Coldplay, Sheeran, Sam Smith, Mumford – the compilers of the Elton John and Bernie Taupin tribute album ‘Revamp’ currently reigning over the album chart didn’t stray far from the middle of the road when looking for contributions. So how did this gaggle of Grammy favourites (and Queens Of The Stone Age) fare when let loose on one of pop’s greatest songbooks? Let us count the ways…
Elton John, P!nk & Logic – ‘Bennie And The Jets’
It was always the pop crankiness of ‘Bennie And The Jets’ that made it one of Elton’s finest, so it’s fitting that it gets crunched up, doused in synthetic hip-hop weirdness and rolled inch thick in deep dub bass by P!nk and Logic. A new lease of life for Taupin’s own Ziggy.
Coldplay – ‘We All Fall In Love Sometimes’
This haunting piano ballad from 1975’s ‘Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy’ plays to Coldplay’s heartfelt side, with Martin and co reigning in their stadium pop bombast and benefiting from indulging in a little smoky jazz bar cool. Nice.
Alessia Cara – ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’
I guess they’ll be calling this R&B more like, but a quality, warble-heavy take from Canadian soulstress Cara is what Elton’s retro swing classic has been crying out for since 1983, if only to erase the memory of its original video. Don’t Google it for God’s sake, just imagine Showaddywaddy directing Grease.
Ed Sheeran – ‘Candle In The Wind’
Being signed to Elton’s management company, no doubt Sheeran was front of the queue when they were handing out Elton classics, and nabbed the Big One. And my, does he bollock it up, turning this fundamentally tragic Marilyn Monroe tribute into a semi-jaunty country folk nonentity that contains about as much pathos as a tub of soggy Pringles. Next!
Florence + The Machine – ‘Tiny Dancer’
“Who can we trust to sensitively handle one of Elton’s most delicate melodies with moderation and grace?” someone must have asked. “Um,” stuttered a flustered workie, “Florence Welsh?” said a flustered workie. Honestly, you go into this track wincing like a nervous dental patient, waiting for the whole thing to be mashed up and warbled into an incoherent mush by Flo’s titanic tonsils. And then… it kind of works. Bolstered by operatic backing vocals rather than any of Florence’s trademark jugular gymnastics – at least until its predictably over-wrought finale – ‘Tiny Dancer’ lives to twirl another day. Phew.
Mumford & Sons – ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’
Christ on a posh bloke’s tractor, this has got to be the worst idea since Brexit. Stonking hoedown or yokel folk Coldplay, there isn’t a good result here for Elton’s 1975 ballad. In the end it seemed, as usual, they had a listen to what Coldplay were doing on ‘We All Fall In Love Sometimes’ and then did a more farmery version. Do yourself a favour, skip straight to the mildly psychedelic last 45 seconds.
Mary J Blige – ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’
More famously known as ‘featuring Mary J Blige’, the queen of soul-hop sounds like she’s turned up assuming she’s just featuring on someone else’s cover of Elton’s 1976 big ballad and dutifully adds all the backing trills and filler beats, presumably expecting someone else to be providing the actual song bit. Pitbull, perhaps.
Q-Tip featuring Demi Lovato – ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’
Initially a throwaway cheese-pop frippery of a duet with Kiki Dee from 1976, Q-Tip and Lovato retain the playful pop tone while transposing it into hazy reggae funk. Still as fun, albeit with a touch more skunk mania involved.
The Killers – ‘Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters’
A relative obscurity from 1972’s ‘Honky Chateau’ that Brandon Flowers only heard for the first time at Elton’s Vegas residency – “it knocked me over that there was this song out there that existed that I didn’t know about that would touch me and be so powerful,” Brandon said – and which he and The Killers give a solemn, gospel-tinged soft-rock makeover here. Mildly stirring and bedecked with antique crackles, it’s The Killers in Christmas single ballad mode. Quite lovely, actually.
Sam Smith – ‘Daniel’
To some, Sam Smith has the voice of an angel – to me he constantly sounds like he’s just given up struggling against someone trying to suffocate him with a pillow. Still, ‘Daniel’ is soporific enough to suit his one soul balladeer trick, even if Smith proves once more that he’s capable of muffling a decent melody at a thousand paces.
Miley Cyrus – ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’
If it aint broke, they say, don’t ride a wrecking ball into it with your arse out. Advice which Miley Cyrus takes on board in tackling our Reg’s most whacking great wallop of a power ballad, delivering a faith bellow, as much a tribute to George Michael as (ladies and gentlemen) Mr! Elton! John! A dash of electro quiver, a splash of country, a confident ascent of a craggy old chorus, good work Cyrus.
Lady Gaga – ‘Your Song’
Having undeniably proved herself not the next David Bowie during a bizarre Grammy Awards tribute that looked like it’d been directed by Terry Gilliam, now she brings her o-vah-eee-nun-ceee-aTED Broadway slant to Bernie’s loveyest love song, with equally askew results. A slick, string-heavy arrangement carries this generally unspoilable track, but Gaga’s input has a fair whiff of Stars In Their Eyes Barbara Dixon to it.
Queens Of The Stone Age – ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’
Like foxes unleashed in a henhouse where the chicken feed has been laced with tranquilisers, QOTSA incongruously arrive at the end of ‘Reverb’ to rip the throat out of Elton’s airy-fairy wafty prog calling card in a frenzy of savage guitar violence and rock’n’roll bloodletting. Well, okay, accurately gauging the tone of the room – and perhaps still a little cowed from that unforgivable photographer-kicking incident – Homme plays it straight. Snatching the New Bowie role from Gaga, QOTSA prowl their ‘Yellow Brick Road’ with a sly, carnivorous snarl.