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Thursday, 23 August 2012

Elton John vs Pnau

The Australian dance duo Pnau (no, I’ve no idea how to pronounce it either) have been supported by Sir Elton of John for several years, so when the old boy was looking for someone to rework some of his material, he had enough trust in them to allow unlimited access to various master tapes. The bulk of the sampling on this project comes from work recorded between 1970 and 1976, said by those in the know to have been his creative peak. The result is 'Good morning to the Night', an album that is far from being an off-the-shelf collection of dance remixes; it’s what folk are calling a ‘re-imagining’ of the original tracks.

I like Elton’s work, but don’t know that much beyond his greatest hits, so my enjoyment of this record is not in any way hampered by previous knowledge of the source material; I had no particular notions about what the reworkings should or shouldn’t sound like. The whole thing is very well done and, given that some of the pieces are assembled from 8 or 9 source tracks, it’s astonishingly clever how this all hangs together. The Pnau boys have probably taken some major liberties with the source material, but have been smart enough to steer clear of the big hits (although I did notice a guitar lick from 'Philadelphia Freedom').

These pieces work as songs with identifiable verses and choruses, while Elton’s vocals -albeit digitally manipulated- sound great on what is a charming and seductive record. 'Sad’, with its mellow Balearic groove and cool chords, has already been a hit, while ‘Telegraph to the Afterlife’ is chilled, gloomy and introspective, like Pink Floyd hanging out with Air. ‘Karmatron’ is a bizarre, electrifying triumph. It starts out like Mark Ronson scoring a spoof spy movie by way of Johnny Harris, before exploding into a chorus that the Chemical Brothers would have donated a kidney to have been able to write.
In describing this album, I’ve heard folk use terms like ‘trance’, ‘club anthems’, ‘chilled Ibiza grooves’ etc. Whatever the labels, it just sounds like great pop music. If your collection features the likes of Groove Armada, Air and William Orbit, you’ll find much to enjoy here. It also makes you realise just how much of Elton's early 70s output must have been absorbed by Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters.

The success of this project probably means that we’ll hear more of this kind of thing. I wonder which other major artists would benefit from a re-imagining of their work?

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