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The Diving Board Reviews

The Diving Board

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Elton John s The Diving Board, is his first studio album in seven years Produced by T Bone Burnett, the album features 12 new songs written by Elton and his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin, as well as three piano interludes composed by the artist.

The Diving Board returns Elton John to the piano, bass and drums lineup that marked the artist s introduction to worldwide audiences more than 40 years ago. As Elton explains, In many ways, I feel like I m starting again, making records. Several years ago when beginning to work with T Bone and being in the studio with Leon Russell for The Union, I had to ask myself, What kind of music do I really want to make? , and I realized that I had to go back to go forward again. I needed to strip away the excesses and get back to the core of what I do as an artist. That s what The Diving Board represents. The Diving Board is the album I ve been waiting to make for decades. According to producer T Bone Burnett, The Diving Board is an album of music by a master at the peak of his artistic powers.

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3 Responses to The Diving Board Reviews

  • Elizabeth Rosenthal says:
    172 of 197 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    This is the Elton John We’ve Been Waiting For!, September 24, 2013
    Verified Purchase(', ‘AmazonHelp’, ‘width=400,height=500,resizable=1,scrollbars=1,toolbar=0,status=1′);return false; “>What’s this?)
    This review is from: The Diving Board (Audio CD)

    The Diving Board is not Elton John’s “first record” since The Captain and the Kid in 2006. He released a CD called The Union with Leon Russell – produced by T Bone Burnett – just three years ago. Although it was not a “solo” Elton John effort, it was as much an Elton John album as anything else he’s released in his career, even if he shared top billing with his hero and mentor of 40-plus years ago. EJ co-wrote and played piano on almost all of the songs, and sang lead or backing vocals on all but one track.

    As for The Diving Board, it was controversial before anyone had heard a note. Some fans were apoplectic that Elton’s excellent and versatile touring band, headed by longtime EJ guitarist Davey Johnstone, was left off the new work. Fans furiously pointed fingers at T Bone Burnett, the producer on this, his second project with the Rocket Man. “Burnett is a musical tyrant!” protested some Elton John devotees on social media sites. “He is a bad, bad man who doesn’t understand Elton’s music!” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

    The truth is that T Bone Burnett deserves a medal for drawing out the real Elton John on this recording. Burnett told Elton before they started that he’d like to see the Pinner native go back to basics. Not just back to basic rock, or back to organic music without synths and click-tracks, but a piano-bass-drums set-up, like Elton’s touring band of 1970-71, which featured Nigel Olsson on drums and Dee Murray on bass. Burnett attended one of Elton’s historic Troubadour concerts in Los Angeles the week of August 25, 1970, the series of shows which made EJ a star, as they say, overnight. As Elton enthusiasts know, his trio floored jaded, music industry heavies. Elton, with his voice and piano in the forefront, amazed his audience without special effects or gimmicks. He didn’t even dress up (much) for this gig. With Nigel and Dee, he simply brought his songs to life through ingenious musicianship, and the sort of breast-beating vigor he still summons today, at age 66.

    So T Bone Burnett now gives us the real Elton, the unadorned Elton, the barely accompanied Elton, the Elton who has not an unmusical cell in his body. His lyricist of 46 years, Bernie Taupin (who now prefers to be known as a “storyteller”), once remarked, “Elton is the most musical person I’ve ever met. It vibrates from him.” And those vibrations sent tremors that shook the recording studio; T Bone welcomed them, nurtured them, captured them – in analog – and now it is our privilege to let them settle into our generally unmusical lives, bringing us joy, tears and plenty of tingly moments.

    Elton has played piano on all of his albums, with the exception of the Complete Thom Bell Sessions (released in 1989 but dating from 1977) and the unfortunate 1979 disco release, Victim of Love. He has titillated us, made us laugh, got us dancing, or made us mourn with that piano. But compared to The Diving Board, Elton’s other albums seem almost devoid of piano, seem like aural adaptations of the “Where’s Waldo” game:

    “Where’s Elton?”

    Past producers, including, occasionally, Elton himself, have more often than not treated his piano as just part of the band. An electric guitar or saxophone solo was perhaps likelier than a piano interlude in the middle of any given recording. Sometimes, even when you knew the piano was there, it was barely audible.

    Elton chose noted bass guitarist Raphael Saadiq for the Diving Board sessions. Jay Bellerose on drums, who played on The Union, completes the trio. Other instruments enter the recording unobtrusively, like a garnish or brush of color. Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, the two members of 2Cellos, who have toured with Elton as well as on their own, make their strings purr in spots. For a couple of songs, the twang of a pedal steel hovers shyly in the air. Horns slide in warmly a few times. Backing vocalists join here and there. Otherwise, it’s just Elton and the keys.

    It’s evident on The Diving Board that T Bone pushed or encouraged Elton to be, in the recording studio, what he is onstage – a master of keyboard improvisation, a vocal powerhouse. Burnett gives us the Elton of the deep, lower register, that sexy lower register heard only sparingly on latter-day recordings. On The Diving Board, it dominates, especially on “Oscar Wilde Gets Out,” “My Quicksand,” “Home Again” and the title track, “The Diving Board.”

    Taupin has come through with possibly the most exciting set of lyrics – or stories – he’s handed Elton in many years, if not ever. There is a knowingness in Taupin’s words, from having actually lived life, that is missing from much of his most famous word-paintings, since, as a young man, he was largely writing not from life, but from books and his mind’s eye. With his increased insight come lines and imagery of special elegance.

    Peeling away the layers that…

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  • Aaron says:
    36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Listen To The Hype, September 20, 2013
    This review is from: Diving Board (Audio CD)
    As someone before me said, listen to the hype.

    As an avid Elton John listener, under 40 (I’m 25), I’ve been disappointed with every album Elton John has released SINCE I’VE BEEN ALIVE. This despite him being one of my major musical influences. This Album, I would argue, is the best thing he’s released since Captain Fantastic, maybe before. It is the best he’s released in decades, and easily stands up to his earlier works.

    Listening to songs, you hear elements from Yellow Brick Road, Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across the Water, and even some of his better recent work (a couple of the songs closely echo his single “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.” He also delves into some new territory, but this is a landmark work by an artist at the top of his game, and going back to the roots that made him great. It’s like he took the best of everything he did over the years and compiled it into 15 songs. He and Taupin are at the top of his game, and anyone who likes listening to him for more than just the hits, will love this album.

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  • Rudy Palma says:
    35 of 42 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Elton Dives in, Headfirst, September 24, 2013
    Rudy Palma (NJ) –
    This review is from: The Diving Board (Audio CD)
    (A 21-track deluxe edition featuring two exclusive tracks is available only at Target.)

    The concept behind “The Diving Board,” Elton John’s sophisticated new offering – his first solo outing since 2006′s criminally underrated “The Captain and the Kid” – is one of simplicity, of intentionally harking back to the stark, literate sound he quietly descended upon downtown Los Angeles with in 1970 when he powerfully made his American debut at the Troubador.

    That alone makes it a worthy, often harrowing listen, though the songwriting itself is unquestionably ripened, wizened and mature in perspective – that John and lyricist Bernie Taupin are no longer the two lads who wrote “Your Song” and “The Greatest Discovery” is quite clear – making for an intriguing, if at first alarming, and not always successful, musical dichotomy.

    When Taupin is at his best it is something to behold. Lead single “Home Again,” the most radio-friendly tune among the dozen, is achingly beautiful and universal in its sentiments without a trace of treacle, beckoning one of John’s most buttery, ingratiating melodies. “Oscar Wilde Gets Out” is as epic as one of his early 70s story songs, and John responds with a bone-chilling performance.

    “Oceans Away” is a classy, dignifying, and, above all, poetic tribute to the Greatest Generation and those they left behind in World War II. John’s matter-of-fact, graceful vocal underscores the pathos and power of Taupin’s key points, and his playing is arresting and rapturous.

    There are also moments where one cannot help but be reminded of Taupin’s claim that he is writing lyrics now by and large as “a hobby.” While the results of songs such as “Mexican Vacation” and “A Town Called Jubilee” are certainly listenable, with John’s piano obscuring some of their lesser qualities, they call no individual attention to themselves and are not memorable, with no huggably warm sounds to anchor them. In the past, such as on 1997′s “The Big Picture,” John has been able to squeeze out juicy melodies to some of Taupin’s worst lyrics, but on “The Diving Board,” where his once-in-a-lifetime way with a piano is front and center to achieve a certain sound, by necessity lessening the importance of melody, the lyrical shortcomings are more obvious, especially because John has long been keen to giftwrap Taupin’s words, regardless of poetic worth, in maximally melodic packaging.

    Still, selections that impress and comfortably remind of previous majesty cannot be denied. Taupin’s lyrics for “Voyeur” bring out the ever-adventurous side of John’s pallette, with kinetic, undeniable energy. It is the kind of song that might have been compromised by the loud, overproduced atmosphere of albums like “The Big Picture” or 1992′s otherwise powerful “The One.”

    “I’ll come away with something to keep you in my heart,” John sings with uncommon passion before diving into a brazen, enchanting solo, the likes of which longtime listeners associate with albums such as “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

    Furthermore, “The Diving Board” is anchored by three instrumental solos that, quite predictably, are marvelous and attention-seizing. The third of these, “Dream No. 3,” is easily one of the best moments of John’s career, winding down into the loungey, bluesy title track.

    One unique trait of Sir Elton’s is that his compound professionalism and genius as a musician has never eluded him, not even in periods where his life was at a particularly low ebb. The result is that he has never crafted an album without something wortwhile resulting – those mid-80s LPs may have had filler, but the gems, once found, were unquestionable. Similar can be said here, only this time the highlights are less radio-friendly, yet more plentiful and with more weight and substance, and now instead of personal demons creeping into the music he has two lovely young boys and a happy, healthy marriage which mean even more to him than his career. That comfortability waves in some less than compelling moments into “The Diving Board” but is also its asset – relieved of the burden to find a hit single or cater to the casual listener, John presents himself with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude, making the gambles really count and giving the highlights extra grist.

    One does hope, however, that he will return to the atittude of 2001′s “Songs from the West Coast.” Though more reined in than “The Diving Board,” it proved he could go back to the template of his classic albums without sacrificing those instantly memorable melodic hooks.

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