It is always a gamble when an artist who is decades removed from their peak release new material. Bob Dylan and most recently David Bowie were both able to release excellent work in their older years, creating great records to fill the last parts of their discographies. Most of the time, this is not the case as most aging artists only put out new material to please the most dedicated of their fan base. This is what I was expecting from Wonderful Crazy Night when it was announced. That is not to insult the project, I was eagerly awaiting it as a lifelong Elton John fan, I just was not expecting it to blow me away.
This album did have plenty going for it, with Elton John’s touring band accompanying him for the first time since 2006, T-Bone Burnett coming back as producer, and of course Bernie Taupin continuing his over 40 years of co-writing for him. These aspects all helped to make this album become one of the most fun records I have listened to in 2016.
Elton has always amazed me for the amount of commitment he has to his fans. At 68, you would assume he would retire by now, or maybe just perform his vast catalog of hits and just collect checks, similar to what Billy Joel does. Not only does he continue to tour, but he steadily puts out new material for his fans. While I am not fully familiar with his newer albums, I did like a few of the ballads off of The Diving Board, I can definitely say this sounds like it was created specifically for his devoted fans.
Bringing back the sound of his early 1970s records, Elton delivers here, sounding surprisingly great for his age. His voice has clearly aged over the years, meaning he cannot display the same range as he could in his prime, but he still puts enthusiasm behind his words and you can tell he is having a fun time recording these songs.
The instrumentation on this record also captured my interest during my listens. It might be because I am old fashioned but hearing real, live instruments always makes music seem authentic to me. That being said, this is as authentic as it gets. This sounds like it could have been made during the 70s, with seemingly very minimal work being done in post-production. Hearing the playful piano kick off this album on the title song, the horns on “Claw Hammer,” the guitar riffs on “Looking Up” all help to create something special in my eyes.
T-Bone Burnett’s production does show on tracks like “I’ve Got 2 Wings” which use acoustic instruments that give the song an American sound that sounded like it could almost pass for country. Or about as close to country as Elton could get. The song was excellent nonetheless and added a little bit of diversity to the sound of this record.
One thing that did worry me about Wonderful Crazy Night was when I found out that all the songs, as well as the four bonus tracks, were written and recorded in just 17 days. As much as I enjoyed this record, I would be lying if I said it was not noticeable upon closer look. The lyrics are rushed and weak, especially on the song “Tambourine” which is the weakest on here. Even on “Wonderful Crazy Night”, we get lyrics such as “A greasy breeze from the chicken stand” which is not very wonderful imagery, despite what the title promises.
The lyrics can be overlooked by most of Elton’s devout fans, considering how well they are presented here. This is a total throwback to what made me, and so many others, fall in love with Elton John music and I would be lying if I said I did not have a great time listening to this. I have no idea how much more music Elton plans to put out but it delivers in the same way as this record did, I will be more than happy.