Giving back to the music community whilst uniting generations of musicians and entertaining the entire world with a never-been-done before album, is just what a legend does in lockdown – after he eats his breakfast perhaps.
The whole family had tickets to Elton’s ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour’ earlier in January and to be frank, were absolutely gutted to hear of its cancellation. Elton’s a bit of an absolute icon in my household, accompanied by Dad’s homemade limoncello, his albums both old and new – really do get their deserved airtime. So I can state with personal weighting that this insane Elton John album filled with a mix of 16 eclectic collaborations is the most surprising and delightful piece of magic I’ve received since the very start of the year.
It’s more than admirable that at 74, Elton gives the opportunity to all these young artists to be able to work with someone with so much experience and success. On some tracks, it becomes clear that the man notorious for electrically owning the stage – is happy to sit back a little more and let the younger industry talents take the forefront – giving the space on his own global platform to share their voices.
I must admit, I’m getting pretty good at guessing the daily Covid case numbers, but there’s no way I could have picked these special guest appearances on The Lockdown Sessions – and I absolutely love that about it. It’s got an epic shock-factor, and it’s bound to make people talk for a long time.
We can’t begin without going past the album cover. Elton, wearing a more subtle pair of black shade glasses, leaves space for his sparkly rainbow Covid mask with scattered gold stars and a red ‘ELTON’ sewn in tall red letters across the front. He wears an ever-so-cool black tee, with a pop of navy in his suit – a headshot that stands out against a blue background. A warm pink glow silhouettes his shoulders, encouraging a halo effect that screams modern pop-star. This artwork is one for the books, I’m getting the record.
If the album had curtains they would be of lush velvet texture, tenderly sweeping open to reveal Elton and the full cast centre-stage- which is what this album feels like at its root, generations of musicians coming together to give the world a damn good show.
The first number kicks off with lead single ‘Cold Heart – PNAU Remix’ with Dua Lipa and Australian trio PNAU that was pre-released in August. Seamlessly mashing crowd favourites ‘Rocket Man’, ‘Sacrifice’, ‘Kiss the Bride’ and ‘Where’s the Shoorah’, the track is crafted in a way that somehow weaves time-past with time-now. I’m not entirely sure which planet Elton’s taken us to here but it’s definitely clear we’re on his rocketship and this album is heading one way and one way only – up. It’s no surprise ‘Cold Heart’ overtook Michael Jackson, Elivs and Bonnie on the charts, breaking Elton’s own records in New Zealand.
‘Always Love You’, starts with a classic Elton John moment with a slight layer of autotune, it rests on a ballardry that consistently takes us through to Young Thugs and Nicki’s appearance. It works – the variety in genres operating to create a track that’s remarkably varied – without being disjointed; which reminds us we’re listening to professionals here. I’d pay to be a fly on the wall during that recording and see Elton and Nicki together. We know Young Thug has been a forever fan of Elton, with his 2018 song ‘High’ sampling John’s ‘Rocketman’.
The third track we heard back in 2020 but it now rests on Elton’s own platform, it’s ‘Learn to Fly’ with Texas based electro-pop duo Surfaces. This one demands to be played in the Summertime so make sure you pop this on the roadie playlist. We then roll into ‘After All’ with Charlie Puth which we’ve also been listening to since September this year, here’s the live rendition performed at Global Citizen Live in Paris, it’s a beauty. ’
‘Chosen Family’ with Rina Sawayama makes it clear Elton is a curious consumer of pop as he pairs with an artist that’s very new to the industry, the pair creating an emotional duet “for those LGBTQ who’ve been “ostracized by their family, friends or community after coming out.” ‘The Pink Phantom’ with Gorillaz and 6Lack has made it’s own noise prior to the release of this album, but fits perfectly at track number six.
Track seven and eight, ‘It’s a Sin – global reach mix’ with Years and Years, and Miley Cyrus’s cover of Metallicas ‘Nothing Else Matters’ with Elton, WATT, Yo-Yo Ma and Robert Trujillo come next, and are two songs that make for a great comparison, sitting beside to each other like neighbours from totally opposing worlds, highlighting the sheer diversification going on here in this work.
The next surprise is a totally sparkly, electro-disco track with a slight retro-space feel called ‘Orbit’ in collaboration with SG Lewis. Elton has said he’s been a fan of both Sam and electronic dance music for a long time, interested in the way the genre is put together – and reached out to Sam to see if he’d like to work together. Both ‘Simple Things’ with Brandie Carlile and ‘Beauty in the Bones’ with Jimmie Allen are to follow, both displaying country nuances which will light up some country-fan listeners.
A favourite is track 12, ‘One Of Me’ with Lil Nas. It’s clear these two mesh together like fine wine and cheese, not only collaborating on a musical front – but becoming what looks like great friends. Elton supported Lil Nas’s latest album release, sharing a link to it on his personal instagram with the caption “Congratulations @lilnasx on Montero, love from Godfather Elton”. They’ve also gone and collaborated together in a string of Uber Eats Commercials called ‘Tonight I’ll Be Eating’, which is more than priceless to watch. These two shining, fabulous men seem to feed off each other’s bright energy – it becomes a challenge to peel your eyes away.
During the home stretch of the album Elton introduces some older musicians. We’ve got ‘E-Ticket’ with Eddie Vedder, where Elton smashes out those key strokes of the piano in his brilliant manner, ‘Finish Line’ with icon Stevie wonder as they come together to belt a powerful love song beside a full gospel choir. Stevie Nicks then appears for the first time on ‘Stolen Car’, after fifty years of friendship – they finally release a duet!
The album – or show if you will – closes with Glen Campbell, ‘I’m Not Gonna Miss You’, which after reviewing all these tracks from start to finish, may have brought a little heartfelt moment as the curtains came to a close.
What a masterpiece this is, a testament to who Elton is at heart. Colourful in spirit, with open arms to those from all walks of life. He’s a man that not only rolls with the seasons, but takes them under his wing, his limitless vision allowing him to appeal to such an extensive range of age-groups. He is a true positive influence on the world, his art and his human nature acting as a breath of fresh air – especially during this time.
For fans both old and new, this 16-track gift is a fantastic listen. It’s an intensely varied melting pot of genres and era’s produced by an artist whose voice will live on long after he leaves the physical world.