Seems to be alot of Elton John-itis going around lately, what with the best of his 1970's catalog having been recently released on Hybrid SACD...and he's also recently released a new CD, 'Peachtree Road', also available on Hybrid SACD (a "day/date" release). Now, Lord knows, I absolutely love Elton's '70s stuff - but, believe me when I tell you, I never thought I'd write a review saying anything good about anything he's done since then.
Well, the bitch is back...only this time out he's more like a southern belle...and 'Peachtree Road' is a damn fine album! (It seems Elton has adopted Atlanta, GA as a part-time home - hence, the title.) Perhaps the best analogy would be to call it "Elton John' Deux. It shares that disc's laid-back, acoustic ethos - no bombast to be found! The diva queen is here more like the repentant princess...he's definitely taken it down more than a few notches.
Whereas the '70s reissues on SACD were produced, mixed and mastered in surround by Greg Penny to marvelous effect, here Elton does his own production, and the surround mix is not done by Mr. Penny, which is a shame, because, as good as the surround mix of 'Peachtree Road' is, it's not quite up to the standard set by the re-releases. That last bit of open, airy, enveloping sound isn't quite as present here as on the reissues. Oh well, coulda been better if Penny had manned the helm, but it's still damn good.
Kudos, of course, to Elton John (it certainly took you long enough!), but, also, to long-time John lyricist Bernie Taupin. The two of them really nailed it here! Some of Taupin's best lyrics in far too many years. Also on board are, happily, John's long-time compatriots Davey Johnstone (guitar) and Nigel Olsson (one of the best damn drummers to ever pound the skins). (Sadly, long-time bassist Dee Murray died some years ago. What a triumvirate of perfect pop-rock synchronicity those three were!) Also lurking amongst certain songs are a full orchestra and choir.
This is Elton's "come clean" album. Admission and repentance and getting back to basics album. The recording quality in surround is in-the-room present, clean and pristine. "Weight of the World" starts the disc off, and it's the perfect song to do so. The lyrics set the stage for the theme of the album. After a beautiful, soft intro of rain, piano and strings, Elton sings: "Ya know I'm no longer 30 these days...and I'm happy to play one or two hands of cards / I hate flies in the kitchen buzzin', disturbing the peace I've found...I'm happy to say I'm amazed that I'm still around...". Lightly strummed acoustic guitars and a beautiful lap steel slide shimmer from the surround speakers and the choir enters from all four corners...sublime.
"Porch Swing in Tupelo" continues the "I'm older and laid back and happy" theme with everything anchored up front, accompanied by lap steel in the R surround and perfect Davey Johnstone electric guitar fills in the L surround. Excellent. "Answer in the Sky" could be nu-Brill Building in construction, with strings and tambourine in the surrounds. John goes "almost country" with "Turn the Light Out When You Leave", his take on the "don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out" ethos.
"My Elusive Drug" hammers on the introspective soul of the album once again: "I'm not the same as I used to be...haven't always been good, never really been bad / Most times I've been happy, yeah sometimes I've been sad...sure, I made mistakes...I've been loose as a cannon and dumb as a wall..." Let it out, Elton, purge that soul! "They Call Her the Cat" is the first rocker here, and revisits, guess what..."Honky Cat". Nice envelopment all around. "Freaks in Love" (I swear, that's the title!) has that nu-Brill Building sound again, a pounding, choral ballad. "I Stop and I Breathe" is yet another take on survival and amazement - a strong Elton string and choir ballad. "Too Many Tears" recalls the 'Elton John' and 'Madman Across the Water' years, a solid mid-tempo rocker. "It's Getting Dark in Here" might be the most introspective and retrospective cut on the album. Closer "I Can't Keep This From You" opens with exquisite Matthew Fisher-like Hammond B-3 that continues throughout.
It seems as though Elton John has done some contemplatin', introspectin' and down- on-his-knees-gettin' life appraisal, and he wants to tell us all about it on 'Peachtree Road'. As an album theme, coming from the man we have all known for so many years, it works marvelously. Don't be put off by, oh, let's say his last 30 years or so of crap and downright embarrassment - this is really a very good disc...really! I know it's hard to believe...it was for me. Highly recommended! Welcome back, Reg!