Sound — 6
It's quite the accomplishment to record more than thirty albums in a single career, a feat most readily accomplished by session musicians whose names and talents are underappreciated and often times are only recognized in television documentaries. Elton John is one of the exceptions here, who reached that milestone back with his well-received 2010 collaboration with singer-songwriter Leon Russell on "The Union." Granted the supporting cast of musicians who have comprised The Elton John Band have rarely worked on new material for several decades, however that is something which Elton rectifies with his latest installment "Wonderful Crazy Night." A quick glance at the performing personnel shows the return of long-standing percussionist Ray Cooper, who makes his first appearance on a new Elton record since 1995's "Made in England." Also notable are the inputs of bassist Matt Bissonette (David Lee Roth, ELO, Ringo Starr) and keyboardist Kim Bullard (The Doobie Brothers, Cheap Trick, Yes), both of whom offer their first work on an Elton John album. What ultimately conjures up on "Wonderful Crazy Night" is an assortment of songs which go right along with whatever expectations one anticipated after glancing at the album's colorful album artwork: the uplifting breed of soft rock which Elton has long developed, aside from the contrastingly melancholic 2013 installment "The Diving Board."
The opening title track "Wonderful Crazy Night" is right up there with the most anthemic of Elton John's selections from the past few decades. John's most recent breed of soulful vocals pairs well alongside the assertive piano playing which has always decorated this songwriter's compositions. Perhaps most noticeable are the low melodic beats courtesy of Bissonette, which give this track enough life to attract even the casual listener. "In the Name of You" sets the pace back to introduce elements of blues and funk before opening up to a raunchy guitar solo. Bullard has a more dominant presence within The Elton John Band during the following number "Claw Hammer," which is highlighted by soaring brass arrangements which climb above the abstract piano workings of Elton.
The obvious intention was not to reinvent the wheel with "Wonderful Crazy Night," as the tracklisting spans across the lighthearted power ballad "Blue Wonderful" and the predictably melodic "Looking Up," however the input of The Elton John Band is what sets this album apart from "The Captain & the Kid" and the moderately country "Peachtree Road." Reflective blues rock heads up to the surface with "I've Got 2 Wings" and "A Good Heart," whereas the band assembles a sound oddly resemblant to that of Jimmy Buffett with "Guilty Pleasure." Other numbers such as "Tambourine" and "The Open Chord" play upon Elton's ability to have longer running songs with a slower tempo boast an emotional performance, closing the album on a pair of notes that are all too familiar yet avoid a sense of redundancy thanks to a sum of its parts.
Lyrics — 6
Longtime lyricist and musical partner Bernie Taupin has always had a way of crafting imagery on the Elton John albums, which explains his prominent collaborations with other performers including Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart, Richie Sambora and Peter Cetera. His work with John is by far the longest running, however, and that chemistry plays a part in the nostalgia factor found throughout "Wonderful Crazy Night." A sample of the lyrics on the album's title track "Wonderful Crazy Night" offers this very same point: "Ice cubes on the back of your neck/ Warm wind blowin' through the parking lot/ Radios hummin' in every car/ And you feel like the clocks have stopped." From the perspective of John's singing on the new album, there's still that same amount of soul and emotion that amounted on "Candle in the Wind 1997." Those expecting John to suddenly be able to reach the range which dominated "The Bitch Is Back" and "Bennie and the Jets" back in the day will be disappointed, however attentive listeners will find much of the same with "Wonderful Crazy Night."
Overall Impression — 6
Rather than serving as a breath of fresh air, Elton John delivers a resurgence of nostalgic soft rock with his 32nd studio album "Wonderful Crazy Night." There's nothing necessarily new to be found on this latest release, instead showing Elton and Taupin playing to the same strengths which provided large scale success over the years. The main point of interest here is the reappearance of The Elton John Band on a new album; where that role was primarily provided by a cast of session players over two decades, the live musicians who have taken those tracks out on the road for years are the ones dishing out the remainder of the ten compositions on "Wonderful Crazy Night" and are really the ones worth the price of admission.