Commentary: Elton John's 'Revamp'
I like a good cover song, and for the most part, good cover songs are wholly underrated. Velvet Revolver's rendition of ELO's "Can't Get It Out of My Head" was the first cover I ever fell in love with (I'll write about my weird preteen hard rock phase one of these days). There's something about discovering an obsession you have with lyrics or a melody, and then diving deep into each facet of it that is so incredibly satisfying. You may enjoy Radiohead's "Creep", but absolutely adore Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox's version of the same song.
So when I heard that Elton John, my all-time favorite artist, was releasing an album consisting only of covers of his songs, I was stoked. This is not a new album, per se, but rather a collection of contemporary artists "reimagining" John's big hits. Actually, the album is two parts: the first being Revamp, John's project featuring pop, rock, and R&B artists and the other part Restoration, Bernie Taupin's project featuring country music artists. If you aren't familiar with John and Taupin as partners in music, I've written about my favorite songwriting duo before.
I pre-ordered Revamp on vinyl a few months ago and just received it last Friday, so you are forewarned that this article will only focus on John's part of the reimagined album. As I listened to Revamp, I realized my thoughts on it weren't so much an album review as it was commentary. It's hard to "review" a slew of songs that are forty-something years old––I don't need to tell anyone that "Bennie and the Jets" is a good or bad song. But I can tell you if someone else sang it well or poorly.
Aesthetically, I was absolutely awestruck by this album. Maybe I'm a sucker for neon, or maybe the retro graphic plucked a certain nostalgia string in my heart, but I quite literally gasped as I pulled it out of the box. I'm a vinyl collector, and I'd consider Revamp one of the "pretty boys" of my collection, but we were taught not to judge books by their covers and I'll try to apply the rule to records, too.
Below is the track listing and my late-night, sleepy thoughts on each song. Now let's begin, shall we?
"Bennie & the Jets", P!nk, Logic, and Elton John
If this was a Katy Perry song it’d be a banger. I still don’t really know who Logic is, honestly, but he was also fine, but P!nk sounded great. The problem is I'm programmed to expect more from "Bennie"—the song is usually very long, and it’s a song Elton himself rocks out to during live shows. So my question is: where’s the rest of it?
"We All Fall in Love Sometimes", Coldplay
I’m biased—I really don’t like Coldplay. But this is a beautiful song that is also sung beautifully. There have been plenty of times where Elton steps back and allows Bernie's lyrics to take over, and Coldplay did the same. No complaints, though I did almost fall asleep.
"I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues", Alessia Cara
The concept of the cover song was invented just so Alessia Cara could sing this one. Her voice is smooth over brassy tones and it’s excellent. Enough said.
"Candle in the Wind", Ed Sheeran
The beginning of this song is reminiscent of the awkward start to a song by an eight grade choir. For a song so tragic and flat-out legendary, Ed may have gone a bit too bright on this one.
"Tiny Dancer", Florence + the Machine
Florence + The Machine remained true to the original hit; it begins soft and slow, and starts to pick up exactly where it should. My heart fluttered at the anticipated chorus “Hold me closer, tiny dancer” just as it does each time I hear Elton John sing it.
"Someone Saved My Life Tonight", Mumford & Sons
Wow, this is good––and I don’t usually like this band. Mumford & Sons kept this song sad and pretty, like it should be.
"Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word", Mary J. Blige
This song sounds so incredibly "2003 Mary J. Blige" that I skipped it 1:38 in.
"Don’t Go Breaking My Heart", Q-Tip and Demi Lovato
My prediction is that this song will be played in the lobbies of boutique hotels for years to come. Nevertheless, it's truly a nice rendition, but a bit too sultry for my taste. But Demi Lovato's got some pipes on her, and they're to die for.
"Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters", The Killers
The first time I saw Elton John live, it was this song that made me cry. While The Killers did not bring tears to my eyes, this version of "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" has some kick to it. But let’s be honest, the lyrics are what make it wonderful.
"Daniel", Sam Smith
Of course Sam Smith did this song––which obviously is what makes it good. His version is just as depressing as Elton’s and damn does that guitar sound great in the back—sort of Jeff Buckely-esque (don’t email me for saying this).
"Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me", Miley Cyrus
This album gets better as it goes on, and I think it’s because the later songs are more true to their originals. Miley Cyrus’s squeaky vocals (a product of her time) do well singing this gorgeous ballad (a product of ITS time). But will any version ever be better than Elton x George Michael?
"Your Song", Lady Gaga
No tricks, no twists. Lady Gaga sings this song as if it were her own.
"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", Queens of the Stone Age
You know how every song in Across the Universe made Beatles’ songs sound just a little... electronic? Take that theory, apply it to this song, and you have this exact Queens of the Stone Age version. I would have much rather the album ended with Lady Gaga’s soaring “How wonderful life is / while you’re in the world”.
I am clearly not disappointed by Revamp, even though these "reimagined" covers don't give me quite the same visceral reaction a classic Elton John song does. The only thing left to do now is binge-listen Restoration.