Life at 33 1/3: Elton’s last classic

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Elton John: Caribou (DJM)

One of my favorite Elton-albums, released during his flamboyant glamorous phase when he still made music that matched (and fit) his stage costumes.  Recorded under strict time pressure, forced into shape, its status has always been eclipsed by its two predecessors, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Don’t Shoot Me (I’m Only the Piano Player)”. It doesn’t quite possess the rich and varied musical and lyrical imagery of those classics, and you can tell that young balding Elton cut some corners when inspiration failed him.

Nevertheless, the unevenness of “Caribou” is also what makes it so charming.  Warts and all, it’s still a solid dose of rock’n’pop excitement.  Elton has not yet lost the plot (by trying to grow some funk of his own) and his band delivers the punch and the gorgeous varnish and vivid details that made glam-Elton so irresistible.  Sparkling colours, lots of fun.

Even the weaker tracks are acceptable and the peaks are awesome: “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” is such a beautiful song and spectacular production it will leave you with a lump in your throat every time, and even now, decades later, the tongue-in-cheek “The Bitch Is Back” has a terrific groove.  “I’ve Seen The Saucers” is adventurous and incorporates the sound of real flying saucers (OK, maybe not, but they would sound like that, wouldn’t they?) and “Dixie Lily” is a delightful unpretentious hoedown.  The album also includes the strikingly bare down to the bone piano drama “Ticking”, one of Elton’s most pervasive and sensitive moments.

I always liked “Caribou” – both the music and the sleeve – and I will always do.  It’s his last classic.  Honest.

Released: June 1974

Produced: by Gus Dudgeon

(All songs by Elton John and Bernie Taupin)

Side One:

1. “The Bitch Is Back” – 3:44

2. “Pinky” – 3:54

3. “Grimsby” – 3:47

4. “Dixie Lily” – 2:54

5. “Solar Prestige a Gammon” – 2:52

6. “You’re So Static” – 4:52

Side Two:

1. “I’ve Seen the Saucers” – 4:48

2. “Stinker” – 5:20

3. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” – 5:36

4. “Ticking” – 7:33

Personnel:

Elton John – vocals, piano

Davey Johnstone – acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin

Dee Murray – bass guitar, phased Pignose bass

Nigel Olsson – drums

Ray Cooper – tambourine, congas, whistle, vibes, snare, castanets, watergong, bells

Additional Musicians:

Bruce Johnston – backing vocals on track 3, side 2

Carl Wilson – backing vocals on track 3, side 2

Davey, Dee, and Nigel – backing vocals on tracks 2, 3, side 1 and track 1, side 2)

Clydie King, Sherlie Matthews, Jessie Mae Smith, Dusty Springfield, Toni Tennille, Billy Hinsche – additional backing vocals

Brass – Tower of Power horn section

Dave Hentschel – ARP synthesiser

Lenny Pickett – tenor and soprano saxophone, clarinet

Chester Thompson – organ