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GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD (40TH ANNIVERSARY SUPER DELUXE EDITION)
Elton John (Universal Music Enterprises)
It's time to dig yet again into the Elton John archives. Ten years have passed since the release of the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition.
Happily, the four-CD, one-DVD set to commemorate the album's 40th anniversary is more than mere record label recycling. Included are a CD of GBYBR songs covered by contemporary artists, two discs of a 1973 concert with John and his band in top form, a handsome 100-page hardcover book and a DVD of a long out-of-print 1973 documentary by the British filmmaker Bryan Forbes.
The artists performing the covers are younger than the original album, a testament to its durability. Best is English singer Ed Sheeran, who transforms Candle in the Wind into strummy folk, and Irish musician Imelda May, who applies rockabilly zeal to Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n Roll). Alas, Fall Out Boy reduce Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting) into a pep rally, and an R&B/rap remake of Bennie and the Jets by Grammy winner Miguel and Wale never takes off.
John's original album has been remastered yet again and sounds better than ever. The loud-to-soft contrasts are remarkable for a pop record, rewarding owners of quality headphones or loudspeakers. Dee Murray's underrated bass work, Nigel Olsson's angelic high harmonies, and Davey Johnstone's seven guitar parts on Saturday Night can be appreciated as never before.
Like the dynamic range, the range of material remains impressive. A musical sponge from childhood, John was at his prolific peak when the two-disc LP, 17-song set was written and recorded in a span of just two weeks. Bernie Taupin's cinematic lyrics become Technicolor tunes, and GBYBR is an unsurpassed distillation of rock's golden era spanning both sides of the Atlantic. John draws on the Beatles and the Stones, the Beach Boys and the Band, Bob Marley, Soul Train, Jerry Lee Lewis and Liberace, and makes it all his own. It helps that he's in the best voice of his career.
The lyrics are surprisingly dark, given the sunny melodies, and by the end of what used to be Side 3 we have a dead bootlegger, a dead lesbian and a dead Marilyn Monroe. The album is a funeral for one friend after another, and much more. It's electric music, solid walls of sound, cocky, campy, lovely, naughty, silly and, 40 years later, still fun. Comic book characters never grow old. Can't wait for the 50th Anniversary Super Duper Deluxe Edition.
— STEVEN WINE,
The Hold Steady (Razor & Tie)
The Hold Steady is a garage band at heart, but it's a two-car garage in a nice neighborhood, and there might be a Mercedes inside.
Singer Craig Finn and his mates have always come across like upper-middle-class products who are usually the oldest, smartest guys at the party — and thus the ones who tell the most interesting stories. Teeth Dreams, the Brooklyn band's sixth album, is filled with Finn's characteristically compelling characters, mostly female, as he sings about bad company, simple minds, night moves, life in the fast lane, dancing the night away, and Pink Floyd. Rock doesn't come much more classic.
To help keep the ’70s alive, the Hold Steady doubles down on the guitars, and recent addition Steve Selvidge teams with band co-founder Tad Kubler to frame the songs with dense, shimmering sound. It's often pretty, and it always packs plenty of punch. Horns? Strings? There's no need when you're a garage band.
DIVERGENT: ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK
Various Artists (Interscope Records)
The latest dystopian young adult big screen adaptation, Divergent, has high expectations for the box office, though its soundtrack offers an uneven bag of tracks.
The film, highlighted by teenage angst overwrought by societal structure, could translate into a group of edgy, resonating songs, but the reality is that few rise up to the challenge. Ellie Goulding overcontributes with her brand of manic pixie dream girl electro pop on four tracks (three only on the non-digital version).
The first single — Zedd's piano ballad turned triumphant dance song Find You — is neither convincing nor very inspiring to anyone other than the Saturday night club crowd. And Goulding's Beating Heart is a stroke away from flatlining.
The album starts off slow with run-of-the-mill dance tracks before it gets bizarre and wonderful with Tame Impala and Kendrick Lamar's Backwards, which mixes a hypnotic ’60s sound with some epic rapping. M83's I Need You takes a weird sax and blends it with an even weirder wailing Auto-Tune. A$AP Rocky's contribution, In Distress, is probably the most alienating and enticing of the whole album — the barky electro background is stabilized by his rapping, which turns into a melodic howl. Pretty Lights' Lost and Found adds another layer of meditative sounds, skipping back and forth from uplifting pop to an exotic string sound.
Overall, though, the soundtrack barely passes the aptitude test into the Dauntless.
— CRISTINA JALERU,