The Lockdown Sessions

Elton John

Mercury, 2021

http://www.eltonjohn.com

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/25/2022

It’s been a few years now (probably closer to a decade and a half if we are being honest) since Bob Dylan was asked about which artists from his era did he think were still making music that wasn’t financially motivated or a desperate scream for attention. Dylan, always a pragmatist, conceded that most (including himself) were just playing out the string in some fashion or another. The one artist he mentioned that he believed bucked that particular trend was the former Reginald Dwight, Sir Elton John.

One could debate the merits of the albums Elton has recorded since the turn of the millennium, but for the most part the praise Dylan ascribed to Elton’s music is deserved. Whatever John has felt like doing, he has done. Self-produce an album? Did it. Record a sequel album to a mid-’70s masterpiece? Done. Bring a former friend and talented songwriter back into the spotlight with a duet album? Done. Works such as The Diving Board and The Union did not scream Billboard Top 100 in any sense.

Where Elton has maintained ties with the cultural zeitgeist has been in the form of musical collaboration and curation. One listen to an episode of his weekly streaming show Rocket Hour demonstrates that Elton hasn’t lost his keen understanding of what makes for popular music, regardless of whether he’s the one actually making it. And as his 2021 album The Lockdown Sessions makes abundantly clear, he has no qualms about working with any type of artist if he is confident it is going to deliver results. Here we have a record where Elton engages in collaborations with a wide variety of big-name artists, classic rockers, and even dabbles in the world of hip hop and EDM. Some of the biggest names in the music landscape in 2021 (Dua Lipa, Charlie Puth, Nicki Minaj, Lil Nas X) chose to either work with Elton, or reached out on their own.

I have been utterly fascinated with this record since its November release. Components of the album are so uniquely Elton John in many ways, while at the same time existing in a space as far apart from any other album he has ever released. It is not quite a compilation in the traditional sense, but that’s as good a word as any when trying to explain just what The Lockdown Sessions is. Call it the unicorn of the Rocket Man’s catalogue! But for the dedicated fan of John… well I don’t know how they should feel about this. I would imagine that for many, this album exists as a curiosity. Maybe a listen or two, and then completely tossed aside. I can’t necessarily disagree with those who see my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Lockdown Sessions in that way; it is simply that different.

For starters, there are a handful of songs that have no songwriting credit for John. He merely served as a session musician for them, solely contributing a vocal, or in some cases nothing but a piano performance. Lil Nas X’s “One Of Me” is such a track; in fact it appears on Nas’s most recent album in addition to The Lockdown Sessions. So when judging the song on it’s merits, is it really fair to be considered an Elton John song? Probably not, but the fact remains it is present on an Elton John album. Now, the only major issue with this aspect of the record appears when some of the songs are less than solid. The “It’s A Sin” Pet Shop Boys collaboration with Years & Years is merely adequate: I don’t care for the over-the-top vocal Elton delivers.

If anything, that’s my biggest complaint with regards to Elton on this record. Since he’s started writing musicals, there has been a sense among some of his fans that his vocal performances have taken on the characteristics of a Broadway performer. There isn’t much subtlety, let’s put it that way. I think back to “The Pink Phantom”; the Gorillaz collaboration has Elton offering up some very odd affectations. But, on a track like “Stolen Car” with Stevie Nicks, the song demands that bombastic, ’80s Meat Loaf-style over-the-top performance and it fits like a glove.

Energetic is the password here folks; if this record demonstrates anything, it’s that Elton John has to be one of the most energetic 74-year-olds out there. Whether or not the song works in the end, or the performances don’t quite make sense stylistically, he’s trying. These aren’t showy grabs at attention that are phoned in (Ironically this album was recorded during a pandemic, so Elton was able to experience the Zoom lifestyle the rest of the world has had going on for the past few years). He’s giving it his all, regardless of whether or not he had a hand in the writing of the song. The pure vim and vigor that shines through on an “E-Ticket” with Eddie Vedder, and the willingness to let a fellow musician take the lead (such as Stevie Wonder on “Finish Line”) is refreshing to hear.

Ironically, there are some titles present on here that, while perfectly fine, just don’t work as a collaboration. I cannot fault Elton for accepting the offer to sing on Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” but the song is robbed of its tragic mastery by having Elton take half the vocals. “Nothing Else Matters” is a fun little cover of the Metallica classic, but again it features at least five other big-name musicians who take the lion’s share of the performance duties. I enjoy both of these songs on their own, to a point, but don’t enjoy having them on the final track list.

So, finally, we arrive at the endgame. What do we make of The Lockdown Sessions? Well, I have two words for you: mixed bag. Truly, I can’t really simplify it any better than that! There are songs on here that diehard Elton fans will surely enjoy. But, there are songs that are so decidedly UN-Elton that I can’t imagine will capture their imagination or affection. What we are left with is an album that provides a summary of what Elton was up to throughout the world-shattering pandemic that continues to rage on into 2022. How much you enjoy it will very much depend on how much rope you’re willing to give John as he engaged on a once-in-a-career type album.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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