Elton John gives away his game with not just the title of Wonderful Crazy Night but its artwork. Our hero stands against a garish, colorful backdrop, sporting a grin a mile wide, signaling that he's once again ready to have fun. The measured melancholy of The Diving Board aside, Elton hasn't precisely avoided fun since returning to making records for himself, not the charts, with 2001's Songs from the West Coast, but a certain sobriety crept into the proceedings, particularly when he joined forces with producer T-Bone Burnett for The Union, the 2010 duet album with Leon Russell. Burnett is back for Wonderful Crazy Night and so is John's touring band, making their first studio appearance since 2006's The Captain & the Kid. It's possible to feel the presence of all of Elton's collaborators: the band brings a bit of a kick to the proceedings and the ever-tasteful Burnett reins things in, keeping things from being too crazy, while lyricist Bernie Taupin schemes with John to keep things from being too wonderful. To be sure, there's a fair amount of joy and swagger here, particularly on the ebullient opening pair of "Wonderful Crazy Night" and "In the Name of You," two songs perched between a canny, knowing nostalgia and casual craft. As the record rolls on, seams start to appear, not in the performances or production -- this is an album that sounds as comforting as a long candlelit bath -- but in the compositions. Often, the tunes appear to be handsome constructions -- grand, stately, and well appointed -- but their foundations are shaky, constructed from threadbare melodies and words that dissipate not long after they land. It's an odd mix of lazy and laborious; the songs feeling tossed together in an afternoon and then recorded meticulously. As such, Wonderful Crazy Night never lingers in the imagination -- there are no hooks to pull a listener back in for another spin -- but it sounds just fine as it plays.
Wonderful Crazy Night Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine