Music Review: Elton John's "Wonderful Crazy Night"

My first time listening to Wonderful Crazy Night, Elton John’s thirty-third studio album, I wasn’t impressed. At best, I thought it was an abstract attempt at mainstream pop. The more I listen to it, however, the more I think that the album isn’t necessarily bad, it just isn’t what I would expect from Elton John.

What makes this album difficult to take in is the strange blending of old school Elton John sounds and newer, almost bubblegum pop sounds. I’m not opposed to artists changing their sounds and evolving throughout time. John’s first album was released in 1969, so it would be silly to assume that his music would stay the same from that point on. However, I’m not so sure that John is going in the right direction. Somehow, the more upbeat pop sounds more dated than tracks such as “The Open Chord,”which sounds more like John’s well known classics.  

Perhaps the campy, exaggerated pop comes from John’s residency at Caesar’s Palace, which started in 2011. Lifestyle journalist Christina Caldwell wrote that in order to make a residency successful, you have to “make it different. You've got to make it unique. Make each night of your residency an event -- not just another show that week.”

Which makes sense, for lesser known acts. Does an artist like Elton John, who already has a large and established fanbase, really need a residency? The bigger problem, I believe, lies with the fact that John’s residency is set up in Vegas. While I myself have never been to Sin City, I think I get the picture: people go to see shows that are larger than life. Flashy stage acts and exaggerated performance art typically take center stage. Elton John was a great performer before his residency, and the focus on overbearing pop music did nothing to help his latest album.

Overall, the lyrics lack the depth that I have grown accustomed to hear from John. One of the most recent examples of this depth from John is “Home Again,” featured on his 2013 album The Diving Board. An emotional tale of a man longing to return home after years of being gone, the song has the potential to connect with a large and diverse group of listeners.

The only track on Wonderful Crazy Night that comes close to this is “I’ve Got 2 Wings.” Both this track and “Blue Wonderful” seem to focus much more on the lyrics than an upbeat instrumentation. In this case, it works in John’s favor.

As as a whole, Wonderful Crazy Night is nowhere near John’s strongest record, though it isn’t a complete flop. The title track is extremely catchy with a strong bass line. The highlight of the album is “Looking Up,” an upbeat ode to changing your circumstances for the better, with John saying “Now I'm looking up more than I look down/ The view's a whole lot better second time around.”

I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting from John’s newest album, but I know that what I got wasn’t it. It has its highs, and it certainly has its lows,especially with the track “Clawhammer.” It's important to note that I am a music fan, not a music critic. However, for this listener, Wonderful Crazy Night could have been a lot more wonderful.