‘This is a raucous rock n roll record,’ Elton John says of his 32nd studio album, explaining that it was put together in the same way as his 1970s classics Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Honky Château. ‘I don’t think I have ever made such an uptempo, energetic album. It just bangs away!’ That’s probably an exaggeration – although after 2013’s more intimate The Diving Board you could probably get away with comparing it to Motörhead. The title-track opener is a real honky-tonk party-starter of a tune, while Guilty Pleasure charges forward astride a positively raucous, shimmering rockabilly riff courtesy of returning guitarist Davey Johnstone, who is likewise on hand to provide In The Name Of You’s funky, recursive piano figure with moody chiaroscuro shadings. There’s no shortage of melodic hooks or stylistic surprises: Claw Hammer develops unpredictably from brooding beginnings into an open-hearted, almost do-si-doing chorus before drawing to a jazzy, brassy conclusion. Sir Elton is joined again in the control room by T-Bone Burnett, the producer who carried former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant deep into bluegrass territory on Raising Sand. Wonderful Crazy Night similarly draws deep lungfuls of rootsy country (and western) air. Regular co-writer Bernie Taupin’s lyrics contain references to mercy and amazing grace. The lovely, folksy ‘I’ve Got 2 Wings’ is a celebration of Elder Utah Smith, a preacher who wore a pair of wings and played a Gibson guitar to carry his listeners to higher ground. ‘Every breath is a prayer of some kind,’ sings Sir Elton on Blue Wonderful, while on The Open Chord he says he has had ‘the horns that the devil used to make me wear all day’ clipped off. If the music has a strong pulse, it’s also imbued with a deep sense of heartfelt, spiritual serenity.
Edited version published in Metro, 3 February 2016