Friday, May 25, 2018

Elton John 7: Honky Château

Right on schedule, Elton, Bernie, and the band went off to the Château d'Hérouville outside Paris, where all the hip ‘70s stars would record, to complete another full-length album. Despite the somber bearded face and gray tones on the wallet-style cover, Honky Château is light and accessible, so much so that some of the tracks are ubiquitous.
A clever title, “Honky Cat” is an early indication of his pop sound, with a honking horn section over a New Orleans groove. “Mellow” goes back to the singer-songwriter sound of the last few albums, but goes on a little long with the organ solo in the middle that lasts through the end. Then there’s “I Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself”, which is something of a monologue about “teenage blues”, sung with absolutely no sympathy for the self-involved narrator. “Legs” Larry Smith of the Bonzo Dog Band shows up to tap-dance, as he would, and we’re still not sure why. “Susie (Dramas)” is another Taupin lyric inspired by Americana, set to a rocking beat we’ve heard before. Things slow down again for “Rocket Man”, here given its full subtitle (“I Think It’s Gonna Be A Long, Long Time”). Notably, this is the first appearance of David Hentschel on synthesizer, where he’d stay for the time being.
“Salvation” has a mild gospel feel, via the lyrics and the mass chorus vocals, and while the sentiment is a bit trite, the chorus has a good hook, which is the real point. The idea continues on “Slave”, which seems to match the lament of a pre-Civil War “servant”, but the backing is almost inappropriate, more concerned with geography than the message. It’s back to more basic needs on “Amy”, a song of lust for a woman of the same name; as with the song that occupies the same spot on side one, there is a guest star, this time Jean-Luc Ponty on electric violin. One of the pair’s more surprising anthems, “Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters” is a moving, enduring tribute to New York City, with a wonderfully subtle harmony on the first couplet in the chorus. If you’re looking for deep meaning, don’t bother digging too far into “Hercules”, which appears to be about a woman who loves a cat (or “cat”, this being 1972) of the same name. That Elton took that as his legal middle name during the gestation of the album may only be a coincidence.
And that’s it—no concept, just songs. Honky Château gets points for relying solely on the Elton John Band, solid as they were. We prefer the “heavier” tone of the previous two studio albums, but it’s still worthy, and not at all fluffy. (The eventual reissue added one bonus track, an incredibly fast version of “Slave” that, despite its lack of reverence, is miles better than the album version.)

Elton John Honky Château (1972)—3
1995 CD reissue: same as 1972, plus 1 extra track

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