ALBUMS: Elton John’s Colorful Chosen Family
The Lockdown Sessions corrals the past and the present for a decades-defying chronicle of pop music
The Rocket Man rewrites the script with an album he never had an intention to make.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
Like many artists, the pop provocateur eyed a headlining tour in 2020. When a pandemic stopped him in his tracks, and he was left to preoccupy himself in his Beverly Hills estate, he began writing 一 first with neighbor Charlie Puth and then with a slew of other artists. Many of these collaborations came to fuel The Lockdown Sessions, a dazzling and ambitious 16-piece that spans decades of talent.
“After All,” a scorching mid-tempo ballad co-written with Puth, is an exemplary melding of vocal tenderness and prowess. “Nothing compares to you, oh no, baby / They were just doing it wrong / I gave up on love until you madе me believе in it after all,” the pair prance over a propulsive R&B avalanche. Their playfulness is as meteors tumbling across the sky, a beguiling slinkiness irresistible to the listener. Much of the album’s collaborations tremble with such chemistry, including “The Pink Phantom” with Gorillaz and 6LACK, a twinkling piano underneath a static production tailspin. It’s equal parts evocative and electric, sending a buzz into the eardrums.
Artist: Elton John
Album: The Lockdown Sessions
Label: Mercury Records
★★★1/2 (3.5/5 stars)
The Lockdown Sessions is an experiment in trust and creative collaboration, witnessing Elton John returning to his early days as a session musician.
“I had no restrictions, and I actually loved playing on other people’s records,” he told NME recently. “It was different sorts of music, and music and artists that I loved, so I was in my element.”
Consequently, John takes the backseat and allows such daring rising pop stars as Rina Sawayama to steer the ship. Sawayama’s “Chosen Family,” found on her 2020 debut LP SAWAYAMA, was already an immensely potent LGBTQ+ anthem, yet with the inclusion of John, the two catapult the message further across a hypnotic blanket of epic stardust. “We don’t need to be related to relate / We don’t need to share genes or a surname” cuts deeper, particularly in a time of heated socio-political divides and social justice upheaval. The gripping of hands, tightly wound with piano strings and glittering production, warms right down to the soul.
Whether it’s “Nothing Else Matters,” a Metallica original tackled with Miley Cyrus, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, WATT, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, or “One of Me,” a collaboration also found on Lil Nas X’s Montero debut, The Lockdown Sessions is unhindered by genre. In fact, it’s the musical whiplash, as John also goes country with Brandi Carlile and Jimmie Allen on “Simple Things” and “Beauty in the Bones,” respectively, that is most intoxicating.
The Lockdown Sessions doesn’t always work (“Always Love You” with Young Thug and Nicki Minaj among several missteps), but when it does 一 the silky Stevie Wonder-starring “Finish Line” and “Stolen Car” with Stevie Nicks notable as reminders of pop’s continued legacy 一 it is absolute bottled magic.
VIDEO: Elton John x Dua Lipa “Cold Heart”
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