Elton John - The Diving Board (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
ELTON John’s 30th solo album is perhaps his biggest disappointment.
A return to the piano-bass-drums construction of his early years, The Diving Board is designed to evoke memories of the groundbreaking albums that established him in the early 1970s. But instead, it turns into a bit of a yawn-fest.
As ever, the songs on the LP were co-written by John and his career-long lyrical collaborator Bernie Taupin, with production coming from T-Bone Burnett.
In a break from tradition, however, the album does not feature any of his long-serving band members, but rather feature the minimalist accompaniment of a crack team of musicians, including guitarist Doyle Bramhall, R&B singer-producer Raphael Saadiq on bass, keyboardist Keefus Ciancia and drummer Jay Bellerose.
But while incorporating elements of gospel, soul and boogie-woogie styles in places, The Diving Board mostly shoots straight and narrow and there’s not enough variation to really make many of the songs standout.
John’s vocals remain an asset, while his piano playing prowess is showcased extensively. But there’s something missing. The passion that accompanied some of his more lively back catalogue is lacking, replaced instead by an earnestness that becomes stifling.
You pine for a song like Rocket Man, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Bennie And The Jets or Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, let along the vitality of hits like Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) or I’m Still Standing.
Here, songs like Home Again (which only flickers to life with some horn arrangements) or Voyeur or Oceans Away are the order of the day – tracks that are packed with intimacy and deep meaning. But which feel aged.
The slick pianos and boogie-woogie style of Can’t Stay Alone Tonight is one exception that has a little more vitality about it, while The Ballad of Blind Tom features a great piano intro and a more congenial mix of instrumentals and gripping story-telling.
While Take This Dirty Water has a decent blues-gospel vibe, with clap-along beats… which is almost identically repeated on Mexican Vacation (Kids In The Candelight).
But in the main, this is the domain of the pensive piano ballad and, as a result, the album struggles to keep a grip on your interest. It’s a big disappointment coming from a musical icon.
Download picks: The Ballad of Blind Tom, Can’t Stay Alone Tonight, Take This Dirty Water