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'Caribou'

Elton John's Trying Too Hard Follow-Up

Coming off the career defining success of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, it is hard to imagine any follow up could live up to it's illustrious predecessor. That is not to say there is nothing good on Elton John's eighth studio album. On the contrary it contains what is probably Elton's best song but overall it is a mixed bag. Gus Dudgeon who produced it later dismissed it as a "Piece of crap.' The album is named after the studio in which it was recorded, namely Caribou Ranch in Colorado, owned by James William Guercio, manager and producer of the band Chicago.

The album opens with "The Bitch is Back" which is based on a term Bernie Taupin used to describe Elton when he was in one of his heavily emotional outbursts. The song features a chorus of backing vocalists which includes Dusty Springfield. The Tower of Power Horn section gives the song additional sonic power.

"Pinky" is a lovely piano driven ballad which starts off just with Elton's piano and Ray Cooper (who had recently joined the Elton John Band full time) on congas. Nigel Olsson's drums come in next followed by Davey Johnstone's Guitar and some slight synthesizer textures.. Davey, Dee and Nigel's signature backing vocals carry the song  along in style.

"Grimsby" is a standard mid-tempo rocker once again enhanced by the background vocals of Davey, Dee and Nigel. Instrumentally the song is pretty basic with Guitar bass and drums and Ray Cooper on tambourine.

"Dixie Lily" is a southern style ditty about a steam boat in Louisiana with a prominent bass line by Dee Murray, confident guitar picking by Davey Johnstone and a prominent  sax solo.

"Solar Prestige A Gammon" is another nonsense lyric from Bernie. Unlike "Take Me to the Pilot" though, the backing track and melody cannot save it. The backing track features prominent synthesizer and Ray Cooper on vibraphone.

"You're so Static," an apparent love song to the energy of  New York City once again uses the Tower of Power Horn section to punch up the song. Ray Cooper's castanets and tambourine also adds additional color to the song. 

"I've seen the Saucers," is another dumb lyric by Bernie backed with Elton's piano, Ray's Congas and tambourine, and Dee's bass and Nigel's drums. It also features Davey, Dee and Nigel's backing vocals. Davey Johnstone gets some interesting  sounds out of his guitar on this track but it's not really anything worth writing home about.

The aptly  named "Stinker" is next. The track begins with the voice of Nigel Olsson counting the song in. though the Tower of Power horn section and some decent guitar work from Davey Johnstone keep the production interesting. The song is really not worth all that much attention. 

What does deserve attention, is the next track which is Elton's ultimate ballad, "Don't Let the Sun Go down on Me." Elton wrote it one morning at the ranch. Drummer Nigel Olsson  said that it would be a number one hit upon hearing it and sure enough it was. Much of the majesty of the track comes from it's backing vocals arranged by former and future Beach Boy, Bruce Johnston and featuring Carl Wilson, Johnston and Beach Boys touring members Toni Tenille (Wife of "Captain" Daryl Dragon) and Billy Hinsche. Hinsche in addition to being Carl Wilson's Brother in law was a long time touring member of the Beach Boys in addition to his work with Dino, Desi and Billy.

The final song "Ticking" is a piano-laden tale  about a catholic-raised man who suddenly commits  a mass murder at a bar.

While not a horrible album by any means, Caribou was the first sign that the Elton Machine was nearing the end of it's successful run  but thankfully Elton did have one more great album in him.

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