Sound — 8
Elton John is one of the remaining forerunners of classic rock. Throughout his extensive music career with spans across five decades, he has sold over 250 million albums worldwide, and his hit single "Candle in the Wind 1997" sold over 33 million copies, making it the best selling single in the history of the UK Singles Chart and the US Billboard Top 100. But all numbers aside, Elton has delivered a long list of songs which have completely changed the way people create and listen to rock and roll music. Some of his most well known works include "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," "Rocket Man," and "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting": and that's just barely scratching the surface. With such a broad catalog of hit radio singles, it is no surprise that Elton John would quickly gather an impressive fan following. In the '90s, Elton would start to experiment with multiple new musical genres and styles, including adult contemporary and R&B. Although there was some familiarness to his earlier work, for established fans it failed to bring the same energy and passion as his previous albums. Elton John would then try his hand at several collaboration albums with such artists as Leon Russell and Neil Young on his 2010 studio album "The Union," and dance mix duo Pnau on 2012's "Good Morning to the Night." Although these albums showed plenty of creativity, dedicated fans have been clamoring for another album that contained all of the same nostalgic elements of his earlier releases. After some convincing by producer T-Bone Burnett, who previously worked with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (amongst others), Elton John decided to do exactly that and then some. Elton was soon dedicated to making his next one the most piano driven album in his entire catalog. Although I wouldn't call "The Diving Board" the one that features the most piano playing, as compared to his most recent albums this is undoubtedly the case. Such songs as "Mexican Vacation (Kids in the Candlelight)" are built around an upbeat piano section ala "Crocodile Rock," gospel-flavored backup singing and soulful lead vocals. Others, for example "Oceans Away" and "Home Again," are contemporary piano ballads which are filled with plenty of emotion. No matter where you set the needle, this is an album that delivers.
Lyrics — 7
Let's face facts: Elton John can't hit the same high notes that he originally did on "Daniel" several decades ago. To be fair, how many artists in their late sixties can? Elton has been playing music longer than most of those of our readers have been alive. However, that does not mean the passion and energy is lost in Elton's vocal performance. He predominantly sticks to his lower octave range on "The Diving Board," but for those of you listeners who enjoyed hearing those higher notes fear not, because that is where the harmonious group backup vocals come into play on such aforementioned tracks as "Mexican Vacation."
Overall Impression — 8
Elton John makes an impressive return to his piano-oriented sound of old with his new studio album "The Diving Board." Granted he cannot hit the same high notes as he used to, Elton still gives a soulful vocal performance throughout the entire album, and his piano playing skills have never been sharper. Bring in the addition of energetic backup vocals and top notch songwriting, and you have an album that is built to please any established fan of Elton's earlier outings.