At the Vault we run a mailing list for the writing staff, and when this month's Elton John retrospective was announced, nobody was taking Made In England.
The most fun reviews are not the ones about good albums or (believe it or not) really bad albums that lend themselves to every socially acceptable derogative in the Web journalist's hypothetical handbook... the most fun reviews are from albums that give the writer a lot to say, whether good or bad. Therefore, the worst albums to write about are, naturally, ones that are so boring you just don't want to eke out word after tortured word in front of the keyboard. It's not that these albums are necessarily bad; they're just extremely self-explanatory.
And that's the problem with Made In England.
England was the follow-up to the massively successful The Lion King soundtrack. It's not bad. But in the beginning in the 90s a lot of heart went out in the music of Elton John; listen for the kitsch factor of "Candle in the Wind '98" and you'll hear how devoid of feeling and intimacy he got, at least on record. The Academy Award in Best Song may go to the ending credit versions of whatever tune is nominated, but "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (and "Circle of Life," another of the three songs nominated that year) was more dramatic and intimate in the movie than Elton John's clean, sterile take.
The songs on England are, well, nice. The first single, "Believe," is a terrific pop song that was given a hefty amount of airtime by easy listening MOR stations at the time it came out. "Made In England" is more of a rocker, but in the days of grunge it was just a piece of easy listening fluff, and the line "you can still say homo and everybody laughs" doesn't do the slightest to shock, if it ever did.
The album is a hazy blur from then on, an impression helped by the fact that there are -- rather inexplicably -- soundtrack-like orchestral interludes between the songs; I suppose they're there to create an epic sweep but it just sounds contrived, especially as the songs are so bland that the interludes are more evocative of emotion (I especially like the one right after "Belfast").
I like the songs, I really do. "Cold" actually arouses some emotion from Sir Elton's voice, an interesting contradiction as he's raging about being emotionally cold. And who of marriageable age wouldn't like "Please" except the most cynical singleton on the far side of Bridget Jones? The other songs, however, while nice, are just not very memorable; too safe, too clean, too... this man is no longer rock-and-roll, at least on record.
Whew. Can I stop writing this review now?