The only criticism heard with any frequency of Elton John's first American album, Elton John, was that the production was too grandiose. The melodies were superb, and lyrics frequently very good, and the performances flawless. However, Elton did inevitably get lost on many of the tracks and like many of his admirers, I am glad he toned things down a bit on Tumbleweed Connection. In fact, my main reservation about the new album is that he didn't go far enough.
Bernie Taupin's lyrics. Like the Band and Creedence, both of whom have influenced him, Taupin writes about the mythical American south and west and seems to prefer the past to the present as a subject. "There Goes a Well Known Gun" is about an outlaw on the run; "Country Comfort" concerns the pleasures of the farm. One of its verses brilliantly announces the coming of industrialization:
Down at the well they've got a new machine
Foreman says it cuts manpower by fifteen
But that ain't natural, well so old Clay would say
You see he's a horse drawn man until his dying day.
"Son of Your Father" is a moralistic tale which, after describing a fight between friends that leaves them both dead, concludes that "... charity's an argument that only leads to harm."
Violence is very much a part of the vision Taupin has created here. Besides in "Well Known Gun" and "Son of Your Father," it recurs in "My Father's Gun," which is distinctly reminiscent of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Oddly, Taupin too takes the Southern point of view. I guess the grey was always synonymous with romanticism in American history but from what source does Taupin draw his emotions on the subject? "Oh I'll not rest until I know the cause is fought and won/From this day on until I die I'll wear my father's gun." And then, describing the joys of imagined victory for the South, "To watch the children growing and see the women sewing." When the South has won the Civil War? How strange.
The violent theme serves as the conclusion of the album as well. Here he seems to be vaguely echoing the sentiments of revolution although the historical context established in so many other songs on the album is no longer clearly present.
Bring your family down to the riverside
Look to the east to see where the fat stock hide
Behind four walls of stone the rich man sleeps
It's time we put the flame torch to their keep
Burn down the mission
If we're gonna stay alive
Watch the black smoke fly to heaven
See the red flame light the sky.
The several love songs on the album express old fashioned sentiments and one wonders if the context is understood by now or if the song represents a departure from the historical approach.
Taupin's constructions are often awkward and hard to sing and sometimes the ambiguities get out of han