For me there are two sides to Elton John: the first being the easy-rock radio friendly pop hits (ie. The Bitch is Back) from later albums, and the second (my preferred aspect) is the more progressively inclined, moodier side (ie. Funeral For a Friend, Curtains or Someone Saved My Life Tonight). Whatever the side might be one thing remains certain, Elton John is a damn fine piano player. While his style is predictable, lots of arpeggios and shifts between major and minor chords, it none the less exudes talent. The other admirable aspect of Mr. John is his endurance and industriousness, especially in his stretch of eleven albums in seven years. This double-disc, Blue Moves, came towards the end of this productive streak (1976) and was initially ignored by the collective community of critics and fans alike. While it has since grown in recognition, the album still remains slightly anonymous to today’s younger fan base, perhaps due to the lack of radio-friendly hits. This is somewhat of a shame because this album is full of great work from Elton John and deserves more acclaim.
After a short instrumental opener the listener is brought into perhaps the best example as to why this album was less popular. “Tonight” is one of the most beautifully composed songs of Elton John’s career and deserves to be placed amongst any enthusiasts list of “Top Elton John Songs”. However, at over 7 minutes in length including a sweeping three minute intro orchestrated by James Newton Howard (who did all the orchestration on the album), the song is not exactly readily packaged for airplay. In fact the moody (oh, Blue Moves, I get it) atmosphere of the album makes it a far departure from the up-tempo pop that occupied most of his previous works. In fact it isn’t until “Boogie Pilgrim”, halfway through the first disc, that we get a lighter, poppier song. It’s a good one, with a slight southern twang and an excellent horn section that closes the song. After this, it’s right back to the quieter, more introspective songs, with the gentle and pretty “Cage of the Songbird”. The first disc closes with another enjoyable slab of poppy fun with another horn aided “Shoulder Holster”.
The slow majesty of the accordion aided “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” opens the second disc with another brooding effort. However this time the song is followed up by a fast-paced instrumental with an ascending xylophone part and a funky bass line. The second disc follows a similar pattern to the first disc and while the songs don’t sound similar to each other, the listener begins to encounter a major problem with the album. It’s really, really long. At two discs and 18 songs, averaging around the five minute mark, the album begins to drag shortly into the second disc. Especially with close followers of Elton John, the music can begin to seem complacent, as if he is more or less rehashing past material. Fortunately we have tracks such as the R&B funk of album closer, “Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance )” and the poignant “Someone’s Last Song” to keep things interesting. Despite these efforts, one can’t help but feel drained as the second half drags on.
Despite not being quite as solid an album compared to some of the better efforts in his arsenal, Elton John offers plenty of worthwhile music on Blue Moves. The main problem with the album is it’s length. Unlike, say Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Blue Moves could use some editing to fit into a single album. Overall this would make the album more focused and pithy. Still, this is an Elton John album through-and-through; from signature ballads to slightly more adventurous fare, the album has enough to satisfy any fan, or perhaps even non-fans. For those just getting into Elton John, this album probably isn’t the best place to begin, however it is an essential part of his collection. Even if things get a bit blue from time to time.