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12/06/04
Reviews by - Matt Rowe


The upgrade of Elton John's catalogue to add them to the hi-rez audio market is refreshing. It, along with the same revitalization enjoyed by The Police and Peter Gabriel, point to the experimentation by major artists to draw people into a usually better experience. We at MusicTAP would certainly love nothing better than to see everything go hi-resolution but we realize that is a process that may take years if it is successful at all. We're pleased to see centred activity by the folks mentioned above that focus in on the greatness of music.

We could only snag two representative titles from this second phase of Elton John's expansion (released on November 9) but we hope that you surmise that what is reviewed here likely extends to the titles not reviewed.

Elton John -- Madman Across the Water( Hybrid SACD Multi-Channel/Stereo - Island / Rocket )

R
eleased in 1971, this album was Elton's 5th outing. It represented departures in musical styles not previously manifested in his earlier albums. It stands now as a defining moment in the EJ catalogue. And although some of the songs enjoyed some chart movement, Madman Across the Water still resonates as an essential Elton John album even after all of EJ's albums are laid out in a row. "Tiny Dancer" was featured in the movie, Almost Famous, and enjoyed a resurgence of popularity. For me, Madman Across the Water represents a period of my very young life kicking off my deepening absorption into music.

The piano notes lifts the track "Tiny Dancer" in the opening moments thus setting the stage for rest of the album. What comes in the rest of the album has stood the test of time and remains to be experienced by fans in the next phase known as high resolution, in this case, SACD.

In Stereo mode, Madman Across the Water reveals the various instruments in their purity making them quite distinct. Likewise, Elton John's vocals are clear. On "Levon", the guitar of Caleb Quaye is quite a revelation as the song progresses. As the album moves through songs, you'll be impressed by the attention to detail that is afforded to songs like the fully textured "Razor Face" with its jazz overtones. DSD technology lifts the instruments from their old sonic weave and recreates the fabric so that songs like "Razor Face" becomes quite literally a smorgasbord of instrumental goodness. You will be quite astonished by the mix. But despite all the "better than your CDs" statements, the mix is a bit loud but should be irritating only to EJ purists. Many of you will want the 5.1 mix anyway.

In the Multi-channel 5.1 mix, Madman Across the Water, just shines. The first two songs from the album, favourites of many, will put you in listening mode while you drink in the rest of the tunes. The sound is quite clear with EJ being easily understood, the piano perfect as EJ masters it. Additionally, the drums sound full and defining. You'll not be disappointed in either SACD for the multi-channel perfections. The remaining and unreviewed SACDs in this batch should be as sonically gorgeous as these. There are discernible audio quality differences between the two reviewed titles although they are nitpicky differences, nothing to complain about and certainly nothing to NOT purchase them because of.

-- Album::
-- SACD::

Elton John -- Honky Chateau  ( Hybrid SACD Multi-Channel/Stereo - Island / Rocket )

Elton presented something different in his 1972 release, his follow-up to Madman Across the Water.  This album yielded two high charters with "Honky Cat" which is this reviewer's favourite EJ tune...still, and the more popular "Rocket Man." Blending a strong mix of

This album provides more in the mix to create a strong and varied in sound texture SACD. The first tune out of gate, "Honky Cat" delivers several levels of EJ's keys, all of which are wonderfully spread throughout the song. Those same keys are delightfully shaped and unmistakeably add more in clarity to the song than are found on previous releases. Of the two albums reviewed here, clearly Honky Chateau yields the better mix in Stereo. Once again, as in Madman Across the Water, EJ's vocals are the better from the SACD treatment. The Beatle-esque "I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself", still quite a honkytonk tune, is fresh. "Susie (Dramas)" shows the performer heading in the route of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. This song is a shadow of "Crocodile Rock" found on Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only The Piano Player, and thus is important in mapping the evolutionary work of EJ. Here, "Susie" benefits from the remix, shaping every instrument emanating from your speaker.

But nothing prepares you for the ethereal beauty of "Rocket Man" as it takes on a new life. It rightfully separates EJ's vocal from the rest of the music providing nuance that makes the song better than you remember. And all this is only Stereo delivery. This is not the song that you remember folks; it's much better. This mix is a far cry from the tinny speakers version that you first heard the song and past attempts at remastering pale to this SACD version. The folk-rock of "Slave" is sound-brilliant. But, like Madman Across the Water, the mix has a tendency to be somewhat loud which seems to be the 2 discs only flaws. It is, however, not enough to deter me from enjoying the otherwise great mix.

The 5.1 treatment, like Madman Across the Water, is a superior sounding affair. You'll find EJ's vocals in the centre channel, with the instruments coming from the left and right channels. You'll hear instruments in the centre and the rear channels but as ambience which spreads out the sound. "Rocket Man" becomes much more spacious and clarifying in this mix than the stereo version thus opening up the box and letting us inspect the parts as it were. All of the other songs also greatly benefit from the 5.1 treatment. "Rocket Man" is unearthly in multi-channel.

Many will like the Stereo SACD mix even though, unless you're a purist, you may as well take advantage of the 5.1 surround choice. As with Madman Across the Water (my opinion: the better sounding surround mix of the two), you will not go wrong for the price. Great Elton classics and great surround mixes make these purchases no-brainers.

-- Album::
-- SACD::



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