Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate uncertain is the 1997′ The Big Picture – the 25th album by Elton John, but was this album worth framing, or is it out of focus? Read on…
This 11 track album opens with the gentle beats, heart beat-esque bass drum and guitars of Long Way From Happiness. Elton’s vocals are soon into the first verse. This song is very airy, with a soft but steady build up that eventually adds in some bright tinkling pianos. Musically, at times it reminds me a little of Something To Remember by Madonna.
Next up is an album version of his lead single Live Like Horses, which he’d released in 1996 as a duet with Luciano Pavarotti. Again, this is quite a gentle song, and one that has the power of an orchestra sweeping behind it courtesy of Anne Dudley. Sadly, this album version isn’t the duet, but it’s still a really nice song as the orchestra soars, complimenting Elton’s solo vocal capacity. There’s even some mock choral singers (which I think are really a keyboard).
The End Will Come follows, opening with some tumbling percussions before switching over to an almost vintage sound that sounds like it’s been borrowed from some of his earlier recordings as his plays his piano. The chorus breaks from this, delivering some powerful vocals, guitars, and this in interspersed by some piano as it dances through a mid-section instrumental. This is a good, strong, pop-rock song, but sadly wasn’t released as a single.
Next up is fourth and final single If The River Can Bend which gently fades in to Elton’s ‘oh oh’ vocals that echo over a percussive introduction. Elton and his piano soon arrive proper, and are joined by a good steady beat. By the time of the chorus, he’s joined by the East London Gospel Choir. The single stalled at #32 in the UK singles chart despite it’s up-beat, up-lifting feel.
Love’s Got A Lot To Answer For opens with some gentle brushed snare drums, and are joined by bass and piano, as a tinkling keyboard flitters through. This is a pretty slow, sad, song, and occasionally strays into hymn territory, aside from a dreadful organ(?) solo about 2/3rds of the way, which kind of makes this plodder of a song, not such a great listen.
This is followed by Something About The Way You Look Tonight, which was released as a Double-A side single with his huge hit Candle In The Wind – dedicated to Princess Diana. Former Squeeze and Mike and The Mechanics star, Paul Carrack, is tucked away on organ – but he’s a bit buried. The song itself, completely over-shadowed by his self-cover, is a pretty good pop-rock track, and stood in it’s own right briefly as a single.
That vintage sound resumes for title track The Big Picture – sounding a bit like an early David Bowie or late Beatles song, even Elton’s vocals sound almost like an impression. There’s plenty of bass and guitars, with strings and piano in the back ground and helping to weave the song together.
Third single Recover Your Soul is up next, opening with tablas and another gentle beat. This is quite a middle-of-the-road song to be honest, and it just gentle meanders along. Elton does get to show off his vocal range a little in the final push, as his backing singers offer him some contrast. The single gave him a #16 single in 1998.
Aptly for this review, the next song is January. This song starts off quite mellow with a wandering bass and sweeping strings, before bursting into electric guitar and a rock beat. This song is quite an up-beat one, and again I think that this probably could have made it as a single.
The penultimate song, I Can’t Steer My Heart Clear Of You feels like a companion song for the opener track, Long Way From Happiness. The soft beats return – almost breathy. Elton’s vocals are softer here, although also a little bit Meatloaf-y, but thankfully he manages not to cross that line. As his vocals soar, he’s lifted even further with the sweeping strings. There’s a feeling of summertime here too, with delicate percussive beats, warm brooding synths and acoustic guitars. This is a great song.
The album closes with Wicked Dreams, which by contrast really belts out. This is probably the most up-beat of the tracks here – commanding a foot tapping at least, with its racing beat, bass, and roaring guitars. Elton’s vocals have great pace here and he even manages to knock one out of his piano during the instrumental before the final push. I probably would have liked to hear this song in the middle of the album.
Over all, there’s some pretty good Elton tracks here, and the choir and orchestra moments really do get to show his vocals and Bernie Taupin’s lyrics off perfectly.
There’s a few songs that sound reasonably similar – in the style that is fairly synonymous with Elton, but there’s enough variation here to give the album a pretty positive rating.
Elton John found a new round of success with this album, which went platinum, and gave him another tour. The success that he found off of the back of his own cover of Candle In The Wind undoubtedly helped this album to reach wider audiences.
It would have been nice to have had the Luciano Pavarotti duet here, and I’m glad that the Candle In The Wind isn’t present. With a slight switch of singles, I think that his singles chart performance could have improved, even if the album was yet another hit for him.
- POP RESCUE 2016 RATING: 4 / 5
- 1997 UK CHART PEAK: #3, certified Platinum by the BPI.
- POP RESCUE COST: 50p from an RSPCA store.