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An average album, though it's Elton's best of the 1990s!
on 9 March 2004
After the releases of the celeb-packed novelty "Duets" album and his move into Disney film scores, this was Elton and Bernie's apparent attempt to get back to basics and what they're essentially great at (Some of the promotional blurb for the release of this album had the slogan "Made in England...By true craftsmen"). Certainly, on a stylistic level this album is evocative of the "Elton John" album of 1970 (his first great album)...grand classical allusions, slight R'n'B, the odd rocker, and lush simple ballads. For the sweeping orchestral arrangements, Elton enlisted the help of the man who figures largely on his eponymous album and other notable songs of the period...Paul Buckmaster.
With producer Greg Penny at the helm (who's work, such as K D Lang's "Ingenue" album, Elton had admired) this album was a brave attempt to hark back to his very early years and, as such, the songs are deliberately littered with past references.
At the time of this album's release, Bernie Taupin had been vocal about his appreciation of John Lennon's songwriting style and the influence is all too apparent in the lyrics here....Taupin's sparse writing and construction is quite quite different from any other time of his songwriting career, and so makes an interesting pointer in his oeuvre. Apart from "Made In England", all the song are one-worded titles which is very Lennonesque. It would also seem that Bernie Taupin had been checking out the solo-Beatle's "Plastic Ono Band" album were the lyrics were at their most stark, simplistic yet direct. However, thats where the resemblence ends because Elton opts for the lush chamber-music ensemble, in the style with which the record-buying public have come to expect. It would take him another six years to break the mould and make a truly great album again.
To start the album off, and a song which was also the lead-off single is "Believe"...the most direct John Lennon lyrical influence...its a song of epic proportions and boosted by Buckmaster's grandiose arrangement. Its powerful but does chug along in a linear way with its predictable Minor chord progressions. It's interesting to speculate what this song would sound like had it been handed in during the alt.country style of the "Songs from the west coast" recording sessions six years later. As the song dissolves into descending violins, we hear industrial mechanics that precede "Made In England", a rocker which sounds like "Runaway Train", "I'm Still Standing" and "I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That" all rolled into one with the type of Taupin lyric which raises a smile (he tends to write them occasionally!).
After this, the songs just coast along..."House","Man" "Please" and "Pain" sound like Elton just rattled them off in ten minutes (he probably did!) and there isn't much interesting musicianship going on. "Belfast", whilst having good wordplay and evocative images is, to be quite frank, overblown to the point of nausea.
The album picks up at the end..."Lies" is a catchy pop song with multi-layered vocal harmonies in the chorus which is reminiscent of Abba. Despite hackneyed lyrics it wins through for its joie de vivre alone. "Blessed" is a fine end, a love song to a future offspring (Bernie's?) which includes a lyrical nod to "Your Song".
"Made In England" is perhaps the best Elton John album of the 1990s. Like all his post-"Blue Moves" work, its a patchy affair with some worthwhile moments, but nestled between "The One", "Duets", "The Big Picture" and all the Disney/Musicals hokum...it stands out pretty well.