1969-71 was a prolific period for Elton John as an albums artist - in just 3 years he produced 4 studio albums, plus a film soundtrack and a live album, while managing just one hit single, the ubiquitous 'Your Song'. The tone of these early albums was often downbeat, but 'Madman Across The Water' shows Elton's music at its darkest, and makes a fitting end to the first phase of his career. Originally housed in a deluxe gatefold sleeve with booklet, it provides a good snapshot of the directions rock music was taking in 1971 - Elton at this point coming across as an introspective singer-songwriter with leanings towards progressive rock. As with 'Tumbleweed Connection' no UK singles were taken from the album, although the first two songs, 'Tiny Dancer' and 'Levon', were both released as 45s in the US. 'Tiny Dancer' has gradually become one of Elton's best known songs, thanks to its inclusion in the film 'Almost Famous', and it makes for a superb opening track, with a soaring chorus, sweeping strings from Paul Buckmaster, and gorgeous pedal steel from B.J. Cole. The latter is just one of an impressive array of session musicians featured on `Madman', including Rick Wakeman, Chris Spedding, Herbie Flowers and Terry Cox. Robert Kirby, best known for his string arrangements for Nick Drake, directs the Cantores in Ecclesia Choir. Two epic songs make up the centre of the album: the title track is an intense exploration of paranoia, with Wakeman on organ, Diana Lewis on buzzing A.R.P. synthesizer, and Buckmaster providing dark swirling strings. Bernie Taupin's lyrics are cryptic and intriguing. 'Indian Sunset' is a vocal tour-de-force, sung from the point of view of a native American, again benefitting from a dramatic orchestral arrangement. Some lines from this song bizarrely ended up being sampled on a Tupac single (`Ghetto Gospel') which removed much of the impact of the lyrics (particularly closing line `Peace to this young warrior comes with a bullet hole') by cutting and re-ordering them. Elton's gospel influences are put through the blender on `Levon' and `Rotten Peaches', both of which have a faintly sacreligious twist to the lyrics. `All The Nasties' is a bitter response to criticism, with the Cantores in Ecclesia Choir providing strangely unsettling background vocals. The lightest moment is provided by the country/folk flavoured `Holiday Inn', with a delightful mandolin coda from Magna Carta's Davey Johnson, soon to become a permanent member of Elton's band. After eight lengthy, heavily arranged songs comes `Goodbye', a brief and haunting closing track which provides a perfect conclusion to the album itself as well as Elton's pre-glam era. The lack of bonus tracks means that the desolate mood left by the repeated final lyric `I'll waste away...' remains unspoiled. Next up was `Rocket Man' and `Honky Cat' and the start of a spectacular run of hits in both the albums and singles charts. This single disc version presents an excellent remaster of a dark but rewarding album, with its original booklet reproduced in full. It may be worth waiting, however, for the 2-disc deluxe edition which will hopefully be with us soon.