[Review] Elton John: Madman Across The Water (1971)

This is one of Elton’s heaviest and darkest albums, despite the light presence of “Tiny Dancer” and the perennial favorite, “Levon.”

Kronomyth 5.0: Crazy over eau.

Yes, I know that you don’t think Elton John is anywhere near prog. Mock on. You can even sing a bar of “Candle in the Wind” badly if it makes you feel better. But the early albums were portentous clouds of proggishness: the strings, the symbolism, the weighty excess. Madman Across the Water is the heaviest of these, like Tumbleweed Connection before it a collection of dark tales partially populated by American pulp fiction (“Indian Sunset,” “Rotten Peaches”). The title track actually dates from the time of Tumbleweed, and pulls everything before it with it like a slow landslide.

Madman begins with a pair of perennial favorites: “Tiny Dancer” and “Levon.” They’re inflated wonders, invoking Jesus and the war and whatever else they could think of to make it sound like the fate of the world hung on love songs and lost souls. The rest of the album never rises to those heights again. There are fine album cuts like the title track, “Razor Face” (shades of Steely Dan’s dark matter), “Rotten Peaches” and “Holiday Inn.” There are also missteps, like the melodramatic “Indian Sunset,” which is almost as awful as “First Episode at Heinton” (desire to punch poet in the nose waxing, waxing, waning).

These recordings date from August with the exception of two (“Levon,” Goodbye”) from February, which might have you thinking that Nigel Olsson and Dee Murray were already on board full time, but the pair in fact only provide the rhythm section on “All The Nasties.” Otherwise, Madman features a hodgepodge of hired guns and old associates: Rick Wakeman, Chris Spedding, Caleb Quaye, Davey Johnstone, B.J. Cole, Herbie Flowers, et cetera. Toss arranger Paul Buckmaster into the mix and that’s a lot of hands, all stirring a serious pot of flavorful post-Beatles/Bob Dylan popular music. Sure, some of this is hokum, but you’d be crazy not to see a boatload of talent at work in Madman’s grooves too.

Original LP Version

A1. Tiny Dancer (6:12)
A2. Levon (5:37)
A3. Razor Face (4:40)
A4. Madman Across The Water (5:22)
B1. Indian Sunset (6:45)
B2. Holiday Inn (4:22)
B3. Rotten Peaches (5:14)
B4. All The Nasties (5:08)
B5. Goodbye (1:48)

All songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

Original 8-track version
A1. Tiny Dancer
A2. Rotten Peaches
B1. Levon
B2. Madman Across the Water
C1. Indian Sunset
C2. Razor Face
D1. Holiday Inn
D2. All the Nasties
D3. Goodbye

The Players

Elton John (vocals, piano), Bernie Taupin (lyrics) with Paul Buckmaster (arranger, conductor), Tony Burrows (backing vocals), Vantores in Ecclesia Choir (choir), B.J. Cole (steel guitar on A1), Roger Cook (backing vocals), Ray Cooper (percussion, tambourine), Terry Cox (drums), Brian Dee (harmonium on A2), Leslie Duncan (backing vocals), Jack Emblow (accordion on A3), Herbie Flowers (bass), David Glover (bass), Davey Johnstone (acoustic guitar, mandolin, sitar), Robert Kirby (choir director), Chris Laurence (acoustic bass on B1), Diane Lewis (A.R.P. synthesizer), Barry Morgan (drums on A2), Dee Murray (backing vocals), Brian Odgers (bass on A2), Nigel Olsson (backing vocals), Roger Pope (drums), Caleb Quaye (electric guitar, acoustic guitar), Chris Spedding (electric guitar, slide guitar), Terry Steele (backing vocals), Barry St. John (backing vocals), Liza Strike (backing vocals), Sue & Sunny (backing vocals), Les Thatcher (acoustic guitar on A2), Rick Wakeman (organ). Produced by Gus Dudgeon; engineered by Robin Geoffrey Cable; re-mix engineered by Ken Scott; co-ordinated by Steve Brown.

The Pictures

Art direction, sleeve design, booklet cover photographs and illustrations by David Larkham. Front cover embroidery by Yanis. Back cover embroidery by Gill. Booklet photography by Bob Gruen.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track on November 5, 1971 in the UK (DJM, DJLPH-420), the US (Uni, 93120, 8-93120), Germany (DJM/Hansa, 85 798 IT), Japan (DJM, FP-80393) and Spain (DJM, J 064-93.064) with gatefold cover and lyrics booklet. Reached #41 on the UK charts and #8 on the US charts (RIAA-certified double-platinum record). Released on elpee in 1972 in Argentina (DJM, LF-214).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1973 in the US (MCA, MCA-2016) with gatefold cover and lyrics booklet.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1977 in the US (MCA, MCA-3003) with gatefold cover.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 1980 in Portugal (Movieplay, M.M.-8015) with gatefold cover.
  4. Re-issued on elpee in May 1981 in the US (MCA, MCA-1675) and in 1981 in Japan (DJM, K22P-204).
  5. Re-issued on elpee in 1982 in the US (MCA, MCA-37200).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in the UK (DJM, DJM CD5) [made in W. Germany].
  7. Re-issued on elpee in 1994 in the US (DCC, LPZ-2004).
  8. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1995 in the UK (Rocket, 528161).
  9. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDCD 516).
  10. Re-released on super audio compact disc in 2004 in the UK (Rocket, 9824 029).

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