Sunday, 28 February 2016

"Madman Across The Water" by ELTON JOHN (2004 Universal /Rocket 'Hybrid SACD, Surround and CD Audio' Single-Disc Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Tiny Dancer..."

I always thought it odd that after the truly stunning 'Deluxe Editions' afforded Elton John's 2nd and 3rd albums "Elton John" and "Tumbleweed Connection" - Universal didn't follow up with more of the same for his revered and much-loved 4th and 5th LPs – "Madman Across The Water" (1971) and "Honky Chateau" (1972). But in a kind of a way – they did – it just seems that no one has noticed.

Instead of two-disc DE's for "Madman Across The Water" and "Honky Chateau" - we got single-disc 'SACD HYBRID' releases (there are SACD variants of 1973's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and 1975's "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" also). The single-disc 'Hybrid SACD/Surround Sound/CD Audio' reissues both feature new DSD and Surround Sound SACD mixes and both will play on standard CD players. But if you want the best out of the Disc - better to have SACD playback or Surround or both. My Marantz has the SACD option – and man of man – do these digital babies shine compared to their 1995 Gus Dudgeon predecessors. Let's get to the Blue Jean Babies...

US released November 2004 (December 2004 in the UK) – "Madman Across The Water" by ELTON JOHN on Universal/Rocket B0003610-36 (Barcode 602498240298) is a 'HYBRID SACD Surround Sound, SACD Stereo and CD Audio' Single Disc Reissue. It's a straightforward transfer of the original 9-track 1971 album and plays out as follows (45:33 minutes):

1. Tiny Dancer
2. Levon
3. Razor Face
4. Madman Across The Water
5. Indian Sunset [Side 2]
6. Holiday Inn
7. Rotten Peaches
8. All The Nasties
9. Goodbye
Tracks 1 to 9 are his 4th album "Madman Across The Water" – released November 1971 in the UK on DJM Records DJLPH 420 and in the USA on Uni Records 93120

The 20-page booklet features the same layout as the Gus Dudgeon 1995 remaster in that it reproduces the booklet attached to the inner gatefold of the original vinyl album (has the SACD logo in the bottom left corner). The JOHN TOBLER liner notes from 1995 are there also as are the colour pages with lyrics and musician credits. The only addition is a SACD HYBRID acknowledgement page that advises about the team of 4 who handled this version. GREG PENNY produced, mixed and mastered the Surround Sound version – RICKY GRAHAM did the Digital Transfers at Sphere Studios in London, GUS SKINAS did the DSD Editing at Super Audio Center, Boulder, Colorado while TONY COUSINS re-mastering the Original Stereo Mixes at Metropolis Mastering in London. You get a rounded-corner jewel case with a visible 'SACD Surround Soul, SACD Stereo, CD Audio' side banner to differentiate it from previous issues. I have to say that the audio on the 1995 CD always felt weedy to me – but I’m taken aback at how good these 2004 versions are – clarity, warmth and truly gorgeous audio throughout the entire SACD Remaster. I know this album so well that it stills comes as something of a shock every time I play "Tiny Dancer" or "Madman Across The Water" on this Hybrid Disc.

It opens with a classic – the wonderfully evocative "Tiny Dancer". I've had the 1995 variant and the Greatest Hits version to try to get the best Audio – but this 2004 baby trounces all that went before. Beautiful is the only word to describe it. The transfers of "Levon" gives more muscle to Barry Morgan's Drums and Brian Odger's Bass while Rick Wakeman plays Organ on "Razor Face" and that fantastic Accordion playing from Jack Emblow gets to shine too. But if I was to nail down one track that exemplifies how good the audio is – it would the Side 1 finisher and album title song – "Madman Across The Water". When Chris Spedding's Electric Guitar comes at the opening - it has a real punch and presence – as do the stunning Paul Buckmaster orchestrated strings. And as Davey Johnstone's Acoustic guitar re-surfaces – it's so clear (Diana Lewis and Rick Wakeman contribute Synth and Organ respectively on the track too).

The Mandolin and Guitars of "Indian Sunset" are fantastically clear and that Ecclesia Choir (conducted by Robert Kirby) sails into your room too. You forget how good "Holiday Inn" is with backing vocals from Leslie Duncan, Sue & Sunny, Barry St. John and Roger Cook (to name but a few). Chris Spedding provides Slide Guitar for "Rotten Peaches", Rick Wakeman of Yes plays Organ and that huge ensemble of Backing Vocalists kicks in again. You also 'feel' the sweet playing of Herbie Flowers on Bass (I hate to say he's a lovely bottom end but in the interests of art I will). The echoed vocal intro to "All The Nasties" suddenly feels huge too as does the Ecclesia Choir. It ends on the short but moving "Goodbye" – just Elton, his Piano and some tasteful string orchestration (the remaster is properly gorgeous)...

The obvious let down (if you could call it that) is that this 2004 Hybrid doesn’t improve on track numbers over the 1995 standard CD – you still only get the basic 9-track album with no bonus cuts. That aside – this is the version to own.

Ace filmmaker Cameron Crowe famously used "Tiny Dancer" on the Tour Bus Scene of his 70ts Music flick "Almost Famous" to amazing effect – and I can remember the chills returning to my arms as the "...seamstress for the band..." played and each person on the bus knew why they were there - their love for the music. This stunning 2004 'Hybrid SACD' Reissue leaves me feeling the same...

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is CLASSIC 1970s ROCK - an E-Book with over 250 entries and 2100 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap). 

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