In a career spanning not only generations but lifetimes, Elton John has seemingly gotten to the point in his shot at legacy where there’s nothing left to do but have fun. Hence the overall pervading mood of his 32nd studio album (count them: thirty-two) Wonderful Crazy Night. This, a more up-tempo at bat than his more downbeat (but artistically stunning) 2013 The Diving Board and the 2010 Leon Russell collaboration The Union. While those records signaled a throwback of sorts to the Honky Chateau–Tumbleweed Connection era of his Americana period, Wonderful Crazy Night allows him to have fun. Out and out, up-beat rock and roll fun.
You know, the kind of fun one has over a 17-day stretch in a recording studio, having recorded 31 albums already, won Tonys, Oscars and Grammys, being worth more money than God and found a new lease on life in one’s 60s.
So you have in this record a combination of the sounds and influences that marked his career in terms of either his critical heights (Madman Across the Water) or commercial success (the very pop-y Two Low For Zero in the mid-80s). He has the luxury to be able to look back at his body of work and be able to find merit in all of it, even in his disco era or the depths of his 80s output (Leather Jackets). There’s merit to be found in all his work, no matter how mired in the times and personal excesses it may be.
‘A Good Heart’ (not the Fergal Sharkey one) and ‘Blue Wonderful’ work as memorable and earthy ballads – which is mother’s milk for the likes of Elton John, but there seems to be a staggering level of depth to his voice as he aged, got operated on, sobered up and mellowed out with parenthood. ‘Claw Hammer’ is one of the less successful tracks, a by-the-numbers programmer (read: filler) with Bernie Taupin’s simile-rich lyrics laying it on all a bit thick.
Wonderful Crazy Night marks neither a creative high point, nor will it tear holes in the charts (not that such a distinction matters). But at 68, Elton is beyond criticism, guarded against sales figures and immortalised through his own back catalogue. He need do nothing more than kick his heels up.