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21 At 33 (Remastered) Import, Enhanced, Original recording remastered
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Digitally remastered edition of Captain Fantastic's first album of the 80's which marked a return to writing with Taupin on most of the songs here. The album spawned the hit singles "Little Jeannie" and "Sartorial Eloquence". This edition of the original 1980 album includes enhanced packaging and sleevenotes by John Tobler.
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With the first single "Little Jeannie" becoming one of his biggest hits of the decade, the album got off to a great start, backed with a solid tour as well. What one notices right from the start on this record is how clean sounding the production and the arrangements are. The bell-tree in "Little Jeannie" is crisp and crystal clear. The horn arrangement in the autobiographical "Two Rooms At The End Of The World" (Elton in London and Bernie in Los Angeles) is pointed and the staccatos have punch to them.
The second single, "Sartorial Eloquence" was a decent, building-ballad (although I've never understood why MCA released it as the key line from the song "Don't You Wanna Play This Game No More"). EJ & Taupin even (blushingly) take on (of all things) cocaine in "White Powder White Lady". All with the Eagles provided ample backing vocals (and perhaps, noses???). But the next two tracks could have been stronger. "Never Gonna Fall In Love Again", written with England Gay New-Waver Tom Robinson, was OK, but "Take Me Back", a country-esque number complete with "fiddle" was in retrospect too obvious of a "filler".
Much more interesting was the album's closing number "Give Me The Love" written with label-mate Judy Tzuke (think elements of Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush), who had a gorgeous hit the previous year with "Stay With Me Till Dawn". The song takes on a fluid, crisp jazz quality, one which was a head-turner for the hard-core Elton fan. It was so well written and executed, that I couldn't help but wonder if Elton was listening to Boz Scagg's "Middle Man" album while writing the music. It's always been my belief that Elton should do more exploration into Jazz, as well as compose and release an album of instrumentals. "Give Me The Love" seems to support both.
As with the other newly-released, import remasterings, they could have included some really great bonus tracks like "Conquor The Sun" (B-side to "Little Jeannie"), and "Cartier", "White Man Danger" (which should have been on the album instead of "Take Me Back"), as well as other european B-sides like "Love So Cold" and "Tactics". They really blew it...especially with most of the "Classic Year" remasterings containing bonus tracks.
Overall, "21 At 33" gets 3-Stars. It was a sprightly, Summery album, which would have gotton 4-stars if there would not have been the "filler" track mentioned above, as well as providing the bonus tracks mentioned. It should be noted that the remastering is superb and definetely enhances the clean, crisp arrangements.
"White Lady White Powder", an ode to cocaine, was written about the beginning of Elton's cocaine addiction and features Glen Frey and Don Henly of The Eagles, among others, singing back-up vocals and is guaranteed to be a sing-a-long favourite.
"Give me the love", written by Judie Tzuke, is an excellent track with superb piano, clear and happy trumpets, and a jazzy disposition that is asking for love. This is easily one of the better tracks on "21 at 33".
All in all, an excellent album. From this reviewer's point-of-view, this is one of Elton's best of the early '80's.
Dr. Sloane Towns
That said, "21 at 33" is an incredibly impressive achievement. Despite the personal problems Elton was going through during this period, including his increasing drug dependency, absolutely none of the songs here fail to display Elton's superior knack for songcraft. In other words, there's simply not a weak song on the disc. And the production, by Elton and Clive Franks, is mostly very tasteful, and the performances are spirited.
Granted, Elton's reliance on other people to write the lyrics for his songs does give him a certain advantage in that he can focus solely on writing the music, and he can also use the lyrics he's been provided with as a vantage point for the type of song he's going to concoct. Bernie Taupin, following his songwriting absence on the previous two albums, returned here, co-writing three of the songs. Gary Osborne was also continuing to co-write songs with Elton, and there are additionally two co-writes from Tom Robinson, and one co-write from Judie Tzuke. The liner notes inform us that all of the songs here were written at the Cote d'Azur in Grasse, France in August of 1979, which inescapably brings to mind the thought that Elton can turn out great song after great song in his sleep--even if these tunes were all written quickly, they all seem carefully thought out musically, and none of them feel merely like album filler.
