A concept album with a brilliant concept.
Elton John (and Bernie Taupin) basically asked all of their favorite (and mostly famous) musicians to cover their favorite (and mostly famous) songs. Anyone who’s even remotely familiar with the one and only Rocket Man (and [insert Bernie Taupin’s nickname]) knows how many options they had to choose from.
Making the entire project even more appetizing (at least for us country defenders): it’s pretty much a double-album, with Top-40 pop artists dominating Revamp, the first collection, and country stars controlling Restoration, the second.
(A few asides: I know each half is technically a separate release, but that’s probably the fate of most double-albums in today’s streaming age; I mean, if Migos’ Culture II isn’t considered one, what will be?! Only one artist appears on both: Miley Cyrus, and even though she strains over “The Bitch is Back” — which, in theory, should’ve been a perfect fit between talent and material — Elton (and Bernie)’s trust in her further emboldens my decision years ago to retain my stock in her, despite last year’s dismal album and the rest of her overly-documented missteps; talent doesn’t just disappear, as her rendition of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” attests).
But here’s the thing with covers: simply featuring a different voice — especially when they’re not diametrically-opposite to the original crooner — usually pales in comparison to experimenting with the popular version on a musical level. Unfortunately, both sides are primarily populated with the former, particularly Restoration, befitting its traditional country style.
There are some exceptions, and the opening track — one of the few that can be considered a legit remix — provides a framework that the rest could’ve followed. It starts with a sample from “Bennie and the Jets”, immediately placing the listener in the familiar register of what they’re used to hearing when the song comes on. But then P!nk crashes the scene, albeit doing her best Elton impression while still retaining her signature swag. And right when you think you’re getting your bearings, Logic — along with the chopped-up beat — radically reorients any conventional association with the original.
But most of the tracks here are too faithful. Don’t get me wrong; it’s great to hear so many talented voices put their own spins on some of EJ (and BT)’s greatest songs (I do wish more had rediscovered forgotten diamonds in the rough; credit to Restoration for pulling much of that weight). But would including a bit more experimental artistry been too much to ask?
If Elton John (and Bernie Taupin) aimed to — as the shared subtitle for both Revamp and Restoration describes — “reimagine” their songs, the participating artists needed to bring a bit more imagination to their productions; sometimes merely a new voice over an old song simply isn’t enough to qualify as a sufficient re-imagination.