Madman Across The Water

Elton John

Uni / MCA Records, 1971

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Reviewing music is not always the picnic some people may imagine it to be. When you're not into a particular artist, it sometimes is difficult to get motivated to listen to a work of theirs you've never heard before.

I, for example, have never been a fan of Elton John's, though I've admired some of his work. And as a lark, I had picked up a battered copy of his 1971 album Madman Across The Water as an afterthought during my last trip to the used record store - hey, you can only sustain a diet of Pat Benatar and Steely Dan for so long before you need a little something to cleanse the palate. But damned if I could work up the gumption to listen to the tape.

Into this picture steps a reader who gave his name only as "Waiter" - too much to hope that Toni Kukoc from the Bulls is our mystery writer? - asking if a review of an early work of Elton John is in the works. Well, at least I had my reason to listen to the tape.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Madman Across The Water contins two of John's earliest hits, "Tiny Dancer" and "Levon," not quite his most peppy among his hits, but decent enough songs nonetheless - though I can't listen to "Tiny Dancer" anymore without having flashbacks to an episode of "WKRP In Cincinnati", with a Russian soon-to-be-defector quoting the line to Loni Anderson. Sometimes I shudder at the contributions we're making to Western Civilization. But I digress.

Indeed, there is zero "rock" influence on Madman Across The Water, though it would not be fair to classify John as light pop either. This may be one of the earliest examples of "adult-contemporary" music that I can think of. John is able to turn some of the corniest ideas into songs that, for the most part, succeed despite themselves. Who else could get away with singing a track named "Rotten Peaches" - sounding suspiciously like an early version of "Philadelphia Freedom" at times?

Perhaps the most intriguing cut on the whole album is the title track - to the best of my knowledge, John has never said who he was reffering to as the "Madman," and maybe it's better this way. The track starts off slowly, building to a powerful crescendo before quieting down again. But just when you think it's time for the tape to switch sides, John turns the volume up again and hammers the message home to the listener. While it may not be a top-40 hit for John, it may be one of his most powerful moments of his career.

But not every moment of Madman Across The Water is able to carry this momentum. "Holiday Inn" is a tad hokey, while "Razor Face" just fails to get off the ground. The most moving portion of the album is its last song, "Goodbye," which was way too short for my tastes - that one could have gone on for the whole second side of the album.

So what have I learned from this little exercise? Well... actually, nothing. What the hell, reviewing music isn't a morality play. But I did renew a healthy respect for John (if not a real respect for his early works) with Madman Across The Water. Proof it pays to check reader mail from time to time.

Rating: B+

User Rating: A


© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Uni / MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.