"Chasing The Crown" is a great, energetic album opener that rocks out quite nicely with super-cool guitar and piano licks. "Little Jeannie" is a supremely melodic ballad with a soaring chorus and an irresistible fade that's based on the instrumental intro. "Sartorial Eloquence" starts off with a lovely sequence of piano chords and again is splendidly melodic with an irresistibly catchy chorus. "Two Rooms At The End Of The World" is a toe-tappingly catchy horn-laden pop-rocker with neatly placed harmony vocals. The neatly-unpredictable "White Lady White Powder" is an extremely well-crafted and catchy uptempo pop-rocker. The 6/8 time "Dear God" is a gently-swaying, arrestingly tuneful ballad. "Never Gonna Fall In Love Again" is also a solid ballad with a nice sighing quality to it. "Take Me Back" is a fun, musically upbeat song that shows just how comfortable Elton is a country-western setting. The album ends with the absolutely infectious grooving soft-rocker "Give Me The Love": unbelievably catchy vocal melody; irresistible syncopation; great horn and string arrangements; a really fun, spirited Elton vocal delivery; and great Elton piano fills.
"21 at 33" is an album that you can absolutely play straight through. On the other hand, you might have a hard time doing that due to a temptation to play certain tracks two or three times in a row. With a nice variety to the songs, and so much catchiness, this is a really great and underrated album from Elton, and I really can't fathom how any fan wouldn't love it.
(P.S. Further demonstrating what a roll Elton was on at this time, there are at least a couple songs from the "21 at 33" sessions that didn't make the album. One is the fine ballad "Conquer the Sun" which appeared as a b-side for the "Little Jeannie" single. Another is the irresistibly funky "Lonely Boy" which appeared as a b-side to the single for "Who Wears These Shoes?" in 1984. It would have made this album even sweeter had these two songs been added here as bonus tracks--fans won't regret tracking them down.)
Starting with the highly charged rocker, "Chasing The Crown", you know right away he mean business. Effective backing vocals and a great guitar by Richie Zito start the album off with a bang. "Little Jeannie" follows and is simply one of those enduring and memorable ballads Elton has built a successful career upon. It has one of his most unique lyrical hooks ("I want you to be my acrobat"), courtesy of Gary Osbourne, in years. Further, this may be the best John/Taupin song without a Taupin lyric. The way the melody flows and marriage of the lyric to the melody are very reminiscent of anything Elton and Taupin did back in '73.
And speaking of Taupin, this was his much herald return to an Elton John album since 1976's "Blue Moves". Here, he contributes three lyrics: the mentioned above "Chasing the Crown", a cocaine laced "White Lady/White Powder" and "Two Rooms At The End Of The World", which tells the tale of their reunion. Elton, with tongue clearly in cheek, give "White Lady" a melody that is so full of cheery piano fills and backing vocals, that it almost appears to be a parody when contrasted with the lyric about cocaine addiciton. And on "Two Rooms", an overproduced uptempo song that has too strong of a horn arrangement, misses some of the drama and insight into Taupin's story about how they write songs. "Two Rooms" isn't bad, it's just very busy with horns, piano solos, and many backing vocals that keep the listener very busy.
Elsewhere, lyrics are shared with Gary Osbourne, with the exception of "Little Jeannie," turns in more mundane, b-side worthy material (the ill-advised "Dear God", which follows the cocaine song - go figure, and "Take Me Back", a routine country song that feels way out of place among the others). These songs sound like leftovers from "A Single Man". But Tom Robinson provides Elton with lyrics for two pretty ballads:"Sartorial Eloquence" and "Never Gonna Fall In Love Again". This is a relationship that seemed to work nicely and a shame they didn't explore more opportunities in the future (though Robinson did make one last appearance on the next release, "The Fox").
Rounding out the last of the lyrical contributors is "Give Me The Love," which is written by Elton and Judie Ztuke. A jazzy, disco style upbeat number that certainly sounded very 1980 and contemporary when it came out. Not a bad song but again, a little out of place.
Elton produced this release with sound engineer Clive Franks and the results are overwhelming at times. However, this remastered version is very well done and the sound is crisp, clear and solid. It also helped that Elton brought back some of the original band members (drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray) for a few songs - notably the huge hit "Little Jeannie."
"21 At 33" is not his best album but certainly a signal that Elton John was getting serious about his music again. And at that time in his career, it proved he had a ace or two up his sleeve.
Best Tracks: Chasing The Crown, Little Jeannie, Sartorial Eloquence.