The View from the Diving Board

Or, as Sir Elton sings it, the “view…from the diiiiiiiiiivin’ board”…

But I digress (already)! Let’s just say that my view from The Diving Board has been quite satisfying, to say the least.

I wasn’t sure at first, to be honest with you. My first full listen was through my laptop via Amazon (before the album was released in the US). Certainly not the best way to listen to music, let alone when you’re hearing it for the very first time. And frankly, I felt kind of ambivalent after that listen – a collective “hmmmmmm…” (But, to tell the truth, that’s not uncharted territory with the first listen of an Elton album. I’ve felt that way before, but I always have an epiphany – well, except for Victim of Love and Ice on Fire).

Second time, I listened to The Diving Board through headphones. Now that’s more like it!  I was getting somewhere, but still no epiphany.

I decided to jot down a one-word first (ok, second) impression for each song (not to worry, I’ll elaborate further in a bit):

  • Oceans Away – Goosebumps
  • Oscar Wilde Gets Out – Enigmatic
  • A Town Called Jubilee – Hopefulness
  • The Ballad of Blind Tom – Disturbing
  • Dream #1 – Yearning
  • My Quicksand – Drowning
  • Can’t Stay Alone Tonight – Country
  • Voyeur – Surprising
  • Home Again – Iconic
  • Take This Dirty Water – Sunday
  • Dream #2 – Étude
  • New Fever Waltz – Heartbreaking
  • Mexican Vacation (Kids in the Candlelight) – BDTM
  • Dream #3 – Stingy
  • The Diving Board – Idol

Then I waited a few days (which is so not like me with a new Elton album).  Put the headphones on again. Surprised myself that I was bopping to a few of the songs, eyes closed on most of them, soaking it all in. Then, as Mexican Vacation came on, I took a break, went outside and voilà! My epiphany: Everything is connected thematically. It’s a big picture kind of thing. Just like Tumbleweed Connection (the album to which it supposedly hearkens back) is connected in its Americana, The Diving Board is connected in its melancholy.

From that moment on, everything came together for me. I got it. What a relief!

[As a side note, Tumbleweed Connection is my favorite album. Comparing the two albums is difficult – and unfair – at best. But the comparison is inevitable, given the pre-release chatter].

[Side note 2: Funny, I was looking at the evening sky when I had my epiphany. I guess one could even say that I found my answer in the sky that night].

Now, if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to go through a brief song by song rundown. I’m sure my perspectives and opinions of each song will evolve; after all, The Diving Board is still a relatively new experience for me. Each new spin brings a new discovery. And you know me, I’ll blog about some of these songs individually in more detail. (I’ve already blogged about Home Again and My Quicksand). So here we go:

  • Oceans Away – I loved this song from the first moment I heard it. It literally gave me goosebumps. Oh my gosh, Bernie, your words are so beautiful. And it’s just Elton and his piano, which always gets to me. When he sings the words “oceans way,” with his own backing vocals/harmonization, it is chilling. And the way he ends the song with that single, repeated note. Perfect.
  • Oscar Wilde Gets Out – This one has been a bit of an enigma to me. First, there’s a haunting piano introduction. Then Elton’s very deep baritone at the beginning, frankly, startled me. I don’t know a lot about Oscar Wilde, but his story is disturbing. Having done a little research, the song has grown on me, particularly after talking to my daughter about it (she has read some of his works and said his writing is beautiful). I guess I know what’s on my reading list in the very near future.
  • A Town Called Jubilee – To me, this song could be the anthem to the Oklahoma tornado victims of this past year. Surrounded by total devastation, there is always hope.
  • The Ballad of Blind Tom – The back story of Blind Tom Wiggins was unfamiliar to me; after reading a bit about him, I find Bernie’s lyrics difficult to listen to (and that is by no means a criticism).  With that said, I find the song  catchy.  I kept singing in my head “I may be an idiot, I may be a savant” – certainly not PC these days – and I hope no one catches me singing them aloud as I’m strolling through the grocery aisles.
  • Dream #1 – Yearning, reaching…then empty.
  • My Quicksand – As described in my blog, I have a physical reaction to this song.  I literally feel like I am drowning.
  • Can’t Stay Alone Tonight – Yes, this is classic country Elton. Duh. I wish I could think of a better descriptor. Bernie’s clever lyrics draw you in (“You’re the diner in my rear-view / A cup of coffee getting cold”) and the way Elton sings “things have to change – and they might” – classic!
  • Voyeur – A surprisingly lilting tune. Frankly, I was expecting a Lolita-esque lyric and funeral dirge musicality, given the seriousness of the subject. Does it seem strange for me to say that I find the protagonist sympathetic? “I’ll come away with something to keep you in my heart.”
  • Home Again – Iconic Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Tug at my heart strings lyrics, beautiful vocal, catchy, (I was humming the chorus to myself after the very first listen). Here’s what else I had to say about Home Again.
  • Take This Dirty Water – To me, Elton’s ‘mature’ voice is a perfect instrument for gospel.  It is rich and powerful, and I can picture him singing this on a Sunday morning with a church choir, getting the congregation all riled up singing with him. Amen, Sir Elton, amen!
  • Dream #2 – This piece reminds me of something I might have played (or, more accurately, tried to) when I was taking piano lessons. I am a big Debussy fan, and I find Dream #2 reminiscent of some of his works.
  • New Fever Waltz– A gorgeous, gorgeous song, albeit heartbreakingly sad. Bernie’s at the top of his game lyrically and Elton’s vocal is just beautiful. A song (to me) about a soldier’s last visions before he dies on the battlefield. Oh, I do love sad songs.
  • Mexican Vacation (Kids in the Candlelight) – Quintessential Elton honky tonk – how can you not like this song? I can’t wait to hear this live – with The Band. The innocence and passion of youth revolution – “Every golden child tonight sees changes in the wind” – perhaps a 21st century Burn Down the Mission?
  • Dream #3– I want more! Thus the stingy descriptor.  🙂
  • The Diving Board – Crooner Elton à la Idol, except this time I feel like he’s offering sage advice. Dare I say this is my least favorite song on the album (which doesn’t mean I don’t like it, there are just so many great songs to choose from). I must admit that the song now conjures up an image of Miley Cyrus when I hear it, per Elton’s own description of what this song is about.

So there you have it – my review of The Diving Board (rambling though it may have been). I give it 5 out of 5 stars. I love the piano forward nature of the album and Bernie’s lyrics are spellbinding. There’s not a song on it I don’t like. What are your favorites?

Thank you, Elton, Bernie and T-Bone for a mesmerizing add to the Elton John collection. The wait was worth it! Now let me take it out for another spin and see what new discoveries await.

The Diving Board – 2013