Too Low For Zero

Elton John

MCA Records, 1983

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/31/2005

Summer should be a time for floating in a pool, enjoying a game of basketball with some friends and enjoying a book outside. It should not force one to spend the entire day inside because it's 95 freaking degrees out. Seeing as how that was the situation today here in the lovely state of Wisconsin, I figured why not do something productive and listen to Elton John?

By 1983, Elton John was nowhere near the giant he had been in the early and mid '70s. His records still sold reasonably well, and John managed to get at least one single into the Top 40 every year after his fall from the top. That is what made Too Low For Zero such a surprising return to form. This is not only Elton's best album of the 1980s, but when speaking in terms of his entire canon, it holds its own.

When one looks at an Elton John album with a critical eye, they usually look at the singles. If they are inspired, the rest of the album usually follows suit. This is most certainly the case with Too Low for Zeromy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 , with the two big hits, "I'm Still Standing," and "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues," easily topping anything Elton had put out in the preceding years.

The former track finds Elton in rare rocker form, as he spits out rapid-fire lyrics to match the driving beat. If it's ballads you're looking for, "…Blues" delivers handily. Elton really shows off his keyboard skills, putting forth a fluid, bluesy performance while the protagonist of the song mourns over his separation from his love.

While I enjoy the singles from Too Low For Zero, it is the album tracks that make the difference between this being an average work, as opposed to a good one. The delicate synthesizers and guitar licks of "Crystal" echo the sentiment of the main character, who wishes his former lover nothing but the best as she leaves him. The follow up track, "Kiss The Bride," seems to conflict with message of "Crystal," and while I enjoy the track as is, with its pulsating keyboards and a strong performance from Nigel Olsen, the mood should be more subdued given the subject material.

Special note should be made of Elton's vocal performance on Too Low For Zero. At this point in time, his range had increased dramatically. It's a pleasure to hear him slide effortlessly from the baritone-tinged vocals on the tile track to his gorgeous falsetto on "Saint." However, that falsetto fails him on "One More Arrow." While the song is obviously supposed to be "pretty," the effect is that the vocals come off as wimpy and saccharine. Elton's falsetto was always more effective when used sparingly, as opposed to being used on the entire song.

The three bonus tracks on the latest reissue of Too Low For Zero are real treats and worthy of being included on the disc. "Earn While You Learn," is a fun instrumental; it sounds like Elton and the band were just screwing around in the studio and laid the track down. "Dreamboat" may be a little too long at seven-plus minutes, but given the pleasant, breezy nature of the track and some gospel-inspired backing vocals, it's an enjoyable listen. "The Retreat" is a song that could have been taken straight off of Tumbleweed Connection, in subject matter and musically speaking as well. I love the use of the organ on this track, it really adds to the quasi-spiritual nature of lyrics.

Too Low For Zero is one of the few albums in the '80s that would find Elton John and Bernie Taupin on the same page. Melodically and lyrically, this is a reminder of how good the pair could be when they got it together.

Rating: A

User Rating: A


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© 2005 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 MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.