Elton John – One Night Only: The Greatest Hits (2000)

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NICK DERISO: As pleasant as this compilation of songs from an October 2000 concert by Elton John may be, yeah, there are problems.

The truth is, early 1970s records like “Tumbleweed Connection” (a studio release with no – no! – hit singles) and the rollicking “11-17-70” (a live trio album with cover – cover! – songs) are so much better than most of the more familiar stuff from 1975 on. And that, yeah, “Crocodile Rock” is still a crock.

Even so, true fans (yeah, me) still pull for stars from our youth – even years (or, yeah, even decades) past their physical (and maybe, yeah, artistic) peak.

You want Paul McCartney to be able to pull off a “Rubber Soul”-era Beatles tune in the go-go era of Wings and disco. You’ll look the other way when Billy Joel makes a whole record on which he doesn’t play piano, man. You’ll imagine “Part Time Lover” as it would have sounded in the bone-deep soul days of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City.”

So, context can be a problem.

I caught Frank Sinatra in 1994, just a dozen shows before he retired for good – and I desperately wanted to see the black-and-white version that I’d kept in my mind. He wasn’t. Yet nevertheless, yeah, we as an audience were rapt.

Fact is, if you love this stuff, you can’t get enough. You’ll wait through a whole CD (after all, this was John’s first live release in more than a decade), wishing for that bright moment when “Bennie and the Jets” sets your central nervous system to humming.

There are still reedy moments, the inexcusable juxtaposition of great older songs with newer mediocre ones – or, on the final cut of “One Night Only” – simply facile duets. A nadir is “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” (from “Too Low for Zero,” the only truly complete release he’s had since Jimmy Carter ran the show) which gets all diva-ed up by Mary J. Blige.

But, we forgive. No matter how many times Elton abandons the lyrical magic he makes with Bernie Taupin for the fey obviousness of Tim Rice (the work for Disney and Broadway which, yeah, has won so many awards), he can still find the center of song like “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” in concert. He can still ennoble even obvious sentiments like “The Way You Look Tonight.”

The problem is, then, not much of one. We just wish he was still brilliant, instead of only good.

Purchase: Elton John – One Night Only: The Greatest Hits

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