When I first became an Elton fan, I gobbled up as many albums as I could. However, one proved impossible to find in the U.S.: Blue Moves. My desire to listen only it grew quickly as the months passed, especially considering the word of mouth from John fans. Elton himself has proclaimed this to be one of his favorite albums, and John fans label this as one of his underrated classics. Rather forgotten is the fact that Blue Moves happens to be a double album, John's last. The question is, does Blue Moves live up to the hype?
By this time in John's career, he had been on top of the pop world for half a decade. His previous five albums had reached number one on the charts, the previous two debuting at the top spot. Naturally, this run of success had worn John and Bernie Taupin down, resulting in the moody, introspective nature to the music and lyrics of Blue Moves. To say the least, this is not a happy record. Hell, the lead single was titled "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word."
The main problem I have with Blue Moves is one that I have with almost all double albums -- the length. This could have been a killer single album, but unfortunately there is a great deal of padding, which is not up to the quality of similar tracks off Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton's other double. There are three instrumentals scattered across the record, none of which are interesting. The six-minute jam "Out Of The Blue," is the worst offender, going nowhere interesting.
It is not just the instrumentals that bore the listener - there are a few positively uninspired tracks, most coming on the second leg of the album. "Between Seventeen and Twenty" fails to latch onto a decent hook or refrain; it reminds me of an inferior version of "Holiday Inn." "The Wide Eyed And Laughing" is fascinating, being the only Elton John to prominently feature the sitar. It too is not easily accessible, but given enough time its abstractness and laid back nature catch on. "Where's The Shoorah" is a stab at pop/gospel that isn't horrible but doesn't match up with John's best songs of the type. "Bite Your Lip (Get Up And Dance)" is the big rocker of the record, and while the first few minutes are fun, with Elton and the band in full throttle, again the length of the track works against it. You get a touch of "Hey Jude," at the end, but it's not enough.
There are some brilliant moments to be found. "Tonight" is a hugely overwrought ballad but that over-the-top nature lends it charm. The London Symphony Orchestra provides a beautiful backdrop for John's piano; kudos to James Newton Howard for such stunning arrangements. Some would dismiss the vocals on the track as wimpy, with John reaching for his falsetto a great deal, but there is still emotion and pain in that voice that make the sorrowful lyrics work.
"One Horse Town," is easily the best rock track on Blue Moves, succeeding where "Bite Your Lip" failed. Again, a great of praise must be given to Howard, for the string arrangements really propel the song. "Boogie Pilgrim" is a funky R&B number which gives Elton a chance to stretch out vocally. While the song itself isn't that special, I would argue the vocals to be some of John's best of the late 70s, just for the versatility demonstrated. "Cage The Songbird" is essentially an acoustic version of "Candle In The Wind," dealing with the death of French singer Edith Piaf. However, this is a brilliant track, with its sound stripped down to the bare bones, and the lyrics hit much harder because of it.
It is hard to review a double album given the number of tracks, but suffice it to say there is enough good material for Blue Moves to warrant a listen. It marked the rapid decline of John's commercial and artistic fortunes, but the remnants of his classic period can still be heard. As far as double albums go, this one ain't bad.