auf anderen Mitarbeiter, glaube aber schon.), auch über die Zusammenarbeit/Freundschaft mit Stuart Staples, die mich natürlich besonderes interessierte, aber auch über Lebens- und Filmerfahrungen, wie z.B. als sie Regieassistentin von Wenders war, bei Paris, Texas und Der Himmel über Berlin, der bekanntlich an etlichen Orten gedreht wurde, die mittlerweile nicht mehr existieren; und die DFFB liegt ja auch genau da mittendrin, am Potsdamer Platz, zur Zeit der Dreharbeiten 1988 ein Niemandsland.

 
 
 

 
 
 

Frankreich 2013 / R: Claire Denis / B: Jean-Pol Fargeau, Claire Denis / K: Agnes Godard / Musik: Tindersticks / 100 Min / FSK: 16 / D: Vincent Lindon, Chiara Mastroianni, Isolda Dychauk, Lola Créton, Grégoire Colin, Hélène Fillières, Alex Descas

 


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