The story of how this album came to be is well documented, so there’s no need for me to repeat it here. It’s more important for me to focus on the music. Suffice to say, while you can view this as a seemingly strange hook-up (English rock royalty pensioner / Madonna basher and Australian dance music duo), if you look at the output of both Elton John and Pnau, there are certain shared aesthetics that make this marriage a logical one. Primarily, their knack for crafting irresistible melodies has made for some damn fine music. I’m still unsure as to why Pnau’s Soft Universe didn’t achieve world domination last year, and while I can’t say I’m that familiar with Elton’s more recent output, it’s fair to say even the most casual music listener could whistle one or two tunes from throughout his epic career.
Remix albums are strange beasts at the best of times, and a massive waste of time for all parties concerned at the worst of times. While some musical gems may have come out of the track reworking endeavours of certain producers (I’m partial to the Pet Shop Boys’ Disco albums, for example), you very rarely get a complete, involved and engaging listening experience across an entire remix album. Flipping the script entirely on that, the Pnau boys have done something very, very special on here. Digging into Elton’s classic 70s back catalogue, they’ve taken elements of various different songs for each individual track and fused them with their own sounds to create eight new pieces of music that shimmer and glisten with all kinds of sonic delights. Fortunately, all the sourced original tracks are listed in the liner notes, as you’d have a hard job identifying where all the elements have come from.
Kicking the album off is the title track, a rolling uplifting disco cut that has been doing the rounds for a while now and therefore needs little introduction, other than an acknowledgment that it’s one of the best tracks released this year. The same goes for Sad, a gorgeous slice of subtle beauty that radiates summer charm and no doubt will be cropping up on chill-out compilations for the next decade. Black Icy Stare bounces along with a swagger and stomp that is equal parts funk and fairground-inspired playfulness, while Foreign Fields glows with emotional intensity swimming through its layers of warm vocal harmonies.
The pace slows down a little for Telegraph to the Afterlife, a sonic psychedelic trip that tips its hat most obviously in the direction of Pink Floyd, with its spacey textures, clean guitar lines, ‘hello hello’ vocal refrain and leisurely drum beat. The disco vibes return on Phoenix, which contains a few hints of the cheeky dance floor aesthetics that have characterised some of Pnau’s finest work, while Karmatron has a grandiose, orchestral, filmic quality on top of its surging rhythmic framework. Bringing the album to a close is Sixty, a brief but epic piece that fuses together some fine instrumental work that demonstrates the compositional genius behind Elton’s greatest material.
This album went to number one in the UK albums chart, and disgracefully limped to a lowly number forty here. While I’m sure this was simply a result of more intense promotional activity and radio airplay in the UK rather than a lack of taste in the Australian music-buying public, all I can say is procure a copy of this at whatever cost necessary. With Peter Mayes recently confirming to ITM that they are working on more Elton remixes, hopefully it won’t be too long until the next instalment. You’ve got to hand it to Elton – he certainly knew what he was doing when he handed over his stuff to the Pnau boys. The genius of the album lies in the fact it will appeal just as much to your geriatric sixty-year-old Elton lover as it will to your more youthful Pnau fan. The only negative thing to say is that, at only eight tracks long, it’s all over way too soon. But at least it doesn’t outstay its welcome.