Madman Across The Water

Elton John

Uni / MCA Records, 1971

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


I seem to recall back at the start of freshmen year of college that I felt Elton John’s piano playing was buried under various levels of orchestration, and I docked his eponymous debut a grade for it.

Today, I wonder why I don’t feel the same way about Madman Across the Water, but then it hit me as I listened. The songs are just better. Madman was the last album of Elton’s early period before “Rocket Man” would send him into the stratosphere (har!) of pop stardom. As such, it sums up what made early Elton so fascinating and intriguing. This is pre-glitter, pre-high heel shoes, pre-Donald Duck costumes, straight up singer /songwriter at its best, if not a tad ornate.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Almost Famous broke “Tiny Dancer’ to a whole new audience in 2001, which should prompt Elton to get down in his knees and thank Cameron Crowe. “Tiny Dancer” is quite frankly one of John’s greatest songs, from the soaring falsetto he employs to the brilliant orchestral arrangement. Bernie Taupin matches the musical genius with one of his more simple lyrics, evocative in all the right spots, and you know the words: “Ballerina / you must have seen her / dancing in the sand / and now she's in me, always with me / tiny dancer in my hand.”

What else is here beyond that one? Sure, “Indian Sunset” may follow every stereotype made about the Native American, but damn it if Elton’s dramatic vocals don’t carry the song. One can hardly blame John and Taupin for their somewhat naïve look at America, given that they were British and had barely spent time in the U.S.A. The folksy “Holiday Inn” and “Rotten Peaches,” are humorous for that very reason.

Of course, the end-all track for anyone who thinks of Elton as “the Lion King guy” is the amazing title track. “Madman Across The Water” blows away all preconceived notions of the guy; it’s dark, brooding and creepy as hell. Find me a better use of a Moog synthesizer and you’ll get a shiny nickel.

With Madman Across The Water, one gets the sense Elton came in with the intention of writing wide, sweeping, cinematic tracks. While that was not justified on the debut, here the songs just beg to have layers added, from “Madman” to “Levon” to “All the Nasties.”

At nine songs, Madman Across The Water may run a tad short, and at least three of the songs are just filler. However, the high points here more than make up for the shortcomings. Madman easily places in Elton’s top five.

Rating: B+

User Rating: A



© 2007 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Uni / MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.