Elton John – Madman Across The Water (1971): Review

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Produced by Gus Dudgeon
Label – DJM

By 1971, Elton’s prodigious work ethic and Bernie Taupin’s constant stream of lyrics, meant that “Madman Across The Water” was the fourth studio album (including 1970s soundtrack “Friends”) in a period of just 18 months. Many would question that this plethora of material in such a short period of time would water down the quality, however, this record, without doubt, is stronger than any of its predecessors and introduces fans to a flurry of outstanding records over the next two years. Part of “Madman’sā€¦” dynamic appeal directly arrives by John’s choice of producer and arranger, Gus Dudgeon, and the symphonic string arrangements of Paul Buckmaster. Whilst “Tumbleweed Connection” had presented a panoramic theme based on Americana and the wild west, this record is by comparison, more insular, dominated by the internal struggles of each character that would be a continuing inspiration for Taupin’s writing for many years to come. Surprisingly, it’s also one of Elton’s poorest selling albums in the U.K., possibly as a turn off due to the trans-Atlantic flavour of “Tumbleweed Connection”, or more likely that the single “Levon” failed to chart, and “Tiny Dancer” wasn’t even released. By comparison, in North America he was a huge commercial artist and this album continued the long line of Billboard top slots.

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The two tunes that lead off the album are stunning in their characterisations, impeccable in their delivery. “Tiny Dancer” feels like a more grandiose reprise of “Your Song”, the melodrama inspired by Bernie Taupin’s first wife, Maxine Feibelman, is fully expanded by BJ Cole’s gentle steel guitar and Buckmaster’s soaring arrangement. The title track sees an incredibly unnerving, almost maniacal vocal performance, with added stabbing strings, portraying mental illness, isolation, and the horror of entrapment. The evocative, musically cinematic description of the plight of the American Indian on “Indian Sunset” may not be one of John’s most familiar tunes, but deserves investigation purely for its ambition in representing a subject few popular artists have ever ventured to convey. “Holiday Inn” may not be Taupin’s finest lyric, but the jaunty 3/4 time signature, chattering mandolins and drifting sitars (provided by new recruit, Davey Johnstone) make for an enjoyable interlude from the darker content that perpetuates through much of the record.

Precious, finely crafted, sentimental and catchy, “Madman Across The Water” has all the characteristics of greatness that would flood this and future recordings. For the next couple of years he couldn’t put a foot wrong.

8/10

1 – Tiny Dancer (9)
2 – Levon (8)
3 – Razor Face (7)
4 – Madman Across The Water (9)
5 – Indian Sunset (8)
6 – Holiday Inn (8)
7 – Rotten Peaches (7)
8 – All The Nasties (7)
9 – Goodbye (7)

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14 responses to “Elton John – Madman Across The Water (1971): Review

  1. What a run Sir Reginald had in the early 70s – great adjective choices here Geoff, Holiday Inn does have a jaunty feel! And a welcome respite to be sure among the other heavyweights here

  2. Great stuff. Insant follow šŸ˜‰
    I think it’s cool that Elton and Bernie paid tribute to Levon Helm. In a documentary about the making of The Band’s self-titled album, Taupin clearly showed adoration for the Band’s music. He clearly has great taste…

    • Thanks for the comment Freddo and the heads up on The Band documentary. I’ll have a look to see if it’s on Youtube. I can imagine it’s a really interesting reminder of the classic album.

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