Album Review: Elton John - 'The Lockdown Sessions'
In the middle of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, Sir Elton John was forced to indefinitely postpone concert dates due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like millions of others across the globe, John was subject to lockdowns and quarantines, unable to perform live for the thousands of fans who purchased tickets to his shows. However, isolation allowed John’s creative juices to flow, and he has come out of the pandemic with one of the most ambitious crossover albums ever created.
“The Lockdown Sessions” is a meaty album spanning one hour and five minutes with 23 collaborating artists appearing on the 16 tracks, and it showcases a wide variety of musical styles and tastes matching those of John’s guests.
The opening track “Cold Heart,” featuring Dua Lipa, sounds like it would be a welcome fit on her breakout album “Future Nostalgia,” with a light funk bassline taking the instrumental spotlight.
“Always Love You” and “Learn to Fly” delve into R&B, rap and soul as Young Thug, Nicki Minaj and the group Surfaces make appearances. This pair of songs is demonstrative of the risks John was willing to take with this record as neither one of them would be expected on an album released by the “Rocketman.”
Charlie Puth brings the same slow, sleepy flow to “After All” which propelled his collaboration with Wiz Khalifa, “See You Again,” to the stratosphere. However, he opens up in the second half of this track and displays his abilities in the high register in a pleasing duet with John.
Rina Sawayama follows with “Chosen Family,” the most explicit reference to the pandemic made on the record and the humanity that connects us all. During the chorus she sings, “So what if we don’t look the same?/We’ve been going through the same thing, yeah/You are, you are my chosen, chosen family.”
“The Pink Phantom” with Gorillaz and 6LACK is a disappointing entry that doesn’t feel like it ever decides where it truly wants to go and resides in a monotonous, laid-back pop style for its entire runtime.
“It’s a Sin,” a cover of the track by the Pet Shop Boys, with Years and Years sounds like it was ripped directly from the disco era with a fast electronic beat and a melody driven by electric organs. John produces a faithful recreation to the original but is able to add his own flair to the piece to make it his own.
The cover of “Nothing Else Matters” has multiple guest artists, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, but the performer who rises to the top most frequently is Miley Cyrus. Her vocals work well with the drums, manned by Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the contribution from Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, who joined the band after they released the original version of the ‘90s hard rock classic.
“Orbit” with SG Lewis follows and plunges back into the modern style of pop found on the beginning half of the record, but doesn’t offer much that’s noteworthy or different than before.
“Simple Things” with Brandi Carlile has notes of classic Elton John where his piano mastery is really able to shine in a way it hasn’t yet on the record, leaning toward a folk/country sound on occasion.
“Beauty in the Bones” is an energetic pop outing with Jimmie Allen as a fast-paced percussive backing occasionally gives way to a slower pulsing beat to give listeners a rest before plunging back into the breakneck drive.
“One of Me” with Lil Nas X is exactly the brand of hip-hop you would expect from the “Old Town Road” star, with his style and vocal occupying virtually the entire musical canvas on the track. Without John’s credits on the song, his presence in the track would be unnoticeable.
“E-Ticket” with Eddie Vedder is one of the best collaborations on the album, as the driving guitar and drums mesh very well with John’s piano work to create a track that is as fun to listen to as it sounds like it was to produce. Although the grunge and grit of Pearl Jam isn’t present, the song lends itself more to the style Vedder is famous for.
“Finish Line” with Stevie Wonder is a wonderful collaboration to begin bringing the album to a close in a soulful track with a choir that adds a gospel sound that fits perfectly with Wonder’s signature style. Those that enjoy the “Superstition” singer will find great pleasure in hearing these two titans of music work together to create one of the better tracks on “Sessions.”
“Stolen Car” with Stevie Nicks is a middle-of-the-road rock piece that doesn’t feel like it ever truly hits its stride. Most of the song is a simultaneous duet with John and Nicks, with occasionally one or the other taking the vocal lead, but it feels like the song isn’t able to break through in a satisfying way.
The album closes with “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” with the late Glen Campbell, a tribute to one of the last songs Campbell wrote before he passed away in 2017. The cover gives some renewed life to the original and allows John to bring his vocal prowess to the table in a touching way.
A natural consequence of having the number of collaborative voices on the album as John does is his own is lost. The album doesn’t feel like it has a cohesive theme or element connecting it together that is presented clearly, and ends up being a collection of songs Elton John and another artist are in. However, the result is still an enjoyable, solid album that, for fans of the various guest artists, will be a unique addition to those artists’ creative output.