Wednesday, November 4, 2009

463. Tumbleweed Connection- The Wild West via the Lake District.

Album: Tumbleweed Connection.

Artist: Elton John.

Year: 1970

Genre: Gentrified Country and Western


  1. Ballad of a Well-Known Gun
  2. Come Down in Time
  3. Country Comfort
  4. Son of Your Father
  5. My Father's Gun
  6. Where to Now St. Peter?
  7. Love Song
  8. Amoreena
  9. Talking Old Soldiers
  10. Burn Down the Mission

In the opening lines of Love Song, Elton John sings: “The words I have to say may well be simple but they're true” which is, let's be honest, a blatant lie. The words on the rest of the album aren’t necessarily very simple and they're as far from true as Elton's home is from the wild west with which he's suddenly become so enamored.

Most of the tracks on Tumbleweed Connection are storytelling songs in which the singer adopts a persona. When Elton sings about being a well known gunfighter it’s not because he’s personally just returned from a shootout. Bernie Taupin (Elton John’s long standing lyricist) provided the piano player with a batch of 1st person narratives set in the American Deep South which means we’re treated to tales about the Civil war sung in John’s British accent. It makes for a very strange listen to my ears. He could probably pull this off more effectively back in the seventies when Elton wasn’t well known but today when he’s arguably one of the world’s biggest celebrities, it’s all too easy to focus on the singer not the song. The album isn’t helped by the instrumentation which doesn’t fit the tales John is spinning. It sounds odd telling us about the hardship of his life on the farm when he’s accompanying himself on piano with the resident string section firmly in place behind him. The overall effect is as disconcerting as if Merle Haggard released an album of songs about being a young homosexual attending the Royal Academy of Music.

If you can get past the weirdness of the lyrical content, the music in Tumbleweed Connection is much more fun than on his self-titled album. You could listen to Elton John and wonder why everyone regarded him as among the best pianists in pop music. Tumbleweed Connection allows him a lot more room to display his talents and the album is much better for it. He doesn’t just provide a few chords to sing over, he also thumps those keys and makes the piano wail. Take a listen to a track called Burn down the mission, if you can get past the fact that the song is basically a call to instigate arson you’ll enjoy the brief instrumental passages when John is allowed to cut loose. I just wish they’d let him do it more often. Put the violins away: strings only tie you down. The songwriting is also more effective than on the last album. Less sentiment and more feeling. Less of the syrup and more of the juice if you’ll pardon the expression.

But while Tumbleweed would take down Elton John in a gunfight on any given day, they’re both eclipsed by the final song on my version of Tumbleweed Connection which is a bonus track thrown on the remastered CD. It’s the original version of Madman Across the Water, a song recorded for this album but didn’t make the cut and instead was the title track of John’s next release. Madman is without a doubt the best Elton John song I’ve ever heard. It’s a great tune with a really gutsy baseline and some fantastic drumming. Mick Ronson, David Bowie's guitarist, supplies some lead guitar work and he and John were clearly having a great time playing off each other. It’s proof for me that the best rock and roll isn’t planned, scripted, arranged and rehearsed, it’s played pretty much live with talented musicians challenging each other and going places that neither expected to end up. If you’re a cynic and want proof that Elton John deserves a place in Rock history then Tumbleweed might start to win you over but Madman Across the Water will force you to change your tune.

Highlight: Madman across the water (kind of a cheat since it’s not technically on the album so I’ll say Burn down the mission)

Lowlight: Love Song

Influenced by: The pioneer spirit.

Influenced: Generations of English public school boy cowboys.

Favourite customer Amazon review quote: “The songs in this album flow so beautifully into each other, yet cover many different themes. The only sng that has gotten old for me is”

-That’s it. The review stops there. We’ll never know what song has aged for this reviewer and my life is incomplete.

So did you connect with Tumbleweed connection or was it shooting blanks? Let me know below.

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