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Customer Review

on 1 November 2008
This was the album where Elton John found his voice. Gone were the psychedelic leanings and world-weary vocal stylings of failed debut 'Empty Sky', to be replaced by a dark romanticism with which the cover photo of Elton peering moodily out of the shadows was perfectly in keeping. Crucial to the success of Elton's 70s work was his teaming up with producer Gus Dudgeon and arranger Paul Buckmaster who had already proved their artistic and commercial chops on David Bowie's 'Space Oddity' single. Considering its eventual ubiquity it's incredible to think that opening track 'Your Song' wasn't originally considered for single release, only becoming Elton's first chart hit the following year, by which time he had already released his next album. On songs such as the delicate `I Need You To Turn To', the romantic `First Episode At Hienton' and the pessimistic `Sixty Years On' Bernie Taupin's poetic lyrics are perfectly matched by Elton's melodic flair, and the album is constantly saved from becoming too precious by Paul Buckmaster's rich and unsentimental string arrangements which are as essential to these songs as Robert Kirby's were for Nick Drake. The reflective mood is occasionally broken by more boisterous tunes such as the cryptic `Take Me To The Pilot', the Stonesy `No Shoestrings On Louise' and gospel shouter `The Cage' which has a splendid moog solo. In those days Elton's voice had a remarkable flexibility and range, best demonstrated on dramatic closing track `The King Is Dead'. This welcome deluxe reissue adds an amazing quantity of previously unheard demos, including 3 otherwise unrecorded songs which prove to be disappointingly uninspiring. All of the original album tracks are also represented in demo form bar 'Border Song' and 'First Episode At Hienton'. The first of these is included as a BBC session; the second was also previously recorded for the John Peel show back in 1968, but presumably this tape no longer survives. Also included are the non-album tracks recorded during the same sessions: the single 'Rock And Roll Madonna' and two b-sides, 'Bad Side Of The Moon' and 'Grey Seal', which are easily as good as anything on the album. The oddest bonus track is a BBC version of 'Your Song', which is merely an alternate mix of the standard version, making it more likely a 'network session' than a specially recorded rendition. This is the area where these deluxe reissues fail to totally satisfy. Room could have easily been made for more than just three BBC session tracks, and the source information for these seems to be somewhat inaccurate. But, all in all, a pivotal album, beautifully repackaged and excellently priced.
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