Review: Elton John, The Diving Board

Back with his 13th solo album, Elton John's The Diving Board is slated for release in the United States by Capitol Records on September 24, 2013. The Diving Board takes us back to Elton John's early days in the music industry. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, the album features songs whose instrumentals consist of piano, bass, drums, and not much else. Burnett's goal in this album was to challenge Elton John to make music in a more intimate fashion with just a few incredibly talented artists. Courtesy of Columbia Records and two Cellos, Raphael Saadiq, Sjtepan Hauser, and Luka Sulic play with Elton John on almost all the songs featured in The Diving Board. Opening with "Oceans Away," Elton John begins the album on a more somber note, as his writing partner Bernie Taupin chose to write this song in memory of his father Captain Robert Taupin and the Great Generation. It's a beautiful song with only piano to accompany Elton John's voice. Because Elton sings on this track with minimal instrumental support, the words are more pronounced and poignant to convey the struggle of "Those that flew and those that fell / The ones that had to stay / Beneath a wooden cross oceans away."

"Oscar Wilde Gets Out" is a magnificent piece of art. Its piano solos are what an Elton John LP deserves. This song's tempo is so reminiscent of chugging-along a dusty road in the middle of nowhere. It's exciting and makes you want to go on an adventure. The music is so catchy, you are sure you've heard it somewhere before -- but you haven't. In 2000, Elton John recorded a song called "The Trail We Blaze" for animated film The Road To El Dorado. "Oscar Wilde Gets Out" seems like the refined, adult version of "The Trail We Blaze" -- in the best way. But what's best about "Oscar Wilde Gets Out" is how you can hear how much fun Elton John has while he records songs like these.

The Diving Board needed at least one longing love song, a requirement that "Can't Stay Alone Tonight" satisfies. "Can't Stay Alone Tonight" has just enough sexual tension that its title suggests, but it's also a gorgeously-orchestrated piece of music. The lyrics are simple ("Things have to change and they might / But I can't stay alone tonight"), they're playful, and they're poetic. The song conveys regret for past wrongdoings, but Elton John's silky words suggest that he wants to make up for those things. Just two songs further into The Diving Board is another song about regret: "Home Again." "Home Again" was the album's first single, focusing on the feeling of going away after wanting to for so long and then immediately wanting to return home. "We all dream of leaving / But wind up in the end / Spending all our time trying / To get back home again." This song is so appropriate for someone like Elton John whose nearly 50-year-old career has seen him touring the world for months on end. Now a father of two, Elton John has more reasons than ever before to want to return home while away.

Inspired by gospel music, "Mexican Vacation (Kids In The Candlelight)" was the second single released from The Diving Board. This track is such a great reminder of why Elton John is such an amazing artist. The composition of "Mexican Vacation (Kids In The Candlelight)" sounds like you could hear someone playing it in a smokey, dimly-lit pub basement. The piano solo interludes and soulful background vocals make this track unique. But what's most astonishing about this song is how effortless Elton John makes it sound. The sort of honky-tonk piano that Elton John plays so well is intricate and complicated, and yet he makes it seem so easy.

The Diving Board is a medley of great throwbacks to what made us fall in love with Elton John in the first place. The composition is so deliberate, every lyric and note having a reason for being there. T-Bone Burnett's production of this album was a challenge Elton John met and exceeded expectations with. At 66-years-old, Elton John's recording of his thirtieth album shows a clear maturity-induced sound developed over the years that few artists will ever experience. Elton John can afford to take chances with his music at this point in his life, and the successful "leap of faith" he took off The Diving Board shows just that